I think I can do this…

So, this baby thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naming Humans

One downside to keeping my pregnancy a secret from my blog for the first 21 weeks, was missing out on sharing some of the milestones, like the positive pregnancy test, learning both babies were boys, buying a family car, learning both babies were actually girls, and choosing names.

Y’all, naming humans is hard. I spent six years substitute teaching and have worked in public libraries for ten. I have heard some objectively terrible names. I have met all of the following:

Merlin
Zeus
Corona
Stetson
Talladega
Suthern
Princess
I’munique
Imunique (no apostrophe)
Sir…

… and my personal favorite Ecstassi, followed closely by my second favorite, Tyranny. Even our own family members have occasionally shown poor judgement choosing names. I have a cousin who gave her daughter a city name, but chose one of the murder capitals of the U.S. That’s far better than Jake’s cousin who named her son after a popular beer and brand of gun, resulting in his family’s refusal to call him by anything other than his initials. To this day, Jake insists we’re naming our first Budweiser Browning, a joke I’ve forbidden him to share with his cousin.

Ridiculous names aside, there are also the ones that just aren’t to our taste, but won’t get a resume thrown in the trash for sounding like a joke. Personally, I hate gender neutral names, traditionally male names for girls, or traditionally female names for boys. While Elliot might give someone pause, when a woman walks into an interview, I find this popular trend harmless enough, but don’t like it, myself. Jake’s name is actually far more common on women and to this day, I think our wedding invitations look like they’re for a lesbian wedding, which is fine, but inaccurate. The same goes for the modern names I liked to call Suburb Names, like Kinley, Zaiden, Amberly, and any other name that wasn’t a name twenty years ago. My own name is the1987 version of these and while I don’t hate it, I’d prefer something more traditional, myself.

That was actually the one thing Jake and I could agree on, traditional baby names. We wanted something classic, preferably not in the top 10, but not too bizarre or hipsterish. For girls, we didn’t want the names shortened to male nicknames, the reason we ultimately vetoed Charlotte. Although we loved Lottie, there’s no telling whether or not she’d be called Charlie or decide for herself that she preferred it one day. Since we both hated that very common nickname and couldn’t decide on anything that sounded good with it for Baby B, we nixed what was once my favorite baby girl name.

Twins threw us for another loop. Not only did we have to name one baby, but two. We wanted classic names that sounded good together, without a theme, meaning no color or flower or jewel names in pairs. That took Violet and Scarlett off the table, though we both loved the latter, we just couldn’t think of anything that sounded good with it.

Jake: “What about Charlotte and Scarlett?”
Me: “I want a divorce.”

Rhyming names were absolutely off the table.

At one point, I had a list of over 30 baby names and Jake suddenly seemed to hate all of the names ever, though many were ones he’d agreed on previously. If he did like one, he didn’t like anything I thought went with it. He liked Maeve, but noped all of the one syllable names I suggested for the other baby, like Blair and Pearl. If he liked a longer name, he hated all of the inevitable nicknames, such as Josephine, Susannah, Gwendolyn, Eleanor, or Evelyn. He’d suggest that we not nickname them at all, and I had to insist that that’s not really how that happens. If we chose a long name and didn’t choose a shortened version, ourselves, other people would. No one is going to say Josephine in its entirety, when they can call her Jo… which we both hated.

Having just finished The Mandalorian, I had been calling the babies Mando and Grogu at work, since I hadn’t shared the genders. I began calling them the same at home, just to have some way to refer to them and had started to wonder if that might end up on their birth certificates, as Jake nixed every option. Even if we both liked a name, we often couldn’t come up with a good mate, such as with Alice. I couldn’t quite define what I thought made a good pair, but I think it came down to syllables and time period. Blair and Genevieve just sounded odd together. Jake’s inability to get excited about any names actually started to upset me and make me think that he was angry they were both girls. It became a real source of contention between the two of us.

Me: “Poor Mando and Grogu.”
Jake: “Stop calling them that!”
Me: “Stop vetoing everything else!”

One name had actually been on the table a year ago, but Jake had decided he didn’t like the nickname I suggested. It was four syllables long and not common enough to have an obvious nickname, but I wanted to choose one for ourselves, knowing that no one was going to consistently say the whole name. Not only was it a classically feminine name not in the top 1000, without being too weird, it was also the name of the town where my family originated. I’d really grown fond of it. When my good friend Sarah, one of the few who knows the names we ultimately chose, suggested an alternative shortening, I looked it up and realized it was actually an official nickname for our uncommon choice. Jake loved it. Now we just needed something that went with it, which likely meant another four syllable name.

Naming twins is exhausting.

For years, I’ve had an old name I loved, that no one has ever liked, as it’s virtually unheard of, today. It’s the name of the heroine in my favorite classic horror novel and I’ve suggested it several times to Jake, always receiving a hard next. It does, however, have four syllables. While the name we’d chosen is more common, they are both classic and Southern, from about the same time period. After tentatively settling on the first name, on the condition that we could come up with a good match, I suggested this one, once again, assuming I’d get the same response. Whether it was to shut me up or because he was actually starting to come around, I’ll never know, but this time Jake was willing to consider it. He asked that I give him a week to think about it, since he didn’t really care for the nickname I suggested and it didn’t have any obvious other one, save for the one from the horror novel and he hated that one. I agreed.

Over the next week, I began to think of our girls by these names and their nicknames. Consistently worried that I’d never grow attached to my babies, out of fear that something would happen before they were born, I was attempting to develop a connection by thinking of them as individual little people… and it was working, despite the fact that we hadn’t officially settled on the names. No more than one week later, I demanded a decision from Jake.

Me: “I’m starting to think of them by these names. I can’t help it. It’s the only way I feel connected to them . So, if you don’t like them, then tell me and we’ll start that fight. Don’t just let me continue thinking of them by names you’re going to veto, though.”
Jake: “If I agree to that one, then when we have a boy…?”
Me: “I’ll give you preference on boy names. I get veto rights, but you can ultimately choose.”
Jake: “Okay. We can do those.”

I don’t even care if I just somehow wore down the most stubborn man alive or if he was afraid I might be serious when I shifted from Mando and Grogu to Elsa and Anna (the more likely scenario). Our babies have names. I ordered customized wooden cutouts of them the next day and since Jake is far too cheap to change his mind after spending that money, they’re official. In the last few months, I’ve been able to connect far more to the little girls growing in my belly, now that I can better think of them as individual humans. Everyone thinks we won’t want more children after twins, because of the stress and expense, but if anything, it’ll be due to the necessity that we name them.

Why We Don’t All Just Adopt

Ever since Jake and I began our infertility journey, I’ve realized that the world is full of people who can have healthy children for free, and usually don’t want them at all, telling other people that they should just adopt. I can’t actually speak for all couples who’ve sought fertility treatment, on this or any other issue of course, but I can share a few facts and explanations for why this “solution” isn’t as simple as people seem to think. I can also do so with a clear head and little emotional charge, which you’ll be fortunate to get if you actually suggest this to someone struggling to get pregnant. Spoiler alert: don’t.

To be clear, I am not telling anyone not to adopt. Adoption has proven to be a wonderful option for many, despite its challenges. It’s also just not a feasible option for many others, who are rarely given the opportunity to articulate why… or are too hurt to do so, because “Why don’t you just adopt” is a really hateful thing to say to someone dealing with infertility. I’m not the first one to discuss this and here is an article from Psychology Today that makes many similar points, if you don’t think I’m qualified to outline the reasons I found that adoption wasn’t a realistic option for so many people.

Adoption from Foster Care
When Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option to conceive, we did consider other possibilities, not just because IVF is unimaginably expensive and invasive, but also because it’s not guaranteed to work and we wanted children, even if they weren’t biologically ours. I started by researching adoption from foster care, assuming that these children would need homes the most and knowing that the process was low cost to free, when compared with other options. I quickly found out, however, that my home state is surprisingly honest about how difficult this process really is, how long it can take, the children available and the challenges they face. Adoptuskids.org spells out some of the same information, highlighting the fact that all of the children in foster care have dealt with loss or trauma and have the emotional issues that come with it, are an average of eight-years-old, often come in sibling groups, and may have special needs. Some resources even advised not entering a foster situation if your hope was to adopt in response to infertility, because the primary goal of foster care is reunification. Children aren’t usually placed in foster homes to find new families, but for their birth parents to have a chance to improve their situation and, ideally, take their children home once again. So the people who are most often asked “Why don’t you just adopt?” are actually being told that adopting from foster care really isn’t for them. This is the perfect version, as advertised on foster care websites, depicting pictures of cute, healthy, white toddlers on their adoption day, with no horror stories included.

As with IVF, however, you can’t mention the words “foster care” without hearing or recalling someone’s horror story and in the last year, I’ve heard several of them. I won’t spell out the firsthand accounts I’ve received, not just because they aren’t my stories to tell, but because you can ask around to find plenty of your own if you wish and every experience is unique. I also have no desire to paint DHS or the foster system as being run by mustache-twirling villains. It’s an underfunded and understaffed government agency without a lot of people waiting in line to become case workers or foster to adopt… often because of these stories, creating a vicious cycle full of people who are doing their best. The abbreviated version is that it just doesn’t always work out and when it doesn’t, it’s devastating. I know there are foster care success stories and I’m happy for the ones who can share them, but clearly this is not an option for everyone (and is arguably a poor option for some) and there is no shame in that. I’d imagine that those who have adopted from foster care know the challenges and aren’t asking people why they don’t “just” do so, themselves. It takes a special person to foster or foster to adopt (not the same thing) and it’s okay that that doesn’t describe everyone who wants to be a parent, as well as those who don’t want to be parents.

Tribal Adoption
In my state, you can flip a coin as to whether or not someone will claim to be native to one tribe or another. My own mother was adopted before the Indian Tribal Welfare Act, which I personally support as an effort to maintain children’s tribal roots, in part because I can’t actually claim mine, due to how my mother was adopted in 1960. I’ve heard many similar stories from those who don’t have their official cards and know just as many who do, so tribal adoption, around these parts, is a popular option. In fact, a good friend and coworker just finalized the adoption of her little girl from a tribe native to my state. She’s a registered member, herself, so it wasn’t fraught with the risk so inherent in trying to adopt outside of the tribe. I’m sure you’ve heard of these court battles and the arguments for why ICW should be abolished, but if you haven’t, it’s a very charged topic around these parts and one I can’t discuss dispassionately, so I won’t try.

The short story is that tribal adoption is an option worthy of consideration, if you’re a member. Results and processes vary by tribe, but it is often a simpler and quicker process. Even then, however, it’s not without risk, as there are still many hoops to jump through, before finalizing and you could inevitably lose custody before that point, as with any adoption process. My friend has actually decided not to adopt another child, specifically because she feels so lucky not to have had her heart broken the first time, after multiple failed infertility treatments. If you’re outside the tribe, you’re generally warned to steer clear of this option, as there are so many more ways it can fall through, in favor of a member, whether you agree with the policy or not.

Private Adoption
Private adoption is what most people picture when they hear the word “adoption.” They think of a pregnant teenager or young woman who’s unable to care for an infant and seeking a loving family, as seen on their favorite sitcom. Private adoption was used as a plot device on Friends, Sex and the City, and Modern Family… because that’s what infertility is to media, a plot device. The problem with these depictions, of course, is that they grossly misrepresent the process, from the waiting to the financial aspect to the risk of the adoption falling through.

Let’s start with the waiting. According to this source, the wait is between two and seven years for a healthy infant. It’s very difficult to find other figures, as those reporting them are the agencies looking to make money off of their services. Each step in the process is discussed independently and time estimates are rarely given, in part, because every situation is so unique. The reality of private adoption is that there are many more waiting parents than there are available children and it is very difficult to pin down a timeline. If it doesn’t work out, you’re that much older when you have to seek other options.

Then, there are the failures. It’s difficult to say how common failed adoption matches are, because no one is keeping track. One attorney estimates, however, that at least 50% of adoption matches fail, with scams to get money (while planning to keep the child) being difficult to prove, but not uncommon. He goes on to say that he feels that it’s become more and more common for adoption matches to fail, while more of the financial burden now falls on the adoptive parents, not the agency, estimating that number to fall somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000. Creating a Family displays surprising transparency, publicly reporting that their success rates range anywhere from 60% to 93%, depending on the year. This, of course, means that anywhere from 7% to 40% of matches fail.

This horror story is a terrible fertility clinic waiting room read and shares the tale of what one couple went through for their ultimate successful private adoption. Most people know, even through the grapevine, the story of a birth mother who changed her mind, either through the birth mother herself, as is the case with my step-brother’s nephew, who once had eager adoptive parents waiting for him… or through the heartbroken adoptive parents, such as with a high school teacher of mine. I’ve even heard the miserable recounts of a close friend who once worked with an adoption agency and had to assist in reclaiming adoptive children from their new homes. These women aren’t the villains, however, for deciding to parent their own children. It’s just a risk of a very difficult process, so it’s no surprise that said process is no one’s first choice.

Finally, the expense of private adoption must be considered. There are testimonials all over the Internet, in blogs or message board comments, sharing individual experiences, but I can’t validate those numbers, so I’m going to quote some average figures, such as adoption.org’s $30,500 to $48,500 for an agency adoption and $25,000 to $38,000 for independent adoption. American Adoptions, however, reports a higher figure, with a national average of $43,000 and their own averages of $40,000 to $50,000. Some estimates cite costs as low as $20,000. There are of course some very happy families built through private adoption, but the fact remains that, even when considering only the financial aspect, it’s simply unreachable for many Americans.

International Adoption
International adoption is actually not a favorite suggestion of those who lack an understanding of how involved all types of adoption are, often getting the response that there are “plenty of children here who need homes.” See above. For years, however, it was a go-to for people who wanted to avoid the complications of these other options, while still having the opportunity to become parents. It was often cheaper and came with less risk of having a birth parent attempt to reclaim parental rights. I remember looking at international adoption, more than 10 years ago, and seeing that adopting from Ethiopia only cost around $15,000 and was one of the cheapest and easiest options.

The landscape of international adoption has changed drastically since I last considered it, something I also discovered while researching in a fertility clinic waiting room. Today, all of the countries that were once so popular for international adoption (and still allow it) limit their available children to those with disabilities, sometimes mild and others severe; while only allowing the rest to be adopted locally, by their own citizens, who will raise them in their native countries and cultures. There’s merit to these policies, but they severely limit the options and it now costs much more for international adoptions.

Previously, in Ethiopia, only abandoned children were available for adoption internationally, which meant they often had severe disabilities. The cost was around $32,000 – $45,000. In 2018, however, the country ended international adoptions, as did Russia in 2012. Adoption from China costs anywhere from $27,000 to $37,000 and limits their available children to “special needs” and “special focus,” respectively children with one or more medical conditions. Only single women (as opposed to single men) are allowed to adopt, and must have a net worth of $100,000 or more, while married couples only require $80,000. Applicants’ BMI cannot exceed 40. Guatemala specifically limits their prospective parents to heterosexuals and discourages any single man from adopting. The estimated cost is $25,000 to $38,000. This is irrelevant, at the moment, because the U.S. doesn’t currently allow adoptions from Guatemala, Vietnam, or Nepal. Other, more obscure countries, often have trouble meeting U.S. immigration regulations, regardless of their available and waiting children.

In the past, some beautiful families have grown through international adoption. As you can see, however. this is no longer really an option for most Americans, considering the cost, limitations, and even immigration horror stories.

Our Reasons
That’s it, y’all. Those are all of the options for acquiring a child, without fertility treatments, short of a relative dying and leaving you one in the opening plot to a family friendly romcom. Jake and I discussed all of the above options, before moving forward with IVF and what it came down to, for us, was that we wanted the absolute assurance that the child we were raising would remain ours. We didn’t care about the genetics or appearance so much as we cared about knowing they couldn’t be taken from us. We also found that even one of the most expensive fertility treatments was still cheaper than most forms of adoption.

IVF and other similar options are not without risk, believe me I know. You can spend thousands of dollars on a failed procedure, as Jake and I personally experienced, or six figures on multiple failed procedures, which we fortunately did not. It’s emotionally, financially, and physically devastating, but of all the risks, from bankruptcy to cancer, having your child ripped from your arms isn’t one of them. For most couples undergoing fertility treatments, it’s not an obsession with pregnancy or having a child that looks like them or an inability to love a kid who doesn’t share their bloodline… you know, the things people who often don’t want any children (and therefore don’t want to adopt either) accuse us of thinking. They just want to be parents, without threat of having the title stripped from them, often after heartbreaking years of trying to conceive naturally.

If it came down to (a) spending tens of thousands of dollars on invasive medical treatments or (b) walking into the Baby Pound that my Gramma adopted my mom from (which people seem to think still exists today) and taking one home with the assurance that no one would ever show up to reclaim them, many people who want to be parents would choose the latter. It’s not 1960, though. I’m pretty sure the hospital administrator in charge of my mother’s adoption wasn’t even entirely on the up-and-up and my Gramma still feared for her family every time the doorbell rang, until her daughter was eighteen. So, it wasn’t even all that simple then.

Sure, most of us do want babies, because we’re complete monsters for wanting to be there for all of the firsts and know that our children weren’t traumatized, before coming under our care. If we could adopt healthy toddlers or young grade schoolers, though, even having to help them overcome some trauma, knowing they’d remain ours, many of us would! That’s just not really how the system works. As for teens, they’re totally my jam, from the nerdy, funny ones to the angry ones smoking pot on the library patio and calling me a bitch. Still, I know that it takes a special person to work with them for even the amount of time I do and I don’t begrudge someone for not being able to do it day in and day out, with any age child.

Adoption has created many happy families, but it’s not without challenges. Not wanting to take those on, as Plan A, after receiving the heart wrenching news that they can’t get pregnant, doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Not wanting to fight these battles, if there’s an easier way, is really no different than not wanting to fight the battles of having children at all, which is also a perfectly acceptable life decision. Quite frankly, unless you’ve adopted several children of your own, you should probably keep your opinions on the subject to yourself, because anyone who has likely knows that it’s just not that simple.

The Lady Eagles: Sports, but for Girls

It is once again sportsball season, y’all.

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Believe it or not, folks, I actually played basketball as a child… for two years. I can’t say I hated it as much as softball, but I did hate it. You see, I was never an athletic child. On the contrary, I was an asthmatic child. I was an overweight child. I was a creative child. While my parents made mistakes, I don’t actually think that putting me in sports was a notable one. That’s what suburban families do… play sports. No, their mistake was not reading their child, pinpointing her skills, and playing to them, which was honestly a lot to ask of parents in the 90s. I mean, who doesn’t want to play softball and basketball and volleyball!?!?!

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It started with softball… the worst sport of all time. I literally had to sit on the bench and wait my turn to play this terrible game. Then I had to stand in the hot sun and wait my turn to play this terrible game. The fact that baseball is America’s past time is just a testament to our laziness, as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all. The only thing duller, is watching as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all.

Jake: “My cousin was wondering if we wanted to watch the girls’ play softball this weekend.”
Me: “No. I don’t love you that much.”

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Despite my general lack of athletic, social, or teamwork skills, year after year, I was enrolled in sports. There was softball and then basketball, even an awful year as the fat cheerleader for my brother’s youth football team. When middle school started, I went to a single football game as a member of “Spirit Club,” made it through four volleyball practices, and spent a half semester in an obligatory P.E. class before I finally accepted the truth: I… kinda hate sports.

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Folks, this realization occurred the year Varsity Blues was released; when we were all watching Hillary Duff pine over 23-year-old high school football player, Chad Michael Murray, who couldn’t even bring himself to defend her when she was publicly humiliated by his friends; when movies about stereotypical popular boys daring to date frumpy versions of Mandy Moore and Rachel Leigh Cook were all the rage. Long before the rise of nerd culture, when intellect and fandoms became cool, that’s when I chose to hate sports in a suburban public school system.

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While I am, overall, more active and athletic these days, as with any other form of post traumatic stress, I still don’t have particularly warm feelings about sports. In fact, it wasn’t until graduate school that I developed an interest in football, as a student of a state college with a Division I team… I think. I just Googled that. My Gramma has always been passionate about my college team, however, and for once in my life, I felt like I actually had a stake in whether or not they won, beyond pleasing my namesake. So for a couple of years, I followed them as an avid fan… at least until the coach allowed a player who was publicly violent toward women to remain on the team and my deeply buried feminist boycotted the entire team until the coach retired… for five years.

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Since I haven’t had cable in years, I now only watch the games when I can get them via antenna or through a free Hulu + Live TV trial. Regardless, I must maintain a relationship with sports… because I got married.

Jake: ::struts out in his Letterman’s jacket:: “You totally wanna have sex with me right now, don’t you?”
Me: “You look like Uncle Rico.”

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Y’all, my husband is my favorite person in the whole world, but sometimes I marvel at how we even work. He was the pickup truck and Letterman’s jacket to my turtleneck and overalls. He can do a toe touch at 35 and I once hit my head on the bathroom counter trying to put on a sock. I remember the time I went on a date with a guy who loved anime, which left me scratching my head about how a grown man could be so obsessed with cartoons… but I’m similarly baffled by the passion Jake’s family has for sports. Like, they know it’s literally a game right… the way that croquet and Mario Kart 8 and beer pong are games? Jake, at least, would probably argue for the skill involved in all three, but I’m pretty sure he’d be the only Granger claiming as much. Regardless of my confusion, however, I’m frequently obligated, this time of year, to cheer on my nieces at their basketball games. Folks, if I thought watching skilled adults play sports was boring…

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How are so many parents putting their children in sports, when it means they actually have to watch children play sports?!?! That’s like listening to kids read aloud! Children doing boring things badly is just more boring! Fortunately for me, since my mind tends to never shut down, I’m actually fairly good at being bored. Sitting still for 45 minutes, pretending that I’m not tuning in and out of the game to plan next week’s grocery list, mentally decorate the guest bathroom, or debate whether or not Harry and Ginny were a natural progression is not a challenge for me. What is a challenge for me, however, is the inherent sexism that’s still ingrained in K-12 sports.

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Me: “Why are they called the ‘Lady Eagles’?”
Jake: “Because it’s the girls’ team?”
Me: “Right, but a female eagle is just called an eagle. Why can’t they just be the Eagles?”
Jake: “They have to differentiate them from the boys’ team.”
Me: “Okay, so does that mean the boys are the Gentlemen Eagles?”
Jake: “What? No. They’re just the Eagles.”
Me: “That’s bullshit! Why do the girls get the only qualifier?”
Jake: “They just have to tell the teams apart.”
Me: “Why? They’re not playing each other.”
Jake: “It’s for schedules and reports and stuff.”
Me: “Fine. Call it ‘Boys’ Basketball Schedule’ and ‘Girls’ Basketball Schedule’. Color code it or use a different font. Problem solved… multiple times… without sexism.”
Jake: “I cannot believe that this is your hill to die on, when you don’t even like sports. Why are you getting so mad?”
Me: “Because you have a Real Basketball Team and a Gal’s Basketball Team. It completely diminishes their sport!”
Jake: “Men’s sports do make more money than women’s sports.”
Me: “Not in middle school! Exactly zero of these kids are ever going to play pro anything. If they did, they’d still get a real team name.”

How are we still doing this!?!? I have never even played school sports and this has always infuriated me! I understand separating the boys’ team from the girl’s team, once puberty hits. Scientifically speaking, most boys have a physical advantage at this point. That doesn’t mean they get dibs on the qualifier-free team name, that they get to be the Real Team! There is either “Boys’ Basketball” and “Girls’ Basketball” or “Just Fucking Basketball.” In fact, I would quite prefer to put my daughter in a jersey that reads “Just Fucking Basketball” than one that reads “Sports, but for Girls.”

Part of the reason I struggle to take sports as seriously as Southern America seems to think I should, is because of the mandatory arbitrary sexual divide. We raise girls to be strong and fast and athletic, only to simultaneously send the message that they’re still the B team. We put them in softball, instead of baseball. We dress the male cheerleaders in pants and shirts and the female cheerleaders in rebranded Twin Peaks uniforms. We give the school field to the boys’ team and send the girls to a public park.

In the South, we talk ceaselessly about the benefits of athletics to all kids, from lower obesity and teen pregnancy rates to higher test scores and leadership skills. Then we treat the girls’ team as a visitor’s team, even when they’re not. When they get older, if they’re lucky enough to be truly competitive, we’re shocked, just shocked, that there’s less turnout for their games and interest in their sports, as a whole. Would calling the 7th grade girls’ basketball team the Eagles, as opposed to the Lady Eagles, make anyone more likely to show up to their games 10 years later? I don’t know, but we could try. We could start taking them as seriously as the Gentlemen Eagles.

Sports have never been my jam. Academia is my jam. It’s intelligence and research skills and forming a strong argument and being well-read. You know what, though? I’ve never felt that being female diminished my value in this regard, from my Pre-AP English class in the 9th grade to the system-wide manager meetings I attended a few years ago. In my industry, I am rarely the smartest person in the room, but it’s an understood coin toss as to whether the person who is, is male or female. Academia doesn’t care if you brought a penis to the party, as long as you brought citations. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why I’ve always felt more at home among intellectuals than athletes… that and the relentless bullying from the latter, of course. Value and skill are based on merit, not some archaic gender standard. There are no Lady Intellectuals and if you were to print up gear titling them as such, they’d intellectually eviscerate you.

Me: “So what’s the other team called?”
Jake: “They’re the Elks.”
Me: “So, what, they’re the Lady Elks?”
Jake: ::laughing at me:: “I don’t know. A female Elk is called a cow. Do you want to call them the Cows?”
Me: “If it means they get their own damned title, then sure.
Me: ::leaning over to a teenager nearby:: “Hey. What is the girls’ team called?”
Teen: “They’re the Elkettes.”

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The State Fair: A Family Affair?

Y’all, it is my favorite time of year: the beginning of the last third. Nearly everything good about the year is still ahead of us, with only my birthday in the rear view mirror. I still have the premiers of all of my favorite shows, several pre-ordered books, Jake’s birthday, the YALSA conference, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and…

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Christmas! Even following that, is a season of socially acceptable hermit behavior, with the possibility of waking up to a winter wonderland and a text message from the automated system at work, informing me that I have a paid day off for reading and snuggling the dogs. Come fall, the decor is prettier, the food is better, the clothes are cuter, and the temperatures are bearable. Zetus lapetus, after playing the house cat all summer, I love this time of year.

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There’s one favorite fall festivity I left out: the state fair. Every September, the fair immediately follows my birthday, a convenient extension of the already drawn out celebration. Now that I’m married to rodeo folk, our trick riding nieces serve as the perfect annual draw to people watch, day drink, and eat ourselves sick before settling in to watch a nine-year-old hang upside down from a horse, before triumphantly hoisting herself to a standing position, when I can barely be trusted with a step stool on the best of days. It’s always been great fun and I looked forward to it for some time, having bought tickets in August, to save a few dollars.

This year, as we made our way through the horde of people, however, I saw it through new eyes. With Jake and I having spoken more and more about starting a family, I couldn’t help but notice the families surrounding us… and how miserable they all seemed. I eventually turned to Jake and declared:

Me: “I’m willing to concede that this is possibly one of those claims I’ll make before we have children, and later I’ll eat my words, but I don’t think I’d ever bring our kids to the fair.”

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I stand by this claim and if Future Belle wants to prove me wrong, I welcome her to do so, because…

The fair is swarming with people.
We went to the fair on a Saturday night, because that’s when the girls were trick riding. Folks, I don’t even like to go to the mall on a Saturday night and that’s open for the entire year, as opposed to just two weeks in September. When I was single, I frequently did my grocery shopping at 1:00 in the morning, because that’s the best time to go to Wal-Mart. Black Friday is strictly for eating sweet potato pancakes and watching Christmas movies, while shopping online. I hate crowds.

Rationally, I’m afraid of some drunk guy getting in my face when I stumble and cause him to spill his beer. I’m afraid of setting my phone down as I get out my wallet, only to turn around and see it gone. I’m afraid of losing Jake in a crowd and realizing that he doesn’t have his phone, but he does have the keys. Less rationally, I’m afraid of gunshots going off or a fire breaking out and confirming my suspicion that while everyone else has a fight or flight reflex, I have a deer in headlights reflex. I’m a first world survivor, y’all. When the rules of society break down, I am nothing but a liability.

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All that being said, I can’t imagine trying to keep up with a four-year-old in a crowd like the one at the Saturday night state fair. Jake has enough trouble keeping up with me when I see a really cute dog or a sign boasting chocolate covered cheesecake, but a smaller Belle with fewer inhibitions? She’ll have the power to teleport. Every six months, it seems there’s a national news story of Some Horrible Thing that happened to Some Poor Family, because kids are slippery, y’all. You let go of their hand for ten seconds and a gorilla dies or they get eaten by an alligator. That sounds like the worst night out ever.

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As a rule, with crowds comes congestion and with congestion comes inaccessibility. This is especially true at a festival which takes place among a hodge-podge of buildings of varying ages, over a few square miles. I’m no expert on children. In fact, just last week, I accidentally referred to a customer’s child as “that.” However, it’s my understanding that they’re not known for their ability to wait, that their needs are generally pretty immediate. Weaving through a jam-packed labyrinth of identical stands to find one of the newer buildings, with the cleaner, larger bathrooms, only to wait in line for 10 minutes is tedious when I’m the one who has to pee.

Every time I’m around my four-year-old niece, it seems she needs something, be it a drink of water, a snack, help in the bathroom, or someone to scold her older sisters for making her fake cry. By the time one problem has been resolved, another arises and that’s just at Naunnie’s and Pa’s house, where all life’s necessities are immediately available. Navigating the fair to find a water fountain, a clean bathroom, a changing table, a spare diaper or wipes, a cheap snack, air conditioning… with the urgency of a child’s needs sounds wretched. I’m not even sure where one fits fun into this real life adaptation of a bad cell phone game.

The fair is way too expensive.
I admit, these problems aren’t exactly unique to the state fair. They could easily be replicated at a street festival or the local medieval fair… but entry to those and many of their attractions are free. The state fair costs $12 per person for admission alone. As for food, a single ear of corn is $4, a piece of chocolate covered cheesecake is $7, a slice of pizza is $10. The activities a child might actually enjoy, such as carnival games and face painting might only cost a few dollars, but they also only last a few minutes. Thirty minutes of games could easily add up to fifty or sixty dollars. Add in rides that fold into boxes for easy travel, an entirely separate issue, and you’re looking at another thirty or forty dollars for wrist bands, per family member. I don’t even have an estimate for the random junk sold at every stand.

Even if you can budget a couple of hundred dollars on this family outing, while an older child might enjoy such things, I’d wager they’d also enjoy a family day at the park and a new video game, a trip to an amusement park and pizza, or a family trip to the drive in and burgers, all cheaper combinations. Regardless, a smaller child tires easily, overheats easily, melts down easily. It’s fair to assume that being dragged around a crowded fairground in 100 plus heat is not fun for them, in addition to all the reasons it doesn’t sound fun for the parents.

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It’s of course possible to forgo fairground luxuries or pick and choose. Jake got his ticket for free from work, while I bought mine in advance to save $4. We ate everything that caught our eyes and bought some soup mixes as planned, but rode no rides and played no games. We people watched, ate, and walked around looking at stalls. It was a lot of fun… for grownups. At one point, I heard a frustrated dad tell his nine or ten-year-old daughter, “Well, I’m sorry you think you’re bored, but…” Of course she’s bored! You’re dragging her through buildings full of grownup stuff, when there’s a carnival on the other side of the fairgrounds! The best behaved child would grumble about that. I totally support not blowing all of your money on such frivolity, but I also support finding something more fun for your child to do than follow at your heels, as you repeatedly tell her no.

Perhaps I’d understand this choice of family fun better, were Jake and I in a different income bracket, but it ain’t exactly the Kardashians who frequent the state fair. It’s pretty consistently a middle income form of entertainment. Most attendants don’t have the money to do everything and even if they did, that doesn’t negate all of the other reasons taking children to the fair sounds like a terrible time. A customer once told me that she hated to travel when her children were young, because she always felt like she was playing house, just without the comforts of home. That’s how I feel when I travel, now and that’s how I imagine I’d feel taking kids to the fair.

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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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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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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