Perfectly Imperfect

Perfectly Imperfect

By Elizabeth Richardson Rau

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Best friends often don’t come in the prettiest packages. The true friends I have made are like me, willing to show dents, battle wounds and flaws. 

 

In 2011 my world imploded when I left my husband. The decision was the right one; the fallout nothing short of apocalyptic. It was during this time that I learned that friends of substance run towards the burning rubble that life can become while most others flee. This friendship culling, much like that of a spring garden, is laborious and painful but necessary so as to make room for more sturdy roots to thrive. During times of crisis it feels devastating, but, as one of those fleer-friends once told me: God sometimes draws straight with crooked lines. You will get where you are meant to be with the right people standing beside you, even if the journey there doesn’t look like you expected it. This was the friend who, after three decades of friendship, told me she needed space and a break from the drama; an understandable request. That break is going on over three years now and I haven’t heard a word from her since; she is now on my ex-husbands friendship roster.

Years later, with lots of therapy under my belt and a much better understanding of who I was as a woman, I landed happily on the friendship isle of misfits, among others who are unashamed to admit the imperfections of their lives, of themselves. I suppose we are social outcasts to some degree. Unlike years ago, my circle of friends is no longer made up purely of tidy, socially embraced Jack Rogers wearing, Coach bag sporting, SUV driving stereotypes. One is a recovering addict who is physically compromised from an illness that kills most people, and prefers jeans and plaid button-downs to capris and cardigans. Another, despite criticism, waited out her husband’s affair to save what is now one of the strongest, most admirable unions I’ve ever seen. And the friend who endured not one, but two, children’s battles with substance abuse. We are the women others whisper about — the ones who have the courage to show scars without apology. This does not come without a price of course. Gone are the invitations to book clubs, cookie swaps and wine tastings. Also gone, though, is judgment, comparison to others and the unspoken need to conform.

My daughter is now navigating the complicated ‘tween’ friendship labyrinth as she enters middle school. The complexities of her relationships are really no different than mine. Society teaches us that having popular friends is something to strive for from a very young age. Even Barbie has a bestie, Midge. One of the most successful sitcoms of all times was devoted entirely to the subject of…Friends. I learned, though, that popular doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. The friendship circles of my past included those who would be considered popular: they drove the right cars, wore the right clothes and had wealthy husbands. They sipped lattes on the sidelines at Saturday morning soccer practice, wore skinny jeans instead of yoga pants and gave fake air kisses instead touching lip to cheek. In these circles, though, publicly-perceived perfection was not only a goal but a requirement. The messiness of real life was simply too unpleasant for anyone with a hyphenated last name. Then I met the runners.

I joined the morning running group at the encouragement of a friend (who does not drink latte) which was not an easy feat for this night owl. I went religiously, however, after learning it was formed to support a woman who was experiencing unimaginable grief: the death of a child. I roused myself each morning at 5:30 with the stern reminder that if she could get out of bed in the dark to run, then I had absolutely no excuse. What happened on those runs changed my life. I found women who were honest about their life struggles and I, too, was completely honest about my unpleasant life’s circumstances: that my children’s father was more interested in destroying me financially and emotionally and protecting his bottom line than he was in being a father to his two children. That I, a Master’s educated woman, had taken to cleaning houses when I could not find a professional job. The final straw was at the gas pump on a Friday morning when my debit card was declined and I had been driving on fumes and prayers for a day and a half. My child support deposit hadn’t been made. I sat in the car and cried, feeling hopeless and helpless. So I did something I hadn’t ever done — I told these new friends, women I had known for mere weeks, the truth. Within days I had a frenzy of support around me. I had a fridge full of food, gas in my car and bills that were paid. My daughter had enough back-to-school clothes when her father refused to help, declaring “that’s what child support is for.” These women had not shunned or scolded me for “making my bed and having to lay in it” the way others had; they saw a friend in need and immediately took action to help. I had finally found women who were like me: imperfect and hurting, each in her own way, but loving, loyal and generous. They taught me to believe in myself the way they believed in me.  

The book of my friendship life has not been a romance novel. Nor has it been a tragedy. I have learned that best friends often don’t come in the prettiest packages. The true friends I have made are like me, willing to show dents, battle wounds and flaws. We might not win any contests around town for having it all together, but what we do have is authenticity.

Elizabeth Richardson Rau is a single mother of two children living in central Connecticut. She earned her B.A. In communications from Simmons College and her M.F.A. in creative and professional writing from Western Connecticut State University. She is a freelance writer and a certified domestic violence victims advocate.

Photo: Melissa Askew

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Alive and Breathing and Happy

Alive and Breathing and Happy

Beautiful young woman with long hair sitting on a bench in a city park

By Sarah Kilch Gaffney

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I attended a birthday party held at a cute little downtown arts and crafts studio. The birthday girl was turning six, and ten little girls gathered around the craft-paper covered table to make glitter-and-jewel studded shadow boxes out of recycled tins. Giant magnets were adhered to the tins so that their creations could then be displayed on each girl’s home refrigerator.

A few of the other mothers stayed and the rest departed. My daughter was shy at first, but eventually settled in. We mothers moved about the table, helping the girls with each task and reminding them to listen when the studio owner gave the next set of instructions. We joked about how happy we were that the vast quantities of multi-hued glitter were here and not in our homes. After the projects were complete, the girls moved on to snacks, cupcakes, and gifts

The studio was dog-themed, with dog paintings, photographs, sculptures, and trinkets abounding and we began chatting about pets. I noted that my daughter frequently insists we need another pet despite the fact that our home menagerie currently consists of two dogs, two cats, and four chickens (and a preschooler, I usually add).

One woman casually remarked, “But just one child, right? That’s not too bad.”

“Yes,” I replied, and left it at that as my mind teetered within my skull.

There was so much more that I could have said. I didn’t hold it against her, though, as there was no way for her to know. This type of thing happens to me all the time.

Part of me wanted to say, “Yes, I only have one child, but it’s just me now. My husband is dead. I have all these things to keep alive and breathing and happy, and it’s just me.”

A smaller part of me wanted to say, “Yes, I only have one child, but my dead husband and I wanted another baby, very badly, and it didn’t happen. We tried, we attempted a mini-IVF procedure, everything failed, and then he died.”

These are the facts that I face every day of my life, but I didn’t say any of these things. I didn’t even mention the simple fact that I was widowed. The only people I knew at the party were the birthday girl’s mother and grandmother. They know my history intimately, but everyone else present was oblivious, and I know facts like these often make people intensely uncomfortable.

Sometimes I bring up the fact that I am widowed (it is an enormous part of my life, after all) and sometimes I don’t. I am in my early thirties, so it is almost always a shock when it comes to light and every casual conversation is a potential minefield.

As I buckled my daughter into her booster seat that afternoon, she laid her head on my shoulder and sighed, a little overtired from the day’s events, and said, “Mama, I miss Daddy.”

“Me, too, babe,” I replied, “me, too.”

Early on in my widowhood, I almost always brought it up when I met someone new. At that point, it related so directly and intensely to every single aspect of my life, and my grief was such a raw and gaping wound, that I felt I had to tell people. The wound was enormous, but also invisible; if I didn’t say anything, it didn’t exist.

Acknowledging it directly was the only way for everyone I interacted with to understand, even just a little, where I was coming from and what I was wrestling with. Even when it brought me to tears and felt like rubbing salt in the cut, it also felt like affirmation: please see that even though my life is a horror, it is mine, and I am doing with it the best I can.

Eventually, my need to tell virtually every single person I encountered lessened. There are still times when I bring it up, but it is now often a choice rather than a desperate need.

A few days before the aforementioned birthday party, the local school called to schedule my daughter for her kindergarten registration day. We scheduled the appointment and the woman kindly detailed the items I needed to bring. Before we hung up she said, “Oh, and I don’t have her father’s information here, so I’ll need that.” I explained the situation, that my husband had died nearly two years prior and so there was no pertinent information to give. Awkwardness and social fumbling ensued, and before the conversation was over, I had apologized to her.

Later that night, a dear widow-friend and I had a good laugh about the transition that had occurred: when we started apologizing to other people for the deaths of our husbands. We had reached a point when the facts of our widowhood became far more uncomfortable and panic-inducing for others than they were for us. It’s not that we’re no longer sad or no longer grieving, it’s just that the facts that often make others squirm have become our new normal.

I am a young widow with a young child, so strangers frequently ask if she is my only child, or how many siblings she has, or if I plan to have any more; they ask what my husband does for work; or they make some comment related to the nuclear family because they just assume that we are part of one. When they learn the truth, they find themselves flabbergasted and at a loss for what to say, and that’s okay, because I know it is atypical for a preschooler to have lost a parent and someone my age to be widowed.

Sometimes I wish people would generally be more aware of what they say, but mostly I just try to let it all go. While I have had complete strangers and close friends say innumerable insensitive things over the years, to my knowledge no one has ever done so intentionally. When you fall outside the norms of society, this is just what happens.

Most of the time, if people notice at all, the transgression has already escaped their mouths. I could spend endless hours of every day offended and appalled at the things people say to me, but I have absolutely no desire to live my life that way.

I find that my situation has also made me particularly aware of my own assumptions about people I don’t know, and even the ones I do. No matter what presumptions are playing around in my head, I tend to be quite conscious of not voicing them.

If someone wants to offer information that they feel comfortable sharing, that’s wonderful, because I love to hear people’s stories and discover connections. If they don’t want to share, that’s their prerogative. Regardless, I try to keep to myself whatever narrative I’ve woven in my brain because I know that impressions do not equate to truth.

The trajectory of my life will always be a bit of a conversation-stopper and jaw-dropper. People will never get used to hearing that my husband was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor at 27 and that he died when he was 31. They will never be comfortable with the fact that I was widowed at 29 and that my daughter lost her father when she was barely three. The important thing is not how others feel, however, but that I am now comfortable and at peace with these aspects of my life.

And as much as it pains people to hear the story of my widowhood, they love to hear about how my husband and I fell in love in the woods and got married on a mountain; how selfless, unflinching, and humorous he was right up until the end; and what an amazing father he was in the time that he had. These are the facts I try to put my focus on.

Though I had little choice in the way things played out, I am now choosing to be happy and fulfilled despite the tragedy and grief I have seen. I am choosing to move forward and to embrace the changes as they come, and I am trying to see a little more light than dark in the world. The often inflamed and sometimes barely perceptible emotional limp of grief and loss always comes along with me, but that is simply part of my story and part of my truth, part of me.

Sarah Kilch Gaffney is a writer, brain injury advocate, and homemade-caramel aficionado living in Maine. You can find her work at www.sarahkilchgaffney.com.

 

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The Other Man

The Other Man

Art Running BasesBy Catherine Campbell

I always let them down gently, but firmly. I pick a quiet place with a quick exit. Sometimes I have their things already boxed up—blues records, T-shirts I liked to sleep in, the earrings they bought me on various business trips—so they don’t have to go through an awkward epilogue. I chalk it all up to it’s not you, it’s me, and use some varying formula of “fear of commitment” plus “you deserve better.” I tell them they will find the perfect woman. I wish them nothing but the best. And once I’m home and the door is firmly closed and locked behind me, I pour myself a good drink.

The first question a man always asks when I break it off with him: “Is there someone else?”

I pat their shoulders. “No, of course not.”

I want to tell them the truth.

I don’t introduce my son Thaddeus to all the men I date. Thaddeus is seven. He’s sweet as a candy apple when he wants to be and a little jerk on the bad days, but don’t all parents experience a piece of heaven and hell wrapped up in something that can barely peddle a tricycle?

When Thaddeus’ father and I got divorced, Thaddeus was only a year old, and I promised myself I wouldn’t be the “revolving door” house. We split custody, which I assumed would make it easier for me to kill the loneliness. But surprisingly, I found myself plunging into finding another partner. I came close once or twice, in the form of intense rebounds. And these couple of men met “the other guy” in my life.

There was the Musician, a gentle man with the loveliest voice, who tried to get my son to eat salads. We made it almost ten months, but when he said he loved me, I couldn’t say it back.

Thaddeus was born without his right hand. He’s different. Special needs, his pediatrician says. On IEP reports and insurance forms and checks from the state, he’s considered permanently disabled, a condition that can never be fixed.

“Aren’t we all screwed up?” asked the Water Park Designer, as I was in the middle of dumping him on the front porch after a few intense months. When I had told him I had a kid, he said that was great, but his own father was an asshole and he wasn’t gonna be dad material…ever. It was easy to let that one go.

In the world of single motherhood, there isn’t a lot of time for relationships. It’s like trying to run between two movie theater shows at once, ducking in and out of each room, frantically trying to keep up with each plot. How can I possibly come home after a full day of work, medical appointments, occupational therapy, park play dates, grad school, cook meals for my kid and for someone else, cuddle with a boy and then a man, make meaningful conversations, and have sex?

For dinner tonight: quesadillas, just the two of us. Thaddeus practices holding a cup between his stub and his good arm. He paces the kitchen while I assemble the first quesadilla. “Only cheese?” he asks.

I nod and flip the tortilla. “Plain and simple, how you like it.”

Thaddeus repeats it in a sing-song voice. “Plain and simple.”

After a few rebounds who I thought I might want to love, I went on to date the sure cases of quick implosion. Much older men, men who didn’t want kids (“they impede vacations”), ex-boyfriends passing through town, new widowers who bawled in my arms, the separated husbands—still angry and lost—the men who just needed a good preening and a road map to get them back on their way, away from me.

The terms “amelia,” “anomaly,” and even “difference” all sound much more pleasing than the word “disabled.” But I can’t help use it all the time. It’s like a red light in the intersection of a sentence. It has meaning, it has consequence. People just stop and nod. They don’t need me to explain much more.

There’s a chance it was genetic. I remember how, after Thaddeus’ diagnosis, his father and I held our hands together in the ultrasound office, scooting closer, studying each other’s palms and fingerprints for the first time.

I shuffle spiders out of corners, finish client reports, fold another load of laundry, repaint the flaked white trim long into the night. In the morning, the Spiderman lunchbox sits flap-open on the counter. Jar of peanut butter. Clean knife. At 7:10 a.m. every morning, I make his lunches. The backpack is stuffed, the prosthesis is carried or worn, and then through the car window, I watch my son blow me a big, public kiss as the kids rush around him to beat the class bell. On the weeks when Thaddeus is at his father’s house, I sit on my back stoop alone, overlooking the garden, watching the cardinals burrow themselves into sunflower heads. I myself am starved. I shower and go to work.

One autumn, on a five-day romp through Boston, I met a man who was absolutely perfect on paper. Handsome and funny, he bought me a beer before a Red Sox game and he fed me oysters afterward. I flew back to North Carolina expecting it to end, but instead of the “So long, farewell!” single date, we stayed in touch, made travel plans involving direct flights and long weekends. I met his parents for Christmas dinner. We lounged like cats—smart, mature, romantically compatible cats—on the sundrenched couch of his living room. Each time I would fly home to Thaddeus, refreshed and focused. Boston Guy made me feel beautiful. We would text each other excitedly about the latest TV episode we both watched. I told him I had a son, and he laughed at my funny stories about my son’s antics. We didn’t talk about Thaddeus’ disability. We talked about everything else.

He was 900 miles away, which, I figured, would give me plenty of time to fall in love with him and warm up to the idea that I could slowly bring two special men together in my life. After years of flitting away so quickly, this time—I told myself—I would stick around because I could. No pressure to jump into the hard stuff just yet. It was going to happen. After I opened my heart to this man, I would finally have a normal triangle family with love and acceptance and all the fairytale trimmings.

“Will I ever grow a hand?” Thaddeus asks. He has crawled into my bed again at 5:00 a.m., shaking off a bad dream. He traces my face with his stump. His eyes are big, the shade of blue that makes you feel like you’re sailing paper boats on an endless day. The first girl to break his heart—what will she look like? Will she let him down easy as she can and what formula of stereotypical things will she say? Will she have his things already packed for him?

“You won’t grow a hand,” I tell him, and hold him so he’ll fall back asleep. “But I have extras. I can help you whenever you want.”

One afternoon, I was on the phone with a friend. My relationship with Boston Guy had just ended on an amicable yet bittersweet note. The distance is just too much, he said. It’s not fair to either of us. I cried a lot more than I expected.

I called a friend for consolation about Boston Guy, and then the topic turned to what it was like to raise our sons. At one point, we started talking about Thaddeus’s disability, what teenage life might be for him. I tried to spin the positive as I always had, going on and on about prom and guitar lessons and driving the car.

“But you can’t know that,” my friend said. “None of us can know exactly what Thaddeus is going through. You’ll never be inside his head. No matter how close you are to him, you’re not him. You have all your parts of yourself.”

The first girl to break Thaddeus’ heart probably won’t know what she’s doing. Maybe it will have nothing to do with the fact that he can’t tie his own shoes or cut a steak, or that she is tired of standing on one side of his body, the only one with the fingers that interlock with hers.

Lowering myself onto the couch, I stared at the coffee table in silence.

“Hey,” my friend said over the line. “You still there?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “Still here.”

We talked a bit more, and then hung up. I sat and repeated the conversation in my head. Still here. It dawned on me that not once had I ever used the phrase “me time,” it was always non-mommy time…a worn groove of a joke among my friends. Not once had I left the word mother out of the description of myself: on resumes, through social media, at cocktail parties. My identity as the mother of a disabled child floated around everywhere.

When I found out I was pregnant, my sister had said, “This is the best and longest companion you’ll probably have.”

The way she blurted it out, like it wasn’t coming from her but from somewhere else we couldn’t possibly imagine, and why she was saying that a tiny bean of a something growing inside me was going to be a better person than my husband didn’t make an ounce of sense.

Will I ever fall in love beyond the love and commitment I have for my son? Will I be able to hold both loves at the same time? I’m scared that the answer may be no in the end, so I guess for now, I should just say, I don’t know.

What I do know is right now we have T-ball practice.

Thaddeus and I walk a few blocks to the recreation field. I’m lugging the T-ball set while he’s skipping along and whistles to himself while I set it up. Try-outs will be here in a month and I want him to have a fighting chance. I don’t want people to notice his missing hand but they will. So we practice throwing and catching. We use this trick we found on a video of a one-armed kid playing baseball, this trick of flipping the glove from hand to underarm. Thaddeus is not very good at catching. Perhaps it runs on my side of the family. We do drills: rolls, pop-ups, batting practice

My son swings and connects, it’s not the satisfying crack of a wooden bat but a THUMP of two plastic toys, and the ball whizzes past my head with startling ferocity. “Okay, now, run as fast as you can!” I yell.

He hesitates.

“Run!”

He drops the bat and throws all of his tiny force into a sprint, rounding first, then second and third, reaching home. Yes! I throw my arms up in victory.

But he doesn’t stop. He runs another lap, pumping his arms, his stump and his natural hand blurry with speed. He runs another lap. As he circles, his face is lit up. He’s laughing. I tell him to keep going, heck, we’ve got all day. I stand on the pitcher’s mound, and for a moment I wonder what it would be like to see a third person in this field, someone on the horizon, holding the plastic ball in their hands, and what it would be like if I could wave that man infield, my arm moving in a way that already felt warm and familiar, gesturing for him to come closer.

 

Catherine Campbell’s essays and fiction appear in The New York Times, McSweeney’s, Arcadia, Drunken Boat, Ploughshares online, and elsewhere. Her work has been anthologized and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Find her on Twitter @thecatcampbell

 

A Mother, a Child & the Dog: An Adoption Story

A Mother, a Child & the Dog: An Adoption Story

By Alison Seevak

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I worried about Sophie, my baby for the past six years. How would I push a stroller while walking alongside a sometimes unruly 75 pound dog?

 

Just before I turned 35, I made an appointment to meet a pregnant golden retriever named Angel. Everyone I knew was having babies and I was plain miserable. I wanted a family of my own, but had yet to find lasting love. I didn’t think I could handle a baby by myself. However, I did think I might be able to handle a dog. It would take my mind off of things.

Angel’s owner, a woman named Rosalie, told me over the phone that she would need to size me up in person before she’d let me take one of her puppies. So I drove down from Berkeley to Mountain View and spent a few hours drinking iced tea with Rosalie, a large 50ish woman with cat eye glasses, while she questioned me about my work schedule and whether or not I had a fenced in backyard. I tossed a green tennis ball to Angel, who had plenty of energy, even though she was about to whelp eight puppies. I told Rosalie about the park in back of my house and feigned interest when she told me that a former San Francisco 49er, Joe Montana lived down the street. I knew nothing about football, but when Angel lay down and panted by my feet, I knew I wanted one of her puppies.

At my birthday party that year, two of my exceptionally pregnant friends lowered themselves onto my sofa with slight groans. Their attentive husbands hovered nearby, ready to hand them slices of birthday cake. One still had enough of a sense of humor to note “Alison, it’s like you are trapped in a Wendy Wasserstein play.”

But by now I had Sophie, one of Angel’s puppies, and she had become my grand distraction. We took long walks in the hills at dusk, looking for owls. She ran ahead of me, a flash of gold fur in tall grass, chasing after things I couldn’t see. Every morning, I took her to the park with a bunch of neighborhood dog owners, people I’d only said a passing hello to before. Now we stood around drinking coffee and gossiping while the dogs ran. I brought Sophie to the afterschool program where I taught. My students wrote her letters or drew pictures of her wearing wings and a crown. Sophie brought me onto the sidewalks, into the hills, into the world.

She was the constant while I dated in those nerve wracking years leading up to my 40th birthday. One of my dog training bibles at the time, a book written by a group of monks who raised German Shepherds, recommended that dogs sleep in their owner’s rooms. It was the one recommendation I actually followed. So, the first time I brought one boyfriend home, I had to explain the enormous crate containing the excited puppy in my bedroom. Together, we carried the crate into the kitchen. I tried hard to ignore Sophie’s howling that night.

Another boyfriend insisted that I board Sophie when I came to visit him, two hours away, in Santa Cruz. He lived with a skinny 18-year-old cat named Sallie.

“Sophie has too much energy,” he said, explaining why I couldn’t bring her with me. Not too long after that, I had a session with a pet psychic who told me that Sophie felt Howard could not open his heart to me.

“She’s right,” he said when confronted. We broke up shortly after that.

In between teaching and unsuccessful dating, my life was a series of long dog walks. Sophie’s leash tethered me to her, but it also tethered me to something solid, to the here and now. When I was with her, I had some respite from the “what if” and “what if not” that threatened to carry me away, as if I were a balloon from a child’s birthday party that escaped and floated high into the blue sky.

And then one night I dreamt that Sophie turned into a tall languorous teen aged girl in a red baseball cap who drove away from me in a convertible. I couldn’t wait any longer. I realized that if I was going to have a child, I’d have to do it by myself. By now, I was 41. I decided to adopt a baby girl from China.

While I did piles of paperwork and waited to fly to China to meet my daughter, I worried. I worried about attachment disorder, sleep deprivation, being a white woman raising an Asian child. I worried about getting time alone in the bathroom. But mostly, I worried about Sophie, my baby for the past six years. How would I push a stroller while walking alongside a sometimes unruly 75 pound dog? What if Sophie’s barking woke the baby up from her nap? What if they hated each other? I had never followed the monks’ advice too closely. I’d spent years letting Sophie do all the wrong things — sleep on my bed, pull on the leash, run in the opposite direction when I called her name. In a fit of desperation, I sent Sophie off to doggie boot camp. But after a week, the trainer called me and said I should just come get her. It was too late.

A few months later, I stood in a gray civil affairs office in Wuhan, China and was handed the most beautiful, angry one-year-old I had ever met. Red-faced and screaming, she arched away from me the first time I held her. I had prepared a list of questions for Mr Cheng, the orphanage director. I knew she had lived with a foster family in the countryside. Right after a question about favorite foods I asked, “Did her foster family have a dog?”

Mr Cheng shook his head no while the translator explained. “They only had chickens.”

After that auspicious meeting, we both came down with something. I lay feverish and nauseous in a fancy hotel room with a limp, grieving Anna plastered to my chest. My friend, Grace who had come along with me to help, looked at the two of us on the bed. “Maybe you’re going to have to find another home for Sophie. I don’t know how you’re going to manage,” she said.

But we both got better. By the time we’d arrived back in California and Sophie came home from where she’d boarded, things looked brighter. When Sophie walked into the house for the first time, she bounded right over to Anna, who grabbed her fur and pulled herself up. At night, when I walked the rooms of my house with a jet-lagged baby, the only thing that consoled her was when I let her rest on Sophie’s back. Sophie sat under Anna’s high chair waiting for bits of food. Anna’s first word in English was “sit.”

Sophie and I both finally grew up. My dog became less of a child, more of a collaborator. She was actually like a concerned canine aunt. When two-year-old Anna threw bedtime tantrums in her room, screaming “I don’t want to sleep in this crib! I want a book! I don’t want to wear these pajamas!” I’d watch the clock thinking if this goes on for ten more minutes, I’ll go in. But Sophie looked at me with serious brown eyes. Aren’t you going to do anything, it seemed like she was saying. Are you going to just let that kid scream?

Every night after dinner, we took a walk around the neighborhood, Anna in her stroller and Sophie trotting obediently alongside us. Once Anna got old enough, she’d walk too, my hand in one of hers, and Sophie’s leash gripped tightly in the other.

In preschool, when other kids pasted pictures of mothers, fathers and siblings onto posterboard for show and tell, Anna glued on photos of Sophie and me. When she was about to turn six, she described the birthday cake she wanted for her planetarium themed party. Anna, Sophie and I, wearing astronaut suits would float in a dark sky of chocolate frosting. There’d be a big vanilla moon and in the distance, a green and blue frosted earth. We’d be adrift in space, but love and our linked hands (and paws) would hold us together.

I knew I could not attempt this cake myself. I found a neighborhood mom with a baking business. “I have curly brown hair and glasses, my daughter is Chinese and we want the golden retriever’s fluffy tail sticking out of the astronaut suit,” I explained over the phone.

“No problem,” she said, calmly as if this request was an everyday kind of event. And in our world, of course, it was.

Alison Seevak‘s writing has appeared in The Sun, Literary Mama and Adoptive Families magazine. She lives in Northern California with her twelve-year-old daughter and their new dog, Buddy.

Miles to Go

Miles to Go

Version 3By Priscilla Whitley

It was a late July morning as we drove up Route 22 on our way to Great Barrington Massachusetts. In the front seat next to me my sixteen-year-old daughter, her shoulders slumped as usual, was characteristically silent. The summer sun made the black car hot and I reached over to turn up the air conditioning. We’d made this trip many times each year, in every season, though this time it was different.

“Too cold for you now? Let me know, we just may have to keep turning it up and down until we get there. Want to be in charge of that?” I knew my chatting wouldn’t make a difference but I had to try.

“I’m fine.” She turned slightly toward the window, her long blond hair falling softly down her back. It was all I could do not to reach over to give her a gentle stroke. But my touch seemed to be unwanted these days.

For me the trip to visit this college seemed a waste of time. She hadn’t entered her senior year and her interest in school had vanished. I’d already made up my mind she wasn’t going here, but these days I grabbed any opportunity to be in proximity to her. And so I agreed to make the trip.

It was only the two of us at home, she being my long awaited one and only. Her father and I had separated three years previously. I thought we could settle into a new routine, even envisioning the coming years would make us a true team. Though with her father rarely coming around she didn’t trust him and it was easier to blame me for his leaving. School wasn’t a place she wanted to be for it didn’t hold the answers as to why her life had gone through such painful changes, and only a few friends understood the losses which came quickly these past three years.

We continued our drive in silence. Up by Thunder Ridge where she first learned how to ski, zipping down the hill in an exaggerated snowplow, her little arms outstretched, “Look at me, look at me.” Through Pawling where the boarded up dirty red brick buildings used to house a school for delinquent youths. As a little girl she’d stare at the overgrown grounds, her pretty hazel eyes serious, “Mommy, I promise I’ll never do anything bad to be sent to a place like that.” Then past the intersection where we pulled off on another hot summer day while she threw up on the side of the road and I stroked her back as she cried. After that we’d always point and laugh as we drove by. Now nothing.

The Berkshires, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lenox were special to us.  When we were all together we spent one glorious summer at a small cottage on Stockbridge Bowl. A place of my own childhood. I’d take her out in the rowboat to the island, filling her imagination with stories of pirate treasure, her little hands splashing in the wake. As she became more confident of herself in the water we’d swim to the dock where I taught her how to dive, chin tightly to her neck, arms pointed neatly down.

On the lush lawns of Tanglewood Music Center she perfected her cartwheels eventually falling asleep on my chest as the music played on into the night. Everywhere I went she also wanted to be. To the library for books, lemonade on the porch of The Red Lion Inn and lazy afternoons together in the hammock.

Like most mothers I’d read the countless articles on the volatile teenage years and heard the endless discussions of the vanishing self-worth of girls, though I still hadn’t expected it would be this way now. I tried hard to look back to when I was a teen, but those seemingly long, confusing years were so wrapped up in all about me I couldn’t find any perspective. My sweet little girl, the one who used to twirl around the house, sit on my knee, take my hand, now sat gazing silently out the window.

“Horses, look horses!” I said, breaking the silence and slowing the car. Our silly joke since she was little, shouting it out as if we’d never seen one before. After making the turn through Millerton we’d see them in the rolling pastures, their graceful necks reaching down for some grass. Horses were a love we always shared. I think I saw her eyes move slightly to take them in, then withdraw again.

Two summers ago after a night of thunderstorms a fire destroyed the barn where she’d ridden since she was seven. All 31 horses were lost. The pony she’d begun her lessons on, the stunning dark chestnut who’d taken her over her first jump and the horse her father had recently bought her after he and I divorced.

Donner, with his white blaze and dark eyes followed her every move, giving the unconditional love she must have felt she lost with the breakup of our home. At fourteen the barn was her anchor, her community, the one place she felt safe and truly loved. By morning nothing was left but memories and a sad little girl who now had no footing in a swiftly lost childhood. The fire had taken these beautiful animals and her innocence along with it. And neither one of us knew where to begin again. It was as if I stood on one small deserted island desperately trying to keep her in sight as she, on another in the distance, sat weeping by herself in the sand.

I’d thought I could protect my child. As I put on the fake merry smile, not having any idea really how to make this better, she through those past years slipped into the quiet of her own thoughts. I wasn’t allowed in.

We made the turn at Lakeville gliding down the hill into Salisbury where in the past we’d always stop at the White Hart Inn.

“Thirsty, thirsty, thirsty.” Her little girl voice would say it over and over again knowing how it made me laugh. Back then we’d sit on the high stools at the dark wooden bar while she sipped a ginger ale topped with a bright red maraschino cherry, her little legs swaying back and forth.

To my surprise the Inn was shuttered.

“Oh, no, what a shame, our favorite place. Shall we stop at the deli? Thirsty, thirsty?” Another silly phrase we never seemed able to give up.

“No thank you.” Her back still to me. “I just want to get there.” So we started up Under Mountain Road towards South Egermont.

Cleaning up her room one morning the previous year I’d come across some books she’d tucked under her pillow. Books about loss. At first this worried me thinking it would only reinforce her own losses. Quietly though within her own time she had been processing, like we all must do, how to integrate her past with her future. Now last week, as she headed towards her senior year in high school, she wandered out on our deck one evening and unexpectedly said she had something she wanted to discuss.

She looked so tall standing over my lounge chair, startling me as I stared out to our lake, the water smooth, the swans gliding in the dusk. “I made a call,” she said quietly. “And made an appointment for an interview at Simon’s Rock. It’s next week. Please, please don’t be mad, I want to go and see it.”

Bard College at Simon’s Rocks in Great Barrington is a college for those who haven’t finished high school. A neighbor’s child attended though at this point I knew nothing more.

“No,” I got up and started for the house surprised with the harshness of my voice. “You’re not going there.”

“Please go with me and see.” She reached out softly for my arm and I turned to see she wasn’t a little child anymore begging for what she wanted.

“I have to think about it.” The idea scared me and her courage stunned me. How could I say no when for the first time in so long she wanted to try? I pulled her close not able to say anything. Or did I not want her to see me cry?

We turned onto Route 7 into Great Barrington passing Searles Castle then up the steep Alford Road coming out of the thick forest to a view of a plush valley below. For the first time in our two hour trip she looked over to me. “Here it is.”

We’d arrived at this small college campus, an inviting New England red barn on our left, then a turn onto a meandering drive over a small creek. Up the hill we found the Tudor style administrative office. I parked and without me asking she combed her hair, smoothed her dress and together we went in. I walked behind her amazed at how my child, so filled with sadness, now confidently put out her hand to introduce herself.

This small liberal arts college accepts students who have finished the 10th or 11th grade.  A place for those who are ready for college now. But she wasn’t ready. At home she stubbornly turned away from school and could barely get herself to class. I could only see this as an escape from me, her father and her memories?

I waited for an hour, maybe more, wandering outside then back again only to go out into the bright sunlight once more. This was her idea, not mine, and I wasn’t about to let her leave home yet. Now I wished we had never come here today. Finally the door opened and she reappeared with a bright smile I’d almost forgotten was possible.

“Mommy, let’s walk around…please.”

Together we toured the campus, saw the dorms, the classrooms and went into the library.

“This is where everyone ends up, our idea of a student union,” our guide pointed out.  Though there were the stacks of books, there were also sofas, cozy floor pillows and long windows allowing in the bright sunlight. For a moment I could see her here among the books, eager for exciting new experiences again like the girl she used to be. But, oh, was she ready?

We drove back into Great Barrington settling ourselves in a tapestry laden tea room. I still couldn’t imagine any words she could say which would allow me to let her leave high school, to leave our home and take on this challenge. What would I do without her? I didn’t think she’d noticed, but these past few years had also shrouded me in my own fears, sadness and self-doubt.

She took a sip of tea then placed her graceful hands on the table. How long had it been since she’d looked directly at me like this?

“This is my chance,” she said, her voice even and in control. “I know it is. Here I can start over again. I can’t go back to that high school. Then it’s all the same. Every day a reminder of what was. I don’t know how to make it better back there. But here I get to begin all over again. Here is a place where someone will ask me what I think. Please try and trust me. I want to be happy again… and I want you to be happy again too.”

We finished our tea and started back down that familiar drive home, the summer sun dipping gently behind the mountains. Unlike our drive up, unlike these past few years, we now spoke. She didn’t beg or try to convince me, but calmly explained her reasons. And I thought back to another July evening many years earlier. On the day my mother had suddenly passed away, my father had taken me outside on that warm, balmy night. He’d put his strong arms around me. “Everything is going to be all right,” he assured me, “It will be different, but it will be all right.”

By the time we arrived home I’d reflected on my own life and how I learned through experience there are many positives in our world and one, two or even three or more negatives can’t change that. There are so many things we can’t control. But what we can control is what matters. I decide if I win and my daughter decides if she wins. And I decided right there, as I pulled into our driveway, I needed to take that leap into the unknown or no one wins.

August ended and we made the same drive back up to her new school. For the past six weeks it had been like watching a delicate shell splinter and crack beginning to reveal the young woman I would eventually get to know. I had listened to her and decided I needed to let her go. We’d lost our way for a while, but never the love. Now we hugged tightly as she whispered, “Thank you for giving me this.”  And then we were waving goodbye, the sunlight catching her hair as she stood on the top of the same hill where one summer day a choice was made that offered each of us a new start.

Author’s Note: One of the most wonderful surprises I discovered after having a child was how I immediately gave up the all about me. Such a relief to bid that farewell. My life would have been so narrow without my daughter. She’s taught me, inspired me, and introduced me to ideas I would never have encountered, all done with her courage, her determination and now her commitment to those less fortunate. My father was correct, no matter the unexpected changes which occur we do eventually work them out. Different really is all right.

Priscilla is a freelance writer focusing on personal essays. She’s recently been published on Scary Mommy, in Chicken Soup for the Soul and within The Weston Magazine Group. She is also a feature writer for The Record Review in Bedford, NY. Priscilla is the facilitator of The Candlewood Writers Workshop in Fairfield County, CT.

Spud Day

Spud Day

By Beth Eakman

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 1.50.54 PMIt took me about a year after my husband left to feel like I’d regained something resembling control of my life. I had managed to scrape together a couple of regular freelance writing gigs and a part-time teaching position at the local community college that would give me a small but regular pay-check—and the regular part was going to do wonders for my mental health.

It had been rough. My kids, ages three and five at the time he left, had been profoundly freaked out and honestly I had, too. I was single again, which was weird. A lot of the people I’d thought were my friends had ditched me, everything had broken, and I’d burned through almost all of the savings that my ex and I had split up in our settlement. But as the bad first year was coming to a close, things were beginning to look up.

In late July, I got a phone call from one of the top Montessori schools in the nation. I’d put my daughter, Annika, on their wait list as soon as we’d moved to Austin and had completely forgotten about it. They had a last-minute first grade slot for her. Did we want it? My mother offered to pay the tuition.

The fantasy of becoming the working-mom who “does it all” shimmered like a beacon on the distant horizons of my imagination. I had emerged from the smoking ruin of marriage, kept my kids clean and fed, secured gainful employment, landed a boyfriend, and, as far as anyone outside my closest friends and the school registrar knew, could afford private school for my kids. We might be eating lentils and scrubbing the stains out of thrift-shop clothes inside the house, but those clothes were clean and pressed when we walked outside. I might not actually have a traditional family anymore, but I was doing a pretty good job of faking middle class.

My first major setback was Spud Day.

The Montessori school we joined requires an almost cult-like level of parental involvement. At the very first parent meeting, we all sat in a large circle in the classroom chairs that our first through third graders used during the day. Because I came from work and thus was not one of the first parents to arrive, I got one of the really tiny ones. I was wearing a fullish, knee-length skirt, which I had to wrestle the entire time because my knees were higher than my seat. I learned from the introductions that I was one of two single parents in attendance. The other was a teacher at the school.

We discussed the school’s philosophy. I’d been a Montessori preschool teacher in the handful of years between my undergrad and grad school, so I knew and was in full support of the method, which allowed me to space out a bit and focus on keeping my skirt tucked tightly under my legs, think about wearing flat shoes next time, and glance furtively at my watch, calculating how much the childcare was going to cost. After an overview of the history of Maria Montessori and her method, the meeting agenda went on to recommendations for supporting the Montessori education at home—televised news: bad! Branded clothing: horrible!

I was selective about the quality and amount of television my kids watched, but, in the words of my first single-mom friend, there are going to be days when television and potato chips are going to be your best friends. I made a mental note to cut back, but a full prohibition was out of the question.

This was the mid-2000s, probably the apex of the social trend of what one journalist has called “aspirational parenting.” It was a kind of child-raising philosophy that I had been totally down with when my kids were babies. We were the cloth-diapering, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping people who took parenthood very seriously, probably in reaction to our own find-yourself/me-generation parents, many of whom had had a much more casual philosophy.

A certain percentage of this population crossed the line from aspirational to competitive. You might use cloth diapers, but they grew and hand loomed their own organic hemp for their cloth diapers. You might support gentle discipline, but they considered making a recalcitrant youngster brush his teeth against his will child abuse. And, because this was Austin, there was an additional level of Competitive Earthiness.

Even with our organic textiles, homeopathic remedies, and mail-order composting worms, we Montessori parents weren’t barking lunatics like those Waldorf nuts. Heavens, no. They were a contingent who rejected recorded music in favor of folk songs sung by the family and manufactured toys in favor of baskets of pine cones. We were still a pretty aspirational bunch, though, and the discussion at the parents’ meeting was increasingly lively.

I kept my mouth shut, aware that I was lucky to be here, able to give my daughter—and later, my son—a top-notch education.

“Spud Day,” was one of the last few agenda items. Good.

Spud Day, it turns out, was an exciting treat for the children. Every Friday, parents should send a potato along with the rest of the daily healthy brown-bag lunch—no chips, crackers, or cookies. This potato should be scrubbed and poked multiples times with a fork. Apparently there had been an insufficiently poked potato some years ago and the resulting explosion in the oven had reached legendary status. Furthermore, the potato skin should have the child’s initials or otherwise identifying symbols carved into it to reduce confusion.

“Oh,” the teacher rhapsodized, “when the potatoes are cooking the smell just fills the room and it is absolutely heavenly!”

“What kind of potato, exactly?” one parent asked.

“Just a plain baking potato,” the teacher said.

“Well, at our house we really like to bake sweet potatoes,” another parent offered, initiating an avalanche of potato-related discourse. What I’d thought had been passionate opinions about televised news programs and Disney characters on t-shirts paled in comparison to the freshly energized positions on potatoes.

“But sweet potatoes are so much bigger than regular potatoes. They would take longer to bake!”

“Not all of them. It depends on each individual potato.”

“I think Irish potatoes tend to be more uniform in size.”

“Irish potatoes? What are Irish potatoes?”

“They’re the same as baking potatoes; you know, just regular potatoes, the brown ones that you’d get at a restaurant if you ordered a baked potato?”

“At our house, we like to slice sweet potatoes into about one-inch thick disks and sprinkle them with olive oil and cinnamon and bake them on a cookie sheet,” the sweet potato aficionado interjected.

“Wow! That sounds great! About how long do you bake them?” A side conversation broke out among those excited to try this at home.

The teacher and her assistant were trying in vain to reign in the conversation.

“Should we send toppings, like butter or sour cream?”

More side conversations erupted. Emotions ran high regarding bacon bits.

I might have had my head in my lap at this point. I was pretty sure that there were dissertation defenses that were shorter than this conversation about Spud Day. Was I the only one who was finding this absurd and existentially exhausting?

The meeting went almost an hour past its originally scheduled closing before ratification of potato policy. I noted the critical action items as follows. Send potato in your child’s lunch on Fridays. Poke potato with fork and carve identifying mark in potato skin. No fancy potato varieties. Basic condiments would be provided. Additional condiments could be sent, with the exception of bacon bits, which had been determined to serve no good purpose. Maybe for next year’s meeting, I would volunteer to create an instructional brochure about Spud Day.

At 7:30 am, ten minutes before we were to leave for the first Spud Day, I discovered that the only potato in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator was a red-skin potato, aka, a “new potato.” Curses. I checked my watch: no time for a grocery store run. Surely this would work, though, right? It was approximately potato-sized. I poked it with a fork, carved an A in it, and sent it in Annika’s lunch box.

At 1:00 that afternoon, I received a phone call from the school. The Montessori method emphasizes classroom leadership and self-reliance by the children, so I was only slightly surprised to hear a child’s voice.

“Hello, this is Waleed calling from Annika’s class. Is this Annika’s mother?”

“Yes?” I responded in the slightly sweeter voice that one reserves for children.

“The potato that you sent for Spud Day was the wrong kind.”

I explained as gently as possible that I was aware of this, but that it had been all I had and that, speaking as a person who’d baked red-skin potatoes before, I knew that they would behave approximately the same way as Irish potatoes when subjected to heat.

The world would never know. Non-conforming potatoes were not added to the baking sheet. My claim was entirely theoretical and therefore invalid.

When I picked her up from school, Annika displayed great self-discipline and forbearance when she told me, concisely, how disappointing it had been.

I had exposed both of us as outsiders and frauds. I might be able to pass my- self off as a normal, competent, middle-class mom, but I could not pass off a red-skinned potato as a baking potato.

I would not, however, accept defeat so easily. Not over a potato.

The next week I sent an enormous, brown, Irish, baking potato.

Waleed called, again.

“Hello, this is Waleed calling from Annika’s class. Is this Annika’s mother?”

Sigh.

“The potato that you sent for Spud Day was too big. You need to send a smaller one next time.” It was becoming increasingly clear that Waleed, one of the older children in the mixed-age classroom, had the job of compliance officer. This was likely a merit-based assignment and he was clearly proud of it.

Annika preferred not to discuss the topic on the ride home from school, but confirmed that, while this potato had actually made it onto the baking sheet, it had emerged with a hard, impenetrable center. She had not eaten it.

My boyfriend, Mike, whom I would later marry for being just the sort of guy who’d do this sort of thing, offered to go to the grocery store and find me a potato that would not subject my child to further ostracism and disappointment. He was the father of teenaged twin girls and thus a true veteran of conformity and compliance problems. He bought me a plastic-wrapped four-pack of “Baking Potatoes” so very medium sized and uniform in physical presence that they were surely genetically modified and probably irradiated. I sent one to school.

“Hello, this is Waleed calling from Annika’s class…”

“Yeah, right, Waleed. I know who you are. Now what?”

“The potato that you sent to school didn’t have holes poked in it.”

“What?! Yes, it did! I poked the whole skin all over with a fork! That potato absolutely had holes in it.”

“Well,” he paused thoughtfully, “I guess the holes weren’t deep enough because the potato didn’t cook all the way through. Maybe you need to poke it harder next time.”

I stabbed the next potato from the genetically modified pack, which, incidentally, did not seem to have aged at all in the intervening week, with a sharp, pointy, paring knife, perhaps more violently than was strictly necessary. It went to school covered with little black dash marks.

“Hello, this is Wal….”

“What. Just. What, WaLEED?” I was aware of placing unnecessary emphasis on the final syllable in a way that made me sound less adult than might have been appropriate.

“The potato that you sent to school today for Spud Day didn’t have initials carved into it.”

“Really?”

“But it’s okay, because we carved an A into it ourselves. There are 30 children in the classroom so you are really supposed to carve initials into it your- self so that we can tell which potato belongs to which person.”

When I picked Annika up from school that day she said, “Mom, you don’t need to send a potato to school for Spud Day, anymore.”

What were the odds that I was the only parent failing at Spud Day? I might be making Waleed’s day with the regularity of my failures, but with the seriousness with which he undertook potato audits, surely I wasn’t the only one getting the calls.

I didn’t dare ask other parents.

I made a decision. I would no longer try to pretend that I was the kind of mom who could do the whole parenting gig solo and conform to the exacting standards of Spud Day. I didn’t know why this particular operation exposed my Achilles heel, but frankly I didn’t need the aggravation. It was affecting my self-esteem.

The truth was that I was keeping my head above water, but just barely. I was barely getting the garbage cans out on a regular basis. I was probably at about a 50 percent success rate if you counted the mornings that I heard the truck and came flying out of the house in my pajamas, barely controlling the wheeled can down my steep driveway toward the curb. Spud Day was clearly one potato over the line of what I could manage.

I sat my daughter down to ask her how she’d feel about just skipping the whole thing.

“You know, Mom,” she said, “I don’t really like potatoes much anyway.”

Author’s Note: I am pleased to report that Annika, now headed into her sophomore year of (public) high school, shows no permanent signs of trauma from her mother’s Spud Day shortcomings. When asked if she’d like to contribute to this postscript, she said “I think we all know that there were plenty of holes poked in those spuds. Waleed was kind of a tyrant.”

Beth Eakman teaches writing at St. Edward’s University and lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two teenagers who provide her simultaneously with inspiration and interruptions. Visit Beth at www.betheakman.com, or on Twitter @BethEakman.

Illustration by Casey Arden

Never Wish Happiness For Your Children

Never Wish Happiness For Your Children

AdrienneJones1Growing up is hard.

Parenting people who are on the cusp of adulthood sometimes feels even harder.

In my family, it’s been a couple generations since anyone transitioned to adulthood with any kind of finesse. My parents walked in their high school graduation ceremonies, moved on to college the following September, and finished their undergraduate degrees four years later. They married, earned graduate degrees, began careers, and had children in ways and at times that reflected planning.

I didn’t plan my adulthood as much as I flopped and floundered my way into it, graduating late from an alternative high school, grabbing a job here, a few college classes there, and pausing a couple times to have a baby.

The three eldest of my 4 children have or will graduate from high school late and in non-traditional ways. College? We’ll see. Careers? They don’t know what they want yet. My 20-year-old son makes a good living after graduating from Job Corps and is saving money to move to a city where he can better pursue a music career. My 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old stepson are still casting about, frustrated and angry. Their complaints about the neighborhood high school are legitimate (as are their concerns about the job market and economy), but the alternatives we’ve offered have been met with responses ranging from indifference to derision.

In 1998, when I was a young, single mother of two small children, I was concerned (panicked is probably a more accurate word) about how my eldest son, Jacob, was doing in kindergarten. He was spacey, bored, and behind academically. He didn’t have friends and couldn’t stay on task the way most children his age were able to do.  When the teachers laid each of the children down on a piece of butcher paper and outlined them and instructed the kids to decorate their outline drawings, all the other kids drew shirts, shorts, hair, and shoes. My son drew ribs, a liver, heart, phalanges, and where the other children put a face, my son drew a brain and his best approximation of the sinuses.

When I saw that picture on parents’ night I was full of pride. The teachers, however, were less impressed with Jacob’s interest in human anatomy and more concerned with the fact that he didn’t yet read and seemed uninterested in academic essentials, the kinds of things that are learned while seated in a chair, pencil in one hand.

The next day at work, I was wringing my hands about Jacob’s kindergarten experience and I said to my co-worker Mary, “I just want my kids to be happy!” Mary, a retired elementary school teacher, poet, mother of adult children, and gentlest person ever, startled me by grabbing my shoulders and saying, “Never wish happiness for your children. Never! Teach skills.”

In parenting, as in most life endeavors, we look to the results as proof of a job well (or poorly) done. Good parenting will result in children who do well in school, enter successful careers, and live lives filled with wonderful relationships. Poor parenting produces criminality, drug addiction, or whatever bogeyman we have living in our personal parental-results closets.

The trouble with that kind of thinking is, a child is a person, not a soufflé, and ultimately we come to the place where we can’t control everything. Or anything. Our children are themselves. I don’t get to take the credit for Jacob’s amazing creativity, but neither do I have to take the blame for the fact that academics have always been somewhat challenging for him.

I am responsible for all my own parenting behavior: some excellent, some dreadful, and mostly pretty ordinary. The results, though? There really aren’t any. People aren’t products. My children’s lives are not a culmination of my efforts as a parent. Their lives are their own.

What my co-worker recognized when she told me to teach skills to my children was that I had my self-worth wrapped up in my children’s happiness and success and she wanted to set me on a different path. It’s a terrible lesson to learn because it means we’re nowhere near as powerful as we’d like to be. When my children were small, I hoped that if I fed them right, used the best car seats, read them enough books, sent them to the right schools, struck the right balance between helping them and letting them solve their own problems, and so on, that they would grow up to be responsible, happy, successful people.

It ain’t necessarily so. What means responsible, happy, and successful to me is not necessarily what my kids want for themselves, just as what I wanted for my life (when I finally got around to figuring that out) was not what my parents wanted for themselves.

When my children, the “products” of all my efforts, seem to be spinning and struggling and I am busy flagellating myself for the dreadful job I must have done to create so much sturm and drang in these people, I cling to Mary’s words. I did my best to teach skills.

I didn’t know, before children, that the hardest part about loving them would be stepping back. “Some of us think holding on makes us strong,” wrote Hermann Hesse, “but sometimes it is letting go.”

The Boulangerie

The Boulangerie

By Sue Sanders

Art The BoulangerieI pulled open the door to the boulangerie and it hit me at once — a yeasty aroma mixed with the tang of burnt sugar that tickled my nose. I held the heavy glass door for my 4-year old daughter and as she entered, she inhaled deeply, a smile slowly spreading across her face. We stood in line and waited, oblivious to the conversations around us in French, studying the display case in front of us. When it was our turn, we chose two almond croissants, still warm and dense and dusted with powdered sugar. I remembered the last time I’d bought these pastries in Paris.

In the late 1980s, my first husband and I paused during a trip around the world to settle in Paris for a year. He wasn’t yet my husband — we’d met in college and had only been out a few years. Convinced marriage didn’t apply to us, we playacted bohemians in our tiny apartment on the fourth floor of a timbered eighteenth century building. I found a job teaching 4 and 5-year olds English and he wrote, filling spiral notebooks with stories and poems. We made friends — other expats and Parisians — and stayed up late, drinking bottles of red wine and eating meals we’d painstakingly prepared with friends in their small kitchens. We walked home late at night on cobbled streets, the Eiffel Tower lit up in the distance like a Christmas tree.

We were so very young. Years later, after the marriage and the baby, after his mental illness and the hospitalizations and my hope that he’d stay on his meds and get better had evaporated — I left, a newly single mom with a just-turned three-year old. Somehow, Lizzie and I got through that first year, surrounding ourselves with friends and extended family. I kept us busy so I wouldn’t have to think too deeply about anything as scary as the future.

When Lizzie turned four the following February, I wanted to do something special, determined to make her first birthday in our new, smaller family an unforgettable one. She was fascinated by Japan and France. It was a lot less expensive to fly to Paris than Japan. Besides, I wanted to make the city mine again — to make new memories with my daughter to build upon the older ones. In a way, ghosts brought us to Paris — I wanted one of my favorite cities to be filled with living recollections, and to exorcise phantom memories of the past. We’d create new memories, but with almond croissants instead of madeleines I scraped up money for airfare and found an inexpensive pension near my old neighborhood. Lizzie spoke “French” to her doll as I packed.

Our first morning in Paris, we woke on the sagging double bed, still jet-lagged but excited. Although it was winter, it wasn’t the Parisian weather I remembered — gray and drizzly, with a dampness that crept into my bones and lodged in my marrow — instead, the sun shone brilliantly. Lizzie grabbed her Madeline doll, and we went downstairs for coffee and hot chocolate. She carefully placed Madeline on the chair next to her, which screeched across the hardwood floor as she pushed it in. She broke off bits of baguette to feed to her doll, wiping its mouth with the white cloth napkin after she’d eaten her fill. Petit déjeuner finished, we were ready to explore. Holding her hand, stroller strung over my shoulder like a shotgun, we meandered through the streets, no destination in mind. We flitted in and out of small museums and cafes, stopping to frolic whenever we saw a playground. Lizzie hopped into her stroller when she got tired, and it bumped along the cobblestones.

Some sort of automatic pilot brought us to my old neighborhood. Although it had been more than fifteen years since I’d lived in Paris, some part of me seemed to know just how to find it. My old street appeared smaller than I remembered — it was actually an alley, Cité Dupetit-Thouars. I wondered which of my other memories were also smaller in reality. The apartment building looked scruffier and less well-kept than my mental snapshot. Seeing it helped bring my remembrances of life back then into focus, unlocking thoughts I’d carefully sealed away after our marriage sickened and died. Lizzie seemed uninterested in my old apartment and my life before her, and started to fuss that she was hungry. I turned around and found the boulangerie — our old boulangerie.

So there we were, in my old bakery, inhaling new memories. The shopkeeper carefully placed our almond croissants in a crisp white paper bag that he handed to us in exchange for some Euros. We left, wandering to the park across the street and settling onto a wooden bench. My daughter’s legs were too short to hang over the edge, but she kicked them in anticipation of her treat as I opened the bag and let her pull out a pastry. Powdered sugar rained from it. I took the other out and we clicked them together — a sort of “Cheers.” I watched Lizzie’s face as she tentatively took her first bite. She slowly chewed, looked delighted, and quickly took another bite, rapidly finishing her pastry. I took my time, savoring mine, remembering all those years ago when my ex and I used to eat almond croissants as part of our Saturday morning ritual. I’d gather up francs and head to our boulangerie while he would make the strong black coffee we loved, heating milk that transformed it into café au lait. I’d pick up the International Herald Tribune, a splurge, and two croissants and walk home. We’d sit, cross-legged, on the floor pillows we’d sewn from fabric we’d found discarded in the garment district, breakfast and newspaper spread out on the low Moroccan table, the smell of freshly brewed coffee mingling with the scent of the sugary pastries. We had all the time in the world. It was perfect.

That February afternoon, after my daughter ran off to play with French preschoolers on the jungle gym, I finished the last bite of my croissant. It tasted exactly the same as I remembered, even though everything else was different. I smiled, as I watched Lizzie chasing a new friend. Paris was mine again — and now it was Lizzie’s, too. And it was perfect.

Author’s Note: I wrote this essay to show how revisiting Paris helped me reclaim a place and an experience I thought I’d lost forever. Traveling with Lizzie made the city new again — and I loved seeing it through her eyes. She’s thirteen now and, although she’s outgrown playgrounds and carousels, still loves almond croissants.

About the Author: Sue Sanders’s essays have appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Family Circle, Parents, Babble and other local and national magazines. Her first book, Mom, I’m Not a Kid Anymore, a collection of essays about parenting her preteen/young teens, will be published in May 2013.

 

Surfer Dude, My Little Surfer Dude

Surfer Dude, My Little Surfer Dude

By Judith Marr

flipbookOne day last week, I took a long lunch from work to drive across town, plop myself onto a table at my doctor’s office, and lie back as she planted the seed of a total stranger inside me. If I am lucky, the sperm she squirted into me with a cheesy disposable baster will corkscrew its way to an egg tumbling merrily down one of my oldy-moldy, forty-one-year-old fallopian tubes. And you know what that means.

I like my doctor, very much. Yet this is hardly what I had in mind when, as a girl, I looked forward to having children. But if I can conceive a child as a result of this odd rite, and if my body is still hospitable enough for a fertilized egg to implant itself and grow to term, I plan to bring him or her up on my own. I am not married.

When I was a child, my family always called my theoretical husband “Tungsten”–a joke name that really means the type of metal used in lightbulb filament. The name was my father’s idea of fun, and together with the notion that an ideal husband existed out there for me somewhere, it stuck in my family’s lore. My father has been dead now for twenty-two years, though, and in that time Tungsten seems to have gotten lost or waylaid on the way to whatever cosmic rendezvous we were supposed to have. Perhaps I scared him away or drove him off when he did exist in my life, but in proto-Tungsten disguise as a mere lover or boyfriend. And that’s the trick of it, you see; you can’t go about asking, “Are you Tungsten?” every time you meet a nice man or an attractive one. It’s not only because you might scare him away, but also because it’s an adolescent way to look at dating and courtship.

And sometimes I’m not even sure I want to meet him anymore, anyway. I’m fairly happily set in my persnickety ways, and I have a rich life, full of laughter and lucky friendships. Other times I really do think Tungsten got lost on the way to meet me. Because those times when I think I do see him, in the supermarket, or walking on the street, or at a bookstore, he’s wearing a wedding ring or clearly with somebody else. With Tungsten AWOL, I turn to a sperm bank. The process of picking a donor is not easy, though friends make it fun by helping me go over the odd little preliminary questionnaires that the men fill out, and that cost prospective mothers $5 apiece to read. More detailed questionnaires, in which the men answer questions about family medical history, cost $15; audio tapes, in which they answer questions from an interviewer, cost $25.

“There are so many bad, narcissistic reasons to do what I am about to do,” I write in my journal a few weeks before the insemination. “I think about some of the angry single mothers I’ve encountered. I’ve put off doing this longer than I should have, because I’ve always known that if I did it while I still felt angry at men it would not be a good thing. Still, I’m aware of some angry feelings towards men nibbling at my consciousness.” There’s a eugenic aspect to what sperm banks do–and how they advertise–that makes me very uncomfortable. Perhaps this eugenic aspect touches on unattractive prejudices of my own that I don’t want to acknowledge. I don’t, for example, want a pear-shaped man to be the father of my child. I realize that many of the women using the bank are married to men who are infertile, and that the descriptions of the donors’ coloring and such in the catalogue allow them to pick men who, superficially at least, resemble their husbands. But single or lesbian women choosing this option find themselves at an uncomfortable nexus of feminism and eugenics. A recent Washingtonian magazine article said the California Cryobank, almost half of whose customers are single women, has put together a profile of its clients’ ideal donor: He’s six feet tall with blond or brown hair, blue or green eyes, a college degree, and–yuck–dimples.

When the sperm is delivered to a doctor’s office, the little vial has a white cap if the donor is Caucasian, yellow if he’s Asian, black if he’s African American, and red if he’s American Indian. One almost has to laugh at the bracing political incorrectness of it all. Somebody told me sperm banks do this because one of them was sued when a woman who ordered sperm from a donor of the same race gave birth to a mixed-race baby after an apparent mix-up at the sperm bank.

I can imagine it might be startling–but would that mother really love the child less? Maybe she was one of the women hoping for a donor who looked like her husband. I once read of a husband who insisted on a donor who was his dead ringer, down to blood type, so that no one–not even his immediate family–would know that the child wasn’t his. I’ve also heard of single women who insist upon donors with their exact same coloring–a child that, superficially at least, will look just like them. I don’t really understand this. Aren’t they curious about the serendipity of combining their genes with someone else’s? But then, here I go, talking about creating a child as one might speak of mixing up a can of paint.

For me, the process of choosing a donor sends me smack bang into my sadness about Tungsten’s non-existence and into a lot of residual anger I have at men. I’m angry at them for behaving badly, for judging me by my looks, for not living up to my expectations, and sometimes, I’d have to admit, for just being human. At times in my life I have been so angry at men for judging women by their weight, and yet here I find myself giving importance to all the same factors I accuse men of focusing on too much. Hair color, eye color, weight.

I write in my journal: Kathleen gave me some very good advice today–“Get your ego out of the way.” We were listening to an audio tape of a prospective donor, and I said I was dismayed at his slightly pretentious, inarticulate way of speaking. He seemed like the type of person who might say “utilize” when he means “use,” or “individual” when he means “person.” By telling me to put my ego in the back seat, Kathleen helped me focus on how big-hearted the man sounds. I also realized that, though I felt like I was about to go on the ultimate blind date, one with lifetime consequences for me and for my child, it was a mistake to judge the donor by whether he was someone I might enjoy spending an evening with. Except in the most fundamental, biological sense, this process is not about finding Tungsten. It’s about finding a healthy, sound person with a family history of robust health and preferably no alcoholism, schizophrenia, diabetes, or the like. After all, I am going to love this child no matter what.

And Kathleen’s right. This donor does sound like a good man, and I think I’ll choose him. A dental student who wants to heal people, loves his parents, and wants to have a family of his own some day. Would he be open to even being contacted by a child of his conceived through the sperm bank? I liked his answer. He wasn’t sure. The bank I’m using requires that donor and recipient both consent before the bank will break the anonymity of either. It also has some very good advice to donors and recipients alike on the question of whether to do that once a child is born: Don’t decide this question now. One’s thinking on the subject could change a great deal in eighteen years. I worry about the feelings my child might have about not having a father.

What motivates a man to donate sperm? It may be snob appeal as much as money; sperm donors are an exclusive group, with most sperm banks accepting only five to ten percent of donor applicants, the Washingtonian reported. Donors must be between eighteen and forty, meet strict height and weight specifications, and be students in, or graduates of, four-year colleges. Also, their sperm sample must meet certain standards of concentration and swimming ability. Most sperm banks pay about $50 per specimen, each of which produces about seven vials of sperm–each of which then sells for about $165 to $200, not including shipping. Many banks require donors to commit to at least one donation a week for six months to a year, with a promise to abstain from sex for forty-eight hours before a donation–with some banks paying a bonus for a seventy-two-hour abstention.

My friend Melanie has taken to calling my donor “Surfer Dude.” We know from his questionnaire and audio tape that this is his passion. It’s interesting. A therapist once urged me not to assign such names to the men I met on blind dates–“The Blinking Chef” or “Mr. Glandular Condition” or “The Dreadful Accountant” (truly, a doomed relationship). Her point was that the nicknames, which I used in conversation with her or with friends, were hostile and only fed my sense of alienation from men. And yet, “Surfer Dude” sounds better than calling him by his four-digit donor number. And better than “Snake Man,” my friend Mary’s handle for another prospective donor who, according to his questionnaire, is very fond of snakes.

I’m not allowed to see my donor’s picture, but in a weird exercise, I pay for a telephone session in which I’m allowed to ask questions of a “counselor” at the sperm bank as she studies a photograph of Surfer Dude. It brings back memories of junior high school, like hearing a friend describe the cute boy she met at camp. The counselors rate the men’s looks on a scale of one to ten. Nobody, I’m told, has ever earned a ten. Surfer Dude is an eight, and I’m told his forehead “is just like Brad Pitt’s.” Hmmm. Where do I get off feeling enraged at men for focusing on appearance?

Though I ascribe far more importance to nurture than nature, I still wish I could ask the donor I’ve chosen what he means on his questionnaire when he says he’s “English.” I know he doesn’t mean that his mother or father is from England, because he names the states where they were born in his audio interview. He probably means it in the way that many Americans with English-sounding last names mean it, though I once read that many of these Americans–people with names like Jackson, Taylor, and Porter–are more accurately described as being of Scots-Irish descent. Their ancestors–and mine–came from the strife-torn border land between England and Scotland, a place where clan warfare, blood feuds, cattle rustling, and extreme violence were a way of life. Or else they came from the Ulster Plantation, a colony of such people who settled in northern Ireland in the 1600s.

Historian David Fischer describes the appearance of these immigrants upon their arrival in Philadelphia in 1717: tall men with long, weather-beaten faces, and women with full bodices, tight waists, bare legs, and scandalously short skirts. (I believe this comely stereotype lives on in more contemporary American lore in characters such as the Beverly Hillbillies’ Ellie Mae.) The sensuous appearance of the women so scandalized the fuddy-duddy Quakers, Fischer says, that they shooed them out of the city, off into western Pennsylvania and Maryland and down into western Virginia and North Carolina, and then Tennessee and Kentucky. Eventually they, or their descendants, spread west, as if a butter knife smeared their genes across the lower half of the United States. A custom of these earthy, sexy people–both in the Old World and in the American backcountry–was the abduction of brides. They were also known for their “love feasts.” On the way to one of these nighttime parties, they would deposit stashes of whiskey in little byways and glens. Then, on the long walk home, they might tryst with someone of the opposite sex–a custom that resulted in high rates of illegitimacy and prenuptial pregnancy.

Why do I care if my donor is of this stock? It brings up a nurture versus nature question that hits close to home. My child would have double-strength Scots-Irish genes, a heritage that frightens me a little. The Scots Irish, in stereotype at least, are known for being a little hard, quick to take offense, and for bearing grudges–just think of the Hatfields and McCoys. With an inherited disposition like this, I shudder to think of the toddler years, or God help me, the teen years.

Planning to conceive a child from a stranger’s sperm frozen in some strange bio-warehouse across the country may be the farthest thing there is from a love feast, even if my donor and I are both descended from such stock. Insemination is a miracle of scheduling and technology. It requires a convergence of ovulation, punctual Federal Express delivery, time off from work, and a free slot on the doctor’s schedule–and it still might not result in conception. To schedule my doctor’s appointments at the right time, I chart my morning temperatures until I can pinpoint my ovulation with confidence. It’s marked by a dip and a rise in temperature, marking my fluctuating progesterone levels. It’s essential that I know my fertility window precisely. While sperm can live up to five days inside a woman’s body, the egg is believed to live, at most, twenty-four hours–more likely, only ten to twelve. Upon this fact hinges the timing of the doctor’s appointment and the ordering of the sperm, which the sperm bank won’t allow without a shipment date in mind.

“Why not just pick a handsome guy in a bar and have a one night stand?” a married friend with children once asked me. Easy for her to say, but the answer is absolutely not. Aside from the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and the chance of taking home a wacko, it’s a lousy legacy for any offspring that might result, and a truly crummy thing to do to a man. I admit, my child might have some psychological baggage with sperm-donor paternity, but it’s possible he or she may meet Surfer Dude. What’s more, Surfer Dude has elected to do this and presumably put some thought into it, while One Night Stand Man would not have. I actually know a man who inadvertently conceived a child this way with a woman he met in a bar who told him she was on the pill. He pays child support for his daughter, who lives across the country, and yet has no real relationship with her. It’s a situation that makes him sad and angry. Even if my theoretical One Night Stand Man were never to know he’d fathered a child, I’d still think it was crummy treatment of him. With all my mixed-up, often-angry feelings towards men, even I know this.

Another friend wondered why I didn’t ask a male friend. Aside from the fact that I think this is an awful lot to ask of a man, social worker Jane Mattes, in her book Single Mothers By Choice, points out that using a sperm bank eliminates the potential for angry misunderstandings with the father about the rearing of the child. And so I make a date with my gynecologist and her syringe.

From my journal: Question: What does a (not so) well-dressed woman wear to her insemination? I’ll be naked from the waist down, of course, and in some work blouse from the waist up. But some friends are urging me to at least dress to the nines for the trip out to Dr. G’s office so as to be festive. One friend is urging me to wear some sexy red negligee or corset or something for the procedure. We saw one in the window of a sex store. I guess it’s supposed to be a whimsical idea, but it’s a little too silly, even for me. Plus, Dr. G. might get the wrong idea, or she’ll just think I’m weird. I think that to mark the occasion I will get a pedicure though, with some subtle, sophisticated pearlescent shade. That way, my toes will look festive in the stirrups. One of the nice things about attempted fertilization by a female doctor holding a plastic baster: I don’t have to worry about whether my partner will be sufficiently turned on to accomplish the task.

One of my more anxious moments comes just an hour or two before my scheduled lunchtime insemination when my doctor’s office informs me that the sperm, in its special freezer tank, has not yet arrived. I call Federal Express, and a representative, using a tracking number, tells me that because of bad weather the package has been delayed and has just been unloaded from an airplane. They cannot guarantee delivery at my doctor’s office by noon. They offer instead to bring the package to my workplace, which is more centrally located. Horrified at the thought of a big tank-sized package marked “Biological Specimen” in red arriving at the reception desk, I beg them not to do that–all in a frantic whisper, lest my workmates overhear. For one horrible moment I have a vision of our receptionist paging me over the office loudspeaker to tell me my sperm has arrived–or bringing it over to my desk, cryo-smoke pouring out of the box. When I explain in a furtive whisper what is at stake here, the Federal Express representative on the phone snaps to attention. “In that case,” she says, “if it’s something biological, we’ll guarantee its delivery at your doctor’s office by noon.” It is 11:40. At 11:55, my doctor’s office calls to tell me the package has arrived. Needless to say, I’m feeling warm and fuzzy these days towards Federal Express.

This type of scare masks my real fears: whether I’ll have a happy child, and whether I can serve up a worthwhile childhood for him or her without a father. Will the child have an identity crisis upon reaching adolescence sparked by having a sperm- donor daddy? When he or she is old enough, I will have to be honest, too, about my failure to build a relationship–unless, of course, that changes. Will I be a good mother if I am not able to overcome the fears that have doubtless held me back? And is it selfish to choose this route instead of adoption, instead of loving an already-existing child who needs it? I had slightly nutty New Age ideas of engaging in some ritual before the insemination, like flying my kite, perhaps with a little prayer for conception attached. Instead, I focus on extricating myself from a crisis at work, getting my car from the garage, and making arrangements to pick up an older friend who’s very nicely offered to accompany me to the procedure, which she’s taken to calling “the docking.” I say the Lord’s Prayer before I zip my ovulation test with the two purple strips in a baggie, check for the directions to my doctor’s office, and make sure I bring the tape of my donor answering insipid questions from the sperm bank so we can listen on the way.

I want my friend to hear him. She agrees with me that he is nice if somewhat bland. We drive down the highway, listening to Surfer Dude on my car’s audio system, though Tancy, who is rather astringent, keeps thinking of hectoring, Mike Wallace-type questions the interviewer could have asked, such as, “Why are you donating sperm?” and “How much are they paying you for it?” and (my favorite) “I notice you’re in dental school. What’s the matter? Couldn’t you get in to medical school?” Instead, we hear him answer questions about his favorite color, his favorite meal, and the like.

Afterwards, I write: Dr. G. was in fine form, competent and reassuring. She brought in this big tank that looked like something you might buy for blowing up helium balloons. She read all kinds of paperwork that came with it, and I read too–packing slips to make sure it is Surfer Dude’s sperm, stuff that she was supposed to fill out and send back to the sperm bank about the motility and quality. Then she pulled out this narrow, well, thing, in which two vials– costing almost $200 apiece–were ensconced. Tiny vials. She said she’d rather warm the vial up in her hand than in the special bath they recommend. She stuck the speculum in me, and then, with this disposable syringe, she slowly squirted a little right at the entrance to my cervix. Then scooped and re-squirted what had dribbled down. Then she had me stay supine, though I’m a little worried about this actually, because the table was slightly inclined the wrong way. There were jokes about how this would be the juncture at which to have a cigarette. When she said she had to attend to another patient, I said, “It’s always wham, bang, thank you ma’am, with you types!” and she laughed. She said my cervical fluid showed my timing was perfect (I am quite proud of myself), and that this would help my chances, which she said were at about eighteen percent. I go back tomorrow for a second go, which is recommended. It could take several days for the sperm to actually meet the egg and then for the fertilized egg to implant in my uterus. So I am in what’s called the “luteal phase.”

After the insemination, I walk around feeling almost a little moony about him–my handsome, 5’11” dental student with black hair. I suppose it’s a common reaction. I’d forgotten that he’s 230 pounds until we listened to the tape en route to the docking, and I had a moment at the entrance to the doctor’s office in which I faltered. “Gosh,” I thought. “Two hundred thirty pounds, that’s pretty big–what if it produces a baby so big I can’t pass it through my birth canal!” I got over it, though. If I am lucky enough to get pregnant, I will be what doctors call an “elderly” or “senile” prima gravida–terminology I don’t like. But then, I must be realistic, and not just because of my age. One disheartening study of heterosexual women attempting to conceive by donor insemination noted that, after the first several attempts, the women actually stopped ovulating. The authors concluded that artificial insemination is on some level a “traumatizing” event that leads to the inhibition of the very process it is trying to accomplish. Traumatizing? I find it empowering.

From my journal the next day: I went back to see Dr. G. this afternoon. She’s great, and she let me see Surfer Dude’s “guys,” as Melanie calls them, under the microscope! Electric! They looked sort of lit-up, translucent, spasmodically writhing. I don’t know if they always look electrical or “charged” or phosphorescent the way they did when I saw them because it may have been the microscope’s lighting. I worry a little about the wiggling though. Won’t it make it harder for them to stay on their little surfboards?

So, even though I never married Tungsten, maybe I will enjoy the ultimate cosmic rendezvous after all–that of a tiny surfer connecting with my egg. If it happens, I’ll always be grateful to Surfer Dude, a man I may never meet. In that regard, at least, Surfer Dude and Tungsten definitely have something in common.

Author’s Note: I noted with some interest a mild controversy when a reproductive endocrinologists’ group recently launched an “Aging Eggs” campaign aimed at making women aware of the possible consequences of putting off childbearing into their late thirties or forties. At least one feminist group criticized the campaign as alarmist. The conflict might provide the seeds for another essay.

Brain, Child (Winter 2002)

About the Author: Judith Marr did not get pregnant after several attempts and is contemplating various other options. She grew up in New York City and has lived in Hallowell, Maine; Santa Cruz, California; and Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Feckless Writers Over Easy (Feckless WOE) writing group, whose members live in Baltimore and D.C.

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