This poem of mine came out in HipMama Zine today! Such a cool way to start a new year with a poem published on the first day. Many thanks to Ariel Gore for that.
It’s the morning of our first real snow in Plumas County—though by midday it will be melting as it does in our new climate reality. Nothing holds forever. Nothing sticks.
I am sitting in my former living room with my son who will go to work in a few hours and our remaining family cat, Ivy (Mars disappeared in May of this year). My ex-husband still lives here as does my daughter. My decorating eye slightly challenged at the bacheloresque decor and my daughter’s look of all this is temporary I will leave you people soon vibe.
Last year it was the end of the world not to remain together. This year we live the reality of so many Americans. There is strength in numbers.
There’s a calm about this. It isn’t impending anymore. It just is. I have to remember that just like separate checking accounts, my life is separate and only slightly tethered now by children. I’ve just fed the kids some favorite dishes. She’s off to shower. My son turns on the giant netflix screen. I make a makeshift cozy sleeping area out of a love seat and ottoman. We are still influx. I’m not all together sure which Christmas decorations wound up at which house. We had to throw out some boxes last year. A family of mice had taken up residence in them.
We’re watching season 2 of Luke Cage and he’s more than peeved that there is no season 3 as it’s a Netflix cancel. He makes a comment. We have a similar sense of humor that would get either of us on a watch list if taken seriously. We don’t take it seriously.
They remarks these days the way teenagers are apt to do. Question their surroundings, their upbringing, take everything for granted, and complain about how bad their cushy American lives are. They are not silver spooners however–and feel the American class system acutely as it hits them once in awhile.
I try to let it pass by me without comment. For this I’m scolded for being lenient. To me I am surviving. Picking my battles, The mother of teenagers job is to see people through to 18 alive and relatively unharmed. And everyone’s grades are high enough and extra curriculars interesting enough to get them into something somewhere when they graduate. I want them to explore the world but not so much that they wind up in rehab pre-college. I keep a watchful eye on those that would help dim their lights. And that they are relatively good people who can stand up for themselves and others.
It is with–of course–mixed success and many abject failures that one mothers teens correctly–whatever that is. Weird stuff sets me off. When they have unmeaningful conversations in horrific slang –when the social justice I’ve taught them is coming only half way through–when they piss off their grandmother who has not kept up on the psychology of what one says and doesn’t say to teenagers.
Lots of forgiveness is needed in raising teens–as well as the willingness to call them out. There are however, many gifts that even as belligerent teens they’ve given to me and made me proud and quite possibly as if I’ve done a good job. They are often lazy and non compliant. But they seem to always rise to the occasions when I need them.
Like last night with my migraine. Like sticking up for kids of color when they are bullied at school. Standing with LGBTQ kids and being out spoken about it. That makes me feel good. They are good with most of their elders too.
St. Nicholas Day. Tonight they will find oranges and something chocolate. We will start Sunday’s tamale prep tonight too. Our lives are changing.if we parents can let go of control we never had to begin with long enough we’ll know that this is okay. This is how its done.
They are almost 14 and almost 16. There is very little we can hide from them now. They know our secret. That we are human and that we aren’t just here to sacrifice ourselves for them. That we need love and strength and support as well.
When you’ve taught at the same community college for 11 years you often wonder after your students graduate, did I make a difference?
I mean it’s one thing to meet the student learning outcomes, but it’s quite another to instill the idea of life long learning and it’s also difficult but so necessary at the community college level to explain to students—especially those moms who’ve been in the workforce awhile and are going to college for the first time in their 30s–that they can do it.
Such was the case of Dawn who I had as a student somewhere around 2011. We surprised each other the other day as I had to come in to the health department for a routine TB test for work and she was the one reading my test. She had her own office even.
Beaming with pride. Both of us.
We both cried.
She made it to the other side. She was the first one in her family to go to school and she paved the way. Her three kids are now also in college.
There were hugs and tears all the way around. Yesterday as I was driving to the Bay Area I had one of those imposter syndrome moments of self-doubt. There are people I respect and admire who have signs for my opponent in their front lawns. They are of course not clued in with the college and are casting their votes with the establishment regardless of my experience or credentials or the issues. They are voting out of pressure to conform.
Yesterday I drove to San Francisco International airport and back to pick up my mother as she returned home from a trip to Boston. Long drives give you too much time to think.
I took a deep breath on the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday. I had to ask myself again—why am I running? Last year when I thought about it I tried to find other people to run and everyone I encouraged turned around and told me I was the best person for the job. I should do it.
Dawn said my class in 2011 is what kept her going. My reading assignments and my encouragement. It sounded like she couldn’t let me down by not keeping to her goals. She kept them and more so.
This morning as we were all hugs and tears I realized that Dawn—and all the students like Dawn—are what keep me going. I’m in this race because I want the best possible educational experience for students like Dawn and her family. I want them to know that the homegrown Plumas County citizens who were told college wasn’t for them—have a right to it—and that they can achieve no matter what age they are and how much money they don’t have.
The opportunity for college should belong to all of us. The chance to run for office should also belong to all of us.
I chose the right slogan for the campaign. Putting the community back in community college.
Thanks for the reminder this morning, Dawn, that despite not being an elite member of the political good ol boys network of Plumas County? I belong too.
Two days in
And they give her
Two syllables instead
Her given name too full
Of beauty, of vowel, of nuance.
High school begins.
The time we throw on new identities
The time we suppress the old.
I’m not allowed hugs
What makes me think I can have names?
A name I didn’t chose for her
Something short, ugly
More American. Joking. Fun.
They don’t mean nothing by it.
Easy to remember:
Like knowing one’s place.
I have to be silent on this one.
It’s not my battle.
I spent a lot of time on that name,
Nine months as she turned
And kicked and got ready to be born.
I am reminded of crossings
When one of her grandfathers crossed over
having his Mayan name chopped in half
to make it easier on everyone
but the one erased.
There are only two things you can do when someone misrepresents/defames you. You can either go inward and try and ignore it and hope one day that truth wins out and that all slanderers tongues go silent as if cursed and all listeners of such things become keenly aware that they’ve been had–or you confront the lies and misrepresentations of your character head on.
That’s where I’m at. I’m too scared to throw chanclas these days; I fear they will boomerang back and hit me in the face.
On the micro level, I’m one day away from my divorce being final. I will be unmarried and 49 with two children who I thought I was doing a great job raising because of course I would because I gave it my all and all would be perfect.
I’m just as clueless as the next parent.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a science experiment. I fed my kid organic food I couldn’t afford and was overly involved in so many aspects of their lives and they are fairing no better or worse than the controlled experiment group that subsisted on kraft mac n cheese and the tv for a babysitter.
I raised them to think for themselves. I raised them to be aware of social conditioning, consumerism, and patriarchal expectations. So naturally my daughter hates feminism and my son’s bedroom looks like a Hot Topic tornado hit it.
I wonder sometimes if I took the job of mothering too seriously, too purposefully. The kids go to other people’s houses —houses without books, houses without political opinions, houses without the dire impending doom fight of me. They seek respite there. Banality. Less overt battles. A place they don’t have to think. I wonder about these other places too. Wonder if I was too much for them. Did I have kids too late in my 30s? Was it all too purposeful?
There is no winning here. It’s a matter of waiting and hoping that somewhere you instilled something that might trigger something called responsibility. Something called curiosity. Something called living. Something about giving back to the world around you.
I mother singularly now. Not a single parent–their father still very much here. Checking in with the other parent in the hopes that we will be on the same page every day. Most times we are. But there’s some fundamental differences in what we see as happiness and success. I want my kids thoughtful and engaged and self-sufficient. He wants the latter true, but measures the other part differently.
I see glimmers of hope. I have to hold on to that. I didn’t hold my end of the bargain. I didn’t stay with their dad till the end of the line. My fault. His fault. The fault of time and distance and the chasm between.
I have to remind myself not to look at my kids instagrams if I know what’s good for me.
I was reading a vague booked reference to me and didn’t of course recognize the hated person as myself right away. Hussy. Psycho. A woman who does not know me’s use of those words on me. Got me thinking of the nature of our own realities.
In 1996, on my honeymoon with my first husband in a hotel room we’d spent all night getting to in Bratislava, I knew my relationship had ended and that we’d be getting divorced. I knew it wouldn’t last. Traveling internationally with those ill-equipped to go with the flow brings on these denouement moments. I didn’t tell my first husband that it was over; I barely told myself. But that moment in Bratislava never left me and I always knew that was the beginning of the end.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try to keep us together for the next 3 years (our divorce was final in 2001 but I left to go to work in Japan in 2000 by myself–and the year before was spent on friend’s couches). We did many things to get away from each other. He went to seminary to become a priest and all of a sudden god was with us and I felt like a third wheel. I went deep into graduate school thesis project and an ex-lover.
I’m sure he would tell it differently. Most times, I don’t think it appropriate to tell it at all.
Likewise my second husband–our divorce final tomorrow–I feel the same way about. We got together when I was already writing. I try to keep him out of things. I only answer questions when asked about it. Every once in awhile I have that snap moment where he’s pushed my buttons and I vent–but it’s rare. I try to put it down to a sentence now. We got together when both of us really wanted to have children. That coupled desire works for a good long stretch but doesn’t work when you don’t have anything else (duh). So at least we will always be a family. And we can move on–he back to his lone wolf & cub ways. Me to being an artist without having to be chastised for it. It would have been sixteen years next week. That’s some sort of California longevity miracle. But a failure none the less–we were planning to break up after the kids graduated. We fell four years short. But really I knew we were breaking up 10 years a go. I’m just a chickenshit for facing failure. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t keep it together, that the differences between us really are irreconcilable. I broke in mind in 2016. I broke in body in 2017. I break in paper now.
But then there’s also this question of happiness. While wandering around in the PTSD of relationship malaise whose details I will not go into because KIDS, I started questioning the perceptions we guide ourselves by. I started wondering like all mothers who are still women and humans whether self sacrifice is always necessary. Why do we do this thing of making other people happy and leaving nothing left for ourselves? What does that teach our children?
My grandmother turned 96 last year and I turned 48 and I thought for a moment–what if I have another 48 years? How should I live them? Should I dare to be happy in that time? Should I be okay with being who I am rather than who I’m expected to be? Do I dare steal away a moment for myself? Is it okay to email a man I interviewed back to tell him how speaking with him made me come alive?
Last September I started seeing a man–but more than that–my twin. Anything I say after that sentence will seem completely corny and insipid and groanfully geeky. I now understand what all the fuss about love is about. I get it now. When you meet the person who gets you, who you can have conversations with instead of staring at the wall or having them in your diary, it’s like nothing else. When no one is putting up with the other but instead fully and totally in love and embracing the other…that’s a whole different type of love. People call it true love. I’m not sure what to call it yet. It’s different. It’s inspiring. And at this middle age of 49 it came entirely unexpected.
My man has suffered more years of vacant love than I have.
My ex goes inward–says little about us to people save for a few of his buddies and family who of course are feeding at a feast of a one-sided story. My friends and family have my own brunch I’ve thrown.
His ex lashes outward–gives women a bad name. She is a reminder that you can never help someone who doesn’t want to get better. Someone who has no self realization.
He spent years trying to conform to an identity placed upon him rather than one that was actually his. How well I know that feature of dysfunctional relationship. When someone demands your inauthenticity and you oblige–and then they call you a liar–and you are–because it’s what the role demanded. Because you didn’t have the guts to move on properly. I know this territory well. I am that territory. Sometimes self imposed–which is far worse.
Where do we go from here?
I take stock in my mothering, lovering. There are so many transferable skills. So much goodness I wish for them all. Even the exes. Is it enough to just be who you are as a mother? Is it enough to just want to be present? There? Experience the moment and be grateful, appreciative, savoring and to give it all back in return? I think so.
And I’m hoping this thing called mothering and this thing of lovering will give me the strength and fortitude to help sustain the country from its self-propelled apocalypses.
But for this morning. I’m just breathing. Thankful and okay with myself. Even if I’m categorized as some psycho hussy by his ex. Even if my mothering is somewhat avant garde. Even if not everyone understands that my reality and theirs is not the same.
Ah Listen to Your Mother Plumas County goes up on May 20. I think I have something to say about all this.
So those that were going along trying to have a career and suddenly became mothers and then began a somewhat different trajectory than anticipated might relate to me when I say that in 2002 when I became pregnant with my first kid, I switched paths…I chose to teach instead of write feeling like the income would be steadier. My husband and I chose the mountains over the cities thinking that a smaller town might be less nerve wracking–that and raising our kids by my mother. I felt strongly (still do) that kids need extended family close by.
What I’d been planning to do before meeting the awesome husband/father of my children was to be a novelist and live in a studio apartment in the city and have crazy wild adventures to write about. The end. So stupid, I know. You don’t have to tell me.
But my writing was dormant and my mothering was full and my thoughts kept to myself for the most part. I’d slowly started writing again when the kids were toddlers. A colleague at a website I worked for told me about LTYM and said I was funny and should totally send them something (thank you, Lela Davidson). She’d been in LTYM down in Arkansas. Okay I thought–what have I got to lose? Besides Lela thinks I’m funny.
Living in a small fairly conservative town makes you not quite sure who your audience is when you’re a person like me. I was writing a story about my kids having lesbian grandmothers. Well shit. I mean if that won’t fly in a San Francisco LTYM where will it?
The week of auditions was a messed up one for me and my buddy Emily. We were both strapped for cash and hitting the city like reckless teenagers. We crashed at her sister’s in the Mission (thanks Elizabeth Creely) and ate sparingly and spent our only cash on booze and gas money. The kids stayed with their father and my mom.
It felt like a weekend I needed to have.
I was unsure whether my reading went well or not or how many people were in the running. There were these two very sweet really quite adorable women hosting the audition–but they were mostly good about keeping a pokerface and I left thinking that was cool ! Good experience. Now back to mothering and my low lying existence. (Thank you, Kim Thompson Steel and Kristin).
And then they emailed and I was in and soon enough heading back west on the I-80 to meet the cast. That first round of readings we were all balling our eyes out at the sad ones and then came my story and everyone was laughing and I was so happy because I so wanted to make people laugh and I wasn’t having to explain what was funny and everyone got it and I felt so relieved. I felt like I’d known this room full of women (and one man) for a very long time and we’d just met.
And then a year later my SF 2012 LTYM video went viral. Whoa. Thanks Upworthy.
Since that first LTYM show five years ago, I’ve quit teaching all the time and am now writing for a meager living (and sometimes teaching on the side). My kids are teens and tweens now and don’t like to be written about because MOM JUST STOP ALREADY.
LTYM gave me the confidence that was dormant in me. Courage. And I’ve brought the show up to the mountains for four years now. Including this year. It has been an important part of me gaining confidence for the next steps in my life. In my mothering. In my writing. I hope that has also been conveyed to the women ( and one man thus far) who have done the show in Plumas County. They’ve all had important perspectives to lend to the mothering discussion. Humor and sorrow. A chance to be real.
I’m happy to be back for the final year of LTYM and be part of our grand finale. Next year co-director Tina Terrazas and I have plans to do a different storytelling event in its place. We also have our third play together to produce and direct in February 2018.
And um, Thanks Ann Imig! Thank you for coming up with this crazy idea and spawning all these dormant writers to spread their wings.
But all the bustle and writing/publishing/stage work I’ve done since the SF 2012 LTYM show really does start there. The moment those two directors decided my story needed to be heard. Below is my debut…
Friday night my kids and I made the three hour trek to Davis to hang with a good friend and her kids. These kids were in play groups together back in the day and even though Carol moved away to Davis, we still keep in touch and get them together. Another friend from my early Greenville days moved to Sacramento–about 3 miles from where the Women’s March was starting on Saturday morning.
So after a somewhat harrowing drive in California’s storm season, including snow and a downed tree and a three hour drive….
We got to Davis. The kids took off to their rooms to hang the way tweens/early teens do. I got busy assessing the hat situation. Carol bought a pussy purse! Which I now have because she’s a good friend and loves me for some inexplicable reason.
At first the kids weren’t overly enthusiastic. It’s been a hard election everywhere but as we are in that red pocket low on education corner of California where it’s both beautiful and lethal it’s been really hard. Especially on my kids and especially on my daughter. She goes to school each day dreading a couple of kids who taunt her Mexican heritage and for not being Christian. And believe me a non-Christian kid who was taught about the beauty and love of Jesus Christ does not get how Christians can be into Trump. I can’t explain it to her. I just say they probably aren’t aware of their own bible and tradition. ANYHOW. The march immediately made her feel less alone. Her two friends live in more progressive areas now so they weren’t as downtrodden but they were amazed and felt the power of the march.
My daughter and the other girls loved the creativeness and the brashness of the signs. They immediately took out their phones to record them.
ANd so we marched. We marched for REspect. Reproductive Rights. We marched for Trump’s victims of sexual assault. We marched for arts and humanities and education about to be cut. We marched for Education. We marched for rerorductive health. We walked to protest
Organizers said there were supposed to be about 8K people and it was more like 20K–now I’m hearing of totals more towards 30K. I’d believe it. We were packed like sardines but happy all the same.
State Controller Betty Yee lead us in an Oath on the state capitol steps to swear to protect and defend each other in these dark times. Warm and fuzzy day–even in the bitter cold weather.
It was a great day!
Writer and editor China Martens has a kickstarter campaign going to fund a 2nd edition of “The Future Generation” –it’s a radical zine anthology on radical parenting and community. Martens co-edited last year’s phenomenal book of essays by revolutionary mothers.
Now she’s bringing her 2007 zine anthology back to life. Consider helping out her kickstarter campaign. Much has happened in 10 years since and now more than ever an anthology on radical parenting seems appropriate. Here’s the 2007 version:
I am missing Christmas.
The ones where they believed. The ones where they wrote letters to Santa and put out carrots for reindeer and wanted nothing but oodles of lego and craft kits and an American Girl doll.
I would actually buy an American Girl doll right now, expensive as it is, if it would wipe my daughters very tween wish list away.
This is our year of adjustment. The year when they do not believe in Santa but still put stockings out regardless. The year when they ask for cool clothes and cosmetics and music. The year when my son wants a cosplay onesie–so he and his girlfriend can be twins.
I’m having a hard time holding on to tree lighting traditions and sitting on Santa’s lap, and all the other benign merriment of Americana Christmas. They of the eye-rolling stage do not want to participate in much.
Have I lost something?
I count what I have left. They still like my baking. Still like my dinners. Hooray for small things.
They sweetly ask what I want for Christmas. I tell them I want them to clean their rooms and declutter the house. No Really, Mom. What do you want for Christmas?
I try to think of something that would work for me. A bottle of scotch? A ticket to Hamilton? A potential administration not trying to actively bring about environmental apocalypse? My book finished?
Shit. I’m as impossible as they are.
I thank my editor at Hip Mama for encouraging this post.