About Belle of the Library

I'm a former teen librarian with my Master in Library and Information Studies. After years of dating, I married my perfect match. I am my Gramma's best girl and now I have my own two precious baby girls. I sometimes reach a point where I figure I may as well make everything worse. I often say the wrong thing. I don't always pick up on conversational subtleties. I'll never be dainty or poised. I am a hopeless indoor girl. I read, shoot, craft and BLOG.

My Baby Girls are One

A year ago, I was desperately struggling to lie on my back in an emergency room bed, as my lungs filled with fluid from sudden and severe pneumonia and my heart raced from extraordinarily rare and dangerous cardiac issues…

… oh, nostalgia.

I’m not going to rehash my birth story, considering it was quite literally the most terrifying night of my life and the beginning of an utterly traumatizing period of time… which I declare as someone who frequently scoffs at the overuse of the word “trauma.” Yet… it was entirely worth it.

When Jake and I found out we would have to pursue IVF for even a chance at children, I refused to let myself think of motherhood in any concrete terms. Why fantasize about something, when there was a real possibility that it would never happen for me? There are many different ways to approach infertility and for me, ducking my head and running through the line of fire was the only option. So it was, one year ago, I found myself in pretty dire straights, health wise, and my biggest concern, the one thing I kept asking Jake was…

“What if I don’t love them?”

I didn’t have a positive relationship with my mother after the age of seven. I didn’t have younger siblings, so I wasn’t really around small children growing up. When I realized, in my early twenties, that I simply don’t like children, I wasn’t sure if I should be a mother. I just wasn’t maternal, and unlike the droves of women sporting oversized organic cotton “Dog Mom” sweatshirts, I never considered my affection for my beagle to be comparable. When Jake and I decided to start a family, I just assumed that nature would override nurture and the love for my baby would occur naturally, during pregnancy. Except, that didn’t exactly happen.

After two rounds of pandemic IVF, healthy twins seemed too good to be true. My pregnancy, being a multiples pregnancy, was considered high risk from the start. So, in self-preservation, I found myself always expecting the worst. I spent every ultrasound waiting for devastating news. I put off buying baby items, fearing that I’d be stuck with heartbreaking mementos if tragedy struck. What would I do with an extra crib? Could you even return something like that? I didn’t even announce my pregnancy (or any of the events leading up to it) on my blog until after the anatomy scan at 20 weeks. I love looking back on my blog and seeing who was at another point in time and I just couldn’t bear to see myself as an excited mother-to-be, knowing that it hadn’t ended the way I’d hoped.

I did try, of course. One of the reasons I insisted Jake agree to names early, was because I felt the disconnect. I wanted to feel close to my babies. I just couldn’t. So, on the most terrifying night of my life, my greatest fear remained… what if I didn’t love them?

I’ve had friends tell me that they feel motherhood is sugarcoated in our society and I’m just not sure what media they’re consuming. The only reviews of motherhood (parenthood as a whole, really) that I’ve read or heard in the last fifteen years told me it’s miserable, thankless, and all-consuming. When we found out we were pregnant with twins, it seemed these sentiments were amplified threefold. People in Sam’s Club would apologize to us when we said we were having twins. We were told we’d barely have time to shower, let alone enjoy time as a couple, and that we could forget alone time. Coupled with the detachment I felt to my twins on June 22, 2021, there was a real part of me that worried that I’d rushed into the decision to become a mother, simply out of fear that it might not be an option if I didn’t.

Well, here we are, one year later and I have a message for all those doomsaying parents…

I always assumed that on this day, I wouldn’t be able to believe that it had been a full year with my little girls in my life. Everyone says they grow so fast, that the days are long, but the years are short. It hasn’t felt that way at all for me. Quite the contrary, it’s felt like a lifetime, in the absolute best way. I remember life before the snuggles, giggles, smiles, tantrums, and injuries that I didn’t even see happen, but if feels like years ago. Perhaps that’s because the year and a half between being diagnosed with infertility, just before a global pandemic struck, and the birth of our twins, well… sucked. I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling that 2020 went on for a full decade, and while I miss life before the pandemic, I don’t miss life before children. I don’t miss my career, despite how I loved it. Mama is the best title I’ve ever earned and I am absolutely thrilled with my day-to-day. It is truly a shame that we speak so negatively about parenthood today, because all the worry that I wouldn’t love my girls, just because I can’t stand other people’s children, all the worry that I made a mistake and I’d never have time to myself, time alone with Jake, time with friends, was a waste of energy. This past year has been so much fun. Have I felt exhausted, frustrated, over-whelmed, and even isolated at times? Of course, but it has paled in comparison to the absolute joy I’ve experienced with my little ladies.

You were worth it, girls. You were worth the $30,000, the IVF treatments, the fear during pregnancy, the terror during delivery, the tears in the ICU, the blood transfusions, the echocardiograms, the heart medications. You are not work. You are not a burden. You are a privilege and a gift. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine how worth it all you would be, my precious twincesses.

Why My Favorite 00’s Shows Are Crap

From the time Jake and I started dating, I knew that we would always have some interests we just don’t share. Jake listens to political podcasts throughout the day. I love reading so much that I have an audiobook playing in my earbuds nearly constantly. He likes to work outside. I like to do crafts. He likes playing video games. I like watching the nostalgic TV shows of my youth… which are objectively bad. For example…

Roswell

1999’s Roswell tells the story of Liz, a high school sophomore who works at the alien themed restaurant her parents own in Roswell, New Mexico, alongside her best friend Maria. In episode one, Liz’s and Maria’s lives are forever changed when Liz is shot and healed by Max, a 16-year-old alien played by 26-year-old Jason Behr. Seriously, if y’all thought Riverdale was bad, just check out some of these early 00’s shows.

Everyone complains about unrealistic physical standards for teenage girls, but this was what they told us high school sophomore boys should look like in the year 2000.

I’ll only briefly mention Roswell’s primary lovers, Max and Liz, the16-year-old “soulmates,” when discussing it’s greatest transgressions. Today, media seems to understand that most teenagers are too young to make lifelong commitments to one another, particularly when the basis of their relationship is life-threatening drama. While half of us in the South might still be divorced by 25, the cinematic era of Noah and Ally has mostly passed. However, in the year 2000, it was just beginning and Max and Liz were pretty standard representatives. Also not entirely unique, the level of romance from Max defined unattainable as he literally risked his life for Liz on loop, professed his undying love in flowery, swoon-worthy language, and even refused to accept her rejection of him, because he knew she loved him. What can I say? We all thought low-level stalking was hot in the early 00s.

It was Maria and Michael who fans insisted provided the most realistic depiction of high school dating. If that’s true, millennials all needed massive amounts of therapy. Only recently have I noticed how absolutely horrible this 22-year-old teenage boy is to his romantic interest. Maria repeatedly risks her car, her relationship with her mother, her job, her academic standing, and her heart for Michael and he walks all over her. Nearly every episode features Michael telling Maria that he doesn’t care about her or their relationship, as she begs for his affection and support for the first two seasons. Only in the final season does Michael gain any modicum of decency as a boyfriend and Maria isn’t the only one who thinks it’s too little too late. Of all the criticisms I’ve seen of unhealthy romance in young adult media, I honestly think this one is the worst depictions.

As much as I adore Roswell, despite it’s damaging relationships, I must admit that the real failing is in the terribly inconsistent and indecisive writing. First and foremost, there’s a confusing amount of longingly staring through windows for a show with a “they’re among us” primary plot… as in so much that you’re not really sure if you’re watching a science fiction show at all, sometimes. Additionally, there’s definitely an element of “Where are their parents?!?!”, specifically with Max and Isabel, who play siblings who were adopted by the perfect upper-middle class family and Liz, whose parents own and literally live in the restaurant that serves as their hangout. These teenagers take off for days and even weeks at a time, with little to no explanation, and no one notices. While there is a weak effort to address this by assigning Maria a free-spirited former teen mother who somewhat “gets” her daughter’s behavior and Michael being an emancipated minor, parents in Roswell only really exist to further the storyline. I cannot understand why these shows still star teenage characters. Why not tell the same story starring characters the age of the actors portraying them, in their late teens and early twenties? They’d still be relatable, but the parents that are so lazily written out would no longer be an obstacle.

There’s also the origins and powers of the aliens to address. Historically, the alleged spaceship crash occurred in 1947, which Roswell acknowledges by stating that the four aliens were incubated in a form of cocoon for 42 years before emerging as six-year-olds, who were discovered walking naked and alone in the dessert. It’s quickly noted, though, as a major and recurring plot point, that the aliens don’t have human blood and any sampling of their DNA risks exposure. I’m not a social worker, but I’m pretty sure any child found abandoned in the dessert is undergoing extensive medical testing to verify health and potentially track down parents. Yet Max, Isabel, and Michael have gone ten years without a single blood draw.

As for their powers, it’s explained that the aliens can “manipulate molecular structures.” Well, isn’t that… insanely broad. Despite these seemingly limitless powers, we see the aliens struggle constantly, even declaring that they don’t all have certain abilities, such as healing wounds, which would fall decidedly under manipulating molecular structures. Ultimately, it’s revealed that the aliens are actually alien/human hybrids who have been engineered to use the full capacity of the human brain and that that’s where the powers originate. I’ll ignore the flawed science there and note that later in the show, we find out that with the help of a mysterious structure called the Granolith, the aliens can actually time travel or even return to their home planet where even humans can apparently survive just fine. The scope of these alien powers fluctuates endlessly throughout the show, with some new ones developing while old ones are simultaneously forgotten. For example, two characters rob a store without bothering to change anything about their appearance, which would not only fall under manipulation of molecular structures, but also buying a wig.

Overall, the plots of Roswell are just inconsistent and baffling, with the local police acting as the first enemy, before the sheriff joins the team when the FBI becomes the primary enemy until they… just lose interest? The main villain then shifts to an alien race serving the ruler of the alien’s home planet, who they defeat… with essentially no trouble at all.

A major and unresolved plot point occurs in season two, when Liz finds out from Future Max that she must end her relationship with him before Tess leaves, leading to the destruction of the world in 2014, Liz feigns cheating to turn Max away from her… even though Tess ultimately leaves anyway, pregnant with his child, after she betrays the group and the world is… fine. Perhaps the enemies Tess helped kill so easily were the only real threat and simply took their sweet time attacking over the course of 14 years.

In season three, with other aliens as a whole conveniently a threat of the past, Max searches for a way to retrieve his son and faces a much less impressive variety of villains, such as an old lady who wants him to heal her husband, municipal law enforcement, and eventually the FBI, a seemingly far less threatening force at this point in the show.

Roswell is just generally all over the place, fraught with manufactured and often inconclusive drama, starring actors who are of a completely inappropriate age for the roles they play… and I love it. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this show, but maintain every confidence that the number will triple over the course of my life. I know it’s crap and I just don’t care. Thirty-four-year old Belle might not obsess over this show as much as 12-year-old Belle did, but it will forever maintain a place in my heart as one of the only real bits of solace I had during middle school.

Gilmore Girls

1999, what a time to be alive. Gilmore Girls also premiered the year I started the sixth grade and quickly became one of my mother’s and my favorite shows. Lorelai Gilmore was the star of this dramedy about a mother who had her 16-year-old daughter, Rory, when she, herself, was 16. As the only child of an upper-middle class family, Lorelai felt stifled and railroaded toward a life she didn’t want. To gain her independence, she ran away to a small, quirky Connecticut village, taking her one-year-old daughter with her, maintaining as little contact as possible with her parents. That is, until the pilot episode, when she needs money for Rory’s tuition to attend a prestigious private school. Antics and tantrums ensue.

This show has a cult-like following and I’m not gonna mince words here… it is toxic as fuck. Not even in my Roswellian obsessed middle school days have I ever been as aggressive in my love of fiction. So, while I once thought it would be fun to participate in this surprisingly active fandom…

… I no longer do.

My inclusion of Gilmore Girls on this list would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how poorly it’s aged, from the occasionally homophobic and fat-shaming humor to the “Not Like Other Girls” stereotype. While other girls starved themselves to fit into skimpy tops, listened to Avril Levigne, and obsessed over romantic comedies, Lorelai and Rory ate junk food, wore quirky but trendy outfits, listened to The Bangles, and watched classics like The Godfather. While this garners criticism from newer fans, it’s important to consider what it was like to actually be a young woman in the early 2000’s. It sucked. There was a much more particular mold that women were expected to fit. They were supposed to be blonde, overly tanned, scantily clad, adorably stupid, and very hungry. Watching fair-skinned brunettes wear tasteful but fashionable clothing, discuss classic literature alongside obscure pop culture, and eat whatever they wanted actually was progressive in a time when Abercrombie & Fitch literally sold clothing through nudity.

Another modern critique of Gilmore Girls is Rory’s love interests, particularly Dean, her first boyfriend, who is universally loathed by new fans. In the year 1999, though, Dean was the perfect boyfriend, according to the creators of the show. He was handsome in that Classic White Boy way, understood Rory’s humor and intellect, was protective and attentive, and absolutely adored her. Today, Dean doesn’t quite hold up. What was considered protective 20 years ago, now comes across as controlling, while attentive and adoring is easily interpreted as domineering and obsessive. Even Rory’s second boyfriend, Jess, who embodied the Broody Bad Boy stereotype is often seen as abusive, because we just had much lower standards back then. In fact, many fans hate all of Rory’s love interests, including the Old Money Charmer, who I personally still adore, because what’s not to love about money and charm? What can I say? We were all a little broken in the early 00s and had whopping consent issues.

All in all, I think the above criticisms are valid, though often taken far too seriously by newer fans for a twenty-year-old WB dramedy. Gilmore Girls was never intended to be looked at through a 2022 microscope. Emily Gilmore wasn’t written as a thinly veiled version of The Grandmother from Flowers in the Attic. Lorelai wasn’t the star of Netflix’s The Maid. Rory wasn’t Anna Karenina, though it is a bit prophetic that she claims this was her favorite novel. No, this show was simply meant to be cozy fun and that’s how I choose to take it… despite it’s other issues, because aging isn’t the reason I include Gilmore Girls on a list I’ve labeled as “crap.” No, it’s earned this title from me for the glaring writing flaws. While Gilmore Girls has an undeniably cozy and charming aesthetic, it is honestly one of the most inconsistently written shows I have ever watched. From major plot points to characterization, it’s obvious that the writers of this series were just flying by the seat of their pants for the full seven seasons.

I’ll start with money, which most TV shows address poorly. In Gilmore Girls, however, money is central to the plot of the show, as Lorelai has eschewed her parents’ privileged lifestyle to raise her daughter as a single mom… where she owns her own home in a town that would have exorbitant property taxes for all the festivals it holds. Additionally, Lorelai simply doesn’t live her life as a single mom, ordering take-out nightly, taking impromptu road trips, and going on wild shopping sprees. Only when it’s plot-relevant is Lorelai impeded by her finances, such as when she needs tuition for Rory or her house has a termite problem. Throughout the rest of the series, she has plenty of money for All the Things, despite the entire premise of the show being her escape from wealth and her insistence on being a strong, independent, single mom.

I’m not sure if I’d consider characterization inconsistencies a secondary issue, simply because they’re so egregious in Gilmore Girls. In the beginning of the show, we’re introduced to Dean, the smart, witty new boy in town, who understands all of Rory’s obscure references, enjoys her books, and can build a car… who by season three isn’t sure if he can get into junior college. Lorelai’s eventual love interest, Luke, goes from the title of casual acquaintance in season one to Rory’s lifelong father figure by season six. He starts out as a health nut and an avid fisherman, who hates red meat, but eventually claims he’s disgusted by vegan food and has never had lobster. Lorelai opens the show having spent the last 16 years doing everything she could to be a different kind of mother than Emily, but cuts Rory out of her life completely when she decides to take a semester off from college. Luke’s sister and Jess’s mother is described as a neglectful addict in the beginning of the series, but is later portrayed as just a quirky flake who loves her son. Even Sookie begins the show as the klutzy chef, but seems to get her bearings by the end of the first season, because she never struggles with her recurring injuries again.

It’s not just money and character inconsistencies that plague Gilmore Girls, but entire plot points that are just… dropped, such as when Rory joins a sorority at school and it’s never again mentioned. When Lorelai discovers that her boyfriend is suing her father, it’s a big enough deal to end the relationship, but we never hear about it again. An entire episode centers around Jess visiting his dad in California, but after the proposed spinoff is ultimately nixed, we never get a resolution to that incredibly dull storyline we had to endure. Jackson takes on Taylor to become town selectman, wins, and Taylor has the title again after just a few episodes. When Rory takes time off from Yale and is magically able to graduate on time, she demands and receives a writing job at the Stamford-Eagle Gazette and never again mentions it.

Beyond the financial, character, and plot inconsistencies, Gilmore Girls is a cozy story starring some pretty crummy people. Emily gets all the grief from modern fans and she certainly has her flaws, but Lorelai isn’t exactly a better human. Her relationship with Rory is arguably no greater than Emily’s with Lorelai, as she fosters extreme co-dependency and refuses to act as the adult in the relationship. Furthermore, despite constantly complaining about her mother’s controlling and manipulative nature, she spends most of a season refusing to speak to her daughter, even to share her engagement with her, because Rory hasn’t made the exact choices in life Lorelai wanted. Rory, who starts off a little sassy and very driven, goes on to cheat on or with every boyfriend she ever has and ultimately defines entitlement. And yet… I fully intend to start another rewatch this fall, as I cozy up and enjoy the fake fall leaves of Calif-Connecticut. For all its flaws, there’s just something about Gilmore Girls that keeps me coming back, be it the aesthetic or the What Not to Do guide to motherhood.

Smallville

Smallville first aired when I was 14, just one year younger than Clark Kent, high school freshman.

Had anyone working for the WB ever actually met a teenager?

Smallville had a pretty simple premise, as a Superman origin story focusing on Clark Kent’s teenage years. As in all Superman renditions, Clark is written as a gawky, awkward teenage boy, who lives and works on his parents’ Kansas farm. Unique to Smallville, however, Clark is played by a literal construction worker/male model, making this description less than believable. While his co-stars are standard fare for the early 00’s WB, meaning far too attractive and stylish, they’re also more appropriately cast for their roles. Simply put, while his classmates walk the halls of Smallville High looking like Seventeen magazine models, Clark Kent looks more like a substitute teacher or the foreman of a construction crew.

Jake and I have actually been making our way through Smallville since the summer of 2020 and it’s been a fun, if absurd, ride. Even for a superhero show, Smallville, while entertaining, is nonsensical in basically every way, such as overall characterization, the teen romances, Clark maintaining his Secret, and everything about the properties of WB kryptonite.

The characters of Smallville aren’t particularly distinctive for an early 00s teen show, initially comprised of beautiful, stylish teens who are, for some reason, considered unpopular. Clark begins his freshman year alongside friends, Chloe and Pete. Chloe is obviously Smallville’s resident Lois Lane until the creators decide to write in the actual Lois Lane in season four. She’s passionate about journalism to the point that she will destroy every relationship she has to get a story for the high school paper, The Torch, over which she seems to have absolute control. It makes perfect sense that Chloe would be in charge of the school paper, though, because she has a ridiculous number of vague professional connections, including someone at the medical examiner’s office, the mental institution, and multiple sources at the Daily Planet. It helps that she has advanced computer programming skills and can hack into literally any database without getting caught, at the age of 15. For the first three seasons, Chloe is in love with Clark, because that’s why female side characters existed in the early 00s. By far her most annoying trait, however, is her complete inability to speak in normal human sentences. Literally every line she has is such an overblown attempt to sound clever that you wonder if she’s ever actually heard people talk.

  • “Your online horoscope suggests that you try not to flaunt your excitement which I know will be hard since you’ve been waiting for this date since, like your first growth spurt.”
  • “Clark Kent at the keyboard? Have I been downsized in the bureaucratic world of superheroes?”
  • “Canary, you are caught in a virtual cage and you don’t even know it, but I can help you fly the coop.”

This goes on for entire episodes. As for Pete, it’s been 20 years and he did not age well. While Chloe eventually has an entire in-depth backstory, having little to do with Clark, Pete’s character revolves solely around protecting Clark’s secret… even though he sucks at it, taking every chance and excuse he gets to try to out Clark. Regardless, it’s not a good look in 2022 to have such a cliché Token Black Character as Pete Ross. Considering other POC characters, such as Jesse from Roswell, Lane from Gilmore Girls, Skills from One Tree Hill, and Gunn from Angel, it wasn’t a great look for 2001, either.

A Superman origin story would be incomplete without Lex Luthor, of course, and Michael Rosenbaum is still considered by many to have portrayed him best of all. Smallville didn’t only present a young, handsome, successful Lex Luthor, but a sympathetic one. Lex starts out as a something of a local benefactor, befriending Clark, his family, and even his friends out of genuine kindness and interest, despite their continual distrust in him because of his father, the initial villain of the story. At times, it comes off as creepy that he’s 26 and hanging out with a bunch of teenagers, but it wasn’t intended as such when the show was written. Over the seasons, Lex starts to feel hurt, then angry, and even betrayed by Clark for refusing to confide in him and the two have a falling out amidst Lex’s gradual rise to arch-nemesis. If there is any reason to watch this campy show, it is Lex Luthor’s descent into madness and, for a teen show, the WB does not disappoint in how very evil he becomes, from trying to kill Johnathan Kent, to essentially having groomed Lana to be his lover, to committing war crimes.

Finally, there are Clark’s love interests, Lana and then Lois. Lana is Clark’s first love in Smallville and she is absolutely insufferable. I’ll give this show credit for the fact that the majority of the relationships are relatively healthy… except for Clark and Lana who spend far more time having angsty conversations about why they can’t be together than they ever actually spend together. This is primarily because Lana demands that Clark share all of his secrets with her from the very beginning, eventually even teaming up with Lex to investigate him, despite being quite secretive herself. As the show goes on, Lana gets progressively worse, as do the storylines surrounding her, from her sleeping with a teacher, to becoming a witch, to hooking up with Lex. Despite the writers’ insistence that she’s a deep, interesting, sympathetic character, she’s continually proven to be quite the opposite as the show goes on, eventually going toe-to-toe with Lex in corruption.

On the bright side, though Lois definitely fits the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope of the early 00s, when compared to Lana, she’s America’s sweetheart. Lois isn’t a bad character, so much as she’s a bit too abrasive for the iconic role. In the early 00s, strong women were often written as physically beautiful, but closed-off and overtly rude. This is definitely on display in Smallville as Lois repeatedly mocks and insults Clark, despite his and his family’s every kindness. The animosity doesn’t destroy the chemistry between the two, but it’s also never been the case for Lois in any other version of Superman, to be this hateful to Clark, when she just considered Clark to be somewhat dorky, at worst.

Perhaps one of the biggest failings of the writing in Smallville is around Clark’s “secret.” I use quotes, because eventually everyone in Clark’s life knows about his powers, and if they don’t, they should, because he uses them in public constantly. In nearly every episode of this show, there’s a scene where Clark uses his super speed on a public street, yet when his cousin Kara does the same, he throws a tantrum about the importance of subtlety. The only characters kept in the dark for any real length of time are Lana, Lex, and Lois, solely for purposes of plot and overwrought drama. Even guest stars are frequently let in on this secret that isn’t, to the point that there is just no way that it’s not public knowledge by the end of season three.

Finally, the biggest flaw in Smallville: Kryptonite. It’s comic book canon that Kryptonite comes in multiple forms and Clark is impacted in a variety of ways. The problem is that there’s so much Kryptonite in Smallville and it’s affects vary so wildly. For the first several seasons, this show is pretty Monster of the Week with a new kid at school developing miraculous powers that are usually only dangerous because they’re being used in the wrong way. There are two students who can control bugs, one who can turn people into mannequins, another who can freeze people, a young Amy Adams who can suck the fat out of people until they die, several with various forms of telekinesis, a reporter who can turn into water, a few different seductresses… and the list continues. For some reason, however, the Luthors are the only individuals in the world who are interested in studying and experimenting with this magic rock, even though it’s all over town. You’d think that would pose a problem for Clark. Well, sometimes it does… and a lot of times it doesn’t, like when he can’t see it’s in the same room with him yet, while other times, it’s just too hard to roll away from it. Different kinds of Kryptonite require different levels of exposure too, as red Kryptonite appears to be topical, while silver has to be embedded in the skin. The aliens of Roswell have more consistent powers than Clark’s and everyone else’s response to Kryptonite. It’s just a persistent and glaring plot hole in every other episode.

Despite all these issues, Smallville seems to have been the beginning of the the current superhero TV saga and, as consistently ridiculous as it is, there’s something comforting about its camp. Like many shows of the time, it of course ran for far too long, so it may be another two years before Jake and I finish it, but we have both enjoyed it, even if it’s half in mockery.

One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill started my sophomore year of high school and ended my first year of grad school. It told the story of two brothers in their junior year, who shared only a father, Dan. Lucas, was raised by his father’s high school sweetheart, Karen, who he abandoned when he discovered she was pregnant, and his brother Keith. Dan immediately impregnated another woman, Deb, who came from money and could help him become the wealthy businessman he was in the show. Naturally, he married Deb and raised his second son, Nathan while neglecting Lucas. The two grew up as rivals in the town of Tree Hill, only for their relationship to come to a head when they found themselves on the same high school basketball team.

Y’all, the only thing I hated more than sports in high school were the popular kids who bullied me. I have no idea why I enjoyed this show. I think I felt some kinship toward Haley, Luke’s nerdy best friend, though she was far more poised and adorable than I have ever been. Perhaps it was just the depiction of the outcasts becoming accepted that I enjoyed, because in One Tree Hill, even the losers were eventually included to some degree. There was also the romantic element, which received far more screen time than the basketball plot, since everyone slept with everyone in this incestuous little town. I was particularly invested in the love story of Nathan and Haley, who married and had a baby as teenagers, the pinnacle of early 00’s Don’t Try This At Home teenage girl fantasies. Despite my enduring affection for this terrible show, basically every single thing about it is beyond problematic.

I’ve mentioned the relationships of both Roswell and Gilmore Girls, intentionally avoiding the word “toxic,” as I consider it hyperbolic and overused… unless one is describing the Gilmore Girls fandom. That being said, basically every relationship in One Tree Hill, outside of Nathan’s and Haley’s could only be described as toxic. Lucas opens the show utterly obsessed with Peyton, Nathan’s girlfriend and the absolute embodiment of the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope. In Peyton’s case, the mystery for her atrocious personality was the fact that her mother had died while she was young, her father worked out of town, and her boyfriend was absolutely horrible to her. She wasn’t alone in this title, however. Nope. That moniker was shared with Lucas’s other romantic partner, Brooke, Peyton’s best friend.

This is what teenage girls were supposed to look like in 2004.

Throughout several seasons of the show, Lucas plays Peyton and Brooke off of one-another, frequently cheating on Brooke with Peyton, yet never concerned with the fact that he and his brother are wiener buddies twice over… because the teenagers in this town are apparently in the porn industry. Literally every relationship depicted in this show is horribly unhealthy and sets a terrible example for teenage girls. Even Nathan and Haley are only a dim light in the dark when she kisses another guy before going on tour with him. Yes, Haley goes on tour, because aside from the toxic relationships, the plot points in this show are ludicrous.

It’s been awhile since my last rewatch of One Tree Hill, but I do recall that over the course of this show, the following storylines take place:

  • Nathan becomes an emancipated minor to escape his insane parents and marries Haley at 16.
  • Haley leaves Nathan to go on tour with Chris Keller, played by up-and-coming singer Tyler Hilton, who played Elvis in Walk the Line, but otherwise never made it.
  • Bullied teen, Jimmy, from the first few episodes brings a gun to school and holds a classroom full of students hostage, eventually shooting himself alone in a hall with Dan and Keith. Dan takes advantage of the opportunity to shoot his brother and blames Jimmy.
  • Peyton meets the brother she’s never heard of, but discovers he’s really an obsessed stalker who wants to rape her.
  • Nathan gets involved with small town gangsters who are really into betting on high school basketball (is that even a thing?) and gets caught throwing games.
  • Haley gets pregnant and intends to renew her vows with Nathan, but gets in a car accident on the way and nearly dies.
  • A witness comes forward and puts Dan in prison for the murder of Keith.
  • Four years pass and we find Nathan in a wheelchair after getting in a fight at a bar and ruining his chances at playing professional basketball for a team that just signed him.
  • Nathan and Haley’s crazy nanny tries to seduce Nathan and takes Dan hostage, posing as a nurse.

I’ll stop there, even though there are way more ridiculous plot points to note, because I want to mention one of the biggest issues that makes this show complete trash, and that is the insane level of success that every single character reaches after college. While the first four seasons of One Tree Hill tell the story of the characters’ junior and senior year of high school, even writers for the WB/CW seemed to realize that these actors were just getting too old for these roles. So, instead of writing a story where everyone went to college together, they chose to skip ahead four years to age 22, when everyone has their shit together.

I don’t know where you folks were at 22, but I was married to a psychopath and substitute teaching while working at a rec center for minimum wage, driving around with my valuables in my trunk so my ex wouldn’t pawn them. I certainly wasn’t married to an almost professional basketball player, down on his luck but still rolling in it from his sign-on deal, raising an adorable four-year-old, and reaching troubled teens with my love of literature. I knew zero published authors working as a high school basketball coach for their love of the game. I also didn’t have any friends who’d started luxury clothing lines or become successful sportscasters. I certainly didn’t know any 22-year-old record producers/club owners the year I graduated college. I’d buy the plot point that a stoner’s dog ate Dan’s heart before I’d buy that anyone is that successful right out of college…

No really, I’m not making this up.

… and still, I find myself trying to figure out if I can finish Roswell in time to start One Tree Hill with enough time to start Gilmore Girls in the fall, while Jake and I continue to truck along on Smallville, because there’s just something so comforting about the shows I watched as a teenager, no matter how ridiculous. Perhaps it’s the stress of soaring gas prices and inflation and the threat of a world war that leads me to seek solace in pure nostalgia. Perhaps I just take comfort in the fact that Jake will never impregnate my alien rival… I’ll never not know who the father of my baby is… my former best friend won’t attempt to assassinate my father… and a dog will probably never eat my heart… but what can I say? When it comes to 00s shows, I just have terrible taste.

Not having my mother breaks my heart every single day.

I went days without thinking about my mother when she was alive. It was easier that way. If I thought about her, I had to think about the time that was passing. If I considered trying to rebuild a relationship with her, while I still could, I had to think realistically about how that would look. At first, she’d be thrilled. Then she’d be clingy. Then she’d be pushy. Then she’d be hostile. I had to consider how that would impact my life. If she started showing up at my work again, how would that effect my career? If she showed up at my home, how would that influence my marriage and eventually my children? If she could have a relationship with me, what would she demand of my relationship with my grandmother, my father, my step-mother? It was easier not to think about her… about who she once was… about who she’d become… and most of all, who she could have been. If I didn’t think about her, I could hold onto the idea that there would always be time to fix things… somehow.

My mother died a year ago on May 10th. After six years of not thinking about her, I don’t think there’s been a day that’s passed that I haven’t grieved her loss. I try to focus on the good memories, but after all this time, they’re just so tangled up with the far more plentiful bad ones that I can’t separate them. I know my mother loved me. She just wasn’t very good at it. I wish I could remember more about the former than the latter.

The other night, I dreamt that I traveled through time and got the chance to speak to my mom at some vague point in my life when she was mentally well. I told her that I missed her, that I missed what we were supposed to have together. When she asked me why, I told her she had died at 60 and that we hadn’t spoken in four years when she passed. It broke her heart, just as it breaks mine every day. I told her that I loved her and that I knew she loved me, but that she wasn’t mentally well, that she hurt me, so we couldn’t be together. I apologized for being so mean to her as a teenager and told her that it was okay that she wasn’t perfect, that I knew she tried. I cried and hugged her and she cried with me. I tried to hold on as the dream faded, begged her to get the help she needed, to fix things. I’ve never been so heartbroken to wake up.

My mother broke my heart a hundred times when she was alive. She broke my heart when my dad left and she pulled me out of bed in the middle of the night to bury a statue of Saint Thomas Moore in the flowerbed and pray for him to come back, while I stood there freezing in my nightgown every night for a week. She broke my heart the time she chased my brother and I through the house beating us with a belt buckle… when she stood slapping me in the face over and over again until I took on what she considered a respectful tone…when she dragged me across the house by my hair and nearly broke all of my toes. She broke my heart when she kept me from my dad with lies about child molestation… when she hit me in the face with a stepladder… when she found out I was cutting myself and used it as leverage to threaten me with institutionalization… when she dosed me with 250 daily milligrams of Wellbutrin to make me more manageable. She broke my heart the countless times she chose my dad over me, my brother over me, and most of all, when she left me my senior year, to go live with a man she met online.

My mother wasn’t a good mother. I know that. I also know that, at one time, that’s what she wanted to be more than anything in the world. She wanted a daughter so badly and I am just so fucking sorry that I couldn’t give that to her. She abused me, mentally and physically, from the time I was eight years old. What would another few years have really meant in the grand scheme of things? Why couldn’t I have just accepted her relentless drama, paranoia, hypochondria, and hostility just to make her happy? No one ever made me her happy. I don’t know if she was ever truly happy in her life. It would have made her happy though, if I’d responded to her last text message, six months before she died, asking to get lunch. I considered it, but we were in the worst of the pandemic and I was just wrapping up a round of IVF. I couldn’t risk exposure. I also knew she’d only bring stress and chaos into my life. It would have made her so happy to know that I was having twins, though. I wish I’d told her.

I don’t find motherhood difficult, despite what all the mommy blogs warned me to expect. It’s heartbreaking, however, not to have my own mother here. My Gramma is a wonderful figure in my life, in many ways the woman my mother never could be for me, but she’ll also be 88 soon. I know that the time I have to call her and share stories of Scarlett trying to climb the dog and Violet chewing on Jake’s Crocs is limited. I know that one day soon, she’ll be gone too and I’ll have no one, in that sense. My mother should be here. We should be having the standard mother/daughter fights she had with my Gramma when I was little, about buying my kids too much stuff or giving them too much candy. She should be accompanying us on zoo trips, watching the girls ooh and ahh over the fish. She should have 20 years of shopping trips with us to look forward to… but it’s just me, doing all these things alone, because my Gramma has grown too old.

I’ve always wanted a healthy mother/daughter relationship, even if that meant being on the other side. It’s okay that I’ll only ever have that with my girls. I am so grateful to have even that much after all it took to get them. Every single day, though, I look at the picture of my mother and me on my first birthday. I look like the perfect combination of Violet and Scarlett. I think about what they would say to me now, if they could travel back in time, what kind of mother I’ll be to them and how it compares to my own aspirations. I think about the relationship my mother wanted to have with me and how sour it turned. Every day, it breaks my heart all over again… for me and for her. I am so sorry this is how it all turned out and I will never forgive myself for not trying harder.

Here’s to Five Years

Almost seven years ago, on June 9, 2015, Jake and I arranged to meet at a sushi place in Springfield, just north of my hometown of Shetland. I remember the date, not just because I remember all of the dates, but because it was my Gramma’s birthday and she was my next stop.

At 27, having been divorced for four years, I was growing weary of the dating scene, though I hadn’t yet begun to approach truly desperate. What had once been a fun and exciting experience had become tedious and redundant over the years. While I largely preferred online to organic dating, simply for the screening it allowed, the process had become unchanging. I’d talk to a man for a few days to a week. We’d schedule a time to meet in a public place. I’d determine we were incompatible for some reason. I’d blow him off with varying degrees of politeness. On rare occasion, I was being a diva, but most of the time my reasons were entirely valid. The day I met Jake, I was more or less over it. I didn’t want any more first dates that ended with my return to my single girl apartment, where I’d thumb through profiles I’d already seen a dozen times. I wanted to move on with my life, start the next adventure. Then I met Jake.

Ha. I jest. Jake and I didn’t have a Love at First Sight moment, because life is not a poorly written historical romance. No, we just had… a really good date. He more or less looked like his pictures, was funny, found my awkwardness endearing, and didn’t seem to be turned off by the fact that I just could not stop talking. He thought I was cute, was pleasantly surprised that I was as… loquacious as I was for a librarian, and enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t afraid to talk back to him. An hour or so after we went our separate ways, I received a text telling me that he had a good time and would like to see me again…

… and two years later we were married on May 6, 2017 after a courtship which was surprisingly easy in nearly every way. Sure, we had our spats, but overall, we were shockingly well-matched for the cowboy and the librarian. Our tastes were just similar enough to enjoy things together, yet different enough to introduce each other to new interests and entertain ourselves separately. We shared goals and worldviews and it was always just… easy.

On our wedding day, I never experienced a single moment of doubt that Jake was the best decision I’d ever made. It was a perfect day, right down to the weather, as my dad turned to me and told me I’d picked a good one this time. It was right and it has been right every day since…

… but after celebrating five years or marriage, I can’t say that it’s always been easy. In fact, 2020 would rank as the most difficult year of my life if the ends hadn’t justified the means… and if it hadn’t been for Jake and his complete and total acceptance and strength. He is the string to my kite and while he’s certainly not perfect, he is perfect for me, the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I used to lie in bed at night, every door locked, with a loaded gun in a sock in the bed next to me, praying that the next man would be a good one. After the devastation that was the one and only relationship I’d ever had, I prayed that God would see fit to bring me a Godly man who was hard working, funny, intelligent, and would be a good husband and father. I didn’t need a hero from one of my romance novels. I needed someone real, someone who would compliment my own personality… and on June 9, 2015, I found him. It was my 21st first date and little did I know that I’d meet my very best friend.

The last year has been kind to us, overall. We welcomed our baby girls into the world and I spent the year regaining my strength after that terrifying ordeal. We realized that my staying home was the best choice for our family and fully embraced parenthood. We have had so much fun with each other and our girls. I never thought marriage could be this amazing and I’m certainly looking forward to the next five years.

Career Woman to Stay-at-Home Mom: A Six Month Update

Six months ago, this week, I celebrated my first day as a stay-at-home mom, coincidentally on Thanksgiving Day. After working my entire adult life, as a student, a minimum wage movie theater employee, a minimum wage city employee, a substitute teacher, a circulation clerk, a librarian, a manager, and finally a teen librarian (some of these concurrently)… I quit.

I suppose that, like most first world workers, I had my grievances with my library system and the field at large, but overall, I adored my job. I worked with great people to serve a community I loved. I made teens feel safe and accepted. I helped curate a varied, current, and unbiased collection. After 10 years with the company, having worked at eight different branches, I had friends across our 19 library system. I was fulfilled… until Covid-19 hit.

I’ve said several times that if it weren’t for the pandemic, I’d likely be the kickass working mom I always intended. Even as a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered a pilot, a veterinarian, a lawyer, a nurse, a teacher, but never a mom. Of course I assumed I’d have a family, but Mom was not a career. My mother worked full time. Her mother worked full time. My dad’s mother worked full time. The little awareness I had of stay-at-home moms was primarily through a handful of distant relatives who my parents would mock for not working. Being a stay-at-home mom was for the wealthy and the devout. It truly never appealed to me, even after my girls were born… at least until they were about eight weeks old.

I’ve previously chronicled my decision to leave my career, three weeks after I returned to work, and again on my last day five weeks later. The abbreviated version was that I spent the worst part of an unprecedented global pandemic imagining my life without children. After a childhood which grew increasingly lonely, an isolating and terrifying first relationship, my solo twenties, I finally felt like I had the life I wanted. I was the person I wanted to be, someone who belonged. I was ready to start a family of my own, to create the house full of chaos, fun, and love that I’d yearned for as a child. I’d spend my 30s growing a large family that would expand to grandchildren and perhaps even great grandchildren. Yet, on February 13th, 2020, Jake came home from the urologist with devastating news. IVF was our only option. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars. It might not work. My future, as I pictured it, seem to go up in smoke.

I’ve published my infertility blog and won’t recap the heartache Jake and I went through to get pregnant, but it was indeed worthy of its own blog. As many survivors of infertility will tell you, that positive pregnancy test wasn’t the end. For the next seven months, I lived in fear that I would lose my babies, that we’d go in for an ultrasound, excited to see our growing girls, and the heartbeats would be gone. All the while, life went on as much as it could during some of the worst days of the pandemic. It was just three weeks after hearing those two little heartbeats that I was forced to put my 13-year-old beagle down, within days of my mother being put on a ventilator with Covid-19. The day after Mother’s Day she died of a heart attack. Six weeks later, my girls were born and I nearly died of pneumonia and heart complications, myself. It was just too much.

I tried, y’all. I tried to get excited about work, about seeing my coworkers/friends, but pandemic precautions had left me with nothing to enjoy about my job. I spent the better part of every day with nothing to do… so I looked at Instagram photos of my babies, read updates from the daycare about how they were doing, and looked up articles about how to determine if being a working mom just isn’t right for you. I cried almost every time I had to leave my girls and at the end of the day, when Jake and I pulled up to that daycare, I had my door open before the car stopped. I felt like a completely different person, no longer caring that the pandemic would eventually pass and the job I once loved would return to normal. I still didn’t even like other people’s kids, but I wanted to be with my girls.

Leaving my career was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I went through so much to be a librarian… but I went through a whole lot more to be a mom. Jake and I both hated that we were always in a rush, that every weekend was eaten away by basic errands and chores we couldn’t do during the week. We hated paying 2/3 of my paycheck to daycare, even when they were closed or the girls had to stay home because they were sick. We gave it time. Everyone said it would get better… but it never did.

One of my biggest fears when I left my job was that I’d regret my decision once my hormones leveled off. Every article I’d read suggested giving it six months, but the idea of waiting until my girls were nine months old just broke my already weakened heart. I talked to my stepmom about my dilemma and she shared the same concerns. She worked when her kids were small and felt it made her a better mother, just as I always thought I’d feel. Knowing how much I loved my job, she feared the same for me. No one seemed to think my quitting was a good idea. There comes a time though, when the devil you know is worse the devil you don’t and I was just so miserable working full time. So, I took a leap of faith and six months later…

… this former career woman, who used to quote “What you do is who you are,” has never been happier. I love being a stay-at-home mom. I get up in the morning and let my babies take as much time as they need to enjoy their breakfast. I spend my mornings doing the dishes and the laundry, making the bed, deep cleaning the kitchen and the bathrooms, all things I barely had time to do when I was working. I love laying on the floor of the playard and letting my daughters attack, as Violet pulls my hair and Scarlett climbs me and pokes me in the eye. I read Alice in Wonderland aloud or play Disney sing-alongs on YouTube from my phone, while both babies try to grab it out of my hand. I love that I can give them baths and let them play and try to climb the tub and each other, because I have the time to do so and don’t have to rush them off to bed.

That’s what it all boils down to, y’all. Even with twins, I have time I never had while working 40 hours a week. I get to take my girls for a 45 minute walk literally every day. We go to storytime, where we see other babies, play with lame library toys, and lick table legs. I can pick up groceries at 9:00 in the morning, before the stores get crowded and still have time to get my car washed. During naptime, I get to work out and stream and craft. I listen to audiobooks all day long. Best of all, literally the absolute best, I have the time and energy to take my girls to my hometown of Shetland, 45 minutes away, to spend one morning a week with my Gramma, the woman who’s given me everything.

I saw my Gramma multiple times a week when I lived in Shetland, but that changed when I married Jake and moved to Cherokee. I didn’t have much time during the week to drive to the other side of the city and weekends always seemed to get eaten up. I hated that she didn’t get to bond with the girls, especially considering Violet is named after her, as am I. Time was passing. My Gramma will be 88 years old this summer and I’m lucky she’s even still alive. I was terrified I’d blink and the years would be gone and so would she. I’d have wasted my chance to see her or let my girls know her. Now, we see her every week. My children actually reach for her and she knows their personalities. She counts down the days and though it’s still kind of a hassle, it’s so very worth it to make her so happy.

Not every woman feels this way about staying home, a fact with which I completely empathize, having always assumed I’d hate it. I don’t feel used up, as many women report. I don’t feel touched out. My girls play with each other. I don’t have to attend to them every second. Jake helps with all three meals, coming home for lunch, giving me time to talk to another adult in the middle of the day. We still have a loyal group of childless friends who come over every other weekend. I don’t feel lost in motherhood. I don’t need a career outside the home, because I’m still so intellectually curious that I’ve already told multiple people about the accordion gang violence I read about on BBC yesterday. I still have hobbies, friends, passions, and frustrations. I’m just not as stressed out all the time. I don’t need to decompress from work, while also somehow getting in some snuggles. I don’t have to stay up late to get time to myself. When Jake wants to visit his parents or go to a rodeo over the weekend, I’m not upset that I’m missing what little time I have with my babies. It’s fine, because we’ll just have fun on Monday.

I knew that I would be a working mom, just as surely as I knew that I’d loathe staying home, that I’d lose myself and no longer feel like a woman, just a mom. While I’ve been true to my word and my girls still don’t watch TV, play with our phones, sleep with us, or dictate our schedules, this is the one topic I knew would be a certain way for me as a parent, long before my girls were born, where I am officially eating crow. Just as being a stay-at-home mom is not right for many women, being a working mom just wasn’t right for me, no matter how I knew I’d feel. Maybe that will change in a few years and maybe not. I might go back to work or we might homeschool. I’m not going to try to make any predictions, because my previous one on this subject was so incredibly off the mark. This is what’s right for us, right now.

I was wrong. Everyone was wrong. I don’t regret quitting my job. I don’t feel isolated. I am happy. While I truly carry no judgment for any woman who chooses to work, I recommend both options as a topic of consideration for every family. We millennials have been told our whole lives that the two-income household was the only way to thrive, to the point that many of us have never realistically considered another option. I know it’s easier said than done for the majority. I know it’s not a financial possibility for many, especially in higher cost of living areas. I know that the career repercussions would be insurmountable for others. I respect if it’s not possible or right for a family to have a stay-at-home parent. I’m glad we considered it, though, even though we never thought we would. I’m glad we ignored all of the conventional wisdom and didn’t wait. I’m glad that we found what works for us. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, that’s okay. That includes going back to work. You’re not less intelligent, less successful or less maternal, less nurturing. You’re not letting anyone down if you forge your own path. You’re not a disappointment if you’re a different person than you once thought.

I Read 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 3

My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, at least half of which I could reference in casual conversation without making people uncomfortable… so, not mobster erotic romance. Since I’ve never actually read most of the classics I was assigned in high school and, as a teen librarian, my main customers were still being forced to do so, I figured I’d make all 26 classics. I finished them just after my girls were born, with a six month delay due to the headaches caused by infertility medications. I only violently hated one and generally disliked a second one, as you can see in my review of books 1-7 and 8-13. So, I present, books 14-19.

14. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was prepared to hate this book, purely out of spite. After all the praise given to Anna Karenina, I lost some faith in the tastes of the masses and Pride and Prejudice is beloved by women everywhere. So, it was with a begrudging heart that I downloaded the book that has spawned a dozen adaptations and retellings, only to realize within the first few chapters, that I love Jane Austen.

As much as I adore romance, historical has never been my jam, since the genre as a whole takes a pretty liberal suspension of disbelief with its sexy, wealthy, successful heroes and ambiguously curvy, sassy, independent heroines. In this particular subgenre, I nearly always find the men to be laughably attractive and the women to be overly abrasive for the time period, as I will enthusiastically rant about given the briefest mention of the movie Titanic. Without a time travel plot, it’s just too jarring to read about relatably modern characters in a historical setting, so my enjoyment is pretty limited to titles written during said time periods, like Little Women or Pride and Prejudice.

Y’all, I’m aware that I’m peaking as a basic white girl as I type this, but Elizabeth Bennet is likely one of my top five literary heroines across all genres. Written by a woman indisputably familiar with the day, Lizzie Bennett stands up for herself, voices opinions, and pushes just the right number of buttons to make her strong and independent but not completely ignorant the social norms of the era. Similarly, Mr. Darcy is written as the ideal man of the early 19th century, intelligent, proud, and wealthy, but with a level of introversion and stoicism not often found in literary romantic heroes that still adheres to the acceptable norms of the day.

Lizzie was endlessly loyal to her family and friends, standing up to Darcy for his slight against her older sister, despite the riches and comfort a romantic match with him would have ensured. She cried for her younger sister when she’d ruined her own reputation and supported her friend’s unenviable marriage, after overcoming her shock and prejudice. While Mr. Darcy has never been my type, he was a believable romantic hero who somehow made infuriating, yet understandable judgements and endearing apologies. Anyone familiar with the romance genre knows the value of grovel and Fitzwilliam Darcy nailed it when he saved the Bennet name to make up for the harm he had inadvertently caused.

While I understand that the writing style of Jane Austen takes some acclimation, I find that to be true of essentially every classic I’ve read. Pride and Prejudice was full of witty, relatable, fleshed-out characters, right down to all seven members of the Bennet family. The romance was sweet and I found the hero and the heroine to be pretty equally flawed and redeemable. The depiction of the time period was easily visualized, but not overly detailed. As much as a cliché as it makes me, I have to say that Pride and Prejudice is officially one of my favorite books, deserving five stars.

15. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkein ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Growing up, I often felt like an outsider among my family, as we watched Baywatch and Walker Texas Ranger, while I much preferred fantasy. Having been assigned a ridiculously high reading level, because American public schools are horrid at fostering a love of books, I often read solely to satisfy academic requirements that weren’t met by titles that would have actually interested me, like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. While I tried to watch the movies as a teenager, I found them slow and uninteresting and hadn’t really considered reading the books until I met my husband, who loves them.

I don’t know that it’s necessary to break down the plot of The Lord of the Rings, but I’ll give it a go. The story starts in the Shire, where Bilbo Baggins is celebrating his 111th birthday by telling everyone to kick rocks. Before he leaves, however, he gives his nephew, Frodo, the One Ring, ultimately leading the innocent hobbit on a great adventure to take the ring from the Shire with his three companions, Sam Gamgee, Pippin Took, and Merry Brandybuck. The quartet find themselves pursued by Black Riders, agents of the Dark Lord Sauron, who seeks the return of his Ring of Power. Shenanigans ensue in the form of singing (yet badass) elves, dangerous battles with the Black Riders, and a lot of walking.

I wanted to love this book. Sadly, while I recognize the brilliance behind the work, I’m simply unable to live up to my aspirations of becoming an LotR Fangirl. I have a great deal of respect for the fact that Tolkien literally set the stage for high fantasy. In an age when it would have been impossible to depict such a tale on screen, Tolkien painted a vivid and beautiful picture of Middle Earth and its inhabitants, though some of the latter have been decried for their obvious anti-Semitic stereotypes. Had I been read this story as a child, tucked snugly in bed by a mother who enjoyed fantasy, I’d have surely adored it… but I wasn’t.

I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time at age 33, already familiar with tales such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. While I recognize that, in many ways, The Lord of the Rings is the source material for these stories, knowing that fact doesn’t make it any less redundant to read a painfully detailed description of settings I can easily picture from my prior knowledge of high fantasy. It also doesn’t pick up the pace. It’s not that The Lord of the Rings isn’t a good book. It’s an amazing feat of literature, the literal metric for all epic fantasy to follow. A product of the age it was written, it’s just kind of a slog compared to those followers and so, I give it four stars.

16. 1984, by George Orwell ⭐⭐⭐

2020 was a bad year to read a bunch of politically dystopian classics and 1984 was no exception with its tales of government corruption from censorship to legit brainwashing. 1984 has long been a reference point for both American political parties to warn the public about overreach from the other. Since Orwell modeled his make-believe society after Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, I personally find both claims to be pretty hyperbolic. Even if it is more representative of China or North Korea than present day U.S., that doesn’t make 1984 any less worthy of a read.

Orwell’s final novel tells the story of Winston Smith’s gradual betrayal of The Party, rulers of a province of what was once Great Britain but is now a totalitarian superstate called Oceania following an ideology called Ingsoc or English Socialism. Winston is an outwardly loyal worker of The Party, altering historical documents so the regime appears to have always been in the right, though he secretly opposes their rule. He begins his gradual betrayal through an affair and illicit meetings with those who claim to be members of the resistance, growing increasingly careless. As one might predict, Winston is discovered by the Thought Police and his story doesn’t end well, serving as a bleak cautionary tale against protest of an all powerful government.

While I wouldn’t recommend reading 1984 (or any of the other politically disturbing classics I’ve reviewed) in an election year, it’s definitely a compelling read. It primarily suffers in its characterization, an entirely forgivable flaw considering the predominant goal of The Party is the quelling of individuality or independent thought. This does, however, make both Winston and his lover, Julia, less sympathetic protagonists. By extension, the grim ending of 1984 doesn’t hit as hard as say, the ending to To Kill a Mockingbird, warranting an overall three stars.

17. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In my experience, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most frequently praised classics and horror novels. It seemed an obvious choice for my project, considering how much I loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Like Dracula, the story of Frankenstein is woefully misrepresented in every adaptation, as even those who’ve never read it will insist that the title references the creator and not the monster. The monster doesn’t actually have a name, because Victor Frankenstein is an unethical blasphemer who gets what he has coming to him. The deviations go well beyond this, however, overlooking the point of the story entirely.

The tale of Frankenstein starts as a correspondence between an arctic explorer named Captain Walton and his sister, as he passes along the story of an emaciated man he’s rescued, Victor Frankenstein. Victor has succeeded in the unthinkable, bringing forth life from spare parts. Tragically, this scientific marvel has gone horribly awry, ultimately finding Victor chasing his creation through the frozen tundra… and it is all his fault.

After Victor breathes life into his creature, he’s horrified by his achievement and abandons his innocent, if repulsive, creation to wander the countryside alone. While Victor returns to his childhood home in Italy, his monster is left to fend for himself, growing attached to a family he secretly observes in a cottage in the woods. Over time, the Creature teaches himself to speak and read, longing for love and companionship, yet only interacting with a blind old man. When the family discovers the monster they flee in terror, causing him to seek out Victor’s aid. During his travels, the Creature is attacked for trying to help humans and yearns for vengeance against his creator. When the monster finally catches up with Victor and shares his tale, he begs him to create a companion, promising to retreat into the wilderness with his bride. If refused, the monster vows to kill everyone Frankenstein loves.

It’s clear from the start that this story doesn’t end well for Victor or the Creature, but the turns the tale takes are shockingly dark for a classic written by a 19-year-old woman over 200 years ago. While the movie adaptations of Frankenstein focus on the horror of the pieced-together monster, it’s clear that Shelley intended him to be a sympathetic character. In fact, Victor comes off as the true villain, playing God only to shirk his responsibility as a creator and lead his family and friends to pay the price. Frankenstein’s Creature isn’t simply a 19th century serial killer, but an abused and tortured creation seeking only love and affection. Frankenstein is the shockingly complex story of a being heartbroken by society’s complete ostracization. This book easily ranked in my top five and I’m disappointed that no movie has done justice to the intended story, which absolutely earns five stars.

18. Anthem, by Ayn Rand ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I first read Anthem in the 10th grade and loved it. When I say that, I mean I had the email addresses and Xanga tags Liberty-53000 and The Golden One. It wasn’t Pre-AP English kid pretention, either… or rather it wasn’t solely Pre-AP English kid pretention. I genuinely adored the story of one man quietly rebelling against a collective regime that had destroyed all sense of individuality and ultimately finding happiness. Considering 17 years had passed, I felt it was reasonable to count this title in my total classics, despite it technically qualifying as a reread.

Anthem is a novella, written by Ayn Rand while she was taking a break from her research for The Fountainhead. It tells the story of Equality 7-2521 as he records his life and perceived transgressions in a forbidden journal in an underground tunnel. Equality 7-2521 shares details of growing up in a collective society, where individualism is a crime, where there is no I, only We. He writes about the “curse” of intellectual curiosity that plagues him, a streetsweeper, the experiments he does in his tunnel and eventually, of a flaxen-haired girl he’s dubbed The Golden One.

Since Anthem is literally 105 pages long, I won’t give more details, as it’s not my goal to completely spoil these books. I will, however, report that Equality 7-2521’s story ends in a happily ever after. I’m sure that’s partially to credit for why I loved Anthem at 33, just as much as I did at 16. I think this is also due to the fact that, despite Rand’s works having quite the reputation to the contrary, there’s just something so palatable about this book. After having read essentially every weird dystopian science fiction classic for this project, I can say that Anthem is in the minority in both of those, possibly competing with George Orwell’s Animal Farm in the latter. Like We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Anthem sprung from the mind of someone who lived in Communist Russia, but lacked the confusing jargon, world building, and translation issues despite having been written only 16 years later. It’s just more readable and I truly enjoyed We.

I only wish Anthem hadn’t been a novella. I’d have loved a more fleshed-out picture of Equality 7-2521’s society and how it came about, of the characters and what made them different, if they even were different or if everyone felt the same way. Of course, that was part of the magic, the not knowing, but it does leave a little something to be desired. With that, I give Anthem four stars.

19. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brone ⭐⭐⭐

I was supposed to despise Wuthering Heights. It was going to be a contender against Anna Karenina for worst classic ever. It’s predominately loathed by readers and according to the judgmental ninnies at r/romancebooks, anyone who enjoys it condones abuse. Maybe my low expectations are actually to credit for why I genuinely enjoyed this book, but aside from the complaints about length, I found many of the criticisms of Wuthering Heights to be unfounded.

This book was a lot of things for me, but romance wasn’t one of them. I think that inaccurate classification might be why it gets so much hate. It’s a pretty universally accepted rule that all romance ends in a Happily Ever After or HEA, which is far from the case for Heathcliff and Catherine’s story. No, Wuthering Heights is more accurately described as a story of vengeance, as Heathcliff sets out to get his retribution for the racism and mistreatment he’s experienced from Catherine’s brother, Hindley Earnshaw, and the neighbor for whom she left him, Edgar Linton. If read with Heathcliff in mind as the protagonist, but not as a romantic lead, Wuthering Heights is an epic tale of revenge as a dish best served cold and I found it delightful.

As with most classics, this one is unforgivably long, but that adds something to the story as the reader experiences the wait for justice right alongside Heathcliff, while the years pass. Essentially no one in this story is even remotely likable, but that made it more fun for me to witness as they all got their comeuppance through Heathcliff’s sociopathic shenanigans amidst the gloomy backdrop of the moors. This story really was the ultimate tale of just desserts and I was pleasantly surprised, though I can understand why others wouldn’t enjoy such a bleak tale, especially one so often billed as romance and therefore award it only three stars. Additionally, I highly recommend the MTV movie adaptation starring Mike Vogel and Erika Christensen as a fabulously terrible trip through time to 2003. It is painfully bad and the best $3 I’ve ever spent on Ebay.

Am I ready for this?

I had a dream the other night, that I gave birth to triplets, they all died, and I didn’t know until days later, because I was so sick. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to watch Chernobyl right after I called the fertility clinic. I suppose hindsight is 2020.

It feels like only yesterday that Jake and I got the news that we’d have to do IVF if we ever wanted a family, just before a global pandemic hit. Yet, here we are, two years later with twin girls turning one in June. I’m turning 35 in September and Jake is turning 38 in October. We have six frozen embryos.

When we started this process, we were told that having so many embryos left to freeze wasn’t a likelihood. A good IVF cycle might yield enough to try once or twice and hopefully result in as many children. After our first attempt resulted in a complete and utter failure, we’d have been happy with the latter… but that’s not what we got. We got six in the freezer.

Jake and I have always talked about having three or four children, agreeing that regardless of gender, we’d stop at four at the most. Jake is one of three and grew up surrounded by cousins and family friends. I had a fairly lonely childhood, living on 10 acres with few kids nearby. The ones who did live close, came from equally poor families, who also lived in trailers, and my dad didn’t want us to spend time with them. Despite it having been just my brother and I, my parents encouraged a strange level of animosity between us. We didn’t just bicker. We despised each other. As a kid, I adored Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer event, when I could binge The Brady Bunch and dream of being one of a family of eight. In high school, I secretly saw Cheaper by the Dozen in theaters multiple times, by myself, fantasizing about having 11 brothers and sisters. Today, I only even see my brother at Christmas. His nieces were six months old the first time he met them. He didn’t even call when they were born, when I was in the ICU.

As an adult, my desire for a large family never faded. I spent my twenties living it up in my single girl apartment, cuddling with the dog while watching Yours, Mine, and Ours, imagining a life with a loud, chaotic, happy home. I, quite deliberately, enjoyed being single, so I don’t think I even realized how truly lonely I had been until I married Jake. Suddenly, I didn’t have to do everything by myself, whether chores or entertainment. Five years later, every night is still a slumber party with my best friend. He filled a void I hadn’t realized existed and now, eight months in with twins, the party has only grown and I know I’m not done. While I do feel a responsibility to use as many of my embryos as I reasonably can, before donating them, I also want more children.

Y’all, being a librarian was wonderful, but being a mom is the best job I’ve ever had. I love it. I love changing diapers during changing table gymnastics, dragging babies out of the dog bed on loop, seeing little faces light up with every bite of solid food. I love celebrating every new milestone and making up songs about mundane activities. I love the meltdowns and the giggles and the ever-increasing chaos. I love the idea of having one, even two more children. If things were different, I’d probably already be pregnant. They are the way they are, however, and I don’t love the thought of going through infertility treatments to get there.

Being in our mid-thirties, Jake and I have communicated pretty regularly about when we’d like to try to get pregnant again. We’ve agreed to wait the full recommended year after my C-section and see what my cardiologist has to say on the subject. If all goes well, the plan has been to transfer another embryo this summer. Infertility, however, is a hurry up and wait game, so that means the process starts… well, now. The first step was calling the clinic. The next step will be a consult with my reproductive endocrinologist. On one had, the idea of growing our family is exciting. On the other, the idea of doing an embryo transfer during a pandemic sounds awful… and after pandemic IVF, I feel like I’m something of an authority on the matter.

When I started IVF, I told Jake that my greatest fear after failure was that it would fundamentally change me as a person, that I wouldn’t be strong enough to retain my sense of self. As I’ve shared a few times, I feel that was valid. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover from the toll infertility has taken… and the journey isn’t over. Am I ready for this? Am I ready for the shots, mood swings, and physical side effects? Am I ready for another pandemic pregnancy? It’ll be less stressful this time around, not working and knowing that whatever happens, I have my girls. It’ll still be a gamble of approximately $5,000 on my uterus, though. It’ll still be on me to give us another child, my girls another sibling, my embryos a chance at life. Ideally, I wouldn’t mind waiting a bit longer, but time is somewhat limited, especially with the health issues I suffered last time. Am I ready to dust off the old infertility blog? Am I ready for the pressure, the stress, the tears? I don’t know, but I wasn’t really ready the first time, so… I guess we’ll see.

Muslin Sucks and Other Motherhood Realizations

A librarian, a researcher, a Ravenclaw… when I was pregnant, I did all the research. Having avoided all things baby during our fertility troubles, I felt wildly unprepared to take charge of two tiny lives forever. So, for nine months I studied the risks, benefits, and likelihood of vaginal delivery versus cesarean. I read up on schedules, sleep training, and milestones. I watched YouTube videos on diapering and swaddling and taught myself lullabies. I read list after list of must-have baby and twin items and cross-referenced them with online reviews. I did all that I could to prepare myself for all of the emotional/bodily changes and the impact of newborn multiples on my marriage and social life. Now, here I am, the mother of eight month old twins and these are my findings.

Muslin sucks.
I did more research on the things I shouldn’t buy than the things I should, because I’ve always considered the baby industry to be quite predatory. While the wedding industry sells a “perfect day,” the baby industry markets your child’s safety and well-being, heavily implying that if you don’t purchase that $200 sock, they’ll die. So, I was pretty choosey with my purchases and regret very few of them.

My husband was right, the Dock-A-Tot is an over-priced dog bed. Two full-sized high chairs would have been expensive and taken up way too much room. We didn’t need two changing tables or really two of most things. The off-brand double jogging stroller is amazing. The simplest bottles are the best bottles. My preemies did need long-sleeved onesies. The Baby Brezza was worth every penny… and muslin sucks. For years, I have seen women heaping praise on muslin swaddles, muslin blankets, muslin changing pad covers, claiming they’re so soft and that they get softer with every wash. I didn’t even think to research this miracle fabric when building my registry, since it had been sold to me as remnants of the shroud that covered Christ himself. I wish I had, though, because apparently someone over at Muslin Inc. sold his soul to a crossroads demon to convince moms everywhere that this stuff is anything but gauze for bandages.

Y’all, muslin is the worst. Since it’s basically low thread count cotton, after just a few washes, it becomes scratchy and those beautiful and vibrant colors you love noticeably fade. The weakest Velcro, which is found on a lot of baby items, will destroy it and it shrinks and shrivels, in a way that is entirely unique to these overpriced dollar store bath towels. As much research as I did, I never found a “muslin sucks” rant, so here’s mine: muslin sucks.

I sleep and pursue self-care.
When I found out I was having twins, I was prepared to never sleep again. In fact, during those last couple of months, I would often burst into tears over this assumed inevitability, as leg cramps and round ligament pain would wake me during the night. I was even angry at Jake, because he could sleep and I hadn’t slept well since before Covid-19.

When you leave the hospital with multiples, you’re given a schedule with strict instructions to maintain it. So that’s what we did, in part because I left the hospital very sick. Not only was I recovering from major abdominal surgery, I wasn’t even supposed to stand for long stretches of time, due to heart complications. Responding to every noise the girls made wasn’t a possibility. Still, those first few weeks were a blur of feeding babies every two hours, because the actual feeding took an hour or more. As a result, it was time to eat and snuggle, only when it was time to eat and snuggle, not out of heartlessness, but self-preservation. This wasn’t a problem, because our 35-weekers slept so much we actually worried about their hearing. I’d read that it was best to develop healthy sleep habits early by maintaining normal volume and lighting in the home, to help differentiate between day and night. Nothing woke those girls.

For us, this all seemed to work well, because other than the four-month sleep regression, our babies have slept through the night since they were 12 weeks old. Rather than following the wisdom of Google, we followed the cues of our daughters and dropped all of their night feedings a bit earlier than conventional wisdom suggests. First, we nixed the midnight and then the 8:00 feedings. As a result, my plump little ladies eat three times a day and we sleep. Some nights they both fight going down and others they’ll wake up crying. Our response lies somewhere between Cry it Out and the Ferber Method. If they cry in earnest, they get a snuggle and a song and return to their cribs. If they cry for more than a few minutes after, they get the same treatment. This happens maybe once every few weeks and between instances, we all sleep through the night.

I won’t claim that this is all the result of our amazing sleep training skills. I’m sure there’s a good deal of luck involved, since both of our girls have always been healthy and have never had reflux or Colic issues. Some babies just don’t sleep and that doesn’t make anyone a bad parent, but it’s not necessarily the norm to never sleep again, as we’re all told when preparing for children. Even when the girls woke every two hours to eat, Jake and I traded off on taking feedings alone, so the other could sleep longer. It might have been broken up a bit more, but we did sleep. Today, the definition of “sleeping in” has certainly changed with babies who won’t entertain themselves past 8:00, but we are not the exhausted zombies of parenting memes. In fact, I’d say I sleep much more now that I have children, than I did when I worried I’d never have them.

Similarly, Jake and I both find time to use the bathroom alone, shower, shave, and wash our hair. I’m a bodily private person and having children hasn’t changed that. I’m not going to do private things in front of my children, even as infants, if it makes me uncomfortable. After the invasiveness of infertility, I deserve bodily autonomy. My girls rest from 10-12 and from 2-4 during the day, whether they choose to sleep or roll around in their cribs and play with their feet. This is my time for self-care, ranging from exercise to grooming and basic hygiene. Maybe that will change when my twins are more mobile, but considering the number of people who insisted I’d go days between showers now, maybe not. Even during the fourth trimester, which only one person warned me would be an absolute bitch, I found time for basic hygiene every single day.

The fourth trimester was a bitch.
Despite the complications we had getting pregnant, I had a good pregnancy, until the end. Sure, I struggled to breathe with asthma and masking. Sleeping became progressively more difficult and my round ligament pain was fierce at times, but I wasn’t miserable. Though pregnancy hormones might have made me a little more sensitive, it wasn’t over-powering. I found myself a little… confused, because I was pregnant with not one, but two babies and I was actually enjoying it. Jake and I had so much fun planning for a future we had feared we’d never see. I loved feeling my babies kick and seeing them grow. In general, it was just so much easier than I had expected. I felt so fortunate to have side-stepped many of the side effects other women experience… you know, until I almost died.

I was five or six months pregnant the first time I heard the term “fourth trimester,” from my extremely even-tempered sister-in-law. She mentioned that she’d had a surprisingly difficult time post-partum, crying at the slightest provocation. I did some research of my own, but found reports varied widely and decided I’d fight that battle when I came to it. Well, a fight it was and the fear that I might have health issues for the rest of my life did not make things easier. Some days, I went from looking at my twins and feeling so blessed to have two healthy children to hysterically crying because I wasn’t going to get to see them grow up. I broke down every time a cardiologist appointment was coming up, adamant that I wasn’t going. I swung from devastation that I might not be able to have more children to insistence that I wouldn’t even try if I could.

My situation was quite unique, but the fourth trimester kicked my butt, even though I passed all of the post-partum depression tests. Despite all my research, the fourth trimester was probably the instance where I felt the least prepared. After two rounds of pandemic IVF, I finally felt as thought I’d gained a little bit of control of my emotions. Having that stripped away with minimal warning was devastating in itself. I wanted to enjoy those newborn days. I wanted to be happy and grateful, if fatigued, at all times. I was so frustrated with myself for having those negative feelings and potentially tainting such fleeting moments.

I have more sex now than ever.
For as long as I understood the reference, I knew that having children would kill a couple’s sex life. Before my girls were born, sitcoms and the single mom pals from my 20’s had me convinced that Jake and I would never have regular sex again, a particularly disheartening idea after infertility. For all of the awareness of infertility that’s arisen in our society, no one really talks about the havoc it can wreak on a marriage, particularly sexually.

When Jake and I were first trying to conceive, the sex was… regimented. Folks, as attractive as I find my husband, timed intercourse was somewhat unfulfilling. Still, scheduling sex around the blue days on an app was the steamiest scene from a romance novel in comparison to sex after we found out we’d have to pursue IVF. On the off-chance that I could get in the mood, I’d end every session crying, because it couldn’t make a baby. When I was finally pregnant with twins, things got awkward real fast. Sick until 14 weeks, I only had a few more before I became too cumbersome for comfortable intercourse. In fact, Jake deserves a ribbon for finishing the last time we were together before the girls were born, because I laughed the whole time. At 33 weeks with multiples, I was quite large for a land mammal. The angle was all wrong. It kind of hurt. It was just so bad.

I was not this subtle.

Despite my traumatic birth story, I was ready to reconnect just a few weeks after the girls were born. I missed my husband and looked forward to sex without a calendar or tears. It’s a damn shame no one told me that sex after childbirth hurts, but after one painful, failed attempt and a few uncomfortable sessions, things weren’t just good. They were better than ever.

As I mentioned, our girls slept a lot when they came home, even if it was intermittently. So, when I was still on maternity leave, Jake and I had plenty of time to be alone. Even when we were both back at work, the girls were usually asleep by 6:00, leaving potentially hours for someone to initiate sex around dinner, chores, and the 8:00 feeding. Now, our babies sleep from 7:00pm -7:00am and rarely wake up. Since I’m staying home, all of the chores get done while Jake is at work. We have all the time in the world for intimacy and we take it. I won’t go into detail, but contrary to modern wisdom, as the new parents of eight month old twins, my husband and I have more sex than we ever have in our marriage, averaging 4-5 times a week.

I have hobbies and a social life.
As a former librarian, one of my favorite things to do is read… high fantasy, romance, horror, good books, bad books. I’m actually in the process of finishing my blog series reviewing the 26 classics I read during the worst of the pandemic. As much as I wanted a family, I was saddened to think that it might be years before I could read again. If I wouldn’t have time to read, surely crochet, cross stitch, painting, paper crafts, and sewing would all be a distant memory as well. Since we met, Jake has been trying to get me into XBOX and PC gaming, so he would have someone to play with and we might share and bond over another hobby. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but felt that surely I’d struggle enough to pursue the hobbies I do have, let alone new ones. Well, I was mistaken.

When Jake and I purchased our home in 2018, I found the inoffensive shade of Rental House Beige nauseating and painted every single room. Y’all, painting a 2300 square foot house is time consuming, so I decided to finally train my brain to listen to audiobooks. It was a game changer. I was able to finish two to three times as many books and I could read at rodeos and my nieces’ sporting events. I’ve loved audiobooks ever since and that affection has transitioned well to motherhood. I can listen to a book when I do laundry, clean, run errands, or take the girls for a walk. I can also listen while crafting. For Christmas, I made everyone mugs with my mug press. I used my Cricut to make the girls’ New Year’s Eve and Groundhog Day outfits. I resumed a cross stitch I started at the beginning of Covid. I’m catching up on the photo albums I make every year on Mixbook. Every day, I get an average of four hours of napping babies (or babies babbling and rolling around in their cribs), and several hours of babies who have gone down for the night. During that time, I get to pursue hobbies with a steady stream of stories in the background. I’ve already finished more books this year than I did in all of 2021. Jake even bought me a gaming PC so we could play together, when they girls have gone to bed.

As for maintaining a social life, Jake and I don’t really have any nearby friends with children. His buddies from high school have little ones, but they live in his hometown three hours away, in a neighboring state. Were we not in the midst of a pandemic, I’m sure we’d have strengthened the church connections we’d been cultivating before Covid. As it is, we stopped going to Mass in March of 2020, only returning to have the girls’ baptized. I assumed it would take a few more years before the twins were old enough to broaden our social network, through story and play times. Until then, I supposed it would just be the four of us. Although Jake is blessedly the most extroverted person I’ve met in my life, I still worried that this might be isolating. I needn’t have worried, because Dungeons and Dragons saved the day!

Just before the pandemic hit, I had really hit my stride as a teen librarian. I had almost 20 regulars attending homeschool programs weekly and had just started to see a payoff in my pursuit of a public school crowd. It was 2019 and the latest and greatest thing in teen librarianship was Dungeons and Dragons. Daunted by the steep learning curve, I’d dragged my feet on starting a campaign of my own, but my teens were begging for DnD. I knew my old friend Nikki actually lived a town over and had played with her husband, Percy. As a favor I asked if Percy might DM a game for us in exchange for dinner, so I could learn firsthand and invited my coworker Sarah for the second session. That was in February of 2020 and though there have been breaks for rises in cases, we’re still playing the same campaign. While I feared Jake would find the whole thing too nerdy, he took to it even more than I did. Right before I quit my job, he began DMing his own campaign with Percy, Nikki, and two of my other coworkers, Grady and Dawson. As nice as it will be to develop friends with other parents, it’s wonderful to have friendships that are completely independent of our role as parents, doing an activity that has nothing to do with our children. It’s even better that it’s regularly scheduled.

This isn’t that expensive.
Jake and I had several reasons for waiting until we did to start a family. We hadn’t lived together before we got married and wanted to enjoy some time alone. We dreaded the thought of moving with children and wanted to own our own home before they came along. Jake had left oil and hoped to advance a bit in his new field. More than anything, though, we wanted to be financially secure when we started having kids. For us, that meant reaching a minimum income and paying off specific amounts of debt. After learning we’d have to pay $30,000 to get pregnant, money was an even bigger part of our plans. Would we be able to afford daycare, diapers, and formula, let alone clothes and toys and family outings?

Of all the surprises parenthood has brought us, Jake and I have been most shocked by the fact that this isn’t that expensive. Daycare was ridiculous, because we have so many government regulations on the industry that it’s impossible to find even a rundown center for a reasonable price. Of course, we weren’t actually willing to send our girls to a subpar facility, so with twins, we were paying $1600 a month for childcare in a low cost of living state. That’s more than our mortgage for a 2300 square foot house on over an acre. One of the many reasons I quit my job was the knowledge that one more child would take more than my entire paycheck in daycare alone.

Childcare aside, though, the most we’ve spent on formula for two babies, has been about $20 a week, after the NICU pediatrician confirmed that the Sam’s Club brand was chemically the same as Similac. We buy our diapers in bulk and spend around $100-$150 monthly. Now that the girls are eating solid foods, we likely average another $100 on that, but our formula budget has decreased by about half. Currently, we spend around $300 on these priciest of necessities and for two children that’s… manageable.

When I found out I was pregnant at 21, not knowing I’d miscarry at 11 weeks, I worked part-time at a movie theater. The managers told me that if they’d waited until they were ready to have children, they’d have never had them. That makes sense, in hindsight, considering their financial situations, but the security that Jake and I aspired to was never beyond reach. We just wanted to own a comfortable home without drowning in debt. Still, we feared we wouldn’t be able to afford children, after being told for so long how unimaginably expensive they are. Well, here we are and right now, with two babies under one, it’s not that bad, financially. As they get older, they’ll have more needs and wants and we’ll have to reassess the budget, but right now, it really is okay.

Jake and I have only been parents for eight months. We have no idea what we’re doing most of the time… but that’s alright, because parenting has been wonderful. Even the rough moments haven’t come close to level of misery and negativity society projects on the institution. Our girls are not a physically and emotionally exhausting financial burden wreaking havoc on our personal lives and sex life, They’re a gift and a treasure and even when it does get tough I still feel like the rhetoric surrounding parenthood is inherently wrong. We sleep and shower. The post-partum tears have dried. We have sex all the time. We have good friends and fulfilling hobbies. We’re not drowning in debt. Some of these things will surely change as our babies grow and I’ll update you when they do, but I know one fact that will remain constant: muslin sucks.

I miss the person I was in 2019.

A little over seven months ago, I was one month out from grieving the death of my mother, petrified that I’d never bond with my babies, hoping that over the next three weeks something would click and I’d suddenly feel connected to the lives inside of me. You see, the complicated way we had to conceive impacted my ability to attach to my unborn babies. I was perpetually afraid something would go wrong and awaiting the inevitable ultrasound where one or both little heartbeats were lost. Covid-19 complicated matters even further, as I feared contracting the illness and/or having to give birth without my husband.

As much of a planner as I am, I’ve never been one for birth plans. My only real goal for what would happen in the delivery room was that all three of us would get through safely and without complication. I’ll enter my disclaimer here and state that I truly don’t care what other women do, but coming from a line of many nurses, childbirth has always been a medical procedure for me. I didn’t care about the music playing or the lighting or having a positive energy. I had a preference for who delivered my babies, who was in the room, and who visited after the fact. Call that a birth plan if you like, but that’s as specific as I was willing to get over something I knew I ultimately could not control. Fertility treatments just strengthened that conviction, as did a high risk twin pregnancy.

When you’re going through IVF, a lot of people look at your vagina. I’ve always been a bodily private person, but I was forced to set that aside for a full year, starting with IVF monitoring appointments in July of 2020. By the time I found myself facing a second egg retrieval, I did not care about modesty. When asked if a resident could view the procedure, I answered that they could live stream it if they could get me pregnant. In the end, there were six people in the room when my children were conceived and my husband wasn’t one of them. God and science were in their conception. God and science would be in their birth. I didn’t need it to be magical. On the contrary, I knew it would be painful, gross, and awkward. When the doctor and I discussed arrangements, I jokingly informed her that I had 28 different birth plans, one for each phase of the lunar cycle.

This feeling was, of course, exacerbated by my status as “high risk.” After exhausting amounts of research and a refusal by my doctor to insist on one or the other, I ultimately decided to schedule a C-section, but keep my mind open to a vaginal delivery if things worked out perfectly for me to have one with twins. They… did not.

Here’s a trigger warning (ends with Fozzie Bear) for references to childbirth that require a trigger warning…

June 18, 2021 was a Friday. I had my standard bi-weekly doctor’s appointment, where the doctor talked to me about how I was feeling, verified that she thought I would be able to make it to the date of my scheduled C-section, July 14, and sent a nurse in to check my vitals. When the nurse informed me that my blood pressure was high and sent me to Labor and Delivery for monitoring, I was sure this was the moment when everything would go south, particularly since she told me I might need to stay over night. I was hooked to fetal monitors and blood pressure cuffs, given a steroid shot for the babies’ lung development, and had just started to worry, when the nurses told me I could go home. My blood pressure was a little high and we’d need to keep an eye on it. I was fine, though, and would just need to come back the next day for monitoring and the other shot in my steroid course. That appointment was far less scary, with Jake by my side. My blood pressure was briefly monitored, a shot was administered, and I was sent on my way with assurances that those babies would stay put for another three and half weeks.

I spent the weekend doing chores and felt good and strong… until Monday morning, when I headed to my high-risk ultrasound at a different hospital. I’d previously been out of breath, but had assumed it was a combination of twin pregnancy, asthma, and wearing a mask at work. Monday was different, though. I was short of breath, exhausted, and my heart was racing. I didn’t think I’d make it from my car into the doctor’s office. I assumed I was getting a cold or a sinus infection, but when the tech had trouble differentiating the babies’ heartbeats, I struggled to lie on my back, because I couldn’t stop coughing. The doctor arrived and asked how I felt, to which I responded I felt like I was coming down with a cold. He assured me that I could use over-the-counter medication, so I stopped by Wal-Mart and stocked up. I didn’t want to use sick leave for the rest of the day and was determined to return to work, but since I was scheduled to do a virtual program alone at one of the satellite branches after telework ended, I decided that just this one time, no one would be the wiser (nor would my managers have cared) if I worked from home for the day. So, I watched a couple of webinars and oversaw some teenagers as they played DnD, refusing to cancel, because I knew it might be one of the last times I got to play with them. I visited the chiropractor that evening, hoping to ease my back pain and took it easy.

The next day, I woke feeling utterly miserable and called in sick to work. My back still hurt and I felt like I hadn’t slept in weeks, both of which I blamed on being 14 months pregnant with what I could only assume were Godzilla and Kong, if their movements were any indication. I tried to sleep on the couch, but couldn’t stop coughing. I knew it wasn’t Covid-19, because it wasn’t a dry cough and I had no other related symptoms. My stars I felt awful, though, so I decided a hot shower might help… like ten times.

I now realize that I was growing delirious, as I took shower after shower, hoping to ease the tightness in my back along with my coughing. As my skin grew chapped, I doused my legs in baby powder, too foggy to clean up the mess. Had Jake been home, I’m certain he’d have noticed something wasn’t right and taken me to the hospital, but as it was, he only came home for lunch and wondered about the mess. When he got home for the day, however, I told him how poorly I felt and that my heart raced every time I stood up. I asked if he’d call the hospital and we were told to come to the emergency room, just to be safe. I remember telling Jake that we’d forgotten my hospital bag and asking him to turn around.

Jake: “We won’t need the bag.”
Me: “We’re gonna need the bag.”

Spoiler alert: we needed the bag.

When Jake and I arrived at the ER, where I told them I couldn’t breathe, the first thing they did was put a mask on my face. They wouldn’t test me for Covid-19, because I’d been vaccinated. Many of the nurses weren’t wearing masks, because they weren’t required to behind counters I can only assume were made of medical grade magic, but it was vitally important that the fully vaccinated massively pregnant woman who couldn’t breathe wear one “for the safety of everyone in this hospital.” I was immediately seated on an ER bed and told to lie back… a position I couldn’t maintain, because I would immediately start coughing. After a couple of hours of trying to be accommodating, I flat-out refused to lie back and sat with Jake in front of me, waving the nurse off and telling her he was there if I fell.

Much of the night following our 6:00 arrival at the ER has blurred in my memory. I was taken for a CT scan, after having an IV put in my arm, without warning that it would vibrate due to the magnets. I remember lying there, terrified because I was instructed to hold my breath and I thought I’d cough up a lung, but also because I feared the IV had been left in by mistake and would be pulled out. I wasn’t allowed water, in case I had to deliver that night and I have never been so thirsty in my life. I received an echocardiogram and was told my doctor was on her way, with reinforcements to deliver our babies in an emergency C-section.

Me: “I’m scared.”
Jake: “It’ll be okay.”
Me: “What if I don’t love them?”

In hindsight, the fact that I was most worried about properly loving my daughters, as opposed to my own health in this moment, was proof that I needn’t have worried about it as I was rushed to the delivery room. Another mask was put on my face, this time over an oxygen mask, so I thought I’d be okay, until I realized I still couldn’t breathe. I vaguely remember hearing the nurses say they’d forgotten to turn the oxygen on, so at least that mystery was solved.

I remember even less of what happened from there. I was briefly held in a labor and delivery room, where I was asked to change into a gown. Once again, all modesty was thrown out of the window as I stripped the XXXL Summer Reading t-shirt and maternity shorts from my massive body in a room full of nurses, who began to freely discuss whether or not I needed to be shaved. I was wheeled to an operating room, where a kind anesthesiologist did his best to calm me, as I panicked over having to lie on my back for the surgery. I have had a lot of surgeries in my life, y’all. A C-section was never really something I feared… until I thought I might drown while I was fully aware of everything that was happening. In fact, when the doctor warned me that he’d have to insert a breathing tube if I couldn’t calm down, I begged him to do just that. I only vaguely remember the spinal block as I coughed and coughed, with the anesthesiologist reassuring me that breathing would be easier once it had taken effect.

While I could breathe more easily than before, that wasn’t saying much. I lie on the table shaking from the adrenaline with an oxygen mask over my face as I coughed as best I could, numb from the waist down. I vaguely remember hearing a baby cry as my sweet Violet was brought into the world. A nurse brought Scarlett to me, so I could see her, but I was much too concerned with my own discomfort for much to register. If I’d known I wouldn’t see my girls for two more days, I might have cherished that moment a little more.

I was then rushed to the ICU, shocked that this was where they’d put me. It was only over the next few days that I would learn that I had been diagnosed with “substantial pneumonia” and perinatal cardiomyopathy, a pregnancy-induced heart condition that impacts .00001% of women in the U.S. My lungs were full of fluid. I was technically in heart failure. I’d lost over half the blood in my body, with only five units left. After two back-to-back rounds of IVF during a global pandemic, I almost died giving birth. Although I couldn’t have predicted how, the disaster I had so greatly feared had come to pass.

Over the next four days, I was given three blood transfusions and a mile long list of medications, as a team of doctors worked to regulate my heart, build up my blood supply, cure my pneumonia, and treat my surgical incision. Say what you want about the American healthcare system, but that hospital saved my life. It was the most terrifying and dehumanizing thing I’ve ever experienced, as nurses cleaned the blood from between my legs, rolled me over to give me sponge baths, and helped me use the bathroom, all while providing a constant infusion of medication and antibiotics.

I spent the first two days in darkness, since the pain medication gave me crippling headaches and caused me to relentlessly scratch my face due to the itching. While I’m not sure I was present enough to realize my girls weren’t with me that first day, the depression began to set in on day two, when I woke screaming that they’d taken my babies, that I hadn’t even gotten to hold them. Jake, who had not left my side, sleeping in the uncomfortable recliner, tried to soothe me and assure me they were alright. Still, I barely spoke, was uninterested in conversation, reading, listening to music or audiobooks, or any form of entertainment or socialization as I feared for my health and yearned to hold my girls. I finally my chance, when the nurses assembled a security team to bring them down for a visit and I was able to snuggle my precious babies for a few moments, before admitting that I was too sick to do so much longer.

On day four, I was released to labor and deliver, on the insistence of the ICU staff that they weren’t doing anything for me that couldn’t be done on another floor. One nurse adamantly insisted that I needed to be with my babies and I eagerly waited all day to be transferred, so I could have my girls in the room. The first thing I did when I arrived in the same room I’d briefly visited before my C-section, was to take a shower supervised and assisted by Jake. I desperately wanted to feel human again, but didn’t quite accomplish it over the next three days, constantly interrupted by a stream of nurses and doctors running tests and administering antibiotics… but I had my girls.

I’d love to report that all was well, once my family was united, but alas, it was not. The first night with our girls, we were plagued with absolutely useless nurses in a ward with no nursery, despite the fact that I was literally instructed not to get out of bed. We weren’t informed that the girls should be double-swaddled, when they were only brought to us in one, nor were we told that this was due to the fact that the thermostat was broken in our room and would suddenly drop to the low 60s. After being administered Benadryl via IV, I woke several hours later to Violet screeching and Jake exhaustedly snoring away. Not knowing if Jake was just sleeping through the crying or if he just didn’t understand that such small babies cannot be ignored when they cry, I left him alone and tended to her myself. The only reason a nurse came to assist was because my heart rate sky rocketed and the company that was monitoring it called to let them know that I was going to pass out.

When the nurse arrived, she scolded me for letting the babies get too cold, as I lay there crying and in pain, feeling like a failure of a mother when I couldn’t even get out of bed to care for my own children. She spent a good five minutes lecturing me on how hard all of this was on my husband and how we couldn’t do this by ourselves. Later, I reported her sexist diatribe and discouraging warnings that proved completely untrue, but in that moment, I was devastated. It was 3:00 a.m., after I’d finally gotten to be with my babies and I had failed them. They’d gotten so cold, they had to be put under the warmer. I had no mother and no idea what I was doing and now I was suffering from heart complications and was literally unable to do it by myself. In that moment, I felt so lost and alone and that nurse can go kick rocks.

The next day was better, with a competent nurse, who actually told us the girls were on a schedule… which no one had even mentioned… and stressed the importance of keeping it. She showed us how to feed and burp and swaddle our not-quite-five-pound babies, leaving us much better prepared for the night, since the girls would be officially discharged, even though I couldn’t leave yet. At this point, I desperately wanted to be home with my babies, but it would be another two days before we could leave. By the time I was discharged, I was on the verge of a mental breakdown for fear they’d make me stay. Jake was even prepared to tell the doctor he thought it would be worse for me if I had to stay another night. After one full week in the hospital, though, I finally got to go home with my baby girls and it was the greatest day of motherhood I’d experienced so far.

… end trigger warning.

I’d like to say that life was smooth sailing from this point forward, but my health issues persisted for some time. In fact, I spent the first few months of my girls’ lives fearing I wouldn’t get to see them grow up, as I waited to see how my heart was recovering. In November, I received the news that my heart was back to normal, but that if there was another pregnancy, it would be high-risk, with a 20% chance of similar troubles. My girls were six months old before I finally felt strong enough to walk around the neighborhood or put their double stroller in the hatchback, without struggling. Physically, I would say I’m 95% recovered and that I feel almost normal.

I don’t only keep this blog for my readers, as grateful as I am to have them, but for my own sense of nostalgia and record keeping, as well. It’s taken me a long time to share my “birth story.” As Valentine’s Day nears, though, Jake and I are closing in on two years since February 13, 2020, the day we received the news that we’d have to pursue IVF if we ever wanted a family. My girls just turned seven months old and I’m starting to realize that, while I have mostly recovered my physical strength, emotionally, I’m no longer the same person I was before Covid-19.

When Jake and I started infertility treatments, I remember telling him that I wasn’t sure if I had the emotional fortitude to go through something so heart wrenching as pandemic IVF and come out the same person. Well, I’m nothing if not self aware, because it seems I was right. I’m not as strong as I once was and I don’t think that’s just because I’m getting older and cry more over news stories or sad TV shows, as other women report after 30. I’m beginning to realize that before Covid-19, I was… tougher. I had mettle and grit and I didn’t give myself enough credit for that. I was more capable of rationalizing away illegitimate worries and trains of thought. I didn’t get as upset over the things other people thought and said. I took life more in stride and had a lot greater sense of emotional control.

I’m not a complete basket case, today, but I am generally a more anxious person. I struggle to be away from my girls, more than is normal, to the extent that being around extended family stresses me out as they pass them back and forth. I worry about them irrationally at times, having gone so far as to begin to hyperventilate because Scarlett had a fever one night. I’m sure this is one of the reasons I couldn’t adjust to being back at work, though the other was that work itself had fundamentally changed for the worse. I’m more sensitive, more easily frustrated, and just less emotionally stable than I used to be and that… ticks me off. I know, I know, I’ve been through a lot, but I was supposed to bounce back, as I did in my teens when my mother became abusive and again in my early twenties when I miscarried and lost a baby I loved and left a terrifying marriage.

I graduated college despite my terrible homelife after getting married at 19. I once got drunk on Christmas Eve and threw out everything I owned, because I wanted a fresh start after said horrific marriage. I lost 100 pounds and had an epic rom-com worthy glow-up in my early twenties. I met strangers online and attended Match.com meetups alone, hoping to have another chance at my happily ever after. I held two jobs through grad school and worked my way up in my library system. I lived alone for years and took care of everything on my own, with little help from anyone else. I was a manager for a year and moved to a new city to be a teen librarian. I kicked butt, y’all.

I also spent six weeks at home, at the beginning of the pandemic, thinking my career was gone, along with any hope of having a family. I lay in bed in a catatonic state for days. I drank too much and didn’t sleep at all. I started cutting myself again and finally applied for a medical card. My mother had taken me to several awful therapists and dosed me with 250 mg of Wellbutrin a day in high school, in an effort to make me more manageable. After that experience, marijuana was the only help I’d consider. I was suddenly able to sleep and my anxiety and depression eased. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped and I was no longer self-harming. I could see past the present state of my life and the rest of the world and have hope it would improve.

I spent a month taking massive amounts of drugs to get pregnant, only to realize that it had been a complete and utter failure. All those shots and all that money was for nothing. $15,000 was gone, but just days after the negative test, I called and put down a deposit on a second round of IVF. I spent the ice storm of 2020 praying we wouldn’t lose power, when a thousand dollars of medication had to be refrigerated. I spent election day in surgery alone, for the second time in just a few months. Throughout all of this, I knew that a single fever would cancel my cycle and forfeit our money, ending our chances to become parents any time soon and possibly at all.

Even after I got pregnant, it seemed like the hits just kept on coming. Just after the first of the year, I had to make the decision to put down my Jude, the dog who had seen me through every heartbreaking moment prior. He was my best friend for thirteen years and I had to kill him. Then, my mother was put on a ventilator after contracting Covid-19 and never fully recovered. She had several strokes and died of a heart attack the day after Mother’s Day, when I was seven months pregnant with my twins.

I hadn’t seen my mother in four and a half years and I will never forgive myself for not putting up with her psychotic behavior for just a few years longer, for ignoring the text message asking me to get lunch six months earlier, for throwing away the last birthday card she ever sent me. I said goodbye to her alone, massively pregnant, while Jake waited in the lobby due to Covid-19 restrictions. I forced the nurse to set aside all platitudes and attempts to comfort me and tell it to me straight, that she was going to die. I wrote her obituary myself, but never got to attend a funeral, since her sleezy husband refused to give her one, even though my grandmother offered to pay.

The word “trauma” has become grossly overused, but ‘m afraid the last two years have just been too much for me. I worry that I’ll never be the person I was prior to 2020. I wish I’d been prouder of her accomplishments and strength. I wish I’d been nicer to myself. Perhaps, as before, I’ll recover… slowly. I wasn’t exactly a bastion of mental health when I was sleeping with a .357 in my bed at 25. It’s entirely possible that I’m looking at my previous recoveries through rose-colored glasses. I’m sure there are posts on this nearly ten-year-old blog proving it. Maybe I’ll have that 2019 strength once again, but for now, I feel as if something inside of me has broken and I’m not entirely sure it will ever fully heal.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I’m hardly the person who’s struggled the most through the pandemic, but the last two years have been rough. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I’m not sure if that’s true. I don’t feel stronger, but perhaps in time, I will. I know that this struggle has taught me not to take my family for granted, to be patient and loving with my girls, to consider how I’ll look back on my decisions and how I spent my time one day… and maybe that is stronger in a way, but I really miss who I was in 2019.

Five Reasons I Skipped Your Christmas Party

When I was a little kid, Christmas seemed to last for weeks. Every year, my brother and I celebrated with my paternal grandma and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, then again with my maternal Gramma, my mom, and dad, then again on Christmas morning with just the four of us, then again with my dad’s extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on) and finally, we had Christmas with my paternal grandfather, since my dad’s parents were divorced.

As a child, I was closest to my Gramma, but my only cousins were on my dad’s side. Playing with them was the number one appeal of his family’s Christmas parties. We had a blast, dressing up in our parents’ old prom clothes, piling everyone into a plastic wagon and running down the hallway as fast as we could, trying to quiet the cries of the youngest when they inevitably got hurt. I loved these moments almost more than my Gramma’s over-the-top Christmas gifts. Those celebrations with all of my cousins are some of the holiday memories I cherish the most… but that was over twenty-five years ago.

Things have changed, y’all. I’m married to a man who has his own family and now we have two baby girls. It’s our turn to make memories with our children and I don’t intend to do so while spreading ourselves so impossibly thin over a half dozen family celebrations. More importantly it’s our girls’ turn to make magical Christmas memories. That’s a lot more difficult to do if we’re always leaving parties early to make other parties and mom and dad are stressed out and fighting on the way. I want us all to enjoy the holidays, so as much fun as I had with my weeks of Christmas as a child, a couple of these gatherings just don’t make the cut anymore. So, how do I decide which ones to nix?

I don’t want to talk about my body.

Growing up, I was the fat kid… and with my family, that apparently means that my body is up for discussion for the rest of my life. Having lost around 100 pounds in my early twenties, I’ve kept to a relatively healthy weight since and it is still my family’s favorite subject. Like many people, I put on ten pounds of Pandemic Pudge last year, but uniquely me, I also had twins this year. I cannot stress enough how little I want to talk about my weight six months post-partum with twins. I have spent the entirety of 2021 listening to dehumanizing remarks about my body. I am baffled at how there are so many people who still think this is okay and how I happen to be related to all of them. While the occasional vague compliment is appreciated, I was asked point blank if I had lost all of my baby weight at my girls’ baptism celebration, three months post-partum.

I cannot think of any social interaction I would enjoy less on Christmas day, than one focused on my weight. In fact, as Jake and I pulled out of the neighborhood on the way to our first family party, he asked me what was wrong, noticing I’d gone quiet. I immediately burst into tears, “There are just so many people who are going to be so happy that I’m fat again!” So, when it came time to decide which gatherings to skip, it was the ones that would make me feel the worst about my own body at this sensitive time of life.

I don’t want to discuss Covid-19.

Nearly two years into this pandemic, it seems everyone has been radicalized to one extreme or the other and my family is a microcosm of this effect. At the beginning of the pandemic, I actually missed social media for a brief moment, having been isolated to my own home. That feeling was fleeting, however, when a few family members relayed the drama surrounding the discussions of Covid-19, vaccines, and various mandates that were taking place on Facebook. I’ve been exposed to so many different viewpoints, from one extreme to the other and I’ve come to a simple conclusion: you’re all fucking crazy.

Even the family members who insist they want none of this drama do so by finishing with their own dramatic and polarizing opinions. Well, my mother died of heart problems after a battle with Covid-19 put her on a ventilator for a week, before the vaccine was readily available. I was then diagnosed with heart complications during pregnancy and told by my cardiologist that the vaccine might have played a part. We all have our own complicated feelings to sort through in regards to the pandemic, so how about we all just shut the fuck up about it for one day of the year?!? I chose to attend the Christmas parties where this was likeliest to happen.

I don’t want to spend Christmas with people I don’t particularly like.

As kids, my cousins and I were able to bond over the shared experience of being children at the same time and that was enough. We played with the same toys and watched the same shows and shared the same childlike sense of humor. As adults, I’m willing to admit that we have virtually nothing in common.

I’m neither far left, nor far right, and am uninterested in any discussion of either that’s fueled by feelings over research. Politics are off the table. I cannot fathom the appeal of reality TV, preferring to spend my binges on teenage melodramas, while occasionally branching out toward high fantasy and dated fandoms. Bonding over our favorite shows is a no go. My girls are only six months old, so I’m hesitant to make broad declarations about my future parenting, but I can guarantee that the antagonistic style employed by much of my family is not for me. This means we can’t even really connect as parents. I have little to no desire to gossip about the people who aren’t present, which is their self-proclaimed basis for entire social events, while I have more than one DnD group where we pretend to be sorcerers and paladins. I’m definitely not interested in being a part of anyone’s round robin of apologies after they’ve had too much to drink… again.

It’s not that I don’t love my family. I do. I just don’t particularly like them, en masse. Whereas one-on-one, we might be able to find some common ground, my status as The Weird Smart Cousin is never more apparent than when facing the collective. That’s when my aunts battle it out in Dirty Santa for the ugliest purse/home decor/stemless wine glasses. That’s when my cousin makes a racist/homophobic joke that will surprise my redneck, cowboy, cattle rancher of a husband. That’s when everyone gets drunk and makes fart/sex/rape jokes. It takes a lot of energy to be just the right amount of excluded, so as to not come across as fake or preachy with my family.

Objectively speaking, I get that many people would think my extended family is a blast. I can appreciate that as an outsider aware of social trends. We just don’t really click and that’s fine. They’re not wrong (racism and homophobia excepted) and I’m not wrong. It took me years to come to terms with that, but I have. Truly, our only common ground is shared history and that’s become nearly as distant as our bloodlines. So, I chose to spend my holiday where I felt like I might more easily connect with some of the guests, because some relationships just aren’t worth the effort they take.

If I don’t have the bandwidth for seven Christmas parties, my baby girls really don’t.

Oh, family. It can be so wonderful to spend time in their company, while simultaneously taking so much work. I loathe the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” almost as much as “ambivert.” People aren’t that simple, nor are their needs, and the definition of “ambivert” is to be both an introvert and an extrovert, which literally just makes you human. That being said, I’ve realized in the last few years that while I love the holiday season, the gatherings themselves stress me out. Knowing how little I fit in with my own family, how socially inept both of my parents could be, makes me hyperaware of social interactions. I spend the majority of holiday gatherings worrying that I’ve said the wrong thing, that my parenting is being judged, that someone overheard me snap at the child who just ran past the infant on the floor. It takes a lot of work to talk to that many people, accept that many hugs, watch that many people pass my babies back and forth.

It is, of course, my hope that my girls will never feel this uncomfortable around family when they’re older, but right now they’re babies. They spend the majority of their time at home with mama, broken up by the occasional visit to Great Gramma’s and snuggling with our DnD pals. One day, maybe they’ll look forward to their numerous Christmases as much as I did as a child, but right now, it’s a lot of work for them to be talked to by that many people, accept that many hugs, and be passed between that many humans. It’s a break in a very predictable routine, a lot of stimulation, and a lot of germs, so we chose to skip the largest of the gatherings. After nearly a week, they’re still worn out and one of them is actually sick. When they get older, even with fortified immune systems, those gatherings will still be made up of a lot of names and faces my girls don’t remember, because I barely do. I’d rather spend our energy and time at smaller, more intimate get-togethers.

We’re setting a precedent.

This year, my baby girls’ first Christmas, was the start of many new traditions. We chose our tree and decorated it as a family, hung the stockings I made myself, opened a door on the new advent calendar every evening, read Christmas books, sang Christmas songs, watched Christmas movies, opened gifts fitting the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” theme, wore our Christmas jammy jams and listened to daddy read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

We also set a precedent for future Christmases, stating quite plainly, that we will not sacrifice the enjoyment of our holiday for perfect attendance at everyone else’s. My girls will not be forced to end their play with their cousins so we can rush off to visit more distant relatives. I will not bake seven different dishes for seven different parties. We will not buy gifts for people we barely know, just because I once shared a great grandparent with them. I will not listen to hateful remarks about my body or heated political arguments for one day of the year. Boundaries are best set firmly and early on and I refuse to make the holiday season something to dread… so I skipped your Christmas party.