The Beginning of Things

For my entire life, I’ve struggled to live in the moment. On my first day of kindergarten, I was disappointed, because I didn’t have a desk like the big kids. I couldn’t take my lunch to school. I was only able to go for a half day. I couldn’t grow up fast enough. At nine years old, I longed to be a teenager, look exactly like Kelly Kapowski, hang out at swanky diners after school, and have popular boys fighting over me. Spoiler alert: none of that ever happened and I watched way too much T.V.

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By the seventh grade, I was counting down the days until graduation, eager to start my life. I couldn’t wait to go to college, live in a dorm, make a thousand friends, and be appreciated for my intellect. Spoiler alert: none of that ever happened and I watched way too much T.V.

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Just after high school, I was desperate for my life to come together, when I would have the money for the things I needed and a few of the things I wanted, with just enough set aside to cover an emergency. It would all be okay, if I could just get my bachelor’s degree… a teaching job… my master’s degree… a librarian position… full time… meet a good man…

There’s a marketing term, I read about in a college textbook that I can’t find much evidence of online: nexting. It described the concept of wanting the next big thing, finally getting it, and instead of feeling enjoyment, eyeing the next big thing. My favorite Don Draper quote sums it up nicely: “… what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

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At some point, in my mid-twenties, I realized that I was wasting my life wanting. A survival tactic at 21, my tendency to look toward the future was causing me to miss an equally valid and valuable stage of life. I couldn’t see the trees for the forest. So, I began to make a conscious effort to enjoy what I had, while I had it. I decorated my hot pink Christmas tree every year and yarn bombed the living room making handmade gifts. I watched marathons of teen shows and had midnight dance parties with the dog. I went on dates and took myself to movies and dinner alone. Now that that time in my life has passed, I’m glad I enjoyed it. I just sold that Christmas tree, in favor of new traditions, because never again will I be 25-years-old and single. I’m proud of myself for realizing that and refusing to spend that time longing for marriage and children. It was always an effort, though, not to default toward the future.

By Southern standards, I got started a little late on this whole adulthood thing, which means that, at 31, I am still in the most glorious phase of my life: the beginning of things. This is when it really gets good. Jake and I just bought our house and have paid off a substantial amount of debt. I’m at a wonderful place in my career and have built strong relationships with coworkers and customers, teens and their parents. I’m still reasonably young, healthy, and fit and have yet to struggle with any downsides of getting older. I’m truly in the prime of my life, the point people most long for in their golden years, as is evidenced by literally every conversation I have with my Gramma, about children.

Gramma: “You guys have some really fun years ahead of you. I miss that time the most, when you kids were little.”

Now, I suppose, at 84, it’s normal to spend the majority of your time reminiscing, so I won’t fault my grandmother for it. Lately, however, this seems to be the prevailing thought process for most adults, Gen X and Millennials, as well: to long for the beginning of things, despite the fact that we haven’t even hit our midpoint. As a teen librarian, I frequently speak to kids whose once doting forty-something parents, have obviously lost interest in them, now that they’re less adorable and more opinionated. As I enter my thirties, I hear more and more tales of seemingly frivolous divorces, requested by men and women who long for the younger and freer days of only 10 or 15 years ago. Our youth obsessed culture seems to suffer from the opposite problem I’ve struggled with my entire life: they look perpetually to the past, forgetting that the present and the future comprise some of the most exciting years of their lives.

My twenties were great, y’all… but I can’t recapture that. I’m a married, 31-year-old, home owning librarian, planning for motherhood and there’s not a DeLorean in sight. I cannot go back, but more importantly, I don’t want to go back. This is what I’ve been waiting for and for the first time in my life, it’s not such a hardship to live in the moment.

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That girl, the one who thinks five years into the future, is still here, but her voice is a lot quieter, as she makes financial arrangements to afford Catholic school tuition, instead of panicking at the idea that her life will never start. I no longer have to look to the future as an escape, only as the adventure I always envisioned. I am so excited to have babies to snuggle, toddlers to chase around, school age children to accompany on field trips, teenagers to love unconditionally as we scream at each other, and finally, adult children to support and even befriend. I can’t wait to be married to Jake, my best friend in the whole world, for five years, ten years, fifty years. I’m excited to save money, build equity in our home, start a family, go on rare date nights, take the kids to Disney World, and see my children graduate school, start careers and have families of their own.

No stage of life is better or more valid than any other, be that dating in my twenties or motherhood or adjusting to my eventual empty nest. Just as I fought to enjoy my twenties while I had them, I’m going to fight for every other stage of life, because longing for another time in life, in either direction, will only feed a vicious cycle, in which I miss the most important time: now. We have it all wrong, as Americans. The best time in life isn’t when we’re young, fit, and free. It’s this moment, right here, and if you’re longing for the beginning of things, you’re missing it.

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In Defense of Earning Less

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“Keeping up with the Joneses” refers to different kinds of families, depending on the region. On the west coast, I’d imagine it’s the family we met on our honeymoon, who booked an Alaskan cruise on a whim, because the San Franciscan port was 30 minutes from their house. The mother complained that Cabo would’ve been a much better choice, because the kids could swim all day, while she read by the hotel pool. Both she and her husband had lucrative careers in downtown San Francisco, which apparently enabled them to purchase an $8,000 cruise on impulse, as opposed to their annual trip to Cabo, that seemingly wouldn’t have been much different from a visit to the community pool.

The east coast Joneses call to mind my godfather and his wife. She stays home with her children, putting on hold the well-paid career afforded by an advanced degree, while he travels the world on business and climbs Kilimanjaro. He’s not an absent father or husband, and in fact, the family often accompanies him on these fabulous trips. He makes it home when he can, to see his kids in their recitals and school plays, courtesy of the renowned local public schools that negate the necessity of private schooling.

In the South, the Joneses are in profitable manual labor positions, often oil. She’s a teacher, despite the wretched pay and reputation of our public schools, because she can afford to spend her own paycheck on the cute, fun, trendy, school supplies and classroom decor. If she’s lucky, he’s gone two weeks at a time, working on the rig, to pay for the McMansion and the upkeep of the two acres it sits on, so he can feel like the country boy his grandfather longed for him to be, when he’s at home playing on the newest iPad. If she’s not so fortunate, he’s gone sporadically, working long hours, sometimes not coming home for days at a time. He’s missed every Christmas for the last three years, much to his wife’s frustration, as she’s forced to make the holiday magical solo, but he’s made up for it with an annual family vacation that’s the envy of everyone on social media.

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People love to mock the Joneses, commenting that they’re nearing bankruptcy and struggling to hide it, but it seems wildly unfair and judgmental to me to insist that anyone who has more can’t afford it. In fact, I know many people who fit the description above and live well within their means. They aren’t bad people and they aren’t bad parents or spouses. Different families just maintain different lifestyles and I’m not judging what might work for some… except to say that it’s not for me.

As a kid, my parents longed for the Southern scenario I’ve outlined above. They wanted to give us the experience of a country life, with all the benefits of suburbia. We would feed the chickens and geese before we left for little league or piano lessons. We’d ride in the back of the pickup to go to slumber parties and swimming lessons and rodeos and the lake. We’d eat eggs from our own chicken coop and enter our goats in contests at the Frontier Days parade, before going back to school shopping at the mall. It was the best of both worlds, in my father’s eyes, but it also came at the cost of both worlds. Living on five acres meant living in a trailer house, with big plans to eventually build… when the money appeared… one day… which, of course, it never did, because ballet lessons, T-ball, horses, ducks, and bunny rabbits add up to a small fortune. So it was, that to fund our suburban farm life, my dad worked… a lot.

A lineman for the electric company, my dad had seemingly limitless earning potential. All it demanded was time… time away from his family, his friends, his youth, but the return was substantial. In addition to our pseudo-farm, we had a Motorhome, a camper, a four-wheeler, a boat, and jet skis. We took dance classes, piano lessons, and gymnastics, played softball and baseball, had our own trampoline, roller blades, bikes, game systems, and TV’s in our bedrooms. Had we been born twenty years later, my parents would’ve been the envy of Facebook. It seemed they had it all, and at the time, I think that was a balm to their unhappiness. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that my parents were never truly happy.

I suppose it’s true that little girls marry their fathers, because my dad is very much like my husband, an extrovert and an adventurer, a storyteller and a comedian. He’s the life of every party and impossible to offend. He has a thousand friends and is universally adored… except he came into this tremendous personality in the 70s and 80s, in the South. It was just assumed that he would contain all of these wonderful attributes to make room for marriage and fatherhood at 22, because that’s what people did. At 20, it’s unsurprising that my mother was a chameleon, taking on the interests and passions of those around her. Whereas my father was forced to squander his liveliness, my mother was kept from developing her own, with the most singular thing about her being that she was a nurse. Every other character trait was borrowed from whomever was nearest, creating a clingy and insecure match for a man brimming with personality. I’m not blaming the times or young marriage, as this certainly wasn’t the case with every other 20-year-old bride and 22-year-old groom in the 80’s. It’s not even necessarily the case for the same set now, if they’re making their choices for themselves… but that’s precisely the problem for my own parents. They made their choices, because they were the choices to make. No one asked if they wanted anything different and they didn’t know themselves enough to speak up.

My husband is my favorite person in the whole world. He’s a good man and a hard worker. He’s infuriatingly wonderful and absolutely my perfect match. Had he been married at 22, though, he’d have been just as unhappy as my father was, when I was a kid. Surprisingly, for the son of cattle ranchers, born in the late 40’s and early 50’s, Jake was encouraged to sow his wild oats. Perhaps his father remembered what it was like to be a young and wild bull rider and his mother remembered what it was like to love one, but for whatever reason, they encouraged him to spend his 20’s getting an education, figuring out who he was and what he wanted from life, creating all those appalling stories his groomsmen told at our wedding. Unlike my father, he was given the freedom to run off some of his wildness, to shape his larger than life personality into the man he is today.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you likely know some of my own background. My mother took off my senior year of high school, to live with a man she met online. Terrified of being alone during such a time of change, I married my first boyfriend… because he was there… before either of us knew who we were or what we wanted. It wasn’t long before the boy I tied myself to, became a man I loathed, a sociopath with no moral center or basic human conscience. I hadn’t just made the same mistakes as my parents, attempting to fulfill some classic high school sweetheart fantasy… no, I’d made completely new, much larger ones, crafting my very own terrifying hell and in a post-Facebook world, it was much more humiliating to admit it.

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We like to think we’re above it all, today, the gratification of social expectations, especially as women. We travel and go to college and build careers. We have choices and we’re empowered. And yet, we still feel like marriage and family and having all the things are inevitabilities. Few of us sit down and ask ourselves if these are things we truly want, because we’re told from birth that we do and that concept is reinforced at every family get-together, when we’re asked about our dating lives, or when we’re getting married, or buying the McMansion, or having children. The only reason I spent my twenties mulling it over, was because of the consequences of the last time I just went with the flow. Still, I have a master’s degree and rarely does my family ask about my career, but this past weekend, at a baby shower, there were a half dozen stopwatches on my uterus.

The societal expectations are, in reality, stronger today, because we lives our lives so publicly. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has taken on new meaning in 2018. Gail once told me I was “post-high school popular,” when I was still on Facebook. When I asked what that meant, she said I had overcome adversity, dressed cute, made funny posts, had the right job, the right hobbies and interests, and a man to look good with me in photos… and it was true. I secretly preened, after years of rejection in my youth and my early twenties, but in time, I realized how unhealthy it was to care about the opinions, when I didn’t care about the people holding them. As I’ve told you in more depth, I eventually deleted my Facebook and this was one of many reasons.

Despite my absence in social media, though, I still feel the pressure… to have more, be it the McMansion or the babies or the new car. Perhaps it’s because, after years of living our lives deliberately, the choices I’m making, that Jake is making with me, just so happen to fall in line with old school Southern expectations. We’re building a life in suburbia, holding traditionally feminine and masculine careers, and planning to have babies, so why not check all of the boxes? If we want to own our home, to raise children, why did Jake leave oil to build a career in hydrology, a pay cut of tens of thousands of dollars?!?!?

… because many of the men we know do check all the boxes and they miss the first steps and the bed time stories and the recitals and the family vacations.

… because we’re watching our friends divorce in our 30’s and it’s no longer because they never should’ve married, like it was in our 20’s, but because they haven’t taken the time, time to laugh and talk and argue and lean on each other and grow together. They don’t know each other and they don’t like each other and they’re too exhausted to fight the war after avoiding all the battles.

… because I haven’t spoken to my mother in over a year, because she never grew or strengthened, never overcame her worst personality traits, never became the woman she could’ve been.

… because my father is a good man now and we’re close, but it’s a damned shame that that didn’t happen until my twenties. I can’t be ten years old and live in his house and see him and talk to him and play with him every day, ever again, and we missed the chance the first time around.

So it goes, that at every family get-together, they scoff. I tell them we can make more money, but we can’t make more time, and they tell me I’ll learn, “one day.” But I’m not 20 years old anymore and this is not the idealism of youth. I’ve seen the potential fallout of keeping up with the Joneses, squandering family time, couple time, and youth to make more money, losing oneself in work and forgetting to play. I will not risk my marriage or my relationships with my children to have all the things. I will pace myself and I will make the right decisions this time, because it’s my only chance to do so. At every family party, when my rich uncles ask, I will happily defend earning less, as I pack up my children in my used car and drive home to enjoy the evening with my husband.

Teenagers are Starved

… for attention, structure, and loving authority figures. It’s not always reflected through school shootings, stabbings on behalf of Slenderman, or torturing animals in YouTube videos, either. Those are just the most sensational stories. No, more often than not, it’s young girls sending nude photos to boys, so they’ll keep talking to them. It’s 5th grade boys vaping so the older kids will think they’re cool. It’s widespread porn addiction, because they don’t understand how their bodies work or what these feelings mean and they have all the stimulation they could possibly desire in their pockets. It’s indiscriminate sexual experimentation, before they’re old enough to handle the physical and emotional complications. It’s the expectation that the latter will look like the former, because no one is talking to them.

While many have spent the past week, arguing about gun control with strangers online, as opposed to… I don’t know, looking at cat videos and posting photos of their coffee, like they do the rest of the time, their children are still floundering. The country is positively baffled as to why kids act the way they do and not one of them realize that we’re so busy arguing with each other, that none of us are actually guiding teenagers. Adolescence is one of the most confusing times in a person’s life and it always has been. The hot debates of gun control, bullying, and sexual education aren’t new. Mean Girls and body shaming aren’t new. Teenage boys using teenage girls and telling the whole school isn’t new. What is new, is the constant distraction in the lives of everyone who is supposed to care for these kids.

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Today, if parents aren’t too busy swiping left and right on dating apps, rediscovering themselves after the divorce, then they’re on Facebook, debating car seat safety and vaccines with someone from high school that they don’t even know or like. They’re thumbing through Pinterest recipes in the drive through line, instead of talking to their children about their day while sliding a frozen lasagna in the oven. It’s not entirely their fault, either. We live in a society that shares everything from day altering information, such as school closures, to life altering information, such as engagements and the deaths of loved ones, via social networking. If you delete Facebook and Pinterest, you’re considered antisocial or an isolationist, and I should know, here in my fourth month without either.

Dad: “You know your uncle’s mom died, though.”
Me: “Nope… not on Facebook”
Dad: “Oh, that’s right! Well, your uncle’s mom died.”

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It’s not just parents who’ve detached, either. Teachers, once a source of love and affection, are now so petrified of ending up on the news, that they won’t even hug their students… and that’s if they even have the time to connect with them emotionally, after the ludicrously detailed lesson planning, IEP meetings, and professional development days. The same is true of youth ministers and counselors and even librarians. Keep the door open and keep your hands to yourself or risk destroying your life.

As a result of our collective detachment from our youth, teens test boundaries, just as they always have, but… they find none. They use their phones in class and their teachers don’t dare confiscate them, for fear of parental wrath. Whereas once it was enough to be able to call the school and leave an important message for one’s child, we must now have instant access to everyone in our lives, just in case we realize they’ve deleted our DVR’d episodes of The Bachelor and we want to share our unhappiness. The reverse is true as well. Even 10 years ago, a child who forgot his homework would have to beg his teacher for an extension and ultimately learn to be more responsible; now he can text mom and beg her to drop it off on her only break. If she doesn’t, then lord have mercy on the teacher who dares to grade him down for it, teaching him only that there are no limits, no consequences.

It’s cyclical, even. We’re all so very exhausted, because we refuse to acknowledge the emotional energy expended in keeping up with 153 friends, and 12 different news feeds, that we relish the moments the young ones in our lives are distracted by technology, plugging them in the second they can respond to an iPad, in part because it’s a societal norm. As a result, we don’t see what it’s doing to them until it’s too late and we feel powerless to police their usage after years of such access and the privacy that came with the adults not caring what was on the screen, if it would only keep them quiet. As a result, such personal technology has become ubiquitous in middle school and beyond, so the parent who does refuse to gift their child with a smartphone, hobbles them academically, when every other student in class has internet access and therefore, the lesson plans begin to require it. No exaggeration, I never used my undergrad to teach in an official capacity, but I substitute taught in over 100 different classrooms in six years and increasingly saw kids without devices at a clear disadvantage.

This past Christmas, my five-year-old nephew spent all of dinner longing for Minecraft on his iPad, completely disinterested in the prospect of family time or even presents, because of technology and that’s the norm, with kids and their parents. We are wasting our lives staring at screens and teaching children to do the same. We spend hours a week keeping up with people we neither know nor care about, arguing with people whose opinions will never change, occasionally even finding ourselves in affairs with our marriages in shambles, as a result of an effort to feel another superficial connection, because we have no real connections in our lives and while we’re undoubtedly suffering as well, our kids are most definitely suffering. I say ours, because they are ours. Every society is judged on how it’s weakest and most impressionable members are treated and while we argue with each other online about the ways we’ve failed them, we are continuing to fail them.

I’m not asking anyone for perfection or even claiming to know what that looks like. I’m not insisting you can’t have a healthy relationship with technology, simply that many do not and the teachers, youth ministers, librarians, or other supportive authority figures aren’t capable of truly picking up the slack. Restore the balance, put down your phone/tablet/laptop, and ask the kids in your life about their day, because the general struggles of youth aren’t new, but being completely ignored by the adults in their lives who are supposed to care is… and perhaps if our children can go home from a hostile environment to a warm and involved one, once again, they’ll learn to cope with their emotions in non-hostile ways. As an advocate for teens and a former neglected teen, I am telling you, no matter how flawed we might all be, the most important thing we can possibly do for these kids is be present and force them to be present.

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Cheering for the Underdog: the Frustrations of a Teen Librarian

I’m a married, thirty-year-old woman, with a degree in education, who has every intention of having her own children… and I don’t like kids.

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That statement is usually met with confusion or melodramatic horror. How could you not like kids?!?! Well… like this.

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I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library. Children are trying, yo. At best, any cuteness they possess is canceled out by the fact that they talk incessantly about things that do not interest me in the least and they don’t understand my sense of humor. I simply can’t relate to them. At worst, they’re loud, demanding, rude, have no respect for personal space, and everything they say is spoken through a whine. I’m not allowed to correct them, even when they’re disrupting the entire library, because it’s assumed that everyone thinks the above is adorable… mostly by the helicopter mom with her $200 blonde bob and insistence that the only reason her angel is screaming like Veruca Salt, while tearing books off my shelf, is because she has “extremely high functioning Asperger’s.”

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That’s not a legitimate diagnosis in the DSM-5 and hasn’t been since 2013. You Googled that. Poorly.

In fact, in defense of children as a whole, I understand that they’re still learning: to cope with their emotions, to use their manners, to moderate their voices. I get that it’s completely normal and healthy for a child to have a tantrum at the grocery store, because they can’t always have their way; at church, because sitting still is hard; at Christmas, because they’re just overwhelmed. I don’t hold that against children and it I’m still confident I want my own. I just don’t want to be around other people’s children; and I do hold it against some parents that they have a complete and utter disregard for the fact that there are absolutely settings in which it is entirely acceptable to assume they will require their children to behave or remove them, such as at a nice movie theater or restaurant, the ballet, church, the library. I’d estimate that a good third of my frustration with children can actually be blamed, not on the fact that they’re present, but on the fact that no one corrects them. Regardless of my reasoning, if I tell you that I don’t like children, I’m a monster. You know who everyone’s allowed to vocally berate at top volume, though? Teens.

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That’s right. I’m expected to understand that children are precious little gifts from God, no matter how much they annoy me. I’m supposed to get over it if your child starts screaming at the ballet, because babies exist and for some reason they have to do it near me during The Nutcracker; something I guarantee I will understand even less when I’ve gone through the trouble to get a sitter of my own, so I can enjoy some child free entertainment. In the South, I’m a biological disgrace to my gender, because I haven’t had “baby fever” for the last ten years… but the rest of American society gets to hate on teenagers, like they’re white millennials wearing leggings as pants and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, while they read Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s cool to hate teenagers… and that is complete and utter trash.

My dream job has always been teen librarian. My title has not. I began my first full time supervisory librarian position specializing in adults and so, when I stepped down from management, it was an adult position that was available for me at the Jackson branch. Sadly, it seemed my ship had sailed on teen librarianship… that was until our grassroots restructuring, last spring, when a specialization was demanded from everyone, and I threw my own managers for a loop by taking a chance and adamantly declaring that teens, not adults, were my jam.

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Since then, I’ve been the teen librarian for all five of our satellite libraries, primarily stationed at the central hub of the Cherokee branch; and I’m admittedly under-qualified for the dream job, into which I was mapped and transferred. I have wonderful mentors, but I can’t deny that, if I had actually applied for such a position, I wouldn’t have even been interviewed, with only my substitute teaching and bachelor’s degree as related experience. What I can affirm, however, is that my passion for teens would probably have ranked higher than that of most applicants. Whereas everyone else thinks the Ramona Quimby’s and Scout Finches are just precious, I love teenagers; from Carrie White, to Hermione Granger, to Ponyboy Curtis, to Cher Horowitz, to Regina George, I love them all… and just like the Little Orphan Annie’s and Matilda’s they need a champion, because when you’re a teenager, most of the adults in your life are jerks.

When they come to me, my library kids have just started middle school. They’re excited for the pending teenage years, when they suddenly realize, the understanding that was demanded on their behalf just three years ago, has completely vanished… but only for them, not for their younger siblings or the other kids in the library, the Eric Cartmans screaming in the children’s area. When they were four and terrified of the dark, everyone understood that this was the first time they really felt fear and coddled them for it. Yet, for some reason, now that they’re 11 and feeling every adult emotion for the first time, no one cares. To them, there’s seemingly no catalyst. They went from cute and clever and generally adored to gawky and mouthy and generally despised and I am telling you, they feel every bit of this dislike and they understand exactly none of it… and it’s the lucky ones who have only this struggle.

The problem runs deeper in the South, as many problems do. In a region where it’s assumed you’ll marry and have children by 22, most adults don’t really get a time to be young and selfish. Your twenties are the time when your primary focus should be yourself, figuring out what you want from life and how to make it happen. Your twenties are the best time to find a career path, decide what kind of friends you want, what kind of person you want to be with, if you want marriage, and if you want children. People don’t often live deliberately, around these parts, though. They follow the path laid out for them, by parents who never considered another path for themselves.

While this works out for many and happens to be exactly what they want, many others find themselves in their mid-thirties, trying to recapture this time in their lives, backtracking while they feel they still can. They look at their spouse and children, a decision they made at 22, that was really no decision at all, simply a default, and wonder what might have been. They finally admit that they’ve been unhappy for the last 10 years, but they’ve stayed for the children, so they wouldn’t miss those precious, adorable, early years and they just can’t anymore. The kids are older now and don’t need them as much, they rationalize, because feisty has turned into bitchy, and they aren’t as devastated by the idea of missing this phase. It’s time to think of themselves again… except it isn’t. Their teens’ brains are still just as different from adult brains as they were when they were five years old. They’re not done, even if they aren’t as fun to be around and they still need their parents. That’s when they come to me… when everyone else, often including mom and dad, hates them… and I’m left cheering for the underdog, while people stare in confusion.

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Last week, a man who lives catty corner to the library, started yelling at my teens for existing near his back yard. They weren’t even on his property and he started yelling obscene and racist things at them, so they would leave. Because teens are impulsive and reckless, one of them started throwing rocks and the man called the police. Naturally, they believed the 30-year-old’s story and arrested the 18-year-old rock thrower, as they should have done, because you don’t get to throw rocks at people. I spent 30 minutes on the back patio talking to one of the other kids, 16 years old, angry, and confused. I convinced him not to pick a fight with the guy, to avoid his lawn, and stay out of trouble. The man came to the library later that night and yelled at my manager for allowing “white trash thugs” to exist… “thugs”, I might add, who were do nothing inappropriate until he started screaming at them.

It was just the next day that the same kid I talked down came into the library in tears, because this 30-year-old man got a group of friends together and jumped him. For all his threats and bluster, from the previous day, he was just a hurt child, wanting an adult to care about him and I’ll tell you, I did. In the middle of a program, I invited him and his friends to sit down and eat pizza. I assured them that they would always be safe inside the library, that we wouldn’t let anyone hurt them and I apologized on behalf of all of the adults who look at his hoodie and baggy jeans and write him off, for the collective teenage hate that leads to this sort of violence.

I admit that teens can be mouthy and impulsive and disrespectful. They’re often confused and angry, because being a teenager sucks. They don’t know how to cope with the Mean Girls, the adults who make no secret of the fact they don’t like them, their parents who are suddenly too self-absorbed to care what’s happening in their lives, all their new and strange feelings that they’re told to simply not have, and they lash out. Sometimes it’s downright unpleasant for even me to be around them, but the only way to get them through that phase, is to provide them with loving mentors who care about them, like they had for the first half of their lives.

I get that sometimes whatever takes a parent away from their teenagers is unavoidable, be it divorce or remarriage or a new job, but when a twelve-year-old girl sits across from me and tells me her dad is moving to Puerto Rico for fun, I want to dick punch him for fun, because he is not done raising his daughter and he won’t be for six years! No matter how loudly I cheer for the underdog, I can only make so much difference and more than once I have gone home in tears, because of that fact. Even some of my coworkers villainize my teens, insisting they should know better, but why?!?! If you don’t take the time to teach a teenage girl how much physical affection is appropriate to show her boyfriend in public, she’s not going to know, especially not in the abstinence education capitol of the world! If you don’t teach a teenage boy how to control his emotions, he’s not going to know how to deal with the pain of his first breakup! If you don’t teach a 13-year-old what to share and not to share on social media, she’s far more likely to jeopardize her future! If no one is there for them, they’re not going to thrive, because they’re still kids.

Ultimately, if I have to put up with your screaming baby banshee throwing a tantrum in the children’s section, “because they’re just kids,” you can put up with the laughing teens in the young adult section, because “they’re just kids” and I will never stop cheering for the underdog.

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My Escape From Social Media

I am a millennial in every sense. I haven’t had cable for years. I go nowhere without my Kindle. I use a tablet at work, instead of a notebook. I have six figure student loan debt, for a degree that no one thought could make a career (suck it bitches). More than once, I’ve answered the phone with “Did you mean to call me?”, because what year is it and why aren’t you texting? I met my husband on a dating app. I actually started typing this blog post on my smartphone. I love technology and all the ways it makes my life easier and makes me more connected. So, naturally, I’ve been an avid user of computers and social media for… well, my entire life.

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In middle school, it was AIM, or AOL Instant Messenger. I’d get home from school and chat with my friends all night long, while posting comments and reading articles on gurl.com, browsing online at Delia’s, or participating in a Roswell RPG chat room. Eventually, I took up blogging, with Xanga, and graduated to Myspace, when the time was right. At 21, I joined Facebook and have never once deactivated it, since. I tried Twitter, but quickly realized I care very little about the lives of celebrities and ultimately deleted it. Instagram filters drove me mad, but I enjoyed the photos of friends from high school and world travelers I’d never meet, so I maintained a lazy relationship with it, which consisted mostly of cat photos. Despite it’s peaks and valleys in popularity, however, Facebook was consistently my jam.

I think my Facebook obsession can be attributed, in part, to having lived alone for so long. While I enjoyed my single girl peace and freedom, living alone could be, well… lonely. Facebook made me feel connected, especially once messenger took off. I could be at home and still be in contact with acquaintances, friends, and family. I could both play the hermit and be in-in-the-know about everyone from high school. I could strike up a conversation with any random friend from the 9th grade and ask what was going on in their lives. We could get lunch or a drink and catch up, and we did on multiple occasions. I was never truly alone, as long as I was on Facebook and that was comforting when I was alone in every other sense. Because I lived by myself, I never worried about my relationship with social media. Who cared if I spent two hours on the couch, thumbing through my newsfeed, reading linked articles, or falling prey to Modcloth advertisements? With the dog curled up in my lap, I was neglecting no one.

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Gail has always had a love/hate, on/off relationship with social media, deleting and reactivating her account on the regular. I, however, only stopped rolling my eyes at her and started to consider my own Facebook usage, around the time I met Jake. If things went well, I’d eventually be living with another person, and I couldn’t neglect them for my phone. In a sense, however, it remained Future Belle’s problem. I saw no need to immediately cut back. Then, the Mother’s Day before last, I saw the post of a friend of a friend, the result of Facebook’s annoying practice of displaying every item a friend likes or comments on, instead of just their own posts. She was sharing the ‘About My Mom’ worksheet her daughter had completed at school, stating from her daughter’s perspective, what she did for a living, her favorite color, how old she was, and what she liked to do. It was that last one that stuck in my mind.

“My mom likes to…”
“… play with her phone.”

Several people thought this was adorable. Maybe I’m a judgmental cow, but I thought it was deeply depressing. There are so many ways my hypothetical children could respond to this question:

“Play with daddy”
“Read”
“Crochet”
“Play with me”

I think the most horrifying one would be “play with her phone.” I don’t want my kids to remember me with a smartphone plastered to my hand like some kind of nuclear fallout victim. I don’t want them to keep things from me, because my default setting is to ignore them for technology. I don’t want to look at my 18-year-old and realize I missed her childhood to keep up with people from high school I didn’t even like enough to attend my reunions. I especially don’t want my children to think that I care more about how fun our daily lives, holidays, and vacations appear to be than how fun they actually are. It was at that point that I realized, Gail was right, and I would need to extricate myself from Facebook, entirely… eventually.

Indeed, after I got married, I realized social media was taking me out of the moment. I’ve always taken a lot of pictures and actually carried a film camera around with me throughout high school, but I wasn’t just chronicling our memories for us. I was reporting my every moment to everyone I’d ever met… and it was none of their business. It was starting to make me a bit uncomfortable, sharing so much with people I barely knew, but when I cleaned out my friends, I’d feel guilty when they requested to follow me again. I began to post less. When I wasn’t posting, though, I was constantly checking the feed and responding to Messenger. I was immediately available to every person on my friends list, no matter how remote. It reminded me of the way I used to watch TV, not as something I actually enjoyed, but because it was present and easy and just plain addictive… and it ultimately kept me from doing and/or discovering those things I did enjoy.

I thought a lot about my long term relationship with social media. I considered my already exhausted parent friends, further worn out by the virtual mommy wars telling them they could never do anything right. I thought about the girl from high school who shared pictures of her twin girls’ naked baby butts at bath time, my cousin who shared photos of her five-year-old in a bikini posing like a grown up, the guy from high school who was charged with soliciting teen boys, the IT guy of the local school district who was just arrested for distributing child pornography. If I was uncomfortable with strangers looking at pictures of me, I really didn’t want them looking at pictures of my children, one day. With children just around the corner, no longer was I worried about just my time and personal privacy, but that of my eventual family and my well-being as a parent.

I definitely needed to pull back and knew it would be hard to make such a change after having a baby; so, several months ago, I decided to delete the app from my phone to lessen my own posts and scrolling. When that didn’t work and I found myself just using the browser, I decided I would keep the app, but stay logged out and only check it once a day. I’d only use it at work or I’d only use it before work or I’d only sign on for Messenger or I’d only check it for an hour once a week. Back and forth I went, with variations on Social Media Light, month after month, lending just as much head space to not being on Facebook as I did to being on Facebook… and failing miserably in each attempt.

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Then, six weeks ago, the final girl drama broke out among my friends and I decided I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t spend so much energy on cattiness and gossip and drama… and in addition to all of the aforementioned problems, Facebook had made these things that much worse, with friends, family, and even complete strangers. The group chats and photos of events that excluded me… the family dinners and evenings out that I was never invited to… the controversial virtual slap-fights with friends of friends of friends… it was all so draining and beyond ridiculous that an online relationship could affect a real one. So, on a whim, I deactivated my account and deleted messenger.

I’ll be straight with you, folks. In the beginning, I thought I was being rash. I knew I would reactivate to check in on the goings on of my friends and high school acquaintances, the happenings of the library world, the photos my family shared…and I did spend the first couple of days picking up my phone, only to remember I didn’t have a reason. I quickly realized, however, how little I missed updates from people I never really knew, political commentary from both extremes, affirmations in the form of likes and comments.

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In the first week without Facebook, I crocheted three hats, sewed my Christmas stockings, finished three books, called my Gramma several times, and cleaned the house. Jake was gone hunting that weekend and I watched all five Twilight movies while crafting all night. I actually met up, in person, with friends I’d previously neglected, because I’d felt like we were somehow still virtually connected.  I had so much fun and felt so rested. No longer did I wonder why I felt like I was working constantly, despite a pretty consistent 40 hour work week, because I was reading endless posts on library boards. No longer did I snap at Jake that I couldn’t discuss some current event for another second, because I’d spent the day reading every possible viewpoint of the church shooting online. No longer did I feel completely emotionally exhausted with other people’s drama and opinions. It was so life-altering that I signed into Facebook one last time: to download my information and request permanent deletion. I followed this with similar requests for Instagram and Pinterest, to avoid replacing one vice with another.

Over the next few weeks, I was more productive at work and more energized at home. Jake and I had more sex and valuable conversations and I actually experienced movies and shows and nights out with him far more, because I wasn’t checking Facebook every 10 minutes. When my Gramma told me she was disappointed that she couldn’t see my pictures anymore, I created an immediate friends and family only Instagram and showed her how to follow it, finding it far less tempting to share only photos or scroll through the photos of about 20 people. I put the account under a false name and denied acquaintances who’d previously followed me, because I don’t owe them anything. When my family expressed their horror that I’d deleted my Facebook account, I reminded them that my phone still works. 

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but in time, I’ve come to realize that I value privacy more than being connected. Perhaps it’s simply because a live person now takes priority over virtual ones. Perhaps, it’s because I have more free time and realize the sheer volume I’ve been wasting. Perhaps, it’s just because so much natural distance has formed between myself and the people I was once knew. It sounds trite, surely, but without social media, I feel free… free to pursue healthier friendships, take up more fulfilling hobbies, have conversations with family and friends about things they haven’t already read about on Facebook. I feel free to continue blogging anonymously about my life, without the discomfort of people I barely remember knowing the intimate details, because I need an outlet. I feel free to look back on my life one day and not regret that I missed out on it for a virtual one, because I’m afraid that’s going to be the case for so many.

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I admit that some people can have a healthier relationship with social media, than I. Maybe they aren’t millennials, used to a technology driven world. Maybe they don’t have jobs that place them in front of a computer, with a healthy dose of downtime. Maybe they just have better self control. I, however, am glad for my escape from social media.

No. It’s not okay if I get pregnant.

I’ve had to abandon hormonal birth control, because it makes me sick. While I’m considering an IUD, that’s something of a process, so it’s just condoms and somewhat hypocritical prayer for the time being. This comes up a surprising amount, with medical professionals and even family and friends, perhaps because we live in a society where people “check in” to the urologist on Facebook…

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… therefore, I’ve realized that the world is super okay with an accidental pregnancy for Belle.

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Aunt Lacy: “Why get on birth control? Why not just have a baby?”
Me: “Because Jake and I… aren’t married?”
Aunt Lacy: “So? You’re old enough.”

Me: “Well, I’m not on anything right now. Both Nuvaring and the pill made me sick, so it’s just condoms and prayer.”
Nurse: “Well, if it happens, it happens.”

Aunt Dee: “Well, you’re 28 now. If you got pregnant, it would be wonderful.”

Please, tell me more about how okay you are with taking my remaining years of freedom. Let’s talk about how great it will be for me to get fat and go five years without sleeping. I’m sure Jake will be thrilled to either have to propose, knowing he’ll never convince me that he actually wanted to marry me or break my heart forever.

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I have just gotten the hang of putting the dishes in the dishwasher, as I go, as opposed to musing aloud about taking them to a car wash while balancing a mug precariously on top of the pile like a game of kitchen Jenga. I am so shocked that I’ve kept a plant alive since Christmas that I’m not even sure it’s a real plant. In just the last week, my pets have had to alert me to their need for water by barking and meowing when I turn on the bathroom faucet. It’s either really flattering that the rest of society thinks I can handle the life of another human being or really quite sad that their standards are so low, because I’m perfectly willing to admit that I can barely take care of myself right now. I am finally at a point in my life where I can afford a small emergency and remain on top of my bills and I’m enjoying such expansive financial freedom in comparison with where I was one year ago.

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… how my bills got paid from 2007-2015…

It’s fantastic that the rest of the world is now so keen on babies born out of marriage. I’ve seen Bastard Out of Carolina twelve times and I’m not a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, so I really do mean that. I’m glad society is more accepting of individual lifestyles, but I still have a pretty traditional idea of the one I want to live. Call me old-fashioned, but I think life is generally easier and more pleasant for everyone involved if two people fall in love, marry, enjoy some time alone, and then have babies. I don’t want to be the only one to take my kids to basketball and ballet, to be the enemy when I take away electronic time for the weekend, to attend parent teacher conferences and pick up snacks for pre-K, because it’s my week to be the parent. I admire my single mom friends, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look absolutely exhausting.

Fine. I concede that at this point in my life and relationship, I wouldn’t actually even be a single mom. Jake would step up, but his mother and father would never respect me again. Regardless of my financial standing, my dad and step-mom would be disappointed in me, too. Who cares what they think, though, right? I do. I care what they think. I care how the world reacts to the news that I’m having a baby and entering a new and exciting stage of life. So, yes, maybe a child wouldn’t derail my entire future, as it might have once, but it’s still one of my greatest fears and will remain so until long after my wedding day, because I can only handle one mouthy redhead for the moment. Am I being ridiculous and overdramatic? Possibly, but no one really gets to decide that other than me. I am not ready for a baby. I want to be excited by the prospect of parenthood, as does Jake. We are the primary individuals effected, after said baby, therefore it’s only our opinions that matter. So everyone needs to back the fuck off and stop jinxing my uterus with their damn well wishing!

 

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The One Promise I CAN Make to My Future Children

Dear Future Children,

I have six or seven unopened pregnancy tests under my bathroom counter, right now… and not out of hope, but paranoia. I’m not ready for you yet. You’re really more of a concept, an eventuality, and as such, I can’t make a lot of promises. I can’t promise I’ll never yell at you. I can’t promise that I’ll put my phone away every time you have a story to tell. I can’t promise that I’ll never send you to school sick, because I was certain you were bluffing. I can’t promise that I won’t look away for a second, missing the moment you climbed too high and fell and broke your arm. I certainly can’t promise to never embarrass you.

When you’re 11 and just starting to notice that other people judge you, and you forget to tell me that you need a cover for the report that’s due the next morning, I’m wearing my Star Trek pants to the store, or we’re not going. In 2035, when I catch you having a hologram chat with that boy you’ve been crushing on, I’ll interrupt to explain that it’s late and you’re now grounded. If you’re a cute redheaded girl, then I genuinely apologize for how much worse your dad will be on your first date.

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It’d probably be more accurate to just go ahead and promise that I will embarrass you. I’ll sing and dance to 50’s music, when I clean. I’ll use outdated words and phrases, like hogswoggle and hokum. I’ll wear t-shirts that say things like “Having fun isn’t hard, when you have a library card.” I’ll do these things even more when you complain. The one promise that I absolutely can make to you, though, is that I will never embarrass you online.

When you get stuck in the doggy door, I’ll text a photo to your grandma… but I won’t put it on Instagram. When you throw a tantrum at the mall, long after the acceptable age to do so, I’ll record it and send it to your father… but I won’t live stream it. When you have your first wet dream or your first period, I’ll update your Aunt Gail… but I won’t update Facebook. When you’re caught cheating on a test, I’ll make you tearfully tell your dad… but not Youtube.

The people who love you will know all of your embarrassing stories, just as those who love me know mine. That’s the cost of having family and you should never take that for granted. That photo of you, proudly wearing nothing but underwear and a princess crown, will make the annual family album. However, when you have a falling out with your best friend in the 7th grade, she won’t be able to tag everyone you know in it, along with the one where you smeared your diaper all over the crib.

I know that I’ll make mistakes as a parent. There will be times when I forget to sign your permission slip and keep you from watching that video in class. Maybe I’ll forget that your friend is allergic to melon. I’m sure I’ll yell at you for something, only to realize later that your father is to blame. In response, I’ll atone privately, not while wearing a sign around my neck on Facebook. In turn, I vow that you’ll receive the same courtesy. You’ll be lectured and punished, but it will happen behind closed doors. I’ll receive validation from your dad and Gail, not that woman I graduated high school with 25 years earlier.

When your first boss Googles your name, anything scandalous to be found will be your poor decision making, not mine. Large scale shame and humiliation will never be part of your punishment. When I’m angry with you for being a disrespectful brat, I’ll tell your grandpa, not all 157 of my closest social networking pals… only for you to read all about it four years later. I don’t know anything about being a parent. I can’t promise that I’ll be any good at it. I can, however, promise that I will not ruin your online reputation, before you even get the chance.

Shout-Out to the Children of the Mentally Ill

I’m an active Facebook user. I love seeing people grow up and be happy. That’s why, even though I knew I’d regret it, I still thumbed through all of the photos of my friends with their moms. The sentiments were all the same. She’s their best friend, their major source of support, and an amazing grandma. She’s seen them through everything and taught them everything they needed to know about life.

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Naturally, there were no shout-outs to the children of the mentally ill.

When I was nine, I found out I needed to wear deodorant when my dad snapped that I stank, assuming my mother had had that talk with me. I opened my first training bra in front of my family on Christmas, from an aunt who was trying to send my mother a hint. I came home crying, one day in middle school, because the other kids said I had a mustache. I mostly gave up on makeup in eighth grade, because I didn’t really know how to apply it and had no one to show me. My mother didn’t teach me any of the things I needed to know as a teenager and certainly not as an adult, considering she left me to live with her boyfriend two hours away, during my senior year.

I wish I could only feel anger. I know that’s not healthy, but I think it might be more bearable than this deep-set ache I’m feeling these days as I remember the good times we did have. Even though absent-minded about things like making sure there were tampons in the house, that I was wearing the right cup size, and keeping the electricity on… even when she was filling my head with lies about my dad molesting me and dosing me with 250 mg of Welbutrin so I wouldn’t leave her abuse…  there were good times with her. In my mother’s addled mind, we were only ever the Gilmore Girls, laughing over B movies and eating raw cookie dough. The mind of the mentally ill cannot be deciphered, so I don’t know how she rationalizes all of those other things, if she even acknowledges them. All I know is that she’s sitting at home on Mother’s Day, wondering what happened, why her babies don’t love her, while I’m sitting at home desperately missing the woman who hid the Easter eggs twenty times, because I had so much fun searching for them.

To this day, my big, tough, redneck dad still tears up talking about the mistakes he made. I’m the one who assures him it’s all good. There’s nothing to be done about it, not a DeLorean in sight, and we can go from here. I’ve tried that so many times with my mother and it’s ended the exact same way each and every time as I hysterically weep into the phone to either Gail or my Gramma that I wish Kitty Forman was my mom.

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The last time I initiated contact with my mother was two years ago. I say initiated, because she’s taken to showing up at my work, claiming there’s something physically wrong with her, deliberately speaking in stilted sentences and walking slowly. She’s told me herself the doctors can’t find anything and I’ve watched her become animated and drop the act as she gets engaged in conversation. My grandpa was our pediatrician and although he loved my mother, he thought she was making us sick, long before such things were used as plot twists in horror movies and Law and Order episodes. Today, either she or her husband is doing the same and I just can’t be a part of it. She refuses to get mental help and I refuse to entertain her insanity. I’m at a point in my life where I have to choose, and I choose me and my future family. So, today, as all the normal folks purchase flowers, take their mothers to lunch and movies, I think of all the future moments for which I won’t have a mom.

My mother won’t be there to help me choose a wedding dress, argue about how I have to have flowers, or even meet Jake, because I can’t invite her to the wedding. She’s burned too many bridges and too many people are uncomfortable around her, myself included. She won’t be able to guide me through my first pregnancy or answer questions about how to get the baby to stop crying. She’ll never take a three generations photograph on Mother’s Day, with me and my daughter. I won’t even have anyone to walk me through basic aging, like grey hair and menopause. I have so many good people in my life, including many who mother me, like Gail, my Gramma, Laura, Karol, my step-mom Lena, my Grandma Kay, and most certainly a mother-in-law one day. I’ll never have my mom, though… just a shell who resembles her less and less… and that hurts more than her absence. I suppose that’s just how it goes for the children of the mentally ill and you all have my sympathy.

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Things I Will Not Do as an Adult, Wife, and Mother

Gail’s engaged, y’all.

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I know, I know. After she’d lived with Terry for three and a half years, we’d all pretty much lost hope, but there it is: my best friend is getting married. Some people do buy the cow.

While some of the most pertinent to me, Gail’s pending nuptials are hardly the only big life news being announced. It seems anyone who isn’t planning a first wedding is subtly reclaiming their maiden name. What can I say? We’ve got a lot of twenty-something divorcees, here in the South. The rest are planning babies… possibly numbers two and three. We’re growing up. My Facebook feed is no longer flooded with beer pong photos and 4/20 shout-outs, not even college graduation pictures and new job announcements. Even the engagement announcements are usually for the aforementioned divorcees or some of mine and Jake’s younger friends. Today, it’s all babies and mortgages… and that’s awesome. Truly.

Everyone I know is complaining about getting older, but I would so much rather be 28 and where I am than 22 and where I was. Life is good and I aim to keep it that way, which is why I’m baffled at why so many of my peers are doing such awful things they don’t want to do. I’m sure many who read this will chuckle with a patronizing “Oh, you’ll see, when it’s your turn,” just as my parent acquaintances who hear me say my kids won’t have cell phones chuckle with the same comment, while wondering why their own children are such lazy assholes. I don’t care, because there are pins and posts all over Pinterest and Facebook that make both adulthood and parenthood sound awful and exhausting. Adults today are screwing themselves and if Future Belle reads this list and shakes her head, I hope she’ll at least consider the reminder of the things she once swore were neither healthy nor beneficial to anyone involved. Such as…

Having an Elaborate Wedding
Y’all, when Gail told me about her upcoming wedding, I immediately started hyperventilating about my own. It wasn’t because I expect Jake to propose soon, but because if ever and whenever he does, at this point, I know I’ll say yes. My stars, does it sound wonderful to actually be married to such a genuinely good man… but the part where we get married? I’ll pass. Is passing an option?

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Jake loves weddings, so it’s really not. Yes, I found the one man who thinks weddings are so hunky dory that he’s been in like ten of them. That’s not even an exaggerative Belle-isim. I frequently joke that his online dating headline was “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” For Jake, a boy, a wedding is an awesome party where he and his best friends dress to the nines and enjoy free food and booze. Not until he got himself a researcher for a girlfriend did Jake know that the average cost of a wedding is $26,444.* When I look at pictures of other people’s weddings, the obvious expense stresses me out. It’s a party, y’all. It just happens to be one where I’m expected to spend $200 on engagement photos, $900 on invitations, $1,500 on flowers and decorations, and $700 on wedding favors.*

You know what my wedding favors are going to be? Free food and booze. That’s it. I’m not paying hundreds of dollars to have flash drives or plastic stadium cups or even cutesy Hershey bars made that no one will remember. That also means no programs, or rustic wooden backdrops, or burlap… ugggggh, the fucking burlap…, or twinkle lights, or mason jar chandeliers, or lace tablecloths. I’m not spending the first hour of my reception taking photos that look like I’m cutting a cake, even though I’m not really cutting a cake, and another 30 minutes personally thanking each person for coming. My perfect wedding plans involve butcher paper, crayons, and Sam’s Club cupcakes and if Jake will let me get away with it, that’s what I’ll do. I want to have fun and I want to do it on the cheap. I’m not missing my own wedding, because Pinterest told me I’d forever regret not taking a photo where Jake and I spell out L-O-V-E with our hands while laughing in a field of blue bonnets. I’m also not going into debt for a party. I. Will. Not.

Altering or Defending My Choices About Adulthood/Mommyhood
Jake and I talk about money more than I would imagine most married people do. I think it’s great that he’s so opposed to any and all debt, but this means that we would likely not buy a house until my student loans are cleared, in which case we’d buy outright. Now, as heartbreaking as a future without Jake sounds, I have always maintained a Belle Goes Solo version, as well. In this, I still wait until my loans have been cleared, because only at that point can I afford both a mortgage and a new roof. In short, with or without Jake, I will not be a homeowner until I am at least 36 years old.

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For some reason, in the South, owning a home is the pinnacle of adulthood, regardless of whether or not you can afford it. I’ve been told numerous times that renting is “wasting money,” but until you’re paying on the principle, “owning” is exactly the same, except for the part where you replace your own roof. While Solo Belle likely wouldn’t have any other choice than to take a mortgage, Jake and I wouldn’t be “wasting” any money renting that we wouldn’t be paying in interest and upkeep. For us, buying outright is the most desirable option. That wasn’t the case for Gail and Catherine, who are both thrilled to have recently bought homes the traditional way and more power to them. I’m not going to defend my choice not to buy before I’m ready, though, to anyone with whom I wouldn’t discuss any other financial matters. Nor will I defend my choice not to roll the existing loan on my used car into the price of a new one, which I might add is terrible advice, Dad. While we’re at it, I’m also not defending the aforementioned student loans, because it’s my money that I dedicated to build my career.

It amazes me that people will ask a near stranger about their finances, but this pales in comparison to the audacity it takes to ask a woman about her Mommyhood choices. My birth plan is to be high as a kite. I’m going to vaccinate. I will never breastfeed. In regards to my birth plan, anything and everything involving my vagina is and will remain private. I’ve had friends criticize me for my breastfeeding decision, though, and I don’t have children. I had a reduction at fifteen and can’t breastfeed, but it’s bizarre to me that I’m supposed to explain this to a nosy woman in the grocery store who tells me “breast is best.” I swear on the sorcerer’s stone that if anyone ever says that to me, I will at the very least respond with “so is minding your own business.” I’ve heard women complain that a stranger scolded them for not having shoes on their baby in a carrier, in July. I’ve listened to friends complain that a lady at the gas station mocked them for extended rear-facing.

I didn’t say a word when Jake and I had hibachi for dinner the other day with a four-year-old who spent the entire time loudly laughing at a tablet, even though I thought it was unimaginably rude to ignore the chef’s show and disturb the other diners. It’s not my business or my problem that you’re raising a disrespectful little shit, just as it’s none of yours that my child will have horrible detachment issues, night terrors, a desire to harm small animals, or whatever it is that people think results from formula feeding. Why are we, as capable adults, answering to these rude and nosy people?!?!

Spending More Time and Money on My Children’s Happiness than Mine
Oh em jingles have parents today made the whole gig harder. I admit, I’m not a parent, but that means I can be entirely objective when I ask: why are you people exhausting yourselves over your Pinterest orders?!?! Y’all can’t just wrap presents as a couple, while eating cookies, on Christmas Eve. You have to spend the month of December coming up with increasingly complex and elaborate Elf on the Shelf scenes. You can’t just take everyone’s favorite fruit snacks to pre-k. You have to stay up all night making strawberries that look like lady bugs, because heaven forbid your children eat anything non-organic. You can’t buy the one time use Halloween costume at Wal-Mart. You have to spend $120 on Etsy, so your daughter can look more like Elsa than the 47 other Elsas at the church carnival. I don’t know about you guys, but my skating rink birthday parties, where someone else made the cake and did the cleaning, made for great memories. Your children don’t need tiered cakes to make them happy, or at least they didn’t until you started convincing them that tiered cakes were for anything other than weddings.

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I understand that some people genuinely love making cutesy snacks or complicated costumes or designing unique family t-shirts for the Disney trip. I, myself, will be the parent who plans elaborate birthday parties, because I love birthdays. I struggle with the idea that anyone genuinely enjoys being expected to do all of these things. Maybe it really does fill you with joy to buy your seven-year-old that pair of $120 basketball shoes or give your 12-year-old the Uggs she so desperately wants. I’m not saying that I’m never going to do nice things for my children or enjoy making them happy. I’m saying that I’m not going to spend all of my time and all of my financial resources satisfying their every whim. I’m not neglecting my marriage or my retirement fund for my children, with the exception of some life-threatening illness. I’m not going to scratch my head over why my sex life is nonexistent as I, once again, lie in a bed with all three of my children between my husband and I. I’m not buying the newest game system, planning a trip to Disney World, and paying for brand new fencing equipment for my beginner fencer.

By today’s standards, maybe it makes me selfish to say it, but building a happy marriage and strong financial future will come before my children. If we took a family vacation one year and only have the means for one big trip the next year, the kids can have a fun-filled week with grandma and grandpa, while mom and dad remember why they got married. Given the choice between a good night’s sleep and my child having the most convincing costume for Dress as Your Hero day, I choose sleep. I also choose $80 worth of groceries over $80 worth of costume supplies.

It’s wonderful that our society cares so much about children, but we’re all so fucking miserable, because we’ve been told we’re supposed to stop caring about ourselves. I’ll tell you from experience though, that having mentally and financially stable parents who loved each other would’ve trumped the MacBook every day of the week.

Citations

http://www.costofwedding.com/

A World Without Grace

I was in class the day Grace came into the world. I left early, when I got Gail’s text, planning to visit her in the hospital. Gail and I, being Gail and I, she was comfortable telling me that she was exhausted and felt gross and didn’t want anymore visitors. I accepted that and met her little lady about a week later.

Me: “She’s all wrinkly… and red. When do they get cute?”

rachel green with ben
This IS how I would hold a football!”

Don’t worry. It happened… eventually… and quite severely.

I tell everyone that I was Aunt Belle to Gail’s daughter, but in truth, Gail was not immediately comfortable with bestowing that honor. Understandably, she didn’t want to give a family title to someone who was not technically family, possibly confusing Grace if I wasn’t around much. Over the next eight months, however, Grace became a far more regular part of my life than most of my family, including my actual niece. Any time Gail would swing by to pick me up in her 1997 Bonneville, filled to the brim with crap, I would automatically check the backseat for Grace. Her presence would set the tone of the day, be it drinks and appetizers in the arts district, or having infant Christmas photos taken at Target. It didn’t matter, because I loved Gail and I loved Grace.

labyrinth_lady2Gail driving the Bonneville. No really. I once had to sit in the back, because there was no room up front..

While Grace never smiled, in her life, she adored Family Guy and the sex scenes of True Blood. It had to be something about the colors and movement, but that little lady would nearly knock her bouncer over every time Sookie and Bill rolled around naked in blood. What? She didn’t know what it was. She was a baby, though an admittedly clever one. I don’t think the fake cell phone fooled Grace past the age of six months. She’d just toss it aside and reach for Gail’s obviously more interesting toy.

Now, don’t misunderstand my affection for Gail’s daughter. I am not rewriting history with an easily pacified, giggling baby. Grace was beautiful, innocent, and growled at her toys…, but I don’t know that I’ve ever come across such a demanding child as that one. I think a lot of things played a part in this, one being that Gail was unemployed for much of those first months. There was always someone to hold Grace, entertain her, and respond to her high-pitched falcon screech. Naturally, she was quite the entitled little thing.

At Gail’s apartment, on the phone with my Gramma.
Gramma: “Is that the baby?!?! What are you two doing to the poor thing?!?!”
Me: “She’s fine, Gramma. Seriously. She’s been fed, changed, and there aren’t even any tears. She’s just yelling, because she wants Gail to hold her all the time.”
Gramma: “Well, pick her up, then!!!!”
Me: “Gramma, she’s not my kid. Gail wants her to get used to not being held constantly.”

Oh, how I wish we’d just held her constantly.

Regardless of Gail’s efforts to wean her of this habit, the day Gail finally had to leave Grace at daycare, she falcon-screeched so long that they had to rotate her to different rooms, because the teachers couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t blame them.

:: Hanging out with Gail and a screaming-without-tears Grace ::
Me: “Grace, you have got quite the set of little lungs, don’t you?”
Gail: “I can put her in the other room if it’s bothering you.”
Me: “No, that’s alright. She’s fine.”
:: three minutes later ::
Me: “Actually, could you?”


Grace.

Despite her vocal range, though… Grace was precious. She was entirely portable, so we took her everywhere, constantly talking to her and playing with her. The lady at the barbecue place had even begun to recognize her. I suppose, that since Gail and I had lost touch for a year and a half after high school, Grace was the ultimate test, particularly when I miscarried. She was just a couple of months old and I had a bit of trouble being around an infant. If anything, though, Grace brought Gail and I closer; like on the night Gail called me at 1:00 in the morning. She had taken Grace to spend the night with her ex-husband Shane, only to get a call that her baby falcon just wouldn’t stop screaming. I was just starting my student teaching and had to be up early, but I knew Gail wouldn’t call without reason.

Gail: “Can you just keep me awake while I drive out there? I’m so tired.”

We chatted for a bit and hung up when she told me she was there. The phone rang again, just a moment later.

Gail: “I forgot the car seat. I have to go back and get it and Shane’s yelling at me to just take her anyway.”

Britney Spears drives with baby Sean

… but Britney did it!!!

Gail being Gail, she was an intensely paranoid mom. If Grace sneezed three times, we were in the ER and I do mean “we.” If Gail wanted company and I was free, I was there. So it was, with my second or third trip to the ER, Gail officially dubbed me “Aunt Belle.” Grace had been sick for over a week. It was just a cold, but now she had a high fever. We knew she’d be fine, but they sent us home… and she only got worse. A few nights later, Gail called me late to ask for a ride back to the ER, since her Bonneville wasn’t reliable. When I got to her apartment, though, she told me that the nurse she spoke to said they’d just send her home again, despite the 104 degree fever. We briefly considered taking her to the children’s hospital in the city, but we’d be taking a sick baby into the cold, the hospital was far away, and we both had to be up early. Besides, Grace would be fine. The doctors weren’t even concerned.

Two days later, Gail and I had dinner out with Grace. We laughed at the weird cry she was making, assuming it was a side effect of the medication. That night she lost consciousness and would never awaken. She was dying and we had laughed.

Apparently, a cold had turned into undiagnosed pneumonia, which had turned into bacterial meningitis. I visited the children’s hospital two or three times over the next week. Shane caused drama, over Gail’s refusal to hug him, over her boyfriend Cam wanting to see the baby he’d also loved, probably over the flavor of Gatorade in the vending machine. Gail’s parents, sister, and grandparents wept and prayed. Gail slept beside Grace’s hospital crib. We all waited for news of how this would affect Grace in the long run and when Gail would be able to take her home.

I had intended to buy Grace a learning toy for Valentine’s Day. An education major, I wanted something that would help her grow intellectually. Not knowing what she’d be capable of after she got well, however, I bought her an infant stuffed giraffe that played music. I hated that it had the words “press here” embroidered on it and only managed to remove half of it with a seam ripper, when Gail called.

“If you want to see her again, you should probably get up here soon.”


Toughest drive ever.

“You have to have faith. Miracles happen all the time.” – Everyone

The intentions in the above statement are good. Maybe that’s why the entire world shared some version of it. A baby’s life, however, does not hang in the balance of how hard I pray, how much I cry, whether or not Gail kept a constant vigil at her unconscious daughter’s side or convinced herself that she’d be taking her little girl home soon. God has a plan and if that plan is to take someone you love, there is nothing to be done about it. Trying to convince a mother otherwise is unintentionally cruel. Gail and I, being Gail and I, realized this even then.

Me: “She’s really going to die, isn’t she?”
Gail: “She’s already gone. That’s not my little girl anymore. Everyone keeps telling me to have faith, that a miracle will happen. I just want to say ‘fuck you.’ My daughter isn’t dying, because I don’t believe in God enough.”
Me: “This really sucks… and you kind of smell.”
Gail: :: snort of laughter :: “I don’t actually remember the last time I took a shower.”
:: we both realize it’s snowing outside her window ::
Me: “She’s never seen snow.”
Gail: “I know.”

On February 13,  2010, I got the text message.

Gail: It’s over.
Me: Do you want me to give people your parents’ address for flowers?
Gail: We have plenty of flowers. I’d rather they donate the money to research of some kind.
Me: Okay.
Gail: Thanks for not saying the stupid things you’re supposed to say.

Over the next few days, I didn’t hear from Gail much. She texted once about how she finally understood the reason behind flowers at a funeral: they give you something to talk about, other than the obvious. Grace’s organs were donated on Valentine’s Day and Gail informed me that her heart, intestines, and liver had gone to two other babies.

:: months later ::
Gail: “I don’t think I’d undo it if I could. As much as I want her back, if her death meant the lives of two other babies, I don’t think I could trade that.”

She’s so much less selfish than I.

I texted more than once, asking for verification that Gail hadn’t killed herself. I didn’t realize that she thought I was telling a morbid joke, which, admittedly, wouldn’t be entirely out of character. She’d forgotten the time we went to lunch with Cam and she told us about a special she’d seen, over parents who’d lost their children. She didn’t think she could ever survive that and I wasn’t sure what that meant.

Gail and I, being Gail and I, most of the “concerned” messages came to me. Some of our friends from high school, with whom Gail had been close, were legitimately concerned. Malik told off Shane, in a way that made my comment about how if we could manage not to hit him, he could manage not to hit Cam, look like kitten kisses. The others, whom neither of us had seen in a few years, were shocked. They were worried. They wanted to know what they could do to help. I refrained from sarcastically asking if they had powers of resurrection. I was just so tired of the rest of the messages. The girl who had a screaming fight with me in our eleventh grade algebra class was just sooo sorry. If we ever needed anything, we were to let her know. Oh, by the way… “what happened?” Gail and I still joke about asking her for a casserole. Outside of a catty remark, I don’t think she ever spoke to Gail in four years. The friend of a friend, who was always nasty to both Gail and I, was soooo crushed and would see Gail at the funeral. Oh, by the way… “what happened?” Nothing infuriated me quite like them turning my shattered best friend into post-high school gossip: The Girl Whose Baby Died.

I was the only non-family member Gail let add anything to the tiny pink casket. The aforementioned barbecue place gives away their logo cups for free. In addition to the Valentine’s gift I’d given her (which Gail added), I tried to put one in Grace’s casket, without looking at her body. I missed and it rolled underneath. I ended up having to crawl around to retrieve it, holding up the line. Sigh. That’s not supposed to happen at a funeral.

I cried in my Gramma’s arms. My mom got angry that I chose my Gramma’s arms.

no wire hangers
There are apparently no wire hangers allowed at a funeral.

The program specifically stated that only immediate family was welcome at the graveside. I asked if Gail wanted me there and she said no. I took no offense and didn’t go. Everyone else, however, did. Later, Gail told me that they all stood there, watching, and when she got up and walked away, to wait for them all to leave, they looked at her like “That’s it?”

Gail: “Go fuck yourself. I want to say goodbye to my daughter in peace.”

She, of course, never said that… to them. Apparently, she was a disappointing show. She didn’t shed a single tear and had just stared catatonically at nothing. I received no response when I hugged her and told her I loved her. I don’t know what was worse, laying Grace to rest, or watching Gail go through that… or rather, check out of that. I gave her some Ramen noodles, because they’d take longer to go bad than the casseroles she’d surely be getting. I couldn’t afford any more and included a note telling her that I’d never be able to say the right thing at the right time, but I’d be available when she wanted someone to treat her normally and make inappropriate jokes to take her mind off the pain. I thought I wouldn’t see her for months, an idea that broke my heart after the loss of Grace. Apparently, however, being treated like glass got old fast.

When Gail and I hung out, during the next year, sometimes we talked about Grace and sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes, in the middle of an outing, Gail would tell me she needed to go home, that it was a bad day. She developed severe memory problems and people became tired of her flaking out on them. To this day, I regularly remind her when we have plans. Gail even handled the question “Where’s the baby, today?”, from the waitress at the barbecue place, with… well awkwardness, but she didn’t burst into tears.

“Wow. She’s doing really well.” – Everyone

No matter who dies, there is only so much time that can be spent rocking in a corner, chewing on your own hair. Bills have to be paid. Food has to be bought. You don’t go on with life, because you’re “doing really well.” You go on with life, because there is no other choice. When Gail received notice that she was going to be evicted, everyone thought it was cruel. We both acknowledged, though, that the world does not stop turning, just because yours falls apart. Businesses must still function, even if Gail’s mom found her crying in a heap, where Grace’s crib used to be. Showing surprise that someone’s doing so well implies that they really shouldn’t be.

Gail: “I love when people say that. I want to be like ‘Yeah, there’s lots of polka dancing.'”

Grace died four years ago, today. She was 8 months, 5 days, and 15 minutes old. She never had her Valentine’s Day or an Easter. She never drew a picture or ate dog food or shoved a bully at school. She’ll never have a fight with her mom, a first period, a heartbreak. She’s truly, physically, gone. At first, it was all that filled my head and certainly more-so for Gail. Time went on, though, and I’d realize, that I didn’t think about Grace at all the previous day. More time passed, and then I’d think ‘Wow. How long has it been since I thought about Grace?’ Then I’d feel horrible, because I forgot Grace. At the same time, I’m occasionally shocked at how much it still hurts, being without her. I don’t want to tell anyone, because she wasn’t my kid. She wasn’t even related to me by blood. Maybe I should stop being so dramatic and trying to make this tragedy about me. I’ve even told Gail as much.

Gail: “You were a part of her life more than anyone outside of my immediate family. We joked about you being her dad for a reason. You’re absolutely inclined to feel the way you feel.”

Mostly, I deflect feelings with morbid humor.

Gail: “I wish she’d just been deaf. It would have been just enough to keep Shane from wanting to deal with the hassle, but not enough to keep her from living a life.”
Me: “Yeah. We’d both know ASL ….and that would look great on a resume. Damn it, Gail!”

Emotions go with the last friggin’ horcrux, y’all.

horcrux cave
Right here.

There’s so much guilt in Grace’s death. Gail and I desperately wish we’d taken her to the children’s hospital that night. We blame the local hospital for falsifying records, claiming Grace was smiling and laughing, when Gail tried to pursue a lawsuit. Her parents blame themselves for leaving 22-year-old Gail to care for an infant alone, wanting her to stand on her own two feet. We all blame Shane for being a soulless prick. There is no fault, though. It was God’s plan. It led us here… and here is usually pretty good.

You see, A World Without Grace was supposed to be bleak and filled with sadness, something from a dystopian young adult novel or a Tim Burton movie. On rare occasion, it is. Christmas morning, Gail sent me a text, referring to my miscarriage and Grace…

Gail: “Our children would’ve been up for hours, already.”

She still gets frustrated, when she runs into someone who used to sit at our lunch table, and they fumble around more awkwardly than is normal of post-high school run-ins.

Gail: “Can’t you just not mention it? How about we just pretend that I’m not The Girl Whose Baby Died and you tell me about your life? I want to hear about your boyfriend and work, just like everyone else. I’m not going to burst into tears if you ask about mine!”

I’ve repeatedly suggested telling half of the people at our reunion that Gail had a mental break and doesn’t realize her baby’s dead, while telling the other half that I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, creating the most confusing gossip ever.


That’ll teach ’em.

Most days, though? Life is really good. The New Year’s Eve, when we rented a motel room and took a taxi to the casino, Gail and I commented on how that wouldn’t be possible if I’d had the baby and Grace had survived. Gail wouldn’t have met Terry, because, hopefully, someone with a toddler would be a bit more careful about fucking a trucker off Craigslist. Just as I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my master’s degree and become a librarian, if I had had my baby; Gail wouldn’t be able to work for the post office, if she had a four-year-old. Two babies, who might’ve lived after transplants, almost certainly would’ve died.

Today, my heart is breaking for the four-year-old that’s not in my life. I’m swearing I’ll never have children and trying not to think about the three-year-old I would have, had things worked out differently. I fucking hate Valentine’s Day, because everyone else is happy right now or bitching over trivial crap, like not having someone to buy them flowers that are just going to die. I can’t get the picture of a catatonic Gail and a baby pink casket out of my head.

… but in six months, Gail and I will be drinking chick beer in my living room floor, giggling about my online dating disasters and her mother’s desperation to get her married off to Terry, as soon as possible. We may comment on how the world would be so different had our prayers been answered. We also may not… because for better or for worse, God intended we live in A World Without Grace.

gail convo 02-11-14

 

Original post date: February 13, 2014