Past life · speed-posts

Reality, Circa 1975 (from the Momplex Blog archive)

I was born in a hospital owned by a copper mine in a so-called “company town.” My first vision in life was undoubtedly a pair of cowboy boots, worn by the obstetrician who delivered me. He’d come fresh from a golf game and not the annual rodeo or horse races. I’m told he was miffed that his 18 holes were interrupted by the work of catching me. But, if you think about it, I paid for his country club dues.

The country club was owned by the mine, too. So was our family’s house, before my parents bought it on the cheap. Maybe twenty thousand was big money then, but the house—on executives’ row—was modest and small: cream-colored clapboard with white trim, plopped in the middle of a postage-stamp yard. I used to hide under the porch stairs, only slightly less fearful of the cobwebs than I was of being found during hide-and-seek.  I accidentally hanged myself once in the backyard, and I can still see my little friend Darran fleeing as I dangled from the swing set. My mom happened to look up from the kitchen window just then, and came out just in time to slacken the jump rope.

Inspiration Hospital was just up the road, a regular weekly stop for us, but rarely for things as serious as a hanging. We went because my big sister required weekly allergy shots. When the nurse would tell her she’d been a good boy, which was most days, my sister’s eyes stung with tears. She’d shuffle angrily down the linoleum hallway wearing her sheriff star, faded t-shirts, and jeans. Her straw-straight hair was knotted as a spool of thread from the bottom of a sewing bag. Because people often mistook us for twins, and nobody ever called me boy, I wondered what was so special about her.

My sister had chronic ear infections and was, by all accounts, a grumpy child. One day, like many other days, we left from the hospital with a prescription in my mom’s hand. My sister sat slumped against the passenger-seat window with a fever. I happily jabbered in the backseat, anxious to get to the store where the drugs were dispensed. Along with filling prescriptions, Sprouse Reitz also had aisles and aisles of fabric, a shelf full of Barbie clothes, and a row of gumball and candy machines.

“Can I go in?” I asked. My mom was smoked from caring for a sick child, and I was always asking inconvenient questions like that—always talking, in fact. “Please?”

“You can come in.” Her lips were pinched tight. Even at seven years old, I knew she didn’t want to cart me along. Maybe she worried my sister would hit me if I stayed behind in the car. That sort of thing happened sometimes. “Just make sure you stay with me,” she added. “Don’t wander.”

Once inside, I roamed to the candy machines at the front of the store while my mom spoke to the pharmacist in the back. If I looked at the machines longingly enough, hungrily enough, I was sure my mom would cough up a dime. But after what seemed like a few minutes, my reverie was broken by the sun flashing off her car as she drove away. I was pretty sure she meant to do it. I felt this in my gut the same way a seven-year-old just knows her stuffed animals talk at night.

I don’t remember if I whimpered or wailed, but soon a woman with very thin hair and a diameter twice her height came over to help me. Her name was Mrs. Davenport. That much everyone knew. She was almost as short as me but had a chest that went on for days, like two sleeping bags rolled under her blouse. “It’s okay, honey,” she said. “Did you lose your mommy?”

I didn’t want a new mommy, and my gut told me that’s exactly why she was asking. She hugged me so tightly, forcing my head into the dip between her huge breasts. “It’s okay,” she said. “Do you know your phone number?”

Of course I knew my number, but in my panic—and hers—the call was placed well before my mom had a chance to make the 20-minute drive home. In those days, before voice mail and pagers and texting, if someone didn’t answer, it was tough luck. Sweet Mrs. Davenport hung up and stroked my hair with the thick fingers of her small hand. I didn’t want her touching me, but I had no right to say so. I was only seven, and she was going to be my new mom now.

It stuns me as a parent now, how immediately sure I was that my mom meant to leave me there. Wasn’t everything a parent did intentional and deliberate? Each decision perfectly considered? Each choice a reflection of my value? I’d been told not to wander. Being abandoned was the consequence. It never occurred to me it was an accidental one. I think about that sometimes, the omnipotent and prescient power my kids think I have.

Eventually my mom returned to the store—maybe 45 minutes had passed—and scooped me up in her arms. Her voice was calm, reassuring, and wracked with sugar-coated guilt. My sister had known the whole ride home that I wasn’t in the car, but she wanted her bed and some medicine. “Why are you so quiet back there?” my mom had asked, before realizing I wasn’t “back there.”  When she reached me again at the store, still being smothered by my new mom, she looked much like she looked a few minutes after the hanging. It was a false calm, talking a little too fast and smiling a little too hard.

“I want to see my neck,” I’d asked on my hanging day a few years earlier. “It feels funny.” I remember Sesame Street was on the tube, and I was curled up under a blanket on our itchy goldenrod couch. My throat felt funny, like an unshelled walnut was lodged in the center. So much for that game of cops and robbers.

“You don’t need to see it,” she said, stroking my hair. “It’ll scare you.”

“It won’t scare me,” I said. “I want to look.”

She thought for a minute, then walked to the back bedroom and emerged with a hand mirror. I looked at the parallel lines of rope burns around my neck, cherry red and gradually diminishing to a point, like a tornado—and I burst into tears. “It hurts!” I cried. “It hurts so much!”

“It’s okay,” she told me gently. “Everything’s okay.”

I don’t know why I believed her. From the start, there’s been evidence things aren’t that simple: cowboy boots in the delivery room, nurses that call little girls boy, cobwebs in my hiding places. I believed her then, as I’d believe her for years, even though my friend had left me hanging from a noose, behind the fluttering white sheets that danced a beautiful dance on our clothesline.

Home, circa 1975
Home, circa 1975
crafts · humor · motherhood · speed-posts

Pinterish: Kinda Sorta Making Something You Saw on the Web (from the Momplex Blog archive)

I once tried to fix the sole of a saddle shoe using nothing but Superglue. Just eight years old, I figured how hard could it be?  I ended up conjoining two of my fingers and gluing the shoe to the kitchen floor. With a great deal of tugging on my part, the shoe eventually did lift from the floor but so also did the white tile—a couple of quarter-sized pieces at least. My mom arrived home just in time to see me crying hysterically while trying to cover up the bald spots. Out, out, damn spots! I was using white watercolor and a tiny watercolor brush.

Fast forward 30 years, and I am still not a quality do-it-yourselfer. I wish I were, but I don’t have the patience. This is an actual board I keep on Pinterest:


See that teepee to the right? See that bleeping teepee? Well, I don’t know who the hell I think I am, but I tried to make that thing today. I can’t explain why, but something came over me in bed this morning when realized I had a whole day with my 5-year-old to myself. (Normally my mom has him for a few hours on Mondays.) It was windy outside, and I thought, “We should have a kite.” My next thought was, “I could totally make a kite.” But once I got onto Pinterest, my ambition somehow morphed from cutting out a paper-bag square to building a mother-loving TEEPEE.

The crafter who designed this project had me convinced that she made it out of random fabric remnants already somewhere in her house, and that she just had to buy six 1x2x8 planks, tie them together with some jute, and glue-gun a bunch of fabric pieces to the frame. She didn’t spend even $10 on the whole thing! Someone else on Pinterest actually had the gall to refer to this nightmare as a “fun DIY gift idea!”

Let me tell you, I worked my ass off making this ridiculous teepee today. Do you know what happens when a dwelling is designed by a crafter rather than an engineer? It looks great on Pinterest but has the stability of a drunk snow crab. Also, I don’t know how the hell this crafty person defines collapsible and easy to store, but I think she was smoking something. Well, actually the teepee was extremely collapsible until I went rogue with her design, yelled GODDAMNIT in front of my kids, and tied the thing my own way.

While I was trying to put together this hot mess of a teepee, the only way the kids could really help was by cutting some strips of fabric. Once that was done, I was on my own. It took me three freaking hours and so many hot-glue gun burns to my fingertips and wrists to make this unholy mess:


It looks fine. I realize that. But if I had seen a picture of MY teepee on Pinterest this morning, coupled with an honest description, I never would have done it. I’d have made a paper-bag kite. “This overwrought reading nook will cost you only $60, too many hours, and much of the respect your kids had for you before you started it!”

I yelled a lot today, for example when my 5-year-old randomly peed his pants for the first time in probably two years while honoring my request that he find something to do other than beg to reload my hot-glue gun. He did find something to do, in the upstairs bathroom:


Not sure what you’re looking at? I’ll zoom in:


Still not sure? Me neither. Whatever it was, he couldn’t bring himself to leave it for long enough to sit on the toilet RIGHT NEXT TO IT when he needed to pee. And was he ever pissed off when he later discovered I’d drained that sink. He said I’d killed his “little glue man.” What? I don’t even know what. All I could think to say was, “OH. MY. GOD. DID YOU USE MY LAST HOT GLUE STICK!?” I said this as if he’d eaten the last tin of smoked fish on an Arctic expedition, leaving me no other option for my next meal but human flesh.

The sad part is that I was just trying to do something fun with the kids today and had it backfire in the worst way. Instead of making memories, I made a scene. Instead of making dinner or making time to read or making my son put on actual pants instead of his pajama pants with the hole in the crotch, or just anything normal like that, I made a mess. My son and I actually had Home Depot hot dogs for lunch because I was more concerned with building this teepee than making something to eat. Which wouldn’t have seemed stupid at all if this teepee had been as awesome as advertised–not just to look at but to make. As it was, I worked on it all the way until my husband walked in the door from work, late, at which point I said, “Go look in the basement, then in the bathroom. Don’t ask me questions until after bedtime. I haven’t showered. The kids are having frozen pizza. We’re ordering Thai.”

When he came up from seeing the teepee, he couldn’t resist asking just one question, with the slightest hint of annoyance in his tone:

“Is that thing collapsible?”

No, honey. No, it isn’t. But I sure as hell am.

advice · education · husbands · motherhood · preschoolers · schools · speed-posts · transplant

School Matters: Who Knew the Earth Had a Foreskin? (from the Momplex Blog archives)

I am a writer, so people are often surprised to learn I skipped a grade in math. Maybe it’s not because I’m a writer that they’re surprised. Maybe it’s because I seem kind of dumb with numbers. In truth, I sort of am. It’s not so much that I’m naturally, intrinsically dumb with them. It’s just that muscles atrophy when you don’t use them. (I know my brain isn’t a muscle, but just go with it.) After two decades of me writing and editing for a living, the math part of my brain looks like this:


Just for reference, here is the writer side of my brain:


So, just to be clear, here is the whole thing:


(Guess where the art center in my brain is located?)

I have not needed my full gamut of math education nearly as much as my math teachers threatened I would—until now. But because of recent experiences in my life, I just want to warn all the little kids out there:  YOUR MATH TEACHER IS NOT LYING. YOU REALLY DO NEED TO PAY ATTENTION IN MATH CLASS, BECAUSE YOU REALLY ARE GOING TO NEED IT ALL.

The most important reason to retain it–the teachers don’t tell you this–is so that you will not look stupid when, later in life, your child asks you for homework help. I mean, what are you going to do when your fourth-grader is coming at you with questions like, “Which one of these is a rhombus?” and “Did I get the area of this triangle right?” And there you’ll be, hanging onto your shred of dignity, squinting over a Stove Top Stuffing box as you and your grade-skipping self struggle with mental math to make one-and-a-half times the suggested amount.  What? You’re going to sneak over to the iPad and whisper, “OK, Google…how to calculate the area of a triangle” right in front of her? No! You’ve got to prove your salt by knowing as much as she thinks you do. Don’t you know a 10-year-old girl is just one hormone-surge shy of deciding you’re the world’s biggest idiot?

If the math doesn’t kill you, the science will. Because someday, as God is my witness, your 5-year-old is going to demand answers. Like, is Pluto a planet or isn’t it? WELL, IS IT? And when you answer incorrectly, your daughter’s friend from the fourth grade is going to survey you with shriveled brow and an Elvis lip and say, “Um, Pluto used to be a planet.” (I wasn’t sure if she was correcting me or wiping me off her shoe.) God, I actually knew that one! I did! But she caught me off-guard!

But therein lies my point: As a parent, you’ve got to be ready to do things like name the planets, spell Potomac, and define a hypotenuse off the top of your head and even while cleaning pee off the base of the toilet. (Which is what I was doing during the Pluto debacle.) Your teachers are telling you that you need to remember this stuff because you DO. Total recall, people, or you’re going to screw up your children.

Which one is Tattooine?
Which one is Tattooine?

Tonight as I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I told her how embarrassed I was at her younger brother’s parent-teacher conference this morning:

“Out of the blue, do you know what he blurted? He said, ‘Someone in my family—I think my mom—said you were wrong about something even though you think you’re right.’”

I told her how I’d explained that he must have overheard a conversation about my daughter’s teacher. I mean, that teacher is the one who changed my daughter’s spelling of blond to blonde, which technically wasn’t correct, given the context and this one weird spelling rule that most people don’t know.

“But, geez, I just sounded ridiculous,” I told my daughter. “Because your brother then pointed at his teacher and said, ‘No, Mom, someone in our family said that about HER.'”

Turns out, it was my daughter. “Sorry, Mom,” she said, “but his teacher had taught him that at the end of the earth there’s something like lava.”

“Honey, she must have meant the center of the earth, which is pretty much like lava,” I said.

“I know, Mom, but she said end of the earth, and anyway, it’s not lava.”

Do you know what I said? I said, “Well, that’s just an easier way for a preschool teacher to explain that stuff to little kids. And I know it’s not lava, but it’s similar. It’s smegma.”

Yes, I seriously said smegma, as if the Earth is one big foreskin. No, I did not realize my mistake right away, not even within a minute. My excuse? This:


On a more serious note: Remember that I’m donating 80 percent of the profits from March sales of my book to the Restoring Hope Transplant House–a home away from home for transplant recipients and their families. Already own one? Recommend it to a friend, or better yet, buy some copies as gifts.