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.

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?”

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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.

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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

Lessons in Parenting from Social Media

I don’t have children. For the time being, I don’t lament that fact. I, however, do work with children and have a bachelor’s degree that required quite a bit of child development and child psychology. As a research-oriented person, a Ravenclaw if you will, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine to read up on the latest case studies and articles on child development, such as the effect of technology on children, effective rewards and punishment strategies, how to deal with bullying, even color psychology. Things get cray up in here on a Friday night.

So, unlike many single twenty-somethings, I really don’t mind the constant Facebook updates from my mom friends. It’s a lucky thing, too, because in Shetland, that uterus has a much earlier sell by date than it would in say, any place that exists in 2014, as opposed to 1964. Fortunately, this allows me access to real time parenting research. As a result, here’s what I’ve learned about parenting from social media.

The names Prezlee, Ecstassi, Vyce, and Rebel will look great on resumes.

If he’s not old enough to drive, he needs to be in a rear facing car seat.

If I vaccinate, my baby will die.

If I don’t vaccinate, all the babies will die.

Walking through the room of a child in possession of Legos is like taking a barefoot stroll through the cobblestone streets of hell.

Leaving an infant alone for any period of time is extremely dangerous… unless it’s with an aggressive breed dog, in which case it’s adorable.

If I don’t breastfeed my baby for one year, they’ll probably die. If they survive, they’ll never truly love me.

If I breastfeed for one year and one day, they’ll picture me on their wedding night.

There are men who intentionally leave their toddlers in cars on a hot day. There are women who snap and drown their babies. Neither of these will compare to the day I call my daughter a princess. Surely, she is now doomed to grow up with no sense of self worth, no goals, no knowledge of the world beyond what her overbearing husband allows her.

God doesn’t know how to make children. I must help him via copious amounts of Photoshop. If no one’s wondering about my child’s glowing blue eyes and porcelain skin, I’m doing it wrong.

My toddler can have a concrete sexual orientation, but only if he’s gay.

If my kid doesn’t get a certificate or trophy, I should have one made, so he’ll feel accomplished, even when he isn’t.

If my child doesn’t have an iPhone by age 8, I’m depriving him of an understanding of modern technology and he’s likely to be kidnapped, because he was unable to call for help.

Teasing is not normal. If someone teases my kid for being short, there should be an assembly, a news story, and possibly a national campaign to ban the word “short.”

If my daughter plays with Barbies, she’ll develop unhealthy and unrealistic standards of beauty. The best way to combat this is by making her feel confident in her sexuality as young as possible.

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An Open Letter to My Engaged Teenage Cousin:

Recently, you announced to the world, via Facebook, that you are engaged. I thought you were joking, not only because you just celebrated your first boyfriend, first job, and 18th birthday, but because you’re regularly announcing engagements to your best girlfriends. But no, you clarified… this time you’re serious. There’s even a ring. I had a ring as a teenager, too. I didn’t say that, though. I didn’t respond at all, because I had a ring as a teenager, too. You are a brand new baby adult and there is absolutely no reaching you on this subject. I’m sure that your aunts have tried… your dad… your grandmother. My name was possibly even brought up as a cautionary tale.

If I thought you would hear me, I’d remind you of what you’ve surely heard in health class: that 60 percent of marriages for couples between the ages of 20 and 25 end in divorce.* I won’t though, because you’ll insist (as did I) that your relationship is different. What I’d like to tell you, is that it isn’t. Your relationship is not different from any other young marriage, in that you are not the people you will be in 10 years… not even close. We live in a society where individuals are encouraged to grow the absolute most between the ages of 18 and 25. So, while you’ll grow as a person throughout your life, you’ll likely never change so much as in the next seven years or so. Everything about who you will be, who he will be, is unknown. You are working with unmolded clay, and the odds are infinitesimal that, after seven years, you’ll exist as two pieces who properly fit together. It is entirely possible that this teenage boy, through much influence from the world beyond his teen bride, will be molded into a screaming liberal, a soldier, a vegan, a drug addict, an online gamer, an Atheist, a smoker, a pro-lifer, a techie, a role player, a devout Christian, an alcoholic, a workaholic, a thief, a cheater, or an abuser.

Maybe you won’t be crying over another mysterious phone call, wondering where the Blu Ray player went, or icing a fat lip. These are obviously pretty extreme scenarios. Perhaps you’ll just find, at 22, that you love British comedy and sushi, have a strong passion for animal rights, and aren’t totally sure if you want to bring children into this world. Your young husband will grab a beer, sit down on the couch next to you, ask what the hell you’re watching and bring up the baby conversation again. You’ll look at the man you once considered adorable and see a simpleton… the reason you can’t join the Peace Corps or take that job out of state… the only adventure you’ve ever had. 

I know, I know. I’m jaded and broken, after two years of sleeping with my wallet in my pillowcase and wondering why the dog was bleeding. I’m hardly one to give marital advice. Maybe you’ll be just as in love at 28 as you were at 18. Then what will I have to say? Then… I’ll be happy for you. I’ll be thrilled that you don’t know the soul crushing effect of divorcing a monster in your early 20s, or the fear and nerves of going on your first Grown Up Date at 23, the awkwardness of stumbling over the “I’m divorced” conversation in a new relationship. However… I’ll still be thinking of all that you missed; like the vacation you never got to take with your girls, that trip abroad that wasn’t even up for consideration, the boy at that party you had so much in common with, maybe even the bachelor’s degree that got pushed aside when the babies came.

You can always get married and have children (pre-menopausal), but you can never undo the decision you’re making right now. You’re only 18, which means that you’ve never made any decisions that will effect the rest of your life and, happiness or despair, getting married will effect the rest of your life. You will make more choices, based on that decision, and they will effect the rest of your life. Perhaps the wedding won’t be soon, but then why even get engaged? Engagement is a time to prepare for marriage, not a pseudo commitment to provide security in a time of upheaval. Your life is supposed to be scary and unknown right now. I guarantee that it’s a lot more fun right after high school, than it is at 23, when everyone else is finding stability in the world.

Those are the things I would say, but I know they’ll fall on deaf ears. I know they already have as other family members have made the same points. If I could get just one thing across, though, it would be that they’re saying these things for a reason. They love you. They’ve watched people make this choice again and again. Maybe they even speak from personal experience. They want you to be happy, just as they wanted me to be happy. Your engagement announcement shouldn’t require the assurance that you’re serious, because you’ve barely outgrown faux relationship status updates to your best gal pals. It shouldn’t be met with cautionary tales and pleas to wait. Marriage, under the right circumstances, is a wonderful thing and your family wouldn’t warn you off a wonderful thing. It hurts them to see you make this mistake, just as it hurt them to watch me do the same. I just hope you don’t shut them out, because you will need them, if the worst occurs and your world falls apart, leaving you to start over as all of your friends announce that theirs are finally coming together. I wish you could understand this, but I know you can’t, because I had a ring as a teenager, too.

* http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/351

The Mommy Wars: As Witnessed by an Unwilling and Childless Casualty

As a Southern 26-year-old, I’m living a life that’s more Friday Night Lights than Sex and the City, (as evidenced by my incredibly dated television references). With that, comes a social media news feed that has long since tired of weddings and even first babies. Not only have I seen third and fourth children, but I’ve got multiple friends from high school who post about their infertility issues. Over sharing aside, this is pretty standard. We live in a land ruled by country music and religion; the former of which tells us that it’s only true romance if we make a lifetime commitment before we can legally drink and the latter of which tells us that there is no… way… out… ever. Sooooo, although I consider myself plenty young, I know a lot of moms and am completely aware of the ridiculous phenomenon that is the Mommy Wars.

If you’re unaware of the phrase, the Mommy Wars are waged between some mothers who aren’t just content to know that they’re doing their best, but feel the need to criticize every other woman’s best. While I don’t have children, I did have a pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage, in which I got just a brief taste of the Mommy Wars. You see, as a breast reduction recipient, who was still in school, I decided that breastfeeding was just not for me. In all honesty, it still isn’t, barring any out of the ordinary medical needs. For the near three months that I was pregnant, however, I got to hear endless opinions on my very personal choice. I still do. For a topic that breastfeeding moms take so seriously as being their decision, it was/is apparently not my right to decide against it. So, in addition to not really being ready for kids, I’m pretty glad to be left out of the Mommy Wars… or at least I thought I was.

Recently, there’s been a video going around Facebook and other social media, that I’m certain was made all in good fun. In it, a young mother, with her hands full, has taken to the Internet to express the difficulty she has keeping in touch and relating to her friends who don’t have kids yet.

“Wait, no. I’m actually thinking about all the free time you have. It’s so weird. You could leave here, drive to Vegas, see Britney Spears, or even take a nap.”

In my eclectic blogging tastes, I’ve read many mommy blogs expressing frustration with the assumption that stay-at-home-moms don’t “work.” These women rant about friends asking what they do all day, or insisting that they would be bored, or claiming they do all of those things and have full time jobs. Yes. All of those comments are offensive. However, they’re actually just as offensive as the many articles and blogs implying that a woman without children has no responsibilities or priorities or stress in her life.

Wait, wait, wait. How in the hell, did I get recruited into these ludicrous Mommy Wars for not having children? hope that the women who say things like this, can remember life before marriage and children in a more respectful way than assuming that we can all just drop everything and do whatever we want. I may not have children, but I’m still working two jobs, sending out resumes, preparing for interviews, paying all of my billstaking care of all of my errands and chores, maintaining friendships and family relationships, and looking for love.

That’s another thing, married mommies. You’ve found your partner and that’s wonderful, but can you not look back just a couple of years, and remember the stress and uncertainty of wondering if things would ever fall into place? Can you not remember being the only person who could take the car to get the oil changed, wait for the cable guy, drop the dog off at the vet, go grocery shopping, or pick up that last minute Christmas present? Can you not remember crying to your best friend about how you were going to DIE ALONE after another terrible date? Have you really forgotten the times you dug straight into a carton of ice cream and watched Bridget Jones’s Diary like a parody of the dating single woman? What about coming up with the rent, the car payment, the electric bill, the insurance, the grocery money, and every other expenditure alone? I’m accused of an inability to empathize, but you’ve been here and have apparently completely forgotten that we’re not all Carrie Fucking Bradshaw.

Speaking of empathy, this man writes a very nice letter to his friends explaining the shift in his priorities and friendships. Sure, it’s a nice thought, but even as someone with no children, I realize they exist. Dude, I know that you can’t ignore the child screaming at you to “LOOK! LOOK!” as they jump in the pool in exactly the same way they did the last 17 times. I don’t need an explanation for why you have to serve the children their hot dogs first or can’t ignore the fact that someone just took a shit in the bathtub. I get that their needs come before mine. I don’t expect you to go to bars with me until 1:00 in the morning. I don’t even do that with my childless friends. Perhaps the reason I’m acting annoyed with you, is that patronizing tone you’re using while apologizing for having to leave the conversation to deal with someone else’s bodily fluids.

I’m not saying that parents don’t have a lot on their plates. I’m saying that everyone does. We’re all busy and live in a culture where being busy is some kind of achievement to one-up. We all have different issues and problems and stresses, but for some reason, if that stress has ten little fingers and ten little toes, it’s somehow so far beyond our childless comprehension that all of our problems and priorities pale in comparison to yours. Assuming you’re not a librarian or a teacher, I don’t understand the precise stresses of your career, either. I can still listen, empathize, and be quiet while you take your work call. According to the Internet, though, if you’re a parent, suddenly everything I have to say has become about nail polish and designer handbags, because you’re talking about teething and vaccines? No. That’s not how it works. If I never have kids, my priorities still matter just as much as yours when you have child number six.

Fortunately for me, of the many mommy friends I have, no one has ever implied that my life and responsibilities are less important, or nonexistent, because they don’t involve raising children. Maybe I just have better friends. Maybe I’m just a better friend to my friends with kids. Maybe the Internet is just a place to exaggerate and vent. Regardless, I’m years away from tearing up my Mommy Wars draft notice, so it would be fantastic if I were left out of all of these battles.

*Clearly, I’m not the only one annoyed by this. Even Parenting magazine knows it gets old.

http://www.parenting.com/article/breeders

Three Ways Public Education is Doing Your Child a Disservice

Gail: So, remember how bored you were earlier?
Me: Lol. Yes.
Gail: Maybe you should’ve read some blogs. I have a GREAT one I’d suggest, but it’s only been updated once this month.

Gail, you hear these stories in person. You have a problem… says the woman who has watched nearly 30 hours of One Tree Hill in the last three days. GO NALEY!

It’s summer, y’all. Finally. That means no more 60 hour work weeks, usually opening with three 12 hour days in a row, where I’m required to be pleasant and awake. It means I have time for all of the car trouble that ended, literally, two days before the last day of school. It means I can sleep (… or not… GO NALEY!). I can cuddle and walk the dog after he doesn’t even blink an eye when I scream about how cute he is while running half naked through my apartment and ninja kicking nothing. And you know what?

I am so… fucking… bored.

I’ve cleaned my apartment, crocheted two hats, read two books, gone grocery shopping twice, developed a disturbing Flappy Bird addiction, had Niki over for one of our crochet and junk food nights, organized the kitchen cabinets, and washed every sheet and article of clothing I own… in five days. That’s in addition to The Great One Tree Hill-athon of 2014.

Sooooo… I’ll tell you what I’ve been telling the aforementioned dog (other than “I COULD JUST EAT YOUR FACE RIGHT OFF!!!!!!! HIIIIII YAH!”):

“I’m sorry I’ve neglected you, but now that school’s out, you are going to get sooooo sick of me.”

Speaking of school…

… as schools all over the country let out for an antiquated three months that were originally intended for tending the family farm, but are now just utilized in unlearning any real progress made during the school year… I bring you Three Ways Public Education is Doing Your Child a Disservice.

Now, if you read my blog, you know that not only am I a librarian, but I also have a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and substitute teach daily. Those are my credentials for this rant. Do I have a proposal to fix our public education system, as a whole? No. I really don’t. At least, I don’t have a solution beyond the exposure of each individual problem; because the more aware we are of the issues, the better we can combat them. For example…

Smart Devices
I know, I know. Kids these days and their phones, amiright? It’s an issue on everyone’s mind as they just send that one text message really quickly.

I’m not even going to suggest that the issue of device distraction is one confined solely to the younger generations. Just Monday, I was at lunch with my dad and actually said “Yeah. My generation is the problem. Dude, put down your phone!” Gail once compared the average first world relationship with technology to talking to someone in a crowded hallway, but I feel the need to add to that. It’s more like talking to someone in a crowded hallway, where there’s an orgy going on, and an adorable kitten trying to jump from one impossible destination to another, and 14 of their very best friends from high school telling them all about what they’ve been doing with their lives, but more importantly, fawning over your friend as he shoves picture after picture of his cat, his flat tire, his lunch, and that trailer for 22 Jump Street in their faces. My point?

Why are we allowing this as we teach our children?!?! I’m a substitute teacher, so I have it pretty easy. I only have to demand the attention of my students for the first five minutes of class, as I call roll and explain the expectations for the day. Regardless, you know what I constantly hear?

“He’s here. He’s just wearing headphones.”
“What page is this on?”
“Is this due at the end of the hour?”
“Wait. What worksheet? We have a worksheet?”

Parents, I know that you take a lot of blame for what’s wrong in public schools today, and honestly, that’s not fair. It is not your fault that your child, who has an aptitude for math, cannot seem to finish Hamlet. It is, however, your fault that your child brought their smart phone to class. It’s your fault if your child has 24/7 Internet access in his pocket, which he can use to access pornography (oh, yeah, that’s happened in class), watch Netflix (often shows he shouldn’t be watching), and ignore every single instructor to listen to his music and chat with his bestie all day long. 

I understand that Columbine and Sandy Hook make this a scary world. No. Really. Try spending a day in a public high school that’s just close enough to the country to know that at least 75% of these students have access to guns, but also just crowded enough to know that at least 50% feel like they don’t belong (also, just because it’s high school), without planning your reaction to gunshots. However, parents can contact their child just as easily with a phone that only has the ability to call and text. It does not need 24/7 Internet access, which a child does not need to learn. Unless…

Teachers, I know that you take a lot of blame for what’s wrong in public schools today, and honestly, that’s not fair. It’s not your fault that this student refuses to do his work, because he knows his parents will wreak havoc if you even try to confiscate his phone. It is, however, your fault if you create an assignment that requires the use of a phone. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a teacher leave a note explaining that the students are allowed to use their phones to look up information. God forbid you ask them to create something original, from their own minds, rather than regurgitate a Google search. Wouldn’t it be terrible to ask this of every student, rather than it being a perceived punishment to those with parents who’ve chosen not to allow their children to even own smart devices or those who can’t afford them? So yes, some parents are part of the problem for allowing students to bring these devices, but many teachers exacerbate the issue by creating a need for them. This need for smart devices makes a moot point of any efforts to control their usage. At this point, most schools have simply given up. The handbook now says phones are allowed. Students have the wifi password. They legitimately cannot concentrate without music playing…

… and teachers accomplish nothing. 

A Lack of Autonomy
During the last week of school, in desperation for the largest paycheck possible, I did the unthinkable. I substituted first grade.

It was horrible. My tubes tied themselves.

While I love the smart-assed, foul-mouthed, know-it-all teenagers, I just don’t get the appeal of small children. They tattle on each other incessantly. I can never figure out why they’re crying. They can never figure out why they’re crying. Even though they don’t even know me, they want to hug me and desperately want me to like them. They’re loud and sticky and it’s just too much pressure!

One thing that didn’t really phase me, however, was that these seven-year-olds had to be guided through everything. Each and every assignment they completed had to be checked by me, personally, before it was turned into the right box, which I repeatedly had to point out. All of the directions had to be read aloud. I had to answer numerous questions for which I knew they could find answers. Despite the fact that this was the only elementary school class I substituted all year, however, it was pretty par for the course.

When I substitute high school, I have to wait a few minutes to take attendance, or I’ll have to send a minimum of three students to the office, to let them know that they are, in fact, present. These kids know what time class starts. Most of them have their own cars, because Shetland’s a reasonably wealthy suburb, we have terrible public transit in the South, and children are just too fucking entitled. They have to be at the same place, at the same time, every single day. Regardless, principals walk through the halls and call out for students to get to class.

These students are, at most, four years out from having to file their taxes on time, submit that college application, or turn in financial aid forms. Still, I have to remind them when their papers are due and tell them exactly where to put them. They’re expected to read street signs, but ask for instructions, that are written on their papers, repeatedly. A third of them can join the armed forces, but they get daily reminders to hand in their enrollment forms.

I’m going to take off my teacher hat and put on my librarian hat for just a minute, y’all, and tell you that is no wonder I got several calls after April 15th, asking if we had tax help. Tax day is the same every year. It’s not a surprise and the W2’s you get in the mail, not to mention the hundreds of television and radio ads, are glaring reminders.

Customers want someone to stand next to them and guide them through every step of a job application. They don’t even want to try to work the copy machine, by themselves.

My good pal Ward actually asked me how to do laundry one day, at 22. 

I know we want to guide and protect children, but this is going too far. This ridiculous coddling of America’s youth is creating adults who cannot function. When you combine this with the problem of each child carrying a device that they think has all the answers, they feel there’s just no need to retain anything. We need to set higher expectations for our older children. I should be able to tell the difference in autonomy from a seven-year-old to a seventeen-year-old. One has more than 10 years until he enters the real world and the other has less than one. A corporate boss is not going to politely ask anyone to put the phone away six times per shift. She’s not going to wait five minutes before considering her employee late. The federal government is not going to let an overdue “assignment” go without a penalty.

Ribbons/Awards for Everything

I actually graduated from Shetland High School. On my graduation day, I even wore the Valedictorian cords… along with 23 other people. That’s right. The honor that used to be reserved for the individual who worked the hardest, is now bestowed upon a couple dozen, who also did well. I got a plaque, too.

If you Wikipedia millennials, we’re also referred to as “Trophy Kids,” because we pretty much coined the “participation trophy.” The other day, I was watching the basketball game in a bar, when a man across the room cheered for a free throw. I drunkenly shouted “Did you just cheer for a free throw?!?!” and my company informed me that I’d be paying for an bar fights I started. So, I redirected my ire at the screen, where the crowd was also cheering for no reason.

“Stop cheering! We’re not even doing anything! Fucking trophy generation!

Even drunk, this is one of my pet peeves. Now, don’t misunderstand. I am firmly in the millennial generation. I, too, received trophies for showing up. My dad just promptly informed me that that wasn’t a real trophy, because I didn’t win. I also received red ribbons for remaining drug free, at six years old.

What the hell, America? Why does a six-year-old get a red ribbon for remaining drug free? That’s like giving me a medal for not drawing social security. Why did we ever start awarding everything? It makes it all the more crushing when these kids don’t get awards for mediocre, because they always get awards for mediocre. Just last week, my cousin proudly posted on Facebook about how her son was the only kid who didn’t get an award in his second grade class. He was so crushed, that she went home and printed out two fake awards for actual accomplishments and told him the school had forgotten to give them to him. So, the kid who refuses to read, now has an award for reading. That was the perfect opportunity to explain that, if he wants something to signify hard work, he’s going to have to work harder. Not only does this cause these children to grow into the kind of adults who expect raises for the bare minimum level of work, it dwarfs genuine accomplishment.

“No, but I was the real Valedictorian,” isn’t a sentence that should have to be spoken. The title should still mean something. When I was around five years old, I actually remember explaining to my mother that she would be impressed over anything I drew, even if I just scribbled on paper. My dad? Well, I’ve already told you about his favorite sentence, when I was growing up. “That 93 is pretty close to a B. You’d better get that up.” You know what, though? When my Red Foreman Daddy brags about me? I know he’s proud. We owe that to children: legitimate pride.

Big Girl(?) Woes

You know, for someone who doesn’t make a dime off her blog, I’m incredibly reliable, fueled only by your follows, likes, and comments. Maybe it’s because I think too much and without some kind of outlet, beyond Gail, I’d drift slowly into madness…

… or quickly.

It’s a unique disappointment though, when a favorite blogger writes less and less consistently, gradually weaning themselves into oblivion. If you’re anything like me, in your blog reading, you become truly invested in the characters. You want to know what happened with that interview/date/visit to the couple’s therapist. When I’m following a blog and reading about the trials of new marriage, the heartache of divorce, or the stress of watching children grow up and move away and then they just stop writing…

Maybe I put too much stock into the lives of strangers. The thing is, I love reading someone’s story as it’s happening. When I read your dating blog, I’m not just experiencing your disastrous online dating efforts. I’m watching the montage at the beginning of the love story and who wants to stop after the montage?!?! And so, it is with this little rant that I apologize for my sporadic posting, as of late. I have been working 60 hours per week, saving for a summer without substitute teaching, in addition to…


… drum roll please…

Big Girl Woes.

Y’all, I love being an adult. I see and hear constant complaints and ecards about how “being an adult isn’t going to work out for me” and I’m all whhhaaaa?!?! Being a grown up is the greatest and I mean that in a Tom Hanks in the first half of Big sort of way. I get to stay up late for no reason, eat candy for breakfast, have random snack foods for dinner, never fold the laundry, make the bed only when I change the sheets, and have trashy Netflix chick marathons all summer long. Even better, no one hits me, the bills get paid, and there are no compromises at all.

The last few weeks, however, everything has just seemed to snowball. It started with needing new tires… then my phone died forever… then my Judybug cost me $250 in X-rays to diagnose him as a drama queen… but through all that, I didn’t accept a dime of help, because I have an awful lot of pride tied up in the fact that I take care of me. I haven’t accepted help on that front since my daddy paid for my last graduate course, so I could get my diploma. Then the washing machine broke down…

Dad: “I transferred $100 to your account.”
Me: “I’ll pay you back by the middle of next month.”
Dad: “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

$100 does not a Big Girl make. That’s not so bad. Right?

… then finally my car (with its new tires) was no more.

Mechanic: “Well, what’s wrong with it?”
Me: “It just.. stopped working.”

I’m an articulate gal. I promise. Just don’t ask me about cars.

By God’s infinite graces, I was able to get back to my sub job in time for class and borrow my daddy’s Jeep in time to be at the library by 5:00. I didn’t have to rent a car and my car insurance covered the towing. I however, did not receive the news I was hoping for, that my repair would be Cheap As Free.

Mechaninc: “It’s going to be expensive.”
Me: “How expensive?”
Mechaninc: “Well, I don’t know for sure yet. $1,500 to $2,000?”

Fine. Lesson learned. That wasn’t just water leaking from the undercarriage after the rain we haven’t had lately. Don’t just turn up the radio, when you hear that noise. Also, never buy a car from a company that prompts the question “Wait. They make cars? I thought they just made motorcycles.” If it hadn’t rattled like a box of nails, I might have considered said noise to be more significant and if it weren’t so low to the ground, I might not have blamed a puddle.

So, it is with this stroke of fortune that I spent last Thursday evening shopping for a new car, rather than writing my latest blog post.

Dad: “Well, if you need another $500 for the down payment, just holler.”
Me: “Yeah… I’m just gonna take you up on that, then.”

Me: “I had to accept $500 from my daddy to even be considered for financing. Growing up takes so much longer than I had planned. I’m 26. I have a master’s degree and work two jobs. Is it ever going to happen?”
Gail: “You know, people don’t talk about borrowing money from their parents. This is really just something people do sometimes… which is why it’s so scary when your parents die, because you are truly on your own.” 

Bee tea double ewe, if you ever find a friend who will spend her only night off that week, suffering through the pain that is buying a car, keep her forever and let your kids call her aunt.

I did it, though. Almost on my own. I made the negotiations. I went all Rosie the Riveter and quoted Kelley Blue Book, when they tried to get me to double my down payment. I signed the papers for my very first car payment… and only had a small panic attack while doing so. I got all the documents sent into the financing office and switched the insurance. I even paid the mechanic and made the arrangements to have my deceased roller skate of a car towed to the salvage yard and picked up the check. Still, everyone seemed to think it was the wrong move.

Bo: “70,000 miles on a Nissan isn’t bad. But if you’d had dad cosign, you might could’ve gotten a new car for the same payment.”
Me: “I’m 26 years old. I don’t need my daddy to cosign on a car, if I can get approved. I want to do it on my own, as much as I can. Besides, I don’t think Lena would be cool with that.”
Bo: “It’s really none of Lena’s business.”
Me: “Um, she’s married to him. His credit is her credit. That’s totally her business.”

I figured that, surely, my daddy would agree when I told him the next day.

Dad: “Well, I’m gonna help Bea out, when she buys a new car.”
Me: “Yeah, but Bea’s 20 years old and in college. I’m 26 and could get approved, just at a higher interest rate. I’d rather do it myself and refinance, than be tied to you financially for six years.”
Dad: “Yeah, but if I’d cosigned, you might could’ve gotten a new car for the same payment.”

Today, all the trouble was supposed to be over. The Freon was supposed to be charged, as agreed upon in the initial sale, when the car salesman assured me that’s all it was. Alas, another lesson has been learned: never buy a car with a broken air conditioner. Fortunately the dealership will cover the repairs, despite the fact that the warranty doesn’t apply for a preexisting issue… all but $100 that I just don’t have.

Me: “Can I have $100 if I promise-”
Dad: “Well, sure.”

God’s infinite graces? Certainly.

But I may have officially lost the title of Big Girl.

A Call for Censorship

I am a librarian. Now, most people think that means I shush folks, shelve books, and push my glasses up my nose with my forefinger.

Indeed, I’ve done all of those things, but there’s more to it than that. As I’ve previously mentioned, librarians have a host of responsibilities. We help people fill out job applications, create resumes, send money to their spouses in prison, set up e-mail addresses, download e-books, recommend reading material based on age/interest/reading level, create programs people actually want to attend… the list is endless. We are public slaves… and we love it. One of our major platforms though, is the war on censorship.

No, really. If an angry mom has a tantrum, because a librarian gave her 10-year-old Thong on Fire (click the link! click the link!), it will be explained to her that the library does not censor or police information, but she’s welcome to come in and assist her daughter in choosing her reading materials. We dispense knowledgeWe do not control knowledge. I can no more pull Thong on Fire for its lewd content, than I can pull Heaven is for Real for its Christian content. I stand by this. It is a truly American viewpoint… perhaps one of the only ones left.

All that being said, however, maybe it’s time that we, as individuals, choose to censor ourselves a bit, particularly in regards to our children.

Sunday, the Midwest got a gust of cold wind and a brief flurry. Naturally, we were all stranded. I didn’t even go to Mass, because of how I almost died, last time. Gail, just being off for her one day (because being a mailman suuuuucks), texted me…

Gail: Wanna play a game? I’ll recommend a show and you recommend a show. We each have to watch two episodes.
Me: Okay. Hart of Dixie.
Gail: Bates Motel. The first episode is a little graphic, but it’s really good.

:: two hours later, referencing Gail’s “dark erotica” phase ::
Me: What the hell is with you and rape?!?! It’s like your freaking favesies! You think it’s the best of everything!
Gail: I said the first episode was graphic!
Gail: Which OBVIOUSLY means rape. Lol.

So, for the last few days, I’ve been watching Bates Motel. It’s easily the most disturbing thing I’ve seen since the week I marathoned American Horror Story, while ranting on Facebook about how the entire writing staff is made up of broken souls.

AHS is still in the lead, though I gave up on season 3 for a while.

Jane: What did it for you? The incest or the bestiality?
Me: The bleach enema.
Jane. Spoiler alert! I haven’t gotten that far!

These disturbing epics have gotten me thinking. Yes, they have to be the result of a group therapy effort gone awry, but I’m more interested in effect than cause. Now, I exaggerate a lot. I know that… but American Horror Story disturbed me to my core. I was genuinely upset by the school shooting episode. I work with teens every day and the idea of them being so afraid and alone, waiting for death, having just enough time to process all they’ll miss in life… ugh. I’m done writing about it. It’s too much. That’s also a pretty healthy reaction. I remember Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. Just the portrayal of similar events deeply unsettles me. As it should and as the writers intended. I, however, am an adult. 

I’ve discussed media’s effect on society before, but it’s been of greater concern to me, recently, how children are being affected. Just the other day, I discovered a fun correlation. The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11.* The average age for first cell phone is also 11.* I’m not criticizing the idea of giving children a way to call for help. I am concerned, though, that just as puberty hits, we give children limitless and often unmonitored access to media… and that’s the norm. Children have always been curious, certainly; but that curiosity used to manifest itself in stolen peeks at dad’s Maxims or the wrinkled pages of an old bodice ripper found in the garage. Neither medium, however, was acceptably nestled in a child’s pocket at all times.

The danger does not only lie in obvious sites, either. Today, smartphones have numerous apps that parents don’t even consider a threat. Tumblr seems harmless enough, sure… until you combine the words “naughty” and “gif.” The same goes for the Kindle app. Maybe between Harry Potter books, your curious 13-year-old is also absorbing The Erotic Dark. YouTube is just a bunch of cute kittens, you say? Search for “ass kicking.” Just the words SnapChat are enough to make me want to home school… and all of these things are available from the very device that was given to them to keep them safe.

My question is, what is this media doing to children? What will the case studies look like in 15 years? When I was younger, video games were the primary concern. In fact, I firmly believe that video games are still an issue. Don’t get me wrong. Grand Theft Auto V’s protagonist, Michael De Santa, did not shoot up a movie theater in Colorado. Are we harming developing young minds, however, by normalizing this kind of behavior through media? Ten years ago, we didn’t even have all of this new access to media and we were still asking this question. Today, Netflix is a beautiful thing… until your nine-year-old makes it through half a season of Sons of Anarchy, before you even realize they’ve been watching it. This used to (primarily) be the plight of the neglectful parent. Sure, I was watching Sex and the City at age 12, but that’s because my mom was more interested in being my bestie than an authority figure. Now, what kid doesn’t have a smart device?

While the expanse of this problem lies mainly with electronics, even beyond that, erotica is publicly acceptable.For realz yo, my sister-in-law had a “Laters Baby” sticker on the car she drove to her job as a 7th grade reading teacher. That’s a 50 Shades of Grey reference, for anyone who didn’t catch it. At the height of its popularity, that book was all over Facebook. My sister-in-law wasn’t even the only teacher posting about it. Additionally, the covers of books in that genre used to be anything but subtle…

bodice ripper
Wait. His chest is disproportionate to… everything else. No, really. The gun looks tiny.

… today, the trend has shifted to the completely innocuous.

the gambleIn this one, he essentially holds her captive until she think it’s sexy…
like in The Beauty and the Beast.

So, even when you aren’t reading something on a Kindle/Nook/iPad, no one has to suspect that you need to change your panties, anymore.

Aunt Glenda: “Is that a Kindle, Belle?”
Me: “Yeah. It’s a Paperwhite.”
Aunt Glenda: “Can I see it?”

It took me an unexplainable amount of time to find any book that was appropriate for Thanksgiving dinner, before handing it over.

I reiterate that NO library will deny these books to anyone.

I’m not proposing that we all pretend it’s 1986. Technology is a beautiful thing, with many benefits and self-control can only be taught with moderation. I’m also not suggesting we, in any way, police the media consumption of adults. They’re old enough to compartmentalize and separate fantasy from reality. That’s no one else’s responsibility. Children, however, are the responsibility of society and, most importantly, their parents. We’ve entered this age where we’re so afraid to tell kids that they can’t do something. We’re terrified of setting limits and I see that in the students in my classrooms who cannot get through a single hour without some form of electronic media, be it music or texting or social networking. I see it in the kids who watch violent YouTube videos on their phones and the 6-year-old boy shouting “BITCH!” at the computer in the library. This is all happening right now. Children are becoming addicted to pornography, The Walking Dead is completely desensitizing them to violence and gore, little girls are sending pictures of their breasts to boys (22% ages 14-17)*, teens are encouraging self-mutilation and eating disorders, and no one is doing anything about it. We will see the day when a presidential election is compromised by a sext. So, my suggestion? Start telling children no. The library certainly won’t do it, because it’s not our place. Nor is it the place of Netflix, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, SnapChat, Tinder, Samsung, and iPhone.

We don’t have the luxury of rating systems anymore, as we did when video games and movies were the scariest things out there. We have to create limitations ourselves. I’m not saying that I have the perfect answer for what those limits are, despite the fact that I see no reason anyone under the age of 18 needs 24/7 internet access, but they have to exist. Parents need to set limits that work for them, and find a way to enforce them. Schools need to reclaim the power and ban cell phones from sight. Parents should back them. Children should never touch a single electronic device in church, ever. The phone should be put away during mealtimes, and that goes for adults as well.  Perhaps an extension of the problem is that we’re too busy with media to take notice of youth. We can’t protect kids from everything, especially in this digital age, but that doesn’t mean we have to banish them to the town from The Children of the Corn, either.They need guidance. They need our effort. They need a little censorship… because things never work out so well when children run the show.

children of the corn

http://www.citizenlink.com/2012/01/27/the-new-normal-%E2%80%93-youth-exposure-to-online-pornography/

http://www.theonlinemom.com/secondary.asp?id=1981

http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-sexting