The Worst Witch: Free on YouTube and Worth Every Penny

When I was little, the 1986 film The Worst Witch was one of my favorite Halloween movies. I could never catch it when it was on TV, though, and eventually forgot all about it, replacing it with cinematic classics such as Halloweentown and Twitches, both of which could probably win Oscars when compared with the former. Several years ago, I remembered this old favorite of mine, bought it on DVD, and now watch it a weird number of times throughout the month of October… and sometimes, like… March. My husband must occasionally wonder if he did, in fact, marry an awkward, chubby, 12-year-old, as he comes in the living room to see me singing along to this terrible children’s movie, eating “candy salad” from a ramakin.

While Netflix has recently produced a much more polished version of The Worst Witch, based on the 1970’s book series, in a multi-season TV show, there’s something about Tim Curry passionately singing “Has anyone seen my tambourine?” that can’t be beat. Don’t you worry, though! You don’t have to buy this gem on Amazon. It’s free on YouTube, in its entirety, and it is worth every penny. Here are my thoughts, 25 years after my first magical viewing.

Why does Mildred get all of the blame when she and Maud make the wrong potion? Maud was the one caught trying to sneak her spell book in, so she could cheat. Both girls were equally cavalier about the amount of each ingredient used. Why was Mildred the only one sent to Miss Cackle’s office?

As a kid, I really empathized with Mildred, but as an adult, I realize she’s kind of a mess. She insists that she tries and can’t help the fact that things always go wrong, but she also admits to blatantly ignoring simple instructions, like gathering pondweed at midnight. How hard is it to read a clock, Mildred? These problems are of your own making…

… and yet, nothing excuses an educator speaking to a student like this: “Oh dear, Mildred. Oh Mildred, oh dear. You must be the worst witch in the entire school.”

Seriously?!?! She’s twelve. The conversation even ends with a playful “Was I nasty enough for you?” You mean when you told her that she ranked last in the whole school, because she made a potion incorrectly? How much room for error is allowed? Is not the punishment for failing a test a bad grade? This wasn’t even supposed to be the cruel teacher! Speaking of which…

… when Mildred and Maud are gossiping about Miss Hardbroom and she appears in their room to yell at only Mildred, did she curse her name like Lord Voldemort or is she always watching this child? That’s disturbing and I don’t think she should be allowed within 300 yards of a school.

I understand that the girls are awarded their cats in order of excellence, meaning the lowest performers get their cats last, but they still get cats. I don’t actually think this is a bad system. We coddle weakness too much, today. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding high performers. That being said, who was in charge of procuring the cats and why couldn’t they find enough black ones? Black kittens are literally some of the easiest to find, because they’re the least popular. Even if they couldn’t find a black cat for the lowest performer, why couldn’t they change the color in a world where humans can be turned into animals?

Ethel Hallow is one of the villains of this story. She’s a bully and deserves the criticism she gets for it. That being said, much of Mildred’s distaste for her is voiced in regards to her successes, getting upset at how often she does well in class or is chosen first for games. “Just like her to be the first one to get her kitten to ride.” Well, Mildred, if you actually made the effort you keep claiming you’re making in a high-pitched whine, perhaps you’d be more successful in school, too.

These villains are fabulous. I love that they plot their evil moves in song and dance, while wearing multi-colored robes, that match their hair. Once again, I am Team Villain.

Miss Hardbroom is clearly the Severus Snape of this tale and just like Snape, she never redeems herself.
“Ethel Hallow shows promise, Mildred Hubble, anything but. Mark my words, Mildred Hubble will never graduate as a witch from this academy!”
“That’s very good. Who’s that? Oh. Mildred Hubble. Four.”
What are the professional standards for educators in the wizarding world?!?! What does the interview process look like? Do they require teachers to hold vendettas against their least favorite students? Just as the Dursley’s made me cautious of British CPS, this school needs some serious oversight. Why doesn’t Miss Cackle take this awful woman down a peg and remind her that her role is to support Mildred and build her up? Then again, why didn’t Dumbledore intervene in Snape’s abuse?

How did Mildred think ketchup was blood? She might not be the worst witch, but she also might be the dumbest.

Mildred didn’t just scream in terror at the sight of ketchup, she screamed literally 21 times when Ethel came out of the bathroom wearing a mask. Why do these witches scare more easily than humans?

Why wasn’t Mildred suspicious of Ethel for being so generous as to loan her a broom? I kind of want to put another check in the dumbest witch column, especially with the pointed and sinister comment “It’ll take very good care of you”. It wasn’t just Mildred, though. No one raised a brow to the school bully loaning a costly piece of equipment to the spaz who bested her in front of the whole school. Now that I mention it, are there not school brooms? My schools always had optional communal equipment, even if it wasn’t as high of quality as something you might buy personally. Hogwarts had school brooms and I have a hard time believing that an almost 400 years old international academy for witches wouldn’t. Is there a school-wide conspiracy to humiliate Mildred?

Why do these girls want huge, sexy noses if no one else in their world has them? This seems like an offensive stereotype of witches, when even the young and attractive ones, like Miss Spellbinder and Miss Cackle’s niece, Donna, don’t have them.

What fucking crossroads demon did Tim Curry make a bargain with and how many years are left in his deal? This man is a household name and has starred, almost exclusively, in movies that can only be described as fabulously terrible. You have not lived until you see Tim Curry’s disturbingly sensual music video cutaway from The Worst Witch, as he flies around in a cape singing about how gremlins are going to mess up every cassette from London to Idaho.

“Oh Miss Hardbroom, your girls? … I love it, Miss Hardroom. Let’s get this show on the road.” I want to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, here, and assume they were going for flirty towards Miss Hardbroom, a consenting adult, but the Grand Wizard might be a sex trafficker.

“I was a fool to trust you! You abominable child, Mildred! Get out of my sight!”
“Go to bed without supper and I’ll see you in my office, tomorrow at noon.”
“If these are the witches of the future, I hate to think what the future will bring. What is this generation coming to? I’ve got to split. I’ve got another gig.”

It was a performance put on by children. It’s like a flashback to my years of softball… and basketball… and volleyball… and just gym class.

Why does “turn these witches into snails” turn witches in to snails, but “Ethel Hallow is now a frog” turns Ethel Hallow into a pig? Why does no one believe the former, when they saw the latter? I don’t understand the rules of magic in this world.

Why would Ethel confess to Maud, Mildred’s best friend, that she bewitched her broom, humiliating not just Mildred, but the entire school, in front of their Celebrity Rockstar King? Furthermore, why wasn’t she expelled for this, when Mildred is repeatedly threatened with expulsion for innocuous mistakes? Are there actual guidelines for expulsion or is this just the 80s?

“Once in a purple moon, there is a special young witch, who shines above the rest. Often, she goes unnoticed, because she’s out of step. I have seen this girl trying to fly. Oh, yes, I have. I’ve watched her at play and seen how her friends treated her. The best witch isn’t always the girl who comes out on top of tests. A true witch has witchcraft in her at all times… and this is what you have, Mildred Hubble.”

I… I don’t even know where to begin, folks. First of all, these are bold words from a man who cut his visit short, blowing off a feast that was prepared for him and dismissing an entire generation, because a child made a mistake in what amounted to a school play. Second, on what is he basing his praise of Mildred? He’s never even met her, which brings me to my third point. When was he watching her?!?! The Grand Wizard visits for the first time on Halloween night, but he’s “watched her at play and seen how her friends treat her”? I once had a man show up on my doorstep in a hoodie at 9:00 at night and tell me that he was a Mormon and wanted to come inside and speak to me about Jesus Christ… and I didn’t piece together the fact that that probably wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up for years. Y’all, even I could tell that the Grand Wizard is 100% buying children.

“Now, Mildred, have you made any plans for this unexpected holiday?”
“No, Grand Wizard. I suppose I’d better practice my flying.”
“Would you like to practice with me?”
“With you?!?”
“Oh, absolutely.” ::he said seductively::

The Worst Witch, y’all.12/10… would absolutely recommend.

I don’t think I can do this.

When I was little, long before my parents’ marriage imploded, I was a daycare kid… always. I started in a home daycare and entered Kindercare, a chain, when I was three or four. My memory has always extended far further than most people’s, so I actually do recall both. I remember Kindercare best and those memories are reasonably happy and healthy ones. On an average day, I would get up at six o’clock and my mother would drive me to daycare, where she would hand me off to my teacher before heading to her nursing job. Sometimes I screamed and cried for her, but most of the time I didn’t. I spent my days playing with toys I didn’t have at home and socializing with other children my age. I felt cared for by my teachers, even when I was in trouble and had very few negative experiences. The ones I did have were normal, like the time I was punished for saying the F word, because another student had misunderstood me when I mentioned my dog Buck; or when I yelled at another girl for breathing too loudly, because I have always been me. What I don’t remember is abuse or feeling abandoned. I was close to my parents at the time, excited to see them when they’d pick me up. When our relationships eventually deteriorated, I hadn’t been in daycare for years, so it bears zero blame, as far as I’m concerned.

Both of my parents always worked and I thought little of it. I envied my friends whose mothers stayed home, who could go on random zoo trips or visits to the pool, but I wasn’t unhappy. I didn’t cry on my first day of kindergarten, long since used to being separated from my mom and I never begged to be picked up from sleepovers. As a child, I adored my mother. My dad could be fun, in the right mood, but my mother was almost always loving. She found a way to do special things for us, despite the time we spent under someone else’s care. She’d make us pancakes with candles on our birthday and bring us cupcakes at school. She took off work to chaperone field trips and taught Sunday school. She always stayed home with us if we were sick. I have always maintained that my mother loved my brother and I very much and just grew increasingly worse at it, but back then, she was good at it and daycare didn’t change that perception.

Growing up, my mom did as most 90s parents and told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, without exception. My dad, however, added the caveat that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I worked hard enough… and that’s what I did. Despite the fact that neither of my parents were involved in my academics after middle school, I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA and immediately entered college. Regardless of my wretched mistake of a teenage marriage, I never gave up on my education. Through evictions and housefires and miscarriage and abuse, I persisted and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in four years. I finalized my divorce my first year of grad school and worked twenty hours a week as a circulation clerk in my system while substitute teaching for another thirty to forty, throughout. I graduated with my MLIS at 25 and was almost immediately promoted to half-time librarian. I continued to sub, saving my money to survive each summer and relying on Our Lord and Savior for health insurance. It was tough, but it wasn’t as tough as many other times in my life and it paid off. At 28, I was promoted to a management position and eventually stepped down to full time librarian, where I was mapped into a teen librarian position on the outskirts of the county. I’d accomplished my dream and had even managed to meet the love of my life along the way, marrying and buying a house. Life was perfect.

When Jake and I decided to start a family, we never even discussed an alternative plan to maintaining our status as a two-income household and that wasn’t just because Jake had left oil and started from the bottom with the City of Cherokee. I had been adamant, from the beginning, that I was not leaving my library system. I had no interest in staying home, for any period of time, for any reason. When we learned we’d have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to have children in the first place, it was just understood that I would continue to work full time after my maternity leave, only in small part to pay for it. When Jake received a promotion placing his income just a few hundred below mine, it still never came up. I always “joked” that I couldn’t stay home with my children, that I don’t like children, that I wanted to spend my days talking to adults and enjoying my life. I wanted my own kids, but I was heavily operating on the advice that it would be different with my children. In fact, throughout my entire pregnancy, I feared that I wouldn’t love my children, that I wouldn’t like them, that I’d meet them and they’d just be some random babies, that I’d be miserable as a mom, as my friends in my twenties always reported. The last thing I said to Jake, before they wheeled me away for my emergency c-section was “I’m scared. What if I don’t love them?” Then, there were Violet and Scarlett.

By the time I was lying on that operating table, trying not to choke to death on the fluid in my pneumonia-riddled lungs, as the doctors struggled to keep me from bleeding out, I wasn’t even thinking about my babies. I was kind of just terrified. When the nurse showed me Scarlett, I remember thinking sadly “It is just a baby.” I wouldn’t see them for two more days, when they were brought down to the ICU for a short visit, because I’d woken that day, high on morphine, screaming that they’d taken my babies, that I didn’t even get to hold them, as Jake comforted me. I suppose my instincts had finally taken over. My girls were wonderful and tiny and perfectly healthy (unlike their mama), but I felt ashamed that I didn’t have that moment where the world stops turning and there were only my babies and me. They were babies. They were mine. They didn’t entirely feel like it. Maybe it was the drugs, but my love story with my girls was a slower burn than I expected, as I handed them back, too sick to hold them for long.

Expectation

Reality

I’m not sure when my love for my daughters became all-consuming, as Jake and I woke every three hours to feed them and rushed to change their clothes, before they got too cold without a onesie, pajamas, a hat, and a swaddle. Perhaps it was when we were finally able to go home and I could feed, change, and snuggle them, without a nurse interrupting to take my blood pressure or hook me up to antibiotics or give me another blood transfusion. Maybe that’s when I started to realize they were really mine, my little bear and bunny who I’d been talking to for the last several months. Regardless, the love came and it was just as fierce as I’d been promised.

Due to the complications with my girls’ birth, I had no choice but to stay home for the entirety of my allotted 90 days. The silver lining was that I was so sick that my short-term disability paid out through the whole thing and I returned to work the day my babies were 13 weeks old. Although I’d originally planned to take the girls to daycare a couple of weeks early, so we could all get used to the new routine and I could have a bit of a break, I found myself entirely unwilling to give up more time with my babies and opted, instead, for a horrible first day back. Horrible it was, as I watched my little Violet give her first smile of the day to a stranger, while my little Scarlett rocked in someone else’s rocker. In fact, when I found out that I’d have to leave work, because my doctor’s note didn’t clearly state my restrictions, I was thrilled to have another day off and promptly picked up my girls, despite the fact that I wouldn’t be paid for the day and the daycare would.

The next morning, the drop-off went a bit more smoothly… and I still hated it… as I did the day after that and the day after that. Now, we’re three weeks in and… I don’t think I can do this. When I was four, I killed my favorite doll, a Waterbaby. Quite reasonably, my mother refused to keep refilling it with warm water, to create a more realistic mothering experience for me, so I figured I’d just pop it in the microwave. The Waterbaby didn’t survive and until June 22nd, that’s been my best reference point for my maternal instincts. Every year, during Summer Reading, I declared that I was never having children. I wasn’t even sure that was hyperbole, until Jake and I received the news that we wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally. Only then did I comprehend how very much I wanted a family, as I wept and mourned the possibility of never being the mother I only briefly had, during a pandemic where every day seemed the same. Now, here I am, a mother to twin girls that cost us $30,000 and nearly my life and all I want to be is their mom. I can’t find the passion I once had for my career, the one for which I worked so hard and it’s not getting any easier.

I used to love being a librarian and had this idealistic expectation that any problems would eventually be resolved in my system and the field at large, resulting in the ultimate utopian position. In time, I’ve accepted that all careers come with their ups and downs, but the downs of librarianship were wearing on me, even before Covid-19. I used to hold a title that prided itself on neutrality and fighting a war against censorship. Now the field, as a whole, is comprised of librarians who bully publishers to retire books, because they’ve aged poorly or don’t fit their personal worldviews. Some even advocate pulling them from the shelves, only to excitedly celebrate Banned Books Week a few months later. Neutrality has been replaced with a strong push toward the perceived “correct” viewpoint, to the level that even the most professional discussion isn’t allowed, lest one be branded with some undesirable adjective. Years ago, I’d receive emails reminding staff to leave their politics and personal opinions at the door. Today, I get them from powerful higher-ups, taking sides on divisive political issues. I’m sure the echo chamber that has resulted from extended closures and the rolling back of services has not helped, as we’ve distanced ourselves from our communities, but some of the bloom has gone off the rose in recent years. To be perfectly clear, I am not saying that I’m miserable in my position… at least no more so than anyone else weathering Covid-19, just that the field has shifted to a point with which I’m no longer entirely comfortable, independently of the pandemic. My present apathy is not wholly the fault of babies.

Regardless of the state of libraries, even when discussing the things that do make me happy, like my latest outdoor teen program, I’m no longer as invested. I just want to be home with the girls it cost me so much to make. My mother died while I was pregnant, at 60, and I can only imagine how many regrets she would have had if she allowed herself to admit to them. I remember her toying with the idea of getting alternatively certified to teach, when I was 9 or 10, so she could be home with us more often, but ultimately deciding she couldn’t afford the pay cut. My father has told me himself how much he wishes he could go back and do things differently, spend more time with his kids and enjoy us while we were young. My grandmother has dreams of when my brother and I were little and calls to tell me how those were the best years of her life. My brother, only three years my senior and the same age as Jake, has been particularly remorseful of the years he’s wasted working out of state, now that his children are 9 and 13. I don’t want to feel that way about my family. I never want to look back and realize that I wasted the best years of my kids’ lives splitting my attention with a career I could have had later, spending only a couple of hours with them each night after commuting and performing the duties of daily life.

I am at a crossroads in my life, choosing to stay in my field and remain the career woman I always assumed I would be or take the path I never thought I’d even consider and leave to stay home with my children. Jake and I have planned to send our kids to Catholic school from the beginning, even going so far as to buy a home nearer to the church for that very reason. Over the years, however, I’ve met many amazing homeschool kids through my job as a teen librarian. I’ve heard the stories of why their parents choose to forgo traditional schooling, which include everything from escaping bullying to having more time with their siblings. I have always insisted that I’d love to homeschool, myself, if a) we could afford it and b) I were willing to leave my position. While we can’t afford it now, we should be able to within the next six months to a year. Regardless, it would be about the same price as Catholic school, as it stands; and the field I once adored has changed to the point that I could leave without much remorse, even if it meant I could never return. All I ever really wanted to do was teach and here’s my chance. I can teach my own children. We can all learn together and have more time to play and master life skills.

Jake, although nearly as surprised by this change of heart as I am, has been nothing but supportive. A traditionalist, he’s content with being the sole breadwinner. His primary concern is just our financial well-being, but he likes the idea of my being home with our kids, of having the freedom that comes with homeschooling. He understands my feeling of disillusionment with libraries and just wants me to be sure that leaving is what I want and not just what I feel at the moment. I’m entirely aware that I’m still coping with both my mother’s death and my beyond traumatic birthing experience, but is that so wrong? Is acknowledging my own mortality a bad reason to reconsider my decisions, my future? I can’t help thinking that, when I’m 60 or 70, I’d rather look back and have career regrets than familial ones. While my own mother worked and my grandmothers both worked, many of the other women in my family took lengthy breaks from the workforce to stay home with their families. Several of them have thriving careers, now that their children are grown. I can have a career any time in my life, utilizing either my teaching certificate or my MLIS or neither and striking out in a completely unique direction. I can never be with my babies while they’re young again, though.

I fully understand that some women don’t have it in them to stay home, or that they love their career and while the Mom Guilt hits hard, they don’t want to give it up for a handful of years, only to find they’ve been blacklisted later. In fact, I always assumed I would be in one or both of these camps. Everyone has told me that it gets better, but each day, after I hand off the babies I almost died bringing into the world, so I can plan take-home kits and argue over whether or not we should have holiday book displays, I feel worse. I spend the entire day longing to be with my girls, changing diapers and soothing tantrums. So why am I fighting this? Am I really just pushing through the ever-increasing heartache to fit the mold of an intelligent and successful woman, as created by modern American society, to fulfill my own stereotyped vison of what it is to be female? Is that any better than staying home, because that’s what a woman “should” do? It doesn’t feel right to me, leaving my daughters at daycare, even though I’ve never thought negatively about working mothers, in general. No part of me thinks that women who work are letting other people raise their children or are choosing a job over their babies or any of the other hateful things people say about them. In fact, a part of me envies their ability to push through and do so. It just feels entirely unnatural to me to not be with them and as shocked as I am, I don’t think I can do this. Joan said it best, dad: “You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”

Joan: “It was my choice… not to go. He would have supported it.”
Katherine: “But you don’t have to choose.”
Joan: “No, I have to. I want a home. I want a family. That’s not something I’ll sacrifice.”
Katherine: “No one’s asking you to sacrifice that, Joan. I just want you to understand that you can do both.”
Joan: “Do you think I’ll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?”
Katherine: “Yes, I’m afraid that you will.”
Joan: “Not as much as I’d regret not having a family… not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart. This must seem terrible to you.”
Katherine: “I didn’t say that, I…”
Joan: “Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don’t. To you, a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”

Another Birthday and a Another Blogiversary

Nine years ago, today, I turned 25 and celebrated by starting a blog. Since then, I’ve posted fairly consistently, making this one of the greatest commitments of my life. I’ve been writing this blog longer than I was in college, longer than I’ve known Jake, almost longer than I’ve been with my library system. In those nine years, it’s chronicled the tales of a brokenhearted divorcee, a single gal navigating the dating scene, a clueless and inexperienced girlfriend, a career woman and a boss lady, an apathetic wedding planner, a new wife, a shattered woman facing infertility amidst a pandemic, and now a mom to twin girls.

In the last nine years, blogging has gone in and out of fashion, but I’ve always been here to share my laughter and tears, my rants and musings. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I can almost guarantee that I’ll report it all, as the Belle of the Library.

Fat Again

I was three the first time I cried, because I thought I was fat. I had the chicken pox, was covered in calamine lotion, and my brother, six, joked that I looked like Miss Piggy. He was referencing the pink color, but the thing that made me cry when my thumbsucking had caused my lungs to become infected with chicken pox, was being called fat. I can’t tell you exactly why, having been a toddler, but I’d wager it was the constant dieting and negative weight talk in our household. Throughout my childhood, I remember my mother serving us strawberries covered in Sweet N’ Low, jelly on rice cakes, Diet Coke, Snackwell’s cookies, and even Slim Fast. Along with the family fad diets, came a constant stream of complaints from my parents about their weight and how it made them feel.

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As my parents’ marriage degraded, the weight discussion became increasingly hostile. My father was no David Hasselhoff and responded by lashing out at my mother, as she put on pounds as well. Pleasing him became her primary focus during those years, as she dragged me to Weight Watcher’s meetings and read Susan Powers books. In response, my dad grew increasingly critical, not just of her weight, but all of ours. No matter how desperately my mother wanted to be the slender woman he married, however, she continued to gain weight, as did he… as did my brother and I. We’d begun some unhappy years and we happened to be fat.

In all fairness, my mother had plenty of issues of her own, as well. I still remember sitting in the emergency room at nine years old, when the nurse quoted my weight at 106. My mother, a nurse herself, gasped in embarrassment and scolded me. Not only did I suffer the pain of a broken wrist, I was mortified and ashamed. I had become The Fat Kid, just as I feared. A year or two later, when my parents split up for the first time, it was also my mother who told me that it was because of her weight. When I asked my dad if this was true, he responded “your mother has no willpower” and I never really got an answer beyond that.

Over the years, my home life compounded with my school life persona as The Fat Girl. While the other girls wore fitted shirts with glittery puppies on them and had their first “boyfriends”, cute 12-year-old boys would try to convince me that their friend liked me, because they thought it was funny. For the entirety of sixth grade, I wore a jacket to school, because a boy had told me my arms were fat. I became increasingly defensive and could even be considered a bully myself, in time. There’s something about hearing someone sing “Who Let the Whales Out” as you walk down the halls of your middle school, that makes it hard to trust.

My high school years were easier, both at home and in school. My parents were officially divorced and my mother worked the evening shift. I had a hodge podge of friends, most of us walking around with targets on our backs, but at least we were doing it together. Still, I’d never let go of my identity as The Fat Girl, though in hindsight, I wasn’t even that big. I was just fuller figured than many of the girls my age, especially the ones on TV, of which I’d been consuming way too much for the last ten years. Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Buffy the Vampire Slayer… you name the show and it starred a notably tiny actress. By comparison, I felt like an Amazon, long before the Gal Gadot reference. Then my mother left, during my senior year, and I got married at 19.

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There’s no need to recount the years I was married, They were some of the darkest in my life and while I’d previously been a little chubby, the financial troubles, combined with crippling stress and depression, led to poor coping mechanisms like binge eating and drinking. It was at this point, 5’5.5″ and 275 pounds, that I realized I was the largest person in most rooms. I was not curvy or fuller figured, as many still very attractive women could be described. I was morbidly obese, with a BMI of 45.1 at 23 years old, and I hated my body. Being The Fat Girl, all grown-up, was a very different experience. Where I was mocked and bullied as a teen, as a fat adult, I was simply invisible… literally, apparently. I once stood in line at the video store and the clerk motioned to the woman behind me, as if I didn’t exist. I would go out with friends and men would talk them up as if I weren’t there. I was forgettable, at best and at worst, I was disgusted with myself and no longer even felt like a woman. I was miserable, in every aspect of my life, and I happened to be fat.

After my divorce, I resolved to lose weight, when a friend mentioned how strange it felt that we were too old for Hollister and I realized I’d never bought anything there, because nothing fit. I’d missed the Hollister stage of life. It wasn’t even a stage I wanted and the idea that I missed it, solely because of my size was upsetting. What else was I going to miss? I rarely had the energy or self-confidence for many of the activities I wanted to do by myself, like go hiking or bike riding or swimming. I was too self-conscious to wear cute clothes or date. Would I ever even meet the kind of man I hoped to marry this time around, the antithesis of my ex? I pictured a hardworking man, who could chase our kids around the yard and walk around the zoo and ride roller coasters with them. That didn’t require a body builder, but it did require someone relatively physically fit and, even before I’d fully entered it, I understood that in the dating world, like attracts like. Active and reasonably in shape people don’t typically date those who are morbidly obese and unable to climb stairs without breathing problems, regardless of gender.

Over the next year or two, I began working out, dieting, and putting more effort into my appearance. While I hoped the results would eventually play in my favor with men, I wasn’t really dating, nor was I interested in doing so. I was working two jobs, getting my degree, and taking time for myself. My motivation was purely intrinsic. I wanted to look in the mirror and toward the future and like what I saw. I didn’t want to be limited by my weight and I didn’t want to feel bad all the time. Within two years of my divorce, I weighed 158 pounds, which put my BMI at 25.9, barely in the overweight category, and my whole life had changed. I’d gained self-confidence and become better with social cues. I dated casually and stopped assuming it was beyond the realm of reason for a man to be interested. Additionally, I’d made friends, gained control of my finances, broken into my professional field, and finished my degree. My life was infinitely better and I happened to be fit.

After I lost the weight, my extended family became somewhat obsessed with the topic, since so many of them have struggled with their own fitness throughout their lives, most of them fluctuating wildly over the years. It has been ten years since I achieved a healthier size and, to this day, I cannot attend a family event without multiple comments on my weight… how I lost it, how I’ve kept it off, how good I look now. A subject I already struggle not to obsess over is casual conversation amongst my family. In the past, I’ve actually told my husband that my family has two favorite topics: Belle’s weight and Belle’s crazy mother, a fact that was clearly proven when my uncle once cornered him to exclusively discuss both… which brings me back to my mom.

My mother passed away over Mother’s Day weekend, after an overall sad and lonely life. After the divorce, things just never really came together for her again, unlike with my father. She was always a mentally weak person, caring far too much about what others thought and trying too hard as a result. Through a combination of her own self-esteem issues, much of which I know were tied up in insecurities about her weight, and a smorgasbord of mental problems she refused to acknowledge, she became steadily worse as the years passed. By the time I was on my own, she’d lost any sense of decorum or social awareness, most of her friends, and even her job, leaving me to wonder if there wasn’t some frontal lobe damage during the removal of her brain tumor, when I was 10. Beyond her strange and enabling husband, she became something of a recluse, eventually cutting ties with her own mother and losing them with me, as well. She was pitiful and only became more pitiful and she happened to be fat.

While there have been some clear connections to the unhappiness I’ve seen and weight issues, as an objective adult, I’m aware that being fat is not a blanket causation for misery. My parents had an unhealthy relationship with weight, but they also just had an unhealthy relationship with each other. My dad would have been unhappy with my mother, regardless of her size. I’d have been cruelly bullied for something else, had I been slender, because kids and teens are jerks. The real problem was my lack of a supportive home life and that is completely unrelated to body weight. I understand that I wasn’t miserable because I was morbidly obese, when I was married to a sociopath. I was morbidly obese because I was miserable, when I was married to a sociopath. I also realize that while my mother’s weight might have played a role in her relatively young death, it wasn’t the reason she had such a hard life. Again, it was likely the result of her many mental and social struggles, after years of comforting herself in unhealthy ways.

I know these things to be true and I know many bigger men and women, who are self-assured and happy and have healthy relationships. I’m related to many. When I see a bigger woman in a bikini, I envy her confidence. When I see some cute, fuller figured woman on a cowboy’s arm at a rodeo, I think it’s awesome… but then there’s me. I am the woman who has only ever been unhappy while fat and despite my objective knowledge, I cannot bring myself to dissociate the two. No matter how long I’ve been a healthy weight, I cannot seem to overcome my internal fear of reclaiming the title of The Fat Girl… and now I’ve given birth to twins and feel like I have a permanent baby belly.

Anyone who’s followed my blog for even the last few months knows what it took for me to get pregnant. Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option for having children a month before the pandemic hit. We were both fortunate to keep our jobs, throughout, with Jake even receiving two promotions… but it still cost us $30,000 and a lot of stress and heartache to hear those two little heartbeats. Now, here I am, two months postpartum, desperately trying not to obsess over my weight and I feel like I’m not allowed to talk about it. I’m so grateful for my girls and the chance to have a family at all… but I’m still self-conscious about my post-baby body.

To be honest, I thought this would have been a more prominent issue, throughout my pregnancy and was pleasantly surprised by my ability to remind myself that I wasn’t only pregnant, but carrying twins. I had a pretty good pregnancy after the first trimester. Though I had trouble sleeping, since my legs would go numb no matter how I arranged myself, I generally felt pretty good. I watched what I ate and exercised. I had a small wardrobe of cute and feminine maternity clothes. I did pull Jake into the bathroom at my baby shower, where I burst into tears because I was “disgustingly fat,” but I’d just seen my aunt using hand gestures to help fully depict her loud description of how I was carrying my weight.

It wasn’t until those last couple of weeks that I started to grow more uncomfortable with my appearance, as strangers began commenting more about how I looked like I was “about to pop”, my maternity jeans no longer fit, and I lived in an XXXL Summer Reading t-shirt. It was only then that I began to tearfully ask Jake whether he was going to leave me because I was fat. I started to picture the holidays and all the comments my family would make about how I’d lost the weight… or worse, the silence when I was around, because they were waiting to talk about how I didn’t. Feeling substantially larger the day I hit week 35, I procrastinated on posting my weekly belly photo on Instagram, because I didn’t feel well… and I never did get the chance. I thought the exhaustion was to be expected, though I was surprised by how run down I felt…

:: drumroll please::

… until I was diagnosed with “substantial pneumonia” and heart complications far exceeding preeclampsia. I’m sure I’ll share my horrifying birth story in time, complete with trigger warnings, but since that’s not the point of this post, I’ll simply say that it was the most terrifying experience of my life and I’m still recovering physically. The night I got home, I wasn’t supposed to stand for long stretches of time, having just been taken off the heart monitor. After a week as a patient, though, I stubbornly insisted on feeling human again. I washed my hair, shaved my legs, trimmed my bangs… and bravely stepped on the scale, expecting to have lost anywhere from 15-20 pounds, only to realize that I was only two pounds above my pre-baby weight. I was so incredibly ill that, while I hated those initial hospital photos, because I was carrying so much water weight, by the time I was discharged with my one week old twins (who’d been discharged days earlier), I’d lost 47 pounds since I went to the E.R. for breathing problems. I was shocked… and kind of relieved. I almost died and was rushed to the ICU without my babies, immediately after an emergency C-section. I’d take any silver lining I could get. Just as I suspected, even after hearing most of the story, my family saw my silver lining to a very dark cloud as nothing but a boon and was congratulatory of my weight loss.

It’s no mystery why I have issues with my weight, but now I find myself with two perfect little girls, who will look to me as an example for how they treat and talk about their bodies. While I’m not convinced I can ever overcome my own hang ups, the least I can do is commit to hiding them. When I was a kid and we’d go swimming at the lake or my grandmother’s pool, the adults never got in the water. When pictures were taken, they shielded their faces or asked to be cut out, especially the women. By middle school, I did the same, refusing to get in the water at summer camp and begging my mother to let me call in sick the day of our 7th grade field trip to the pool. I wore baggy clothes to hide my body, avoided having my picture taken, and wore my hair in front of my face when I couldn’t I don’t want my girls to be ashamed of their own bodies, no matter what shape they take, like I was and still sometimes am.

I am not a “health at every size” girl. It’s simply a fact that being overweight, maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, and eating poorly are unhealthy, especially if someone carries their weight around their mid-section. Acknowledging that, I don’t want my girls to think that being a little heavier equates with the killing curse, either. Sometimes life has fat seasons and that’s okay. People put on weight when it gets cold out, when loved ones die, when work gets stressful, when money’s tight and healthy food is out of their price range, after a breakup or a divorce. Some women are just built curvier and some men are naturally heftier. There are so many worse things to be than fat, from suffering from uncontrollable physical ailments like being mentally ill, chronically sick, or disabled, to character flaws, like being angry and bitter, irresponsible and apathetic, or a bad friend or loved one. I remember watching Gilmore Girls and being awestruck by the idea that Sookie could be fuller figured and still marry a good looking and kind man, have a thriving social life and a successful career. That was contrary to every idea my parents had given me, and I was an adult before I realized that men can find heavier women genuinely attractive. I don’t want my daughters to think that fat automatically equals unattractive or unhappy any more than I want them to think that living an unhealthy lifestyle is unavoidable. I don’t want them to cry because they’re fat at thirty or thirteen, let alone three.

So, even if I’m, admittedly, pretty messed up about weight, I’m more motivated than ever to fake it ’til I make it. I gained ten pounds after I left the hospital, what with no longer being on death’s door. I fear that this will be the time I look back on, the start of becoming Fat Again. Will I wish I could rewind and make healthier choices? Will I ever lose that last 10 pounds and perhaps the 10 I gained during Covid-19 infertility treatments, my Pandemic Pudge? Will I look at photos from a time when I feel fat and wish I were this size again? I can’t help but obsess over it and then I remember that my girls will be looking on, giving me even more reason to make truly healthy decisions, physically and mentally. I have to at least pretend to be confident and self-assured if I want to raise confident and self-assured children.

I was 21 when I realized that people go to the gym even when they aren’t trying to lose weight, that many of them enjoy physical activity, that exercise isn’t limited to the sports I hated as a kid. I have to make sure my girls know these things, by encouraging them to be active themselves, by being active with them and their father, by not forcing them to take part in physical activities they despise. I have to teach them that healthy foods taste good and Foods With Gravy are a wonderful treat. I have to make sure they know that bigger isn’t beautiful and real women don’t have curves, but that bodies of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and Godly creations. I have to show them that memories are worth having, even when I don’t feel at my most confident during that family photo or really don’t care to be seen in a bathing suit, in part because no one is thinking about anyone as much as they fear and also because people without perfect bodies can enjoy life, too. I have to demonstrate appreciation for my body and the amazing things it can do, by never letting my girls hear me deride it or show disgust for features they share, like my round face, big feet, turned up nose, or broad shoulders.

So many aspects of parenting are a charade, as we all play the part of healthy, well-adjusted individuals, to set good examples for our kids. This one might be one of the most important lessons of all to me, making sure my girls love themselves. It’s a good thing I’ve got a few years to improve, though. As messed up as I know it is, here in my new post-twins body, I can’t shake the worry of becoming Fat Again.

A Pregnancy Test and a Shower – I’m a mom, y’all.

I’m writing this on November 17, 2020, at 5:00 in the morning, the first day that I can take a pregnancy test with doctor approval. I’ll post it the day I have a baby.

I couldn’t sleep at all the night before last, getting around three to four hours, total. Progesterone gives me weird dreams and I was anxious over whether or not the last 10 days of shots and headaches and nausea and a swollen belly were worth it. I spent all of yesterday trying to prepare for the crushing disappointment of a failed transfer and the inevitable two to three days in bed that would surely follow. I attended the staff meeting, since the other option was Wednesday, when I planned to be staring at the ceiling in a catatonic state. I also completed all of my weeding, since the end of November really sneaks up on us in libraries, after we close for Thanksgiving and Black Friday and have a weekend.

Weeding is the process of pulling and processing old books, to make room in the collection for new books. It’s not an incredibly taxing job, if you’re not on hormones that make you uniquely ill. By the end of the day, my swollen belly felt even worse and my head hurt. Since I couldn’t stem the tide of my emotions, going from hopeful to tears, I took two flexiril at about 8:00 and went to bed around 9:30, setting the pregnancy test out for easy access, at around 6:00, before Jake went to work, but late enough that we wouldn’t lose much sleep.

I woke around 4:30, my belly aching, and anxious. I wanted to take the test right away. Then I never wanted to take the test and either get a period or a baby. Then I wanted to go back to sleep and take it later in the morning, as planned. Finally, as bladder pinged at me, I admitted that waiting was pointless and would have zero impact on the outcome. I made my way into the bathroom, half asleep, grabbed the test and peed in the cup… only to promptly drop it, spilling urine all over the bathroom. I tried to tear open the test with my teeth, realizing that it definitely had pee on it and only barely managed to cut it open with nail clippers. I was able to tilt the cup and use the remaining sample to actually take the test and was distracted during the wait time with cleaning the bathroom. Finally, I pulled on my big girl panties, to review the test… and it was positive.

I immediately ran into the bedroom, turned on the light, and jumped on the bed to wake a startled husband.

Jake: “What?”
Me: “It’s positive.
Jake: ::hugs me and pulls me to him::
Me: “The perk of spilling pee all over the bathroom, when you take a pregnancy test, is that you have something to do while you wait for the results.”
Jake: ::laughs and tries to pull me further into the bed, when he realizes I’m breathing hard::
Jake: “Are you okay?”
Me: “Yeah, I’m just…” ::I search for the right words:: “…covered in pee.”

So, I took a shower, while Jake threw the bathmats in the wash and came to bed, where Jake was already mostly asleep again, just a like a man. I lie there for a bit, realized I was never going to get back to sleep and got up to write a blog, until Wal-Mart opens at 7:00, cuz Covid-19, so I can buy ten $1 pregnancy tests to get me through tomorrow, when I’ll hear confirmation from the doctor’s office, after bloodwork.

I’m done making offensive people feel comfortable.

Many an article and blog post has been written on the rude and appalling things people say to pregnant women:

“So, how much weight have you gained?” – Grandma Kay… three times

“Now, the babies are Jake’s, right?” – Aunt Dee and a 70+ coworker, Arlene.

“Stand up and let me see how big you’ve gotten!” – Arlene

Me: “Just let me use the restroom real fast and you can take your break.”
Arlene: ::laughing:: “Oh, I”ll bet you have to do that all the time.”

Dad: ::laughingly:: “I didn’t know she had a good side. I just thought she had a fat side.”

Great Aunt: ::complete with hand motions:: “Yeah, she’s really carrying her weight around here.”

… and most recently…

“You look like you’re about to pop.” – two customers and a coworker

You know… like a parade balloon.

There’s something about being pregnant that leads people to assume a woman has no bodily autonomy or modesty and comments that would never be acceptable to say to a person who wasn’t pregnant are suddenly small talk, from weight questions, to jokes about how often you have to pee, to inquiries about parentage. Zetus lapetus, folks, I don’t care how close someone is with a person who has gone through fertility treatments, that does not make it any more acceptable to ask who the father is than it would be to ask anyone who conceived naturally!

Sadly, I don’t know that any of these remarks cover new and unique territory. I’m sure every woman who has ever been pregnant has heard something similar. As infuriating as these comments are, however, I think what I’m most sick of is the excuses for them.

Me: “Grandma Kay has asked how much weight I’ve gained every time I’ve spoken to her.”
Dad: “She just wants to know how big the babies are.”
Me: “That’s a different question.”

You know how you ask how big the babies are? “How big are the babies?”

My dad’s not alone in this defense. I’ve heard similar attempted justifications from my Gramma and Arlene. Even my Gen Xer friend and coworker, Tenley, has told me more than once that my offense to these questions is generational and you know what? I call shenanigans.

I do not buy it, y’all. At no point in history do I believe that women were comfortable hearing these comments about their bodies, from the time it was appropriate to acknowledge a woman’s “condition” during pregnancy forward. Not in the 50s, when Marilyn and her 22″ waist reigned supreme, or the 60s, when Twiggy and Mia Farrow popularized the so-slender-as-to-be-boyish figure; not in the 70s, when Charlie’s Angels fought crime in bikinis and evening gowns, or the 80s when Madonna popularized lingerie as daily attire; not during the Baywatch and Sex and the City era of the 90s or the Abercrombie & Fitch adds that legit sold clothing through nudity in the 00s; not during T-Swift and Miley’s heyday and certainly not now, do I believe that any woman was or is ever comfortable with hearing comments about how large pregnancy has made her, her private bodily functions, or the method in which she got pregnant.

I am a millennial, as is Jake, despite his refusal to admit to it, due to his frustration with the generation as a whole. There are many things that annoy me about those born between 1980 and 1996, too, not the least of which is the tendency to find offense. This, however, is not an oversensitive millennials problem. I am happy to talk about my pregnancy, whether people ask when I’m due or what I’m having or what names I’ve chosen or how I’m feeling or how big are the babies. It doesn’t bother me at all for someone to ask if I’m getting excited or how much time is left. But my own mother told me, more than once, the story of being eight months pregnant with my brother, when my grandpa saw her and exclaimed that she had gotten “soooo big!” and how awful that made her feel. That was in 1984, almost forty years ago. She had an even more horrifying story of being asked when she was due, despite not being pregnant in the mid-90s. It is simply not a new phenomenon that women don’t want to hear negative and invasive comments on their bodies!

Ideally, work should have been the one place I didn’t have this problem, as my field is very progressive and since I’d included the following in my pregnancy announcement email:

“Congratulations, well wishes, and positive comments are always appreciated. Negative/discouraging remarks or stories about pregnancy/motherhood/twins/my body are not.”

After Arlene somehow managed to say something offensive during the three hours I work with her every week, for several weeks in a row, I finally snapped at her when she laughed at me, on the public floor, as I struggled to pick up something I dropped. I understand that she meant nothing by it, that she simply relates and would never deliberately say something hateful… but even my good ol’ boy husband agrees that it’s pretty much a given of social etiquette that you don’t cackle as a pregnant woman struggles to bend over. I spoke to my branch manager and told her, quite bluntly, that if a manager didn’t have a talk with Arlene, I was going to yell at her, that I simply did not have the patience for the discussion, because I didn’t want to listen to her apologize for two hours… and that’s exactly what happened after her supervisor spoke with her. That Saturday night, she texted lengthy apologies, insisting she didn’t even understand what she’d said and that she wished I’d just told her at the time. This only ended when I relayed the incidences and explained that I knew she’d be upset and didn’t have the energy to make her feel better.

Y’all, I genuinely like Arlene. She’s like our library grandma. Still, I simply refuse to accept that age is a valid exception to rules of society that are widely acknowledged by every other generation, in the vast majority of cases. Whether or not someone is over the age of 70, if they go out and spend time with people, multiple times a week, they know that is not okay to comment to other people on their bodies. I just don’t buy that no one has ever shown offense to such remarks, pregnant or otherwise. At best, they just see it as a social norm, because it was when they were growing up and at worst, they think it’s stupid to take offense, so they’ll say these things regardless, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be called out… and those are both terrible reasons to choose to be offensive, which goes for customers, as well.

Customer: “It looks like you’re about ready to pop, Miss Belle.”

I ignored this as a one-off, said nothing, and kept walking. The very next day

Different Customer: “You look like you’re about ready to pop.”
Me: “I don’t appreciate that comment.”

The very next day, thirty seconds after I finished telling Sarah how much the above infuriated me, another coworker walked in…

Amy: “Belle, you look like you’re about ready to pop.”
Me: ::harshly:: “Do not say that to me. No one on the planet wants to hear about how gigantic they are.”
Amy: ::awkward laughter::
Me: “It’s not funny.”

I’m done, folks. I might only have a few weeks left in this pregnancy, if that, but I’m not going to get any smaller in that time and, from what I hear, I have a lifetime of unwanted comments about my parenting ahead of me, so I am done. If there will forever remain those who are content to make me uncomfortable, I’ll find my own contentment in making them just as uncomfortable, right back. I’ll tell them they’re being offensive, argue the point vehemently if they push, and stare blankly if they try to laugh it off. They are the ones breaking the rules of a civilized society by commenting on private matters. They are the ones who need to get with the times. They can be the ones embarrassed in public.

Concise Reviews of Mostly Dated Shows I Watched or Rewatched During the Pandemic in 250 Words or Less

I, like everyone else, was determined to be productive when Covid-19 hit my country and the lockdown was implemented, in various stages. I was going to do yoga and all sorts of crafts and read all the books and workout and write and, and, and…

I did do some of those things. I walked a lot and on those walks, I listened to audiobooks. I hand-painted a cartoon portrait of my dogs in a bathtub. I painted and decorated the hall bathroom. I… bought a yoga mat and blocks. Mostly… I watched a lot of TV shows, old and new, good and bad. Here are my thoughts, limited to very mild spoilers only.

Lizzie McGuire: I loved this show as a young teen. It was less about relating to Lizzie, herself, and more about wishing I could relate to her very wholesome experiences, at school and at home. As an adult, I realize that this was a pretty sugarcoated version of the middle school years, though, and I’m thrilled that the reboot fell through. Duff wanted an “honest” depiction of life in your 30’s, claiming that the original show portrayed an honest depiction of middle school and I call shenanigans on that. Not once did one of Lizzie’s classmates fear pregnancy, because she swallowed after her first blowie… and that’s a big part of the appeal for me. Even today, I retroactively envy Lizzie’s home life, with her supportive parents and annoying, poorly disciplined little brother. It’s delightful to see that this is one of those shows you can watch as an adult and realize you now relate to the parents just as much as you once did the kids. They weren’t written as clueless or naïve and I’d say this is still a wonderfully hokey watch, that I can’t wait to share with my girls.

The Mandalorian: I’m not gonna lie. I far prefer Star Trek to Star Wars and have picked many a fight with my husband over who would win in a battle, Spock or Obi Wan… because I am cool. The newest installments to the latter have left me cold and viciously hating Rey, because women can be strong and independent, without being ungrateful assholes. So, I had little interest in The Mandalorian, beyond the cuteness of Baby Yoda, but my husband was really excited about it, as were my library teens… and Baby Yoda was still the primary appeal for me. I watched every episode of this series and I couldn’t tell you much about the plot, past “save the child.” One of my teens recently told me that the reason he loves it so much, is that it’s the closest thing to Firefly that isn’t Firefly. I disagree. Sure, the setting is similar, but the heroes aren’t warm or funny or even attractive and the villains are relatively bland. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan, you’ll likely love The Mandalorian, but if you can take it or leave it, you’re unlikely to feel any differently about this installment. Baby Yoda is adorable, though.

Once Upon a Time: This Disney/ABC family show is objectively terrible, overall. The CGI sets are laughably bad in the first season and the child actor gets progressively worse as his cuteness wears off. The storylines are engaging and clever in the beginning, but quickly become more about participation trophies and honorary mentions, as the writers work to include every Disney character ever throughout the seasons. Honestly, though, it’s still a really fun watch. It’s nice to enjoy a fantasy story that truly appeals to all ages, including fight scenes and love stories in equal measure, with absolutely no penis. Game of Thrones and True Blood have their appeal, but there is definitely a point where I feel like nurses see less dick. Once Upon a Time is not what I’d call good. It’s campy at times and goes on for far too long. I haven’t finished the show, but I’m absolutely certain that it jumps the shark, probably specifically the one from Finding Nemo, if the reviews are any indication. Still, it keeps me engaged, when I want some harmless drama and excitement… and can stomach the heroes repeatedly releasing the villains and being absolutely shocked when they do something evil, once again.

Big Bang Theory: Originally, BBT was a clever sitcom portraying a demographic often ignored… even if some thought the jokes just made dumb people feel smart. The show truly jumped the shark, however, when all of the relationships and female characters became its central focus. Penny was always a plot device, the Xander, a character to whom the audience could relate, as she asked questions on their behalf. She normalized the nerds and acted as the inevitable love interest. She had a purpose. Bernadette was an entertaining representation of how women can be smart and beautiful, though she received little depth as anything beyond Howard’s gal. Then, Amy Farrah Fowler joined the show, lighting the fuse that was its inevitable explosion. Amy was an offensive stereotype of female intellectuals: frumpy, socially clueless, and boring. She had to “fix” Sheldon, who didn’t need fixing as an asexual character, and refused to respect his boundaries… or those of anyone else on the show. While she did get progressively worse, it wasn’t just her. The jokes became formulaic and the focus entirely shifted, as happens to many sitcoms that run too long. What was once a tale of geeky men exploring their post-college years, became a failed attempt at a nerdy Everybody Loves Raymond with jokes about marriage and parenting dominating the predictable dialogue of literally every single character, including the no-longer-asexual Sheldon… because that’s how sexuality works. If I ever rewatch BBT, I’ll stop before the first wedding and recommend the same.

Friends: David Schwimmer carried this show. Whether you like his character or not, the actor was the best at physical comedy and delivery. From the first episode, Schwimmer sold Ross as the awkward, nerdy, doormat. Did everything about his character age well? No, but neither did a lot of things, so I’m willing to look at Ross through the lens of 1999, too. Not only did I enjoy Ross more, I found myself hating Rachel, especially past the “we were on a break” drama. She left a man at the altar and slept with him after he got engaged, slept with an ex after he groped her friend, was always a terrible employee, slept with her assistant, took advantage of her friends, treated Ross like a sweater she neither wanted to wear nor donate by stringing him along for years and sabotaging his every new relationship, and gave the father of her baby no actual say in his daughter’s well-being while simultaneously expecting him to do all of the husbandly things without the title. I shipped Chandler and Monica at one time, with their friends-to-lovers trope and enjoyed their storyline again, but now realize that Phoebe and Mike were the couple to beat. They had an adorable meet-cute with real chemistry. Mike accepted Phoebe for all of her history and annoying quirks, with zero embarrassment. Best of all, their relationship never had time to drag. Schwimmer might have been the comedic lead, but Paul Rudd was the real romantic MVP.

It’s a Sin: I thought this miniseries had six episodes. When I realized it was only five, I was relieved, because it was absolutely heartbreaking. When it comes to movies and TV, I’m basically a robot. Nothing but dead animals and babies makes me cry. The Notebook? Titanic? Schindler’s List? Nope. That being said, I cried during every episode of It’s a Sin and I mean tears streaming down my face. It’s such a compelling tale of a group of mostly gay friends, living in 1980s London, during the AIDS epidemic. The protagonists aren’t caricatures and neither are the villains, really, as the leads each leave home and make their way to London, where they can live their lives freely… until they start to fall ill, one by one. Surprisingly, religion is rarely addressed as the reason for the stigma against homosexuality (and AIDS by extension), which I appreciated, because it’s not necessarily as historically accurate in the 80’s UK as it would be in the US South. This show infuriated me as a librarian, as the main characters struggled to find any information on the mysterious illness killing people they loved. I’ve never been happier for such an amazing show to end. I have read criticism that the one (seemingly straight) character was the Token Straight Friend, but I consider that to be a horrible way to talk about allies. Plenty of straight people lost friends and loved ones to AIDS and this show did a great job portraying that, as well.

7th Heaven: At 10 years old, I wanted to be Mary Camden. All of my friends were slender, athletic, and had parents who made sure they bathed and their clothes fit. I never could seem to master any of those. I realize now, depressingly enough, that my mother wanted to be Annie Camden: wanted by her husband, respected by her community, with children who looked up to her, able to keep all the balls in the air… and she never could master any of those, herself. So, watching this show as an adult was bittersweet for me, as I recognized how far my mother’s life veered from what she wanted. While 7th Heaven might have hit a soft spot for me, though, it has probably aged worse than anything in the history of time. Every negative thing about the 90s is encapsulated in this show, from the most oppressive purity culture to low-key racism thought progressive. The Camdens controlled their children’s sexuality with an iron first, from first kisses to first times. They knew one black family, a most accurate example of Token Black Characters, as nearly every episode featuring them was themed around race… which was also true for all other non-white character mentions. It also went on for way too long. By season 8, all but a handful of the original actors had given up, and so did I. Nostalgia aside, there’s only so much time I can spend with early 00s churchy people, without having flashbacks of my own.  

Roswell: At age 12, I was obsessed with Roswell. I mean that I would be concerned if my child were so fixated on something. I work with teenagers, so that’s saying something. Having reached my adult height by sixth grade and still a few years out from my breast reduction, I remember watching Liz Parker stand in front of her mirror in her matching bra and panties, knowing I could never wear something like that, because the cute stuff didn’t come in my size. If I wanted to be utterly mortified, I could dig up the diaries where I introduced myself with my full name in every entry, just like Liz. Still, I think I’d have preferred to be Isabel, beautiful and in possession of alien powers, with two brother figures who wanted to protect her. Middle school Belle had issues and this show is a lot of what got her through them, so for that reason, Roswell will always have a place in my heart. Objectively speaking, though, it isn’t much different than many early 00s shows, featuring gorgeous actors far too old to play the dramatic and angsty parts assigned. It does, however, lack the clever wit of its more iconic competitors, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and doesn’t measure up in the sci-fi world to shows like Firefly, with a plot riddled with holes. It’s unsurprising that Roswell never made it past three seasons, but I don’t care, because those came at just the right time for me.

Smallville: I never intended for Smallville to be a good rewatch. I just wanted something mindless and campy and Tom Welling’s Clark Kent seemed like a good fit. I’d argue that this show is, overall, one of the worst in the Superman franchise. For starters, if Tom Welling can pass for 15 in season one, I can pass for Betty White now. Clark is supposed to be this gawky and awkward teenager, but no amount of stumbling or sputtering from Welling makes up for his age and build. Any teenage boy who looked like that would be the crush of every girl and invited to every party… once people realized he wasn’t a substitute teacher. It’s not that Welling does a bad job portraying Clark, it’s just that it’s utterly unconvincing at age 25. The mostly Monster of the Week plot doesn’t really redeem Smallville either. While Michael Rosenbaum is my all time favorite Lex Luthor, we barely get to see his dark side for several seasons and the supporting characters leave something to be desired, especially Lana. I don’t remember hating this character. Chloe annoyed me until she got over her Clark crush and started acting like a real friend, but I loathe Lana. She’s self-absorbed and whiney and thinks everyone in her life owes her their every secret. Regardless of its other flaws, Lana is what makes me not want to watch, as an adult. The rest, however, is more or less what I wanted: mindless, campy fun.

Gilmore Girls: Gilmore Girls has been quite the comfort watch for me, over the years. Lorelai always had money for the things she and Rory needed and wanted, despite the insistence that she had to get by on hard work and grit. If ever that wasn’t true, The Bank of Gilmore was happy to write a check, in exchange for company only. The heroines were effortlessly beautiful, universally loved, and were handed the world on a silver platter that they mocked for its pretention. They were best friends and adored by all men and their snowglobe town. It was the ultimate fantasy. I tried to rewatch in 2020, though, and just couldn’t get over how ungrateful these two were for their obscene privilege. Sure, you have a complicated relationship with your parents… so do a lot of people whose parents aren’t willing to write them checks or buy them lavish gifts. The Poor Little Rich Girl plot just didn’t hold up for me after the last year and Lorelai’s insistence on being a friend, rather than a mom, was extremely grating when I work with teens in this situation, was a teen in this situation, and prepare to have daughters of my own. Perhaps Reddit just ruined this one for me by villainizing literally every character, claiming abuse all around and scrutinizing the entire show through a 2020 lens. Maybe I just need to come back in another time of life, but this one was a surprising pandemic no-go for me.

Stranger Things: Oh, Stranger Things, the leading title in shows that didn’t need subsequent seasons. My favorite thing about ST is the hilariously spot-on portrayal of teenagers and the amazing acting that accomplishes it. I love me some teen dramas, but working with the age group has me hyperaware that they are almost never portrayed as a day younger than 19 and always by actors older than that. ST breaks the mold with its nerdy 80s middle schoolers and unique sci-fi plot… in the first season. Unlike many, I never felt that ST needed a second, and definitely not a third, season. I didn’t need to be introduced to Billy and Max, who completely lifted out of the story. I didn’t need the audience-pandering reveal of a Steve who’s scooping ice cream and a Jonathan with a successful career, when the opposite is totally what would have happened, considering Steve’s privilege and charm and Johnathan’s poverty and general creepiness. I didn’t need a love story between the single mom and the drunken, incompetent chief of police. I didn’t need to watch Genius Elle stumble over the English language for three years. I didn’t need to see Mike’s mom become a cheating whore. Mostly, I didn’t need all of the sci-fi plot explained, in detail, ultimately removing any and all mystery from the storyline. Sometimes, less really is more and I don’t care if I’m entirely alone in saying that ST would have been far better as a miniseries with a dark and open ending.

Vampire Diaries: VD started off alright, for teen angst played by beautiful twenty-somethings, a favorite genre of mine. Admittedly, Ian Somerholder carried the show, only slightly aided when the original vampires arrived in season four, but it was still a fun watch… at first. My earliest problem with VD was that all affection for Elena dissipated by season three, seemingly a trope of vampire dramas, as Sookie Stackhouse suffered the same fate. It made for a rough watch when I loathed the main character everyone loved. VD didn’t even have True Blood’s handy backup of engaging support characters, either… just Damon and occasionally Caroline. As with most CW shows, Vampire Diaries’ greatest sin was that it went on far too long. Nina Dobrev (Elena) wasn’t even in the last two seasons and it wasn’t not the saving grace it sounds, because VD was the TV show that most obviously revealed it was never intended to be binged. I’ve never seen anything more redundant. Even reminding myself that the story was supposed to span eight years, I couldn’t get past the fact that every character died multiple times. I’m not exaggerating. A Google search reveals that the only character who didn’t die was Klaus, who left the show for his own spin-off. By season five, character death had zero impact, because supernatural loopholes would just allow for their return. After that, I wished for the ability to watch at double speed. At least True Blood had Alcide Herveaux.

Bewitched: At age nine, as my parents were growing less and less interested in me, TV was my best friend. Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer was the best thing ever and Bewitched night was my favorite. I suppose I just never grew out of my desire to live in a world with magic and Bewitched painted a picture of a grown-up existence where that was possible. On my rewatch, I realized the magic is still there. I still love the 60s aesthetic, even knowing the absolute hogwash that was the decade’s representation. I still wish Endora were my mother and consider her way ahead of her time. I still adore the shenanigans that came with a magical, meddling family. I just have one complaint: Darrin Stephens. Darrin was, at best, a bully with no redeeming qualities. Not only did he not allow Samantha to use her magic, due to his own insecurities, he insisted she hide who she truly was, because he was ashamed of her… unless he directly benefited. Their marriage was a wonderful representation of the oppression of the mid-century housewife. I’d like to think that someone magical and immortal was only with him as some form of social experiment. In my mind, 2021 Samantha is as young and hot as ever, raising her two magical children, her late husband nearly forgotten. This conclusion makes for a much better watch, because of all the shows I rewatched during the pandemic, I think this is one I’ll never outgrow.

Mad Men: I got Jake to watch the first episode of this one two years ago, only for him to rage quit, insisting Don Draper was a representation of how men can’t be successful and good. Not until recently could I convince him to try again, after explaining that Don isn’t supposed to be a hero and pointing out that if he can cheer for any of the characters in Game of Thrones, he can get off his soap box. So, I purchased the entire show on Vudu and I’m enjoying it more than I did the first time, as is Jake. Mad Men is generally one of those shows that gets better when you know the ending, as you recognize the growth of the characters through the years, in direct correlation to the shifting political and social times. Not only do I see the intention behind Don’s character changing according to what society thinks he’s supposed to be, but his older counterpart, Roger, goes through later stages of the same, even without a secret identity. In contrast, from episode one, we see Peggy’s battle with who she’s supposed to be and who she wants to be, while Betty and Joan cling to roles they were raised to fill… one with success and the other without. We even get to see how these dilemmas impact their children, growing up in such a volatile decade, all with astounding wit and impeccable taste. I’m definitely not sorry to own Mad Men.

The Office: Jake and I watched The Office for the first time, during the summer of 2019. When my manual laborer landed a promotion placing him in an office setting, though, I insisted we rewatch from episode one, so he could experience the business casual shenanigans in a new perspective. I bought the DVDs on Amazon and The Office has been even more enjoyable the second time. Originally, I found Jim to be somewhat spineless, pining for Pam for years without action, while seeing Pam as a bit cruel for stringing along both him and Roy. This time, I was able to better recognize the nuance, knowing how things ended up for the couple. Not only did the two work together, but Pam’s live-in fiancé also worked downstairs. There’s no scenario where she leaves her fiancé and dates her coworker and everyone is happy. I also figured out what exactly I don’t like about Pam and can get past it as a very human flaw: she is an utter doormat. While I could never relate to being that much of a pushover, that trait makes her transgressions a lot more forgivable. As for Michael, while I love Steve Carrell, I find him to be a much more abhorrent person than I first did. I place intentions higher than most and they still don’t carry that much weight. Holly was just as dorky, while being a much better person, and I’m a bit sad that she doesn’t get someone better.

My mother is dead and no one cares.

When your mother dies, people will be heartbroken. They’ll cry and grieve and mourn at her bedside and again at her funeral. There will be moments when they think of her and remember she’s dead and it will tear them up all over again. They’ll comfort themselves with the knowledge that she had a good life. My mother died on Monday and no one cares.

I hadn’t spoken to my mother in four and a half years. She was not a well woman. A variety of untreated mental illnesses and a man who enabled them manifested in a range of problematic behavior, from paranoia and intense hypochondria to manipulation and cruelty. She was overbearing to the point that any allowance for a relationship resulted in her constant calls, texts, and showing up at my apartment or work, which always derailed into the above behavior. I once declined a lunch invitation, because I had to work, only to receive the response “What happened to the daughter I loved?” More than once, she told of an illness or surgery and deliberately lead me to believe the situation was life-threatening, only to later admit that it was mild or elective. If I suggested she get help, it was always part of a larger plot against her.

These interactions were not limited to me. My brother would respond to this behavior with as much vitriol as he could muster, something that was not in short supply when it came to our mother. She had few friends, if any. She’d long since distanced herself from her extended family, when she married my dad. She’d “quit” her job years earlier, citing ambiguous health problems that didn’t really add up; though I suspect she was fired for chronic tardiness, among other things. Even my grandmother, a woman capable of more grace and forgiveness than anyone I’ve ever known, eventually reached her limit, when my mother self-published a book vilifying her and distributed copies to her whole family. Although I truly don’t think my mother was capable of understanding this betrayal and actually expected praise, my grandma couldn’t get past it and our Christmases became separate that year.

On my 26th birthday, my mother took me out for the day. We had a nice time at first, as we usually did. We went shopping, ate sushi, and she gave me the complete boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Afterward, she needed to make a “quick stop” at Best Buy, which turned into a two hour errand. I worked two jobs at the time and desperately wanted to get home to get some things done and spend time with my dog. I became increasingly frustrated, but tried to keep calm. I eventually offered to have my dad take me home, since he lived nearby. This sent my mother into a rage that resulted in a heated fight on the drive home. I remember telling her she needed mental help, as she began to deliberately drive recklessly, and her cruelly mocking me for self-harming in high school. After she dropped me off at my apartment, I heard a thump. She had hurled the leftover birthday cookie at my door and sped off. I was done. Happy birthday, Belle.

Though I never received an apology, less than a year later, I tried to reconnect for a few months, only to have similar results and once again cease contact. A year or two after that, she showed up at my work one day and, instead of turning her away, I had a nice conversation with her, about my job, Jake, my pets, the life I had planned. She told me of some ailments that the doctors “couldn’t explain” and described symptoms that seemed either fabricated or psychological, knowing her history, but I left it alone. I’d missed her. I’d missed having a mother, even one who wasn’t mentally stable and I couldn’t speak on her health with certainty. I was still hesitant to take the relationship much further, however, as the above events were just the latest of my efforts at a mother/daughter bond throughout my twenties.

Four months later, my mother showed up at my new job site, which was still under construction, bypassed all signs and laborers and entered “just to say hi,” though she lived an hour and a half away. I couldn’t get her to leave, even after insisting that I could get in real trouble for having my mother visit an ongoing construction site. She was baffled at why it was a problem and I had to rudely insist she go. This time she was using a walker, for symptoms that may or may not have been legitimate. I’ll never know. The system director arrived thirty minutes later and I still think I could have, at the very least, seriously damaged my reputation with the director and other members of upper management. It finally set in that it was all or none with her. After 10 years of similar behavior, I no longer had the energy for all, so I chose none. That’s the last time I spoke to her, December of 2016.

This was my adult relationship with my mother. It doesn’t even touch on the abuse of my teen years. I’d grown up with the “wait until your father gets home” threat and my mother had no idea how to discipline a teenager on her own. More often than not, she tried to be my best friend and we had some great times eating cookie dough and watching bad horror movies, talking about our favorite shows and books, gossiping over the cute boys at school. Then, she’d inevitably want me to do something I didn’t want to do and the argument would escalate to physical abuse. After a particularly brutal night, in which she dragged me across the house by my hair, I began discussing moving in with my dad, who was simply the lesser evil at the time, and she told me a story about how he had molested me, insisting I’d blocked it out. Not only did I no longer consider moving in with him, I didn’t talk to him for five years, from the ages of 13-18.

Not long after, my mother somehow managed to have me prescribed a 250mg daily dose of Wellbutrin, without in-person therapy. During our arguments, she’d frequently threaten to have me committed to a psych ward. The physical abuse worsened and each time, she felt horrible, once even insisting that I beat her back with the same dog leash. It was a volatile relationship, in which she had all the power… until she left me, during my senior year, to live with the boyfriend she’d met online, the man she eventually married and seemingly decided was her whole world. Only then did I put the pieces together and accept that my dad might not have been perfect, but he wasn’t a child molester and my mother was, at best, mentally ill and terrified of being alone.

She wasn’t always like this. Before the separation and eventual divorce, before the brain tumor, she showed signs of mental instability, but they were far less frequent, usually just rages far exceeding what the situation warranted or manic episodes where she’d focus on a single cleaning task for days, creating diagrams we couldn’t read yet, with strict instructions to follow them. In between, she made birthday pancakes and planned elaborate parties, took us on vacations, alone or with my grandmother, volunteered for every school activity, using her leave for field trips and our end of the year bashes. She stayed home with us when we were sick and took us to lunch when she had to take off to drive us to a dentist appointment. She painted green footprints in the bathtub on St. Patrick’s Day and put food dye in the milk. She drove us to every after school activity and helped us with gymnastics and softball, despite how absolutely awful I was at both. She let us keep every stray dog and doted on her poodle. She always loved us, I’d dare say more than my father did, and simply grew increasingly worse at it as her mental state degraded. Over the years, she just became an impossible person to have a relationship with, creating for herself a lonely and sad life since she remarried, with no bonds outside her husband; who encouraged and enabled her every delusion, solidifying her hatred for and distance from my grandmother and her family, my brother’s absolute disdain for her, and my own lack of contact.

Last Monday, my mother had a heart attack. She died on the table twice and was completely brain dead when they brought her back. On Saturday, the day before Mother’s day, they unplugged her and I was able to visit, completely alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Jake waited in the lobby. I expected her to be frail and peaceful, but she was morbidly obese, appeared to be bloated with broken blood vessels in her arms and hands, and her breathing was labored through the effort of working her collapsed lung. I gave her husband the latest ultrasound picture of the babies and asked that she be buried with it, somewhat grateful that she didn’t live to know that she wouldn’t be allowed to see them unless she received the help she denied she needed. I spent the next day ignoring “Happy Mother’s Day” texts, while waiting for that fated one from my brother. I’d always hoped that my mom would get treatment, therapy or medication or both, that we could eventually have something, that I’d once again see a shadow of the woman she used to be… and now it’s over. There’s no more time. As that succinct text message said “mom’s gone”… really and truly this time.

When I was little, my grandma used to take my brother and I out and give us whatever we wanted, usually sugar of some kind. She’d bring us home and I’d be hyped up on M&M’s or ice cream and my mom would be exasperated with her and tell me that one day, when I had children, she would do the same. She would have been my age at the time. When she was my age, my mom pictured a future where she was allowed and alive to see my children. She should have had that. She should have had a better life. She should have been surrounded by her kids and grandchildren and a hodge podge of friends. Instead, she had a lonely and pitiful existence with only the companionship of a miserable little man who exacerbated the many mental issues that ultimately ruined her.

The day after Mother’s Day, my mom died at sixty years old… and no one cares. Besides a lack of friends or coworkers, she had no siblings and wasn’t close with her own family. My father’s family was horrible to her, even before she deserved it, and I’ve spent my entire life hearing the nasty things they have to say about her. While I know my dad would love to offer his comfort and possibly even feels he can relate, from the death of my grandfather, I don’t recall anyone ever telling him they’d like to dance on his dad’s grave and I’m not really interested in discussing his choreography, no matter how justified his anger. Worried that I’d keep it to myself long enough to make it really awkward, though, I had Jake call him and deliver the news with instructions to tell everyone that I don’t want to talk… because beyond my husband and grandma, anyone who says they’re sorry is lying. They’re sorry for me, sorry for my grandma, sorry for my brother and his kids… but no one is sorry for my mother’s lost life, in any sense of the phrase. No one but my grandma and I will cry for her and even those are conflicted tears, because deep down, we’re both happy it’s over for her. She didn’t have a good life and it wasn’t going to get any better. She was losing her grip on reality faster and faster and her health was inarguably failing, as well. There won’t even be a funeral, as her husband insists that she didn’t want a service of any kind, which has always been completely out of character. He’ll be having her cremated to bury her alone, without anyone present, like a stray dog. The woman who made those birthday pancakes and binged on raw cookie dough was gone long ago, but now so is any hope that I’ll ever see her again… and no one cares.

Year Four: When I Fell in Love All Over Again

Every year, for the past four, I’ve written a blog post around my wedding anniversary and only last year did it veer from that main subject on my Belle of Infertility page.

Year 1: What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in the First Year – “That’s my final claim to success in our first year of marriage: we checked in with each other on how we saw the second year, the third year, the fourth, because we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and the plans are bound to change a hundred times… but it’s made it a lot less earth shattering to no longer be doing my rewrite alone, to be on the same page as my apocalypse buddy.”

Year 2: Two Vitally Important Years – “We both have pretty big personalities and, therefore, may have a lifetime of brawls ahead of us… but we’ll never have to worry that we haven’t met our match.”

Year 3: Coping (Belle of Infertility) – “I overcame so much and now I have to be Infertility Girl?!?! As if that’s not enough, my options are now postponed indefinitely due to a global pandemic?!?!

This year, officially two days into my third trimester with two baby girls, I look back on the last year and… zetus lapetus it had some highs and lows.

One year ago today, on our third anniversary, Jake and I got the call informing us of an IVF start date of July 18th after months of tears (mine) over the postponement of all elective procedures. By that time this year, those tears will have turned to ones of pure exhaustion as we try to figure out this baby thing… twice.

We spent our fourth year of marriage in lockdown, only leaving the house for work, grocery shopping, and occasional walks around the neighborhood, or the park if we were feeling particularly daring. We focused our energy and finances on fixing up our house… and making some very expensive babies, which I suppose means we also left the house for a lot of doctor’s appointments.

Pandemic IVF was certainly the most difficult trial of our marriage so far. While for me, 2020 made the top three on the list of the worst years of my life, I’m certain it ranked as number one for Jake. Regardless, it made us closer. During a time when the rest of the world seemed to be rethinking their marriages, ours seem to grow stronger. Jake has always been something of a hardass. I joke that I married Red Foreman of That 70’s Show. When we watched The Boys on Amazon, I realized that I found it deeply attractive that Butcher was such an asshole to everyone he met, but had such a soft spot for his wife and treated her with such tenderness.

Me: “Huh. I find it really hot that Butcher is such a dick to everyone but his wife. What does that say about you? What does that say about me?”

Jake helped his parents run a sprawling cattle ranch his whole life. His first job entailed working grueling hours in a grain elevator at 16. After that, he worked rodeos with his uncle. He drove a truck before entering the oil field, as a fluid engineer. He’s a manual laborer and a supervisor. Soft… isn’t really his thing. He’s not great with empathy and if you’d asked me how he’d handle my mental state in 2020, two years ago, I’m not sure what I’d have said… because 2020 was the year I completely fell apart… several times.

The last time I was as poorly off as I was in 2020, learning that I might not be able to have children and would have to go through IVF during an unprecedented global pandemic, I was divorcing Joffrey Baratheon at 23-years-old. There were a few days last year when I didn’t even get out of bed. I didn’t watch TV or read. I stared at the wall and thought about a future without a family, about the resentment that might grow between Jake and I, about losing him because of it, about being all alone. I thought about my parents and how different things could have been if they’d waited until their 30s to have kids, when they were stable in their careers and their finances and had had their fun during their twenties. I thought about how much I love my husband and how much fun we have together and how much healthier my outlook on romance would have been had I seen that in my parents. I thought about all that we had built together and not being able to share it with anyone.

When I was able to be more productive and positive, going on long walks, reading, binging Netflix shows, and taking on craft projects, I still didn’t eat for long stretches and rarely slept. At one point, I averaged an hour a night. I tried drinking to sleep and that… went badly. After my second or third drunken breakdown, I asked Jake what he thought of my getting a medical marijuana card for the anxiety, since I was unwilling to take any sort of medication after being prescribed 250 mg of Wellbutrin from ages 13-18, because my mother couldn’t handle me. It was something of an investment, but he agreed it was worth a try and I could finally sleep. Even when suffering from depression, THC gummies render you too lethargic to do anything about it and that helped me through the summer… through the failed pregnancy test that followed our first $15,000 IVF cycle, through the dread of the second cycle two months later.

… and all the while, Jake was there, when the pandemic meant no one else could be, whether they wanted to or not. In another year, my step-mother would have loved to take me shopping, my dad would have made me laugh with crass jokes over lunch, my step-siblings would have come to a cookout. All of this would have distracted me from our fertility troubles, but in 2020, not only was I heartbroken that I’d potentially never have a family of my own, I was isolated from everyone but Jake… and he was surprisingly up to the task. When necessary, he sat by my side on the bed and read articles on his phone, while I lay unresponsive. He took care of me when that Whiskey Sleep Therapy idea failed so miserably. He went for walks with me when I felt well enough, laughed with me, grabbed curbside takeout, watched movies and shows, helped me with household projects, and played board games with me when I was up to it, always ready and willing to hold me while I cried when the tides suddenly turned. He never made me feel bad for feeling bad and he was always willing to have a good time when I was able. My relentless hardass husband, who’s never been stellar with empathy, was absolutely my rock through 2020.

For my part, I’d love to acknowledge the strength it took to survive the trials of the last year. and I’m sure I would were it anyone else, but I will forever fear turning into my mother, a weak and pitiful woman, who loves being weak and pitiful. Needing Jake as much as I did often made me feel worse, like I was draining him and was too much of a burden. He hadn’t signed on for a wife who crumbled so thoroughly and seeing how strong he was through it all made me feel pathetic. Self-loathing added to my heartache and I often worried that 2020, as a whole, would scar me so badly that there wouldn’t be much of a wife or mother left.

Jake reinforced none of these ideas, though. He comforted me and supported me and encouraged me all year and through both IVF rounds. He kept track of my medications and administered subcutaneous shots and intramuscular shots, well over 100 by the end of the year. He sat in the car during doctor’s appointments and surgeries. He drove me to my monitoring visits during an ice storm. He celebrated with me at 4:00 a.m., when I got a positive pregnancy test and waited in the car during my ultrasound to find out if we were having one baby or two. He rejoiced over the premature news that we were having two boys and once again, over two girls, when the blood test came back. He fought with me over names and painted the baby’s room five times over Valentine’s Day, because the pink I chose was lighter than the beige that was there. He’s built shelves and hung curtains and redone the closet and assured me more than once that I will not be my mother.

Our fourth year of marriage was not an easy one, but it did, indeed make us stronger. In 2020, I saw something in Jake I’d never seen before, a tenderness and compassion I never saw my father hold for my mother and I honestly didn’t expect to see so soon. It may have been a tough year, but it made me fall in love with my hardass husband all over again.

I think I can do this…

So, this baby thing…

… I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. I’ve spent the last year trying not to think about babies, about motherhood, about how my life would change were I to have children. I couldn’t even entertain myself much of the time, because books or movies or TV shows inevitably led to tears about how I’d never be a mom. Now, here I am, six months pregnant with twins, trying to prepare myself. However, as a firm believer that all new parents have no idea what they’re doing, I haven’t been too stressed about my inexperience with babies or children under 10… except for one issue in particular.

Y’all, the human body is gross... especially other people’s human bodies. Whereas Jake struggled to share financial decisions with another person, when we first got married, I struggled to tolerate his bodily existence and still struggle to share mine. I wouldn’t even refer to my period as anything other than “being a girl” for that first year, and we’d already been together for two years, before the wedding day. Even now, well into a pregnancy for which the conception could not have been a less modest experience, I’m embarrassed to discuss any bodily issues, with my husband, the least embarrassed person about all things. My babies were conceived in a room with six people staring at my vagina (none of them married to me, I might add) and I can’t talk about postpartum issues without getting red in the face, because it all disgusts me! That’s right! My body disgusts me, so anyone else’s surely does and here in a few months, I’m going to be completely responsible for the functionings of not one, but two.

I’ll be honest. A year of pandemic fertility treatments left me with some abnormal parenting concerns. It forced me to detach from the idea of motherhood, so I worry about having my babies and feeling nothing, about thinking they’re not cute, about the fact that I had to Youtube “how to change a diaper,” because I have no idea what I’m doing and was too afraid to read the parenting guides when I had the time, for fear of jinxing everything. Of all these concerns, though, this one has been one of the most prominent. How can I be responsible for clearing my children’s airways, when blowing my own nose repulses me?

The year we married, I got food poisoning from grazing all night at a family pool party, when my step-mother reminded me at 2:00 in the morning, that the food had been out all night. The next morning, when I felt queasy, I didn’t want to tell Jake, because the library system had given us free tickets to the local theme park, the theme park of my childhood that I was too cheap to share with him on my own dime. You guys, I do not recommend riding every roller coaster in a theme park while suffering from the early stages of food poisoning… or really any stage at all. By the time we got to the car, I was feeling awful, but accomplished, as I’d ridden every single ride… and promptly projectile vomitted into a sack in the car… only to realize there was a hole in the bottom. Are Wal-Mart sacks actually manufactured this way?!?!

Me: “Just leave me on the side of the road to die!!!”
Jake: “Do you really feel that bad?”
Me: “Yes, but it’s just so gross! I’m disgusting!”
Jake: ::laughing:: “You’re not disgusting. It’s fine. I’ve seen you throw up before.”
Me: “Why would you remind me of that?!?!”

Even as a little kid, I was always grossed out by other people’s bodily functions. I remember seeing other children with runny noses and turning up mine. What was so difficult about making sure you weren’t covered in your own snot? At six years old, I “accidentally” forgot to have my permission slip signed to swim at the pool across from my daycare, because I thought it was gross that people peed in it. On top of all my innate distaste for the human body, the struggle that was my early twenties killed any and all baby fever I ever had, which only briefly resurged at the beginning of our fertility journey, before I forced it down to get through the process of conception. I have zero delusions of cute, sweet-smelling, perpetually smiling babies. In fact, I am quite aware that they’re often pretty revolting and until recently, I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to be a compassionate and loving mom, when my kids were leaking from every orifice for whatever reason. Then, last month, Jake had major surgery, after failing to comprehend or communicate that that’s exactly what it was to his wife.

Y’all, Jake grew up on another planet, as far as I’m concerned. I am a suburbs girl, raised by suburbs folks, no matter how hard they pretended to be otherwise. Jake’s dad shoots strays abandoned on his property and I cry when animals die in movies. My sister-in-law has her own basketball court in her shop and I’m still hopeful Jake’s family thought I was joking when they heard me say “basketball cleats.” Jake looks at his Uncle Buck and sees John Wayne. I look at him and see Fred from Scooby Doo, because he’s always wearing an ascot.

We are, in so many ways, the definition of “opposites attract,” that when I learned a specialist was recommending complete reconstructive sinus surgery, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear the horrifying reason behind it. In the late 90s (that’s 1990s, not 1890s), Jake was loading a horse onto a trailer, when he was headbutted in the face, breaking his nose and… I kid you not… my father-in-law’s immediate response was to grab his twelve-year-old by the back of the head and reset the bone himself, never taking him to the hospital. Folks, we have a new rule in this family: old cattle ranchers don’t set broken bones; because for over twenty years, Jake lived with a nose that was, in the words of his doctor, “completely shattered” in all ways but cosmetic… a fact I did not learn until I called the morning of his surgery, nearly five hours after dropping him off at the hospital to see if he was okay.

We’d scheduled this surgery months in advance, but Jake, with all his cowboy bluster, had insisted that, while the doctor officially recommended he take three weeks off from work, he could go back after just 10 days and that that was only a precaution. Color me surprised when the surgeon explained that the surgery took three hours, because they had to completely rebuild my husband’s nose, that in the first few days, his eyes would likely completely swell shut, he wouldn’t be able to eat or change his own dressings, and he couldn’t bend over or move from the couch for a minimum of 14 days, because a nose bleed could be life threatening.

Me: “He… didn’t really explain any of this to me.”
Surgeon: “Well, I told him.”
Me: “No, I believe you told him and I don’t think he was ignoring you. I think he wasn’t hearing you. We’ve been having that argument for about six years now, actually”

I’m pretty sure Jake wasn’t hearing him, because the theme song to Walker Texas Ranger was going through his head as he pictured himself building fence two hours after major surgery.

So, there I was, five months pregnant with twins, rushing around town to find soft foods after only having just discovered Jake wouldn’t be able to eat for several days. I went to three different stores to find regular strength Tylenol, never having a chance to change out of my homemade Star Trek pajama bottoms and Crocs, before visiting my husband’s post-op room and he… was… miserable. Jake could barely walk to the bathroom, he was so drugged, when the nurse told me she’d show me how to change his dressing. My immediate thought was ‘ew… can’t he change it?’ Of course, I felt terrible for thinking that and watched with rapt attention as she showed me how to replace the gauze on the bandage that ran under his nose and hooked to each ear to manage nasal secretions.

Over the next few days, Jake and I made quite the pitiful pair. I was struggling to bend over myself, while he couldn’t lean forward too far or even open our patio door without feeling dizzy and nauseated. At one point, I put socks on his feet, knowing he’s weird about having his feet covered and wanting to make him comfortable, only to struggle to get back up and tell him that he’d just have to go barefoot until he was feeling well enough to put them on himself. While Jake sat miserably on the couch, feeling too poorly to even play video games, I exhausted myself doing the chores I normally do, along with the ones that Jake had been helping me with, his regular chores, and caring for my invalid husband.

Gramma: “Well, why don’t you just not do them until he’s better and can help you?”
Me: “So… I’m going to stop doing laundry and taking out the trash for three weeks or stop grocery shopping for three weeks?”

I was supposed to work that Saturday and Sunday, my one weekend for the month, and regrettably texted my boss that Jake couldn’t do anything for himself, I’d worn my very pregnant self out doing everything for both of us, and there was just no way I was going to make it. So it went, for several days, bringing Jake water and mashed potatoes and Jell-O and extra pillows, listening to him do all kinds of disgusting things to care for his nose and tell me all about the hardware and… other things… that were inside of it, and helping him change his bandage. I won’t lie. At no point did any of this get less revolting. I was still the girl who only made it one semester as a freshman nursing major. It just… didn’t really matter. Sure, the sounds coming from the bathroom to explain the bloody bandages that were all over it were still absolutely horrifying, but my husband was so miserable, that I was willing to do anything to make him feel better… even helping to clean up bloody snot.

The only point that entire first week, when I lost my patience, was the rare and uncharacteristic moment when Jake refused to take the Tylenol to keep the pain at bay.

Me: “I am five months pregnant with twins and worn out, but I will take care of you all day long, until you make this harder on me. Take the Tylenol or get your own water the next time you’re thirsty.”

He took the Tylenol and by the time I went back to work on Monday, he could get his own water and Jell-O… just in time for my second Covid-19 shot to knock me completely on my butt, once again rendering us an undeniably pitiful pair. A week from his surgery, Jake was still feeling pretty awful, but had mostly gained his independence, only requiring me to move his chair back and forth when he wanted to play his video games. Our poor beagle sat with his head on his paws for the full three weeks, wondering why Jake wouldn’t play with him in the floor, making us even more grateful not to have put this surgery off until after the babies were born. I cannot imagine how much harder those few weeks would have been on us with two infants or toddlers in the house… but now I know that when we do have two small bodies to care for, I’ll be capable of it, not because I’ll be immune to their various levels of repulsiveness, but because my disgust will be overshadowed by my love for them, just as it is for their father. Silver linings can be hard to see, but I’m glad for the reassurance that I can do this. Now, to YouTube swaddling.