Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dear Big Kid,

The other day I was sitting in my room as you played outside with your brother and some friends, and I heard the booming voice of a man speaking with alarming familiarity. Concerned, I rushed outside, prepared to ask this stranger what was up, why he was here, how he knows my children -- and it was you.

You were the man with the deep voice.

I don't know when that happened or how I missed it.

But I see your broad shoulders, your big feet, the way your arms rest on top of my shoulders instead of around my waist when we hug, how I can no longer kiss the top of your head because you're as tall as me -- and I realize this is our new truth.

It is more of a miracle to me than your birth. This evolution from wide-eyed, scrunchy-faced newborn -- a wordless infant I read Steinbeck's East of Eden to in order to fill our awkward silences of newly knowing each other -- to more man than boy, and the kind of man who can hold his own in any conversation, from literature to politics to science to popular culture and beyond.

You are a wonder -- to look at, listen to, and be around.

You are my roots and branches and oxygen. You keep me grounded in a good way, you encourage my growth in a broad way, you keep me alive in an everyday way. You fulfill me and sustain me -- you have made me just as much as I have made you.

And today you are 14.

It's wonderful and amazing and astounding and terrifying beyond measure.

Nothing has gone as planned, because that's how life rolls, but you have exceeded every hope I ever had for who you may become.

And I can take very little credit.

I mean, that won't stop me, but we both know it's true.

You have been extraordinary since day one, and my life is extraordinary because you chose me as your forever. And I have no doubt that you did.

Happy Birthday, Big Kid.

I like you, I love you, and I'll always protect you.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spit & Charisma

"Mom, if you could have one power that's not a superpower, what would it be?" little kid asked at the dinner table tonight.

I thought about it for a moment, trying to size up what a non-superpower power would be, when Big Kid confidently answered, "I'd want to be able to spit really far so I could spit on people I don't like without them knowing. They'd never suspect it could be me because I'd be way over there. It would be perfect."

He knew instantly. As if he'd been waiting his entire life for this opportunity to share.

"Hm. Interesting answer. I was gonna go with art or singing but maybe I should think more along the lines of spitting on enemies."

"I'd pick art or I'd level up on charisma," little kid said. He had been waiting to answer -- all of these questions are designed for us to hear his answers. I (mostly) love them.

"Level up on charisma? You have charisma." I told him.

"I got so much charisma. But I need more," he leaned out of his seat into my face, until we were nose to nose. "I like the girls," he hissed in my face, "and the girls like the charisma."

"True, they love that but you already have it," I laughed. "You like girls?" Both of my boys are "young" for their ages -- or so I like to think.

He grinned back at me. "Uh, everyone in fifth grade has their own little crush, mom."

"You too?"

He nodded, looking smug.

"Wow. Who is she? Do I know her? Would I like her? Is she pretty? Wait, wait, is she smart? Funny?"

"You don't know her and you won't know her, but would I have a crush on a girl who isn't all of those things? I got standards, lady." He turned his attention to Big Kid and said, "What I want to know is if bub has a crush."

I turned, fascinated to hear the answer but bracing myself for a fight because this isn't a subject Big Kid likes.

"Honestly, I hate everyone equally," Big Kid said.

"Seriously, dude? You don't like anyone?"

"I mean, I'm guessing there are human beings that exist outside of my school that perhaps I could one day enjoy the company of, but otherwise, no."

"Bro, you got to get you a crush! Get you a nice girl! A cute girl! One who smiles when she sees you!"

"Uh, why can't we just stick to me spitting long distances at my enemies?"

"Yeah, baby, do that. In fact, I'm going with that too, singing is kind of overrated," I agreed.

So, little kid will level up his charisma as Big Kid and I hone our long distance spitting skills, and it all feels really right.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Better Because of You

There's a tendency to only turn to you all for the very, very highs and the very, very lows and to become consumed with "real" life in the in between. In doing so, a lot gets lost and entire chapters of the story go untold.

Lately, it seems that I can only catch enough air to utter some form of, "Yeah, hey, I'm probably not dying!" -- too busy focusing on treading water and keeping it from spilling into my mouth as I try to stay afloat to share the rest, and I'm doing us all a great disservice by not telling more of the story.

Because sometimes I do float and, man, is it good. The sun is so bright and it is so quiet and I am so certain that one day I'll reach dry land again, and that I'll end up where I belong. But I don't turn to you all and say, "LOOK AT ME FLOATING!" because I'm busy quietly hoping that it continues for a few minutes.

But I have learned so much while drowning. And not in a cliched "silver lining" kind of way. I have gained insight and wisdom that can only be earned and I am definitely a more developed human being because of it. Although I know who I am no matter what people tell me, I've learned so much about myself from what people have shown me through this. And it's all so good.

I cannot even begin to detail the kindnesses great and small -- near strangers offering loans they'd be crazy to make (and I couldn't take) and friends offering plane tickets and a place to stay, job offers, dinners and drinks and dropped off muffins, secondhand furniture and bouquets of flowers, and messages reminding me of my authenticity, strength, and ability along with patience and acceptance of my emotional and physical distance. From everywhere. Every day. Including from some of you.

I also haven't talked enough about how sweet my little home is and how I have grown to love it.

My love seat came from a couple named Tom and Marian. They were in their 70s and lived in a mobile home he had remodeled beautifully and he glowingly gave her all of the credit. She had just hurt her ankle and he was doting and concerned and clearly in love. They both had cute convertibles in the driveway, with personalized license plates -- hers a VW Bug that said Luv Bug. The love seat was pristine and I sat on it and chatted with them about their house and history and health and lives, and said a silent prayer that one day I'd be that lucky in my old age.

My beautiful bed came from a mansion on the water, and was piled high with fine, white linen. The owner of the house was acting as a buyer while someone else worked the sale, eavesdropping on conversations about her home. I figured that out through my own eavesdropping and loved her for it.

My bedside table came from the home of an elderly man with a workshop full of clock parts who lived a well-traveled and interesting life, according to the contents of his estate sale.

I have an antique mirror that I have loved for longer than I've owned it -- it belonged to a friend who bought it from a vintage store in the U.K. 20 years ago. I couldn't imagine anything more perfect, and I feel like it's a piece of a fairy tale.

My brother's girlfriend lent me a television, my best friend gave me a side table, and I have piles and piles of books that are mine.

It is the epitome of lovely.

I went from attending galas to going to Goodwill and in spite of the struggle, I'm happier than I should be. Maybe because of the struggle. It's like after all of that treading and fighting the current and swallowing sips of salty water, floating and breathing is sweeter than it could ever be without all of that surviving.

I still cry. Unwillingly, even, like sometimes I'm not even thinking of anything particularly sad and suddenly my lungs and ribs tighten and I spend a minute or three sobbing quietly -- almost like an attack of sneezing in its unexpectedness -- before wiping the tears away and continuing on. And that's okay because I laugh twice as often and sometimes just as unintentionally.

The other day a friend said that I would die laughing, as they couldn't imagine my quickness to do so stopping even on my death bed, and I can't imagine a better ending or nicer compliment.

Right now my entire life is made of stories instead of stuff and people instead of property and I hope it stays that way, until I die laughing.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dear Universe,

Okay. Where do I begin?

Getting real sick of your shit, to be honest.

I mean, I think I do my fair share when it comes to sharing the spotlight with you and trying to work through the chaos you are constantly creating (and it's not me that creates it, it's definitely you) but we are always having this same disagreement so let's get clear on my end.

I am the plucky and adorable heroine of this story.

It seems harsh to call you the villain, and frankly, I'd rather you just write yourself out entirely, but let's say you're the antagonist. Not necessarily the bad guy, just more the problem child of this tale.

(You're the bad guy.)

So YES, there will be struggles. How else will our resourceful and determined heroine save the day and her life?


This shit needs to be readable. There's a certain line when it's just so pitiful people either want to look away or GoFundMe into an institution (which I'm not opposed to, get organized, folks) and we're nearing that point.

For instance, my first weekend in the new place? Having me break a window 17 minutes into being alone was enough -- and I was a good sport about that shit, I even laughed before/during/after I cried. But you took it too far with the stomach flu, and really attention whore-d it up by starting that whole thing with me vomiting all over a CVS bathroom and cleaning it up with one ply toilet paper and ending it with me sleeping in a sweaty, shivering pile on the floor next to my new bed since I was too sick to get up.

Also, let's talk about the wifi situation here. Okay, the divorce, the humiliation, the car transmission, the uncontrollable vomiting, the constant comments about my appearance, missing my kids, the struggles with work, the loneliness -- that's all fine. It's whatever. But the lack of wifi in my new place is some fucked up level of hell and you know it.

It's like you were like, "What is this story missing? Is it Comcast? It's Comcast. This bitch needs some Comcast," and I'll admit that would be funny if it wasn't so very not funny.

You're not the funny one, I am. And I'm not that funny so we're both fucked.

But I called Comcast, motherfucker. I survived the stomach flu alone. I taped that window up with blue painter's tape and IT'S FINE. I even bought curtains this weekend because I am a GODDAMN HUMAN BEING. (Okay, my mom bought me the curtains, but still, I own curtains.) I am hustling with work. I am hanging out with old friends and making new ones, when and if I can put on pants/brush my hair so not a lot but sometimes.

Please stop trying to edit the story. You're the worst editor I've ever had and there's this one guy who is a serious pain in my ass, so that's saying something. I know what I'm doing (I don't. At all) and I don't need your help (I do. But you're not helpful).

So to summarize, I am the brave and determined hero here and you are the sinister but not quite as crafty bad guy who will be defeated by my cleverness.

So calm the fuck down, thanks.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Treehouse Without a Tree

My BFF and I are making great progress on our commune.

I have secured my own house in her backyard.

10-year-old me is like, "FUCK YEAH!!"

38-year-old me is like, "Hey, remember this time last year when you bought a real house?"

10-year-old me is like, "IT HAS TWO WHOLE ROOMS THAT ARE MINE!"

38-year-old me is like, "It's 500 square feet."

10-year-old me is like, "That couch turns into a bed like a goddamn transformer!"

38-year-old me is like, "That's a love seat and not even a real couch."

10-year-old me is like, "We can ride our bike to the beach!"

38-year-old me is like, "You don't even have a bike!"

It all depends on the hour, really.

The goal is to keep the kids in one house for at least a year, while we move in and out as we figure out the intricacies of consciously uncoupling, as Gwyneth would say. It's either the best idea ever or the worst, which is kind of my specialty.

As I went to look at the place, my friend Lyn made a joke to the prior tenant that the only thing wrong with it was the neighbors.

She was a little old lady who loved the unexpected visits and joyful noises of four little kids. She said so, with a delighted smile, and told me she would keep the door open for their visits.

"Oh no. Not me. I'm buying an electric fence to keep them out," I told Lyn.

"They'll tunnel right under it."

I reminded the kids that Ms. Ashley really likes her naps so we'll work out a system. I suggested office hours or a flag.

I went to babysit them the other night and my favorite wrapped both arms around my waist and looked up at me with sheer happiness in his big blue eyes, a constellation of freckles across his pale nose and cheeks and said, "I can't wait for you to live in our yard, Ashley." And when I was done laughing at how hobo-like that sounded, my heart swooned in my empty-feeling chest.

Whose neighbor loves them like that?

I have a new favorite of her four hourly, by the way, always for a new reason. He's actually one of our reasons for being though. I held him after a swim event while she changed her older daughter into dry clothes. He was a chubby, happy baby with pale smooth skin and red curls and without thinking about it at all, I kissed him on his sweet little cheek and then recoiled in awkward horror about how many women would go absolutely berserk (understandably so) about some weird stranger smooching their baby. I apologized profusely and she was like, "Nah, it's fine. Who wouldn't kiss him?" And I knew she was my people.

They were so excited when I came to babysit because it meant I'd let them into the now vacant guesthouse. My mom bought me a beautiful bed with gorgeous girly linens and a pretty antique dresser and I was eager to put it all together and gaze upon its perfection.

Her just-turned-5-year-old twin girl, short cropped curls and wide brown eyes, looked at me and said, "Ms. Ashley, we're gonna make your house so beautiful! I'm gonna help you! My mama can make a bed so good and I'm gonna do it just like that, me and you, we're gonna make this bed. There's this thing where you can tuck the blanket under the pillows...my mama does it, I'll do it for you." She said this with big eyes and eager emphasis and I thought, "Yeah, we're gonna make this so beautiful."

I told her we needed a fire pit and she exclaimed with delight. "My mama's always wanted one! And me too!"

I told her to take her shoes off and she told me she hadn't worn any and I inspected her dirty feet and my clean carpet and she told me she hadn't walked through very much dirt at all, which seemed pretty reasonable. So we went in and smoothed my crisp white linens onto my very soft bed, and she jumped right up there to tuck that blanket under those pillows, feet first.

When I said, "Remember about your feet?" she said, "Remember how they're not that dirty though?"

And I did.

And they weren't. Well, they were, but left no evidence.

We spent some time thinking about where to hang a shelf before she agreed it just might not work in this space, and I could hang it in the closet for my bags if I'd like, that's what she would do.

I reminded everyone again that Ms. Ashley loves naps, and we will work out a really good system for visits.

"The new fun game is 'let's pretend I'm going to Ashley's house'" was the text I received a few days later.

And on my next visit, there were tiny Mary Janes on my door step, a marking of territory of sorts, or maybe a promise to have access to shoes next time, and my heart did that sweet thing again and I felt like maybe this could be home for both my 10-year-old self and my 38-year-old self and whoever would comes next. (I'm guessing my 39-year-old self but don't quote me on that because I don't know shit.)

Also, we're getting walkie talkies.

That's really the best idea we've come up with yet but I'm sure there will be many.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

To My Sons,

I'm so sorry.

I'm so sorry the life I had planned for you isn't going as planned.

I'm so sorry I stayed in this situation for as long as I did, and I'm so sorry I can't stay in it for longer.

I'm so sorry that your lives are being divided.

I'm so sorry I never know what to say or do next anymore.

I'm so sorry that you're more likely to remember how I burst into tears when I asked you to please not clink your spoon so loudly against the bowl today, and not that I was working every spare minute to build a business entirely reliant on my mental acuity and concentration at a time I have neither.

I'm so sorry that it's your friends providing the spring break memories that I used to live for.

I'm so sorry that I have to say "We'll see" knowing it's a definite "no" when neither of you ever ask for anything.

I'm just so sorry.

I know you're going to grow up and this will be the scary part of your story, and I wish I had been a better author of your lives so I could save you from it.

I hope one day we all understand, me included.

I hope you know that I have loved you ferociously even at my lowest or loudest point.

I hope one day you'll be proud of me.

I hope one day I can say I'm a really good mom again, with confidence I don't have right now.

I hope one day everyone will see that it was the only way.

But no matter what, I'm sorry.