A Discount Store Celebration of My Girl Parts

Y’all, I’m ashamed to say that, after years of struggle, I’ve managed to take the small things for granted. I still smile when I’m able to buy the name brand Spaghetti O’s, when I only have to work 40 hours a week, when I get to spend an evening reading next to my husband, instead of rushing to an awkward first date. Yet, somehow, I’ve taken one of life’s many blessings as a given. Y’all, for 31 years, I have been living under the assumption that my girl parts were not up for public discussion… and I was mistaken.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. There is, of course, a clear distinction between “public” and “family.” The ink had barely dried on my divorce papers, before my brother informed 23-year-old Belle that all the good ones were taken, so if she wanted to get married and have kids, she’d better get on it. The entirety of my twenties, in fact, were peppered with not-so-subtle suggestions that I procreate, even before Jake and I were engaged. Just last Christmas, my Aunt Dee sat down next to me, as I was holding my baby niece, and demanded “What about you? What’s your timeline? When are you having babies?” in lieu of silly pleasantries like “Hello” or “Merry Christmas.” Belle’s Girl Parts have been a favorite family discussion topic for years. Truth be told, save for my dad, the lot of them have had a stopwatch on my uterus for the better part of the last decade.

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As for Jake’s family, who are far more old school than mine, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that they’ve only just begun to hint that we should get on the baby train, after two years of marriage. Though they don’t quite have the gall of my family, the comments are getting increasingly less subtle, and honestly… that’s okay. While it bothered me to hear these things from my own family, when I was working on my career and figuring out what I wanted from life, I never held any true ire or resentment. As blunt and nosy and opinionated as both sides can be, it’s forgivable… because they’re family. A foundation of nearly every familial portrayal in media is that they suck at boundaries, because they love you… and I can handle that. What I cannot handle, however, is the same lack of boundaries from the cashier at Dollar Tree.

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Folks, I’ve worked retail, and still very much work in customer service, so I try to be courteous. When I get to the register, I put my phone down, greet the cashier, engage in any small talk, say thank you and just generally try not to act like an entitled ass. Usually, I receive the same respectful treatment, from someone who will likely never see me again, but still makes an effort to create a pleasant interaction by smiling, making chit chat and ignoring my purchases. So, last week, when I stopped in to grab a card for a coworker’s last day, I thought nothing of it when I piled a few ovulation tests on the conveyor belt, cuz why not? They’re a dollar and I’ve long since passed the time in my life where I’m embarrassed to buy tampons or condoms. Just as I couldn’t care less when a customer asks me for books on demonology and antique dolls (or I at least keep quiet about it), I know cashiers aren’t interested in my budget fertility experiments… or are they?!?!

Cashier # 1: “Oooooh! Are you trying to have a baby?!?!”q1zsbb8
Me: “I… um… I guess so?”
Cashier # 1: “That’s so exciting! I always said that if I were going to have any more, I’d do it that way, so I could know exactly when they were coming. I’ve got an IUD now, though, so I’m good for five years.”tenor-1
Me: ::I literally do not even know your name:: “Oh, um, yeah I actually had one of those for a little while.” ::Why the hell am I telling this woman about my birth control?::
Cashier # 2: “What’s going on?”
Cashier # 1: “She’s trying to have a baby!”babyishbountifulgarpike-size_restrictedCashier # 2: “Oh, that’s exciting!”
Cashier # 1: “Yeah, I had to use over-the-counter options before this, because I couldn’t use anything else.”
Me: “Yeah, that happens sometimes, I know everything else made me sick.” ::Are we really talking about your condom usage?::giphy-2

… and then I thanked her, wished her a good day and left with my bag o’ pee sticks. That’s right, y’all. It is so ingrained in me to be a good customer, that I thanked the cashier who asked me “How ’bout that vagina?” My When my Aunt Dee asked about my timeline, I had the presence of mind to clap back that Jake keeps putting it in the wrong hole (Merry Christmas!), but a woman I’ve never met blasts my sex life over the loud speaker of a local discount store and I wish her a good day.

When did this happen?!?! When did my fertility become something that not only my family asks about in a pesky, yet somewhat endearing way, but strangers think makes for appropriate small talk?!? I’m all for lifting the taboo on pregnancy, liberating “expecting” 50s housewives from their mumus, and encouraging breastfeeding moms to make themselves comfortable in public, but there is a difference between oppressive taboos and basic privacy! For instance:

Telling a woman she should hide her pregnancy shames her for something she should be celebrating.

While humiliating a woman for feeding her baby in a public courthouse makes a healthy and natural activity taboo, asking a woman if she’s planning to breastfeed is prying into a private personal decision.

Congratulating someone on their pregnancy announcement shares in the joy of a growing family, but asking her about her girl parts is invasive and uncomfortable and I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that!

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Naturally, I went home and shared this story with Jake.
Me: “Next month, you get to buy the ovulation tests.”
Jake: “If it happens again, just tell them you’re breeding your dog.”

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I’ve been pretty hesitant to revisit this Dollar Tree, though, even with it being so close to work. While a part of me wants to perform some kind of expansive social experiment and buy increasingly awkward items from various cashiers, another part shudders to think what will happen when I actually do get pregnant.

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I am beginning to HATE going to the movie theater.

When Jake and I met, I was living in Shetland, a suburb of the Metro, where I substitute taught nearly every day, before commuting to my half time librarian job in the city.  Jake, an oil man, lived about an hour west of me, in the same town as his sister, because it didn’t really matter where he hung his hat, when he was working one week on and one week off, as a fluid engineer. All things considered, the chances of us meeting each other (or really anyone) organically were nil. Thanks online dating!

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From that first date, our distance and schedules manifested into an old fashioned courtship, of sorts. On Jake’s week off, we’d have one date and then we wouldn’t see each other again for two weeks. In an attempt to make the most of the one day we had, we’d often cram several dates into one, getting lunch, visiting the zoo, getting dinner, seeing a movie…

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Having met during a Southern summer, movies were an excellent go-to date. There was always a new blockbuster to see in an air conditioned theater, with a bucket of popcorn and a small bag of gourmet candy from the store in the mall. While I’d personally gone to several movies alone, this was admittedly a classic date for a reason; far superior as a romantic activity, where my sexually awkward self could snuggle up to Jake, without fear of things progressing beyond my comfort level. That first summer, movies quickly became our thing and to this day, movie dates hit me with a burst of nostalgia… before a much larger burst of annoyance, frustration, and even rage.

It’s been four years since Jake and I saw Jurassic World on our first real date, after the Zero Date, where we met for sushi. In that time, I’m not sure if audiences have gotten worse or if I’ve gotten more sensitive to them, but I’m beginning to hate going to the theater. It started with Stephen King’s It: Part I, a movie both highly anticipated by Jake and myself, in addition to being part of my 30th birthday celebration. As we watched the kids of Derry scream in terror, a group of women in front of us cackled at inappropriate times… on and off for two hours and fifteen minutes. The laughter was so consistently ill-timed and obnoxious, that I actually complained to management, knowing as a former movie theater employee, that they’d likely do nothing. I was right, and at the end of the movie, I asked for readmits, since I didn’t even see anyone check the theater. Okay, I thought, we had one really bad audience and got free movie tickets, as a result. It could be worse.

Just a few months later, Jake and I saw Jumanji with my step-family, for our annual Christmas Eve outing. The movie was hilarious, so ill-timed laughter wasn’t a problem. Being Christmas Eve, there were no young children in attendance and there were surprisingly few talkers, save for my dad. There was, however, one Avid Facebook User seated in front of me. I’ve previously shared this story, so you may already be familiar with the moment that 16-year-old Belle briefly took over my body and chucked an M&M at this woman who was, quite literally, twice my size… and not happy about having Christmas candy thrown at her.

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Coward that I am, when I realized my impulsivity might get my juvenile ass kicked, I dove into Jake’s side, and whispered in his ear…

“Hey, I don’t know how this is gonna go, but that woman was playing with her phone, so I threw an M&M at her and she looks really mad. I love you.”

… and then snuggled up to him and looked straight ahead as if I’d been there the whole time, while Mark Zuckerberg craned her neck in search of the culprit… for like a full minute. It was one M&M… and it should have been more, because she went right back to her damned newsfeed.

Me: “Can I throw another M&M at her?”
Jake: “No. Be quiet and watch the movie.”

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This story has become something of a family joke, as Jake likes to bring it up to his family, who are only beginning to get to know me. Overall, the act of playing with your phone in the theater is equally as obnoxious as throwing candy. Even though she totally started it, I concede that the two canceled each other out. Still, the person playing with their phone has become such a staple of the movie theater experience, that I have to draw on the time I nearly got my ass handed to me for Christmas, to cite one that’s actually notable. Just as when I sat next to the Deliberately Loud Laugher, who must be on a first date, because she wants to make it absolutely clear that she finds Thor Ragnarok hilariousthe self-absorbed, disrespectful theater goers seem to just be par for the course. After last weekend, though, I think I might officially be done. 

Jake and I love horror movies… not the cheap torture porn on Netflix, but the high budget ones that actually make it into theaters. It’s rare that we miss seeing one, so I was pretty excited for Child’s Play this past weekend. I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for the movie itself, as it’s based on an 80’s movie about a murderous doll, but I genuinely enjoy remakes and figured it would be fun to see a modern take on such a ridiculous story line. It was somewhat forgettable… more of a Black Mirror episode than a full-length film. The audience, however, was atrocious. 

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To my right was Jake, and to his right, was an Exclaimer. You know, the woman who loudly exclaims “WOW” of “NUH UH!” every time there’s a big reveal. In front of me, was the Marathon Texter, and behind us was a woman with three small children, including a crying baby.

Y’all, I try not to judge parents. I really do, because I don’t have kids and I can’t empathize. I do know that Jake and I have only been to so many movies this year, though, because we’ve agreed to go as much as we can, since we know that when we have kids, movies are going to be few and far between… because it’s a dick move to bring a baby to a theater. Now, if we were seeing Toy Story 4 at 2:00 on a Saturday, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the presence of fussy children. That is, in fact, precisely why Jake and I don’t see children’s movies in theaters. While I still think it’s stupid to bring a baby, who can’t even comprehend the movie, I understand that there are some toddlers who love Toy Story. I don’t think I’d take mine, because I’m cheap and would feel like it was a waste of money on an experience they can’t fully appreciate, but I don’t blame the parents who do. This, however, was Child’s Play, an exceptionally violent, vulgar horror movie, where young teenagers say “fuck” on loop. I am 100% comfortable judging the choice to bring small children to this movie.

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Not only was this movie completely inappropriate for the children behind us, they were completely inappropriate for the theater, starting with the opening trailers. The boy, who couldn’t have been more than seven, was an Exclaimer in the making, loudly commenting on random lines with “That was a good one!” At no point did his mom correct him, either. No. She was too busy shushing her baby, who she was simultaneously trying to distract with a cell phone, because she’s self-absorbed, inconsiderate, or short-sighted (perhaps all three) and brought small children to an unquestionably adult movie. I get it. Being a parent is tough and sometimes you need a break, but:

1. How is this a break?!?! You’re literally spending the entire film trying to keep your baby from erupting from pure boredom. You’re unhappy and your baby is unhappy.

2. Other people deserve breaks, too. If you’re a parent and you want a break, either get a sitter, so you can have some fun adult time or do one of the many family-oriented, appropriate activities that your children might actually enjoy and let other people have some adult fun time, sans kiddos.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like children, but I do not complain about the existence of children, where children are expected and intended. When a child throws a tantrum in Wal-Mart, I don’t bat an eye. Everyone needs groceries and underwear and toothpaste. Some of those people have children and children aren’t always happy. When a baby screams in the library, during story time, I understand that some toddlers, who love sensory play and mermaid books, have little brothers and sisters. Of course mom isn’t going to get a sitter for the baby and bring the toddler. It would be ludicrous to expect that.

As a married, but childless, woman in her thirties, I often feel surrounded by small children and as a librarian surviving summer reading, I often am. I’m happy to coexist with children and when I’m not, I realize that it’s my nerves that are tender, my threshold that’s low, my problem, because children are a part of society. When I’m in a rated R horror movie, however, I think it’s a pretty damned reasonable expectation that I not have to listen to a baby cry on and off for two hours… which was exactly what I told management, when I asked for readmits, which I have not done in two years, since It: Part I. 

When I returned to the theater, I snuggled up to Jake and whispered “I have free movie tickets in my pocket,” and we were both better able to handle the baby crying through the rest of a meh horror movie. Except, as I consider all the new movies coming out, that I’d love to see with a respectful and considerate audience, I’m not sure I want to risk seeing any of them in a theater. Anyone want free movie tickets?

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Between Marriage and Motherhood

Three and a half years ago, Jake took me on a weekend trip, to meet his friends. We’d only been dating for seven months, but we were already beginning to see a future together. It was only a few weeks later that we went skiing and began to talk about marriage in hypotheticals. So it was, that we fit right in with his dating/engaged/married without children friends. The women made Pinterest recipes together and shared first date and wedding day stories. The men played beer pong and told appalling college tales. There were drinking games and card games and movies. It was a great time and I was surprised to feel so included with these people I’d just met. A year and a half later, I felt the same way, on our wedding day, when the women told me I completed the pack. So, this past weekend, when Jake told me his friends had planned another crawfish boil, I was excited.

When we met, only one set of Jake’s married friends had children and it was some time before I met them, as that couple’s weekend wasn’t really a family event. Over the next few years, however, more and more birth announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers came. Some of the new parents were just at that point in life, others perhaps just wanted to be. Regardless of intent, though, the babies came and the first thing I saw when we arrived at last weekend’s party was a swarm of small children.

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It’s no secret that I don’t really like kids. I’ve never been drawn to them. Unless they’re family, and therefore require some level of affection and investment, I just don’t find them particularly interesting… and I’ve tried. I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library, so it’s not for lack of exposure that children just aren’t my thing. Yet, I want my own. The word trying” seems like a lot of information about my sex life, but Jake and I are… seeing what happens. So, while I can’t necessarily empathize with their day to day lives, I can sympathize with parents. I love watching my husband with our young nieces. I genuinely enjoy them, myself, so I know I have that in me, under the right circumstances. Working with older kids and teens is my life’s work and it makes me want to give my own children a good home life. I’m not there yet and children aren’t my specialty, but I do want them soon, so I can enjoy the company of parents and their families. Too bad the feeling wasn’t mutual last weekend.

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I won’t go so far as to say that anyone was unkind to me, at this party. Jake and I walked in and did the introductions and reintroductions. People I’d never met hugged me and joked about erecting statues in my honor for marrying this wild cowboy of mine. Together, we gave updates on our careers and location, before Jake traded some back slaps and insults, on his way to play cornhole and horseshoes with his old college buddies… and I was left alone, in a crowd of moms.

Y’all, I tried. I was excited about this party and didn’t hesitate to sit down at a table of women my age and attempt to strike up a conversation. We traded pleasantries. I asked about their kids, told them we didn’t have any yet, and then… I simply vanished. I’d try the same routine with another group and another, but always, got the same result.

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Feeling rejected, I sat down with Jake to eat crawfish, while he and his friends gabbed like tweens. Occasionally, they’d include me and I’d find myself laughing comfortably with my husband and his boys. Not wanting to detract from Jake’s good time by being clingy, however, I mostly watched as he and his buddies played washers and drank beer. Periodically, I’d attempt to start a conversation with one of the women, happy to listen to them talk about their families or careers or literally anything, but these chats never lasted more than a few minutes, before they sat down with other moms; ones they knew and ones they didn’t. Whereas once, when Jake and I were in the same stage of life, I felt welcomed and included among his friends, I now found myself on the sidelines, not out of maliciousness, but with a similar result, because I don’t yet have something I do want.

Jake: “Are you not having fun?”
Me: “I’m okay. Go have fun with your friends. You don’t need to babysit me.”
Jake: “You’re really bad at lying.”
Me: “It’s just… kind of like a middle school dance. I’m either sitting quietly alone or wandering around aimlessly, so I look like I have somewhere to be. No one wants to talk to me, cuz I’m not a mom.”

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As the night wore on, it became clear that the only friend I’d made was the dog, who saw my weakness as an opportunity to get nummies… and that he did. Finally, I made one last attempt to socialize, walking over to a group of women who’d seemed friendly earlier. Immediately, I was asked if I had children. When I answered “not yet”, I was literally embraced by a woman named Molly, who launched into an inebriated tirade against the “breeders” who wouldn’t invite her to dinner, because she didn’t have a screaming brat to bring with her. Simply happy to have someone to talk to, I let her drag me away from the group, her husband and another couple in tow, and they all proceeded to long for the days of random hookups and a drunken concert they referred to as “Redneck Woodstock.” I remember hearing about that concert from Jake, on our third date. He told me that so many people just peed right next to the stage, it was like a latrine. When I mentioned this, I was informed that the beauty was in the freedom to pee right next to the stage. Never having been a gal who would enjoy such festivities, I did not mince words.

Me: “That sounds awful. That literally sounds like Hell.”

It didn’t matter, though, because Molly had decided that I was simply her sounding board and she’d had too much to drink to take in much of what I had to say. She told me she knew she liked me, that she just had to look past the pigtails and the cookies I brought. She told me how happy she was that Jake, who’d never liked her, had married a stoner liberal just like her.

Me: “I’m not a liberal or a stoner. I’ve smoked pot twice and I didn’t like it.”

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She didn’t seem to hear me.

Jake found me and Molly launched into her defense campaign, talking about how he used to hate her, but she’s totally changed. He joked and laughed with her, but I could tell his opinion hadn’t altered much over the years and that Molly’s behavior wasn’t doing anything to redeem her. I suddenly felt more defeated than ever. The only person who’d shown any genuine interest in me all night was a drunken party girl in her thirties, who referred to anyone who wants children as a “breeder”… and she made fun of my hair and my nice gesture. I had enough friends like that in my twenties and I didn’t even enjoy it then. I certainly can’t relate now. When Jake leaned in and whispered “Molly’s crazy, by the way,” I nearly burst into tears, because I’d gathered as much myself.

Me: “Don’t tell me any more. She’s the only person who’s talked to me all night.”

While Jake finished up his final game of washers, I hung my head and retreated to the car, walking the long way to avoid Molly and company, my shoes in hand as I trekked barefoot through standing water, so I wouldn’t be noticed. I crawled into the car and pulled out my Kindle, retreating into my forever friend: books.

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Twenty minutes later, Jake climbed into the car next to me.

Jake: “Do you feel okay?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jake: “I’m sorry you didn’t have fun.”
Me: “I’m glad you did.”

… and I meant it

The next morning, after I’d had some time to get my feelings in check, I told Jake that I didn’t dislike his friends. On the contrary, they’d been so nice to me before, that it felt worse to be so obviously excluded… and they are nice people. They try to include me in smaller groups… when the wives show. This isn’t a phenomenon Jake has to deal with, though, even though all of his friends have kids. Men’s lives are less likely to be consumed by fatherhood than women’s are to be consumed by motherhood. Men aren’t as naturally exclusionary as women… and Jake is generally the life of every party, so they’d fail if they tried.

I’m certain that none of the women intended to alienate me, that night. There were so many people there, that I imagine it was pretty easy to overlook one. Regardless, being ostracized by the Mom Club felt uniquely awful. Maybe one day, a year or two from now, when I’m once again one of the gang… in the same stage of life as everyone else, I’ll remember that feeling well enough to talk to the woman between marriage and motherhood. In the meantime, I have a husband who at least understands that he’ll never understand.

Me: “I think maybe you should come on more solo trips to hang out with your buddies. I don’t really want to do this again for a while.”
Jake: “Okay.”

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I’m ready for children.

At 21 years old, I was in the midst of the lowest point in my life. While my college classmates were planning their futures, I was struggling to get through the day. While they were attending concerts and parties and taking group road trips, I was working as many hours as the movie theater would give me and taking as many classes as the school would allow me. While they were binge drinking, I was… well, binge drinking, but it was in a pretty different fashion.

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We’ll pretend it was just wine… and that I ever used a glass.

Times were hard, yo. I was married to a psychopath and, while I knew it wasn’t going to last much longer, I also didn’t have the energy to end it. I literally lived for the idea that one day, maybe years from now, life wouldn’t be so hard. If I could just get through college, a job would be waiting for me (lies) and stability would soon follow. In short: it was not the time for an unplanned pregnancy… but I suppose that’s the defining feature of the term.

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If you’re wondering about my lack of baby from said pregnancy, I’ve previously written a pretty darned depressing account of losing my unwanted baby, so I won’t rehash that woeful tale here.

Around this time, I remember talking to my older (though, equally irresponsible) movie theater coworker about how I didn’t plan on having children for a few years… to which she responded: “Belle, if I had waited until I was ready to have children, I never would have had them. You will never be ready.”

This advice came from a 26-year-old movie theater manager with three children and a husband who wouldn’t work… essentially my future at the time… so she wasn’t exactly life coach material. However, for the past 10 years, I’ve heard a similar sentiment from family and friends, of all lifestyles and backgrounds, and had actually begun to believe that I would never be ready for children.

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Miscarrying at 21 was simultaneously one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me and the best course for my life, an epiphany that certainly reinforced the feeling that preparing for kids was an impossibility. Throughout my twenties, I assumed that, if and when I had children, they would be the result of my acceptance that, ready or not, my healthy fertile years were limited. When Jake and I married, at 32 and 29, the baby questions began immediately, despite the fact that neither of us felt as though we were ready for a family. Just as I’d begun to believe that feeling like an adult was an ever-receding point for me, I was more and more certain that, personally, I’d never feel any more ready for children than I did at 21. So, Jake and I set the timeline at about two years of marriage and I figured we’d just let our future selves worry about it.

Well, here we are, just weeks away from our two year anniversary, and I am surprised to say that, we’re actually ready for children. That’s not to say that we know what to expect, but that we’re eager for the unexpected. I don’t think Jake ever doubted we’d get here, but I definitely did. I’m happy to announce, however, that just as I eventually did begin to feel like a grownup, I now feel truly ready to start a family, because…

… we have established careers.

It took a long time to find my professional footing… over ten years, in fact. Despite finishing my bachelor’s degree at 22, and my master’s degree at 25, I didn’t get my first full time position until I was 28 years old. It took another two years to settle into my current job, one in which I’m content to settle for some time. That kind of struggle, in a field the uneducated claim is dying, definitely caused me to feel somewhat adrift for the entirety of my twenties. It’s no wonder I never felt like a grownup, in all that time. The waters have finally calmed, though. I love my job and I’m damned good at it. I make excellent money for my region, have great benefits, and understanding managers.

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As for Jake, when we met, he was in oil, a lucrative and volatile field. Were it not for me, he’d likely still be on a similar career trajectory, but I grew up with a blue collar, keeping up with the Joneses dad. Fuck designer handbags and new cars. I wanted to be a family… and that required Jake to be present. So, for me, he handed in his coveralls and started as a laborer with the City of Cherokee, for just under twelve dollars an hour. “Toxic masculinity” my ass. It takes some serious humility to start from the very bottom like Jake did for me. That he did, though, and today, he’s earned several licenses and raises, along with an unsurprisingly stellar reputation, in his good ol’ boy field.

Neither Jake, nor I, will have to take time away from our family to go back to school. I have no use for a PhD and Jake’s bachelor’s degree is essentially a formality. We won’t have to start over, in new fields, taking pay cuts, because we’ve already done that. We have our jobs. We like our jobs. Which leads me to my next point, that…

… we have our finances in order.

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When Jake and I met, he had no credit and no debt. I had great credit and a ton of debt. Over the course of the last two years, we’ve balanced those scales out a bit and here we are: homeowners with pretty good credit and dwindling debt. My private student loans are paid off and my federal student loan payments are manageable and income based. Our cars are paid for and in six months, everything else will be, as well. Sure, we could always be more flush with cash, but I’m officially at a point in life where I can afford  daycare, the formula my post-breast reduction boobs will inevitably require, and a couple of years worth of diapers. We won’t be buying a $200 Dock-a-Tot, because we aren’t insane, but we can do this. In part, because…

… we have our families.

Y’all, Jake’s family is shockingly respectful of our reproductive privacy… which is more than I can say for my own, as they’ve been dropping hints since before we got engaged. Just last weekend, though, my mother-in-law overheard Jake tell his dad that one of our friends is having a girl, to which she excitedly asked “You’re having a girl?!?”, causing his sister to blurt into the phone “Jake and Belle are having a baby!”… and me to declare, that if Jake was having a girl, it wasn’t with me.

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The day Jake first met my parents (on my 28th birthday, no less), I made a joke about how someone didn’t have to get married to have a baby, and my stepmomma immediately told me “Yes. You do.” Two years ago, Jake admitted that if he’d gotten me pregnant before marriage, his mother never would’ve respected me. Whenever this subject has come up with friends or coworkers, I’ve often gotten the reply “Oh, who cares what they think?” Um… I do. They’re family. 

Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have my family’s blessing in my first “marriage” or because they collectively gave quiet sighs of relief when I miscarried, but it’s vital to me, for our families to be excited, when we have children. I want them to be involved, as their best selves: people who are willing and eager to help, because they love us and want to see our family thrive, not because we just can’t do it on our own. I want them to look at us with pride, not as two people who are too old to get these kinds of things out of order… and we’re officially far from that description. Most importantly, though…

… we have each other.

You know what’s worse than miscarrying? Miscarrying alone in bed, on a Spiderman beach towel. Jake would never leave me to that fate. He’ll read the pregnancy books and attend the doctor appointments and research the car seats. He’ll change the diapers, make the bottles, and do the daycare pick-ups. Simply put, Jake would never leave me. He’s my best friend, my confidant, my partner. He’s the only person, aside from my Gramma, who’s never made me feel disposable. He won’t just start a family with me, he is my family, now and always. He’s already an excellent husband and he’ll be an excellent father. We’ll never be alone in this adventure, no matter what it brings. Even now, despite all the platitudes, we’ve realized together, that we truly do feel ready for the utter shock of children. It might not be common practice in the South, but it is possible.

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“Belle, if I had waited until I was ready to have children, I never would have had them. You will never be ready.”

Perhaps, if you had been lucky enough to wait, you’d have realized that you could be ready.

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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