That Target Lady

On the eve of my son’s 11th birthday I can’t stop thinking about what a woman said to me in Target when he was about nine months old. We were walking along the bread aisle, one of my favorites because as you know my first true love is Carbs. Anyway, we were walking along and I was singing the alphabet song and he was laughing and giggling and pretending to sing along. I stopped to contemplate kaiser rolls vs. pretzels rolls—this was when I could still tolerate white bread, oh those were the days—and a cart came screeching around the corner of our aisle and a very fast-paced, older woman was walking toward us with a smile. I was nervous at first because older women scare me, generally, because they usually say whacked-out things to me like, Why don’t you wear make-up more often? and Ladies shouldn’t use the F-word. I thought, Oh for fuck’s sake, what is this about? She sped up to a stop right next to me and grabbed my naive, fat arm, and exclaimed, This baby! Oh my goodness! He’s a doll! Look at this hair! (He had those blond, wispy baby curls then.) And his laughter! I heard him laughing two aisles over and just had to come and find him! I was a little taken aback. I mean women are usually drawn to babies like Jackson, this wasn’t the first time that I had experienced this, but this woman, she had more to say and she was talking to so fast trying to get it out before the fear in my eyes made me smile politely and wander away.

Listen to me, she started, gripping my arm tighter, this goes so fast. So fast! And I know you’ve heard this. I know you get sick of hearing it, but you hear it because damn it is true. It feels like one day you put them down for a nap and the next you are taking pictures of them at their high school homecoming. Between the practices, the long school days, the arguments over money and taking the car out at night, the piano recitals and the sleepovers, somewhere along the line it speeds up and you don’t want it to, but there is nothing you can do. Nothing! But to enjoy every, single moment. Even the hard ones. Even all the years of puberty. Be grateful. Promise me?

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just nodded blindly. I may have mumbled a I promise, but honestly I was thinking who is this woman and what is her deal? Is she mentally unstable? Is she trying to steal my baby?

Then she looked down at him once more, gave him a little tickle. He smiled and gave her another adorable laugh. She laughed too, with tears in her eyes, and she told me to have a good day and she walked away.

I’ve never forgotten that lady. She’s made appearances in my writing over the last nine years. She’s appreared in my head when I’m trying desperately to be grateful, but it just isn’t coming easily. She’s come to me in dreams and nightmares. She’s always been there. I wish I would have asked her name, or how many children she had, or grandchildren. How many she had lost, or gained. How to keep them close, even if I can’t keep them little. But I didn’t ask her any of that. I just watched her walk away, grabbed my kaiser rolls, and smiled down at this nine-month-old sweet, monster who had wrecked havoc on my body and was currently wrecking havoc on my home, my life, and my heart.

Last night I laid in Jackson’s bed with him and recounted his birth story. We do this every year. We all do right? Even well after they don’t want to hear anymore. He amuses me. He asks me questions, he laughs when it is appropriate. He knows by now that I need to share the story with him once a year, just as much as he needs to hear it. But this time the Target woman was with us too. Because Christ, she was right.

She was so right.

Hold those babies tight. Rock them to sleep while they still let you. Let them linger in your arms even after your arms are prickly and pained. Let them watch that second episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Watch it with them. Laugh and yell: Mimmie Musse, Mimmie Musse! Cause damn it, one day that will all be gone, and you will wish for just one more time.

And one day, when we are those old ladies in the Target aisle, don’t be ashamed to grab the arm of a naive mommy and tell her to enjoy it, because honestly, honestly, she has no idea.

M.

The Gang’s All Here

Today my therapist told me it was okay to be angry. She said everyone is angry from time to time. Everyone. Even the most cheerful people get fed up sometimes, and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. I know this, of course, but it is nice to hear someone else say it. She told me this because I told her that I have felt angry lately, and that this feeling is sort of new. I’ve been sad, sure. Frustrated, uh huh. Scared, you bet. But angry, like really angry, this is new. And it’s making me uncomfortable. It’s making me wonder if I am slowly becoming that old woman who hits people with her cane when they walk past her, or maybe the one who screams at the kids in the neighborhood to get off my damn lawn! I’m scared of being that old lady. I’m sure I won’t be, I’m sure I’m just overreacting, but somedays I feel like that little man from Inside Out, you know the “I like to honk my way through the traffic jams of life” guy. His name is Anger. His photo is above. (Side note: If you haven’t seen this movie, run don’t walk. Sure, it’s a “kid movie,” but it’s a “kid movie” like Toy Story is a “kid movie.” So there’s that.)

So why am I angry? That’s what my therapist wanted to know. She wanted to drill down, of course. And the thing is, I’m not quite sure. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became angry, and honestly, I can’t dismiss the idea that this anger might be from weaning off my Lexapro and transitioning to the new pill. It might also be from the sadness and stress that follows me around all day long and sort of hangs over my head, kinda like the little blue gal. This girl gets me.

Of course I want to be Joy, oh wouldn’t we all love to be Joy! Joy is amazing, Joy is Amy Poehler, so duh. Joy is… joy.

Buuuuuut, today I’m Anger. And a little bit of Fear and you know what, a little bit of Disgust too, because I’m kinda, sorta fed up with my own self.

Well, yeah. So I guess the gang’s all here with me. And sometimes maybe I think it is anger, when really it is all of these things, and it manifests itself as anger? Hmpf. My therapist thinks I need to let myself be angry sometimes, but it still feels hard. It feels hard to allow myself to do anything. Lately, because the gang’s all here, I’ve also lost my motivation. I know what I need to do to feel better. I know what you’re gonna say, I told her. Meditation, exercise, deep breathing, artsy stuff, something to take my mind off what it’s gnawing away at. I know what I am supposed to do, I just can’t find the motivation to do it. Which, as of late, has been making me angry. See the cycle?

I’ll tell you what I need. Want me to tell you what I need? I need an exuberant cat/elephant/dolphin made out of cotton candy, wrapped up around a nugget center that cries candy when he is upset and sings his way to the moon in his rocket-powered wagon. Is that too much to ask for?!

Listen, I know I am not making sense right now, and this nonsensical Missy is making me angry, so I’m going to go to bed and hope for a shiny, happy day tomorrow. But before I go, two things. 1. Watch Inside Out for the first time or again, doesn’t matter. 2. Let yourself be from time to time. Be sad. Be afraid. Be angry. Be disgusted. And for the love of all the core memories in the world, be joyful when you can, with your whole damn heart. Do it for me. Do it for Bing Bong. Do it for your therapist, who really, really wants you to stop crying so damn much.

M.

Limit Ten

I’ve been thinking a lot about the library of my youth. I’ve been remembering all the time I spent there, on the long, blue sectional couch that wrapped all the way around the front lobby of the library, from the children’s section to the foyer. I’ve been remembering the glass blocks that encircled the Check-Out desk, where I’d tell the librarian that I forgot my card again, or when I had to call my mom for a ride home when I didn’t have a quarter, or when there was a book I needed help getting off the high shelf. I spent a lot of time at the Leavenworth Public Library as a kid. My middle school was a block from the library, so sometimes I’d be able to talk my mom into walking to the library after school and hanging for a few hours. The library was the first place I discovered internet. It was where I did my volunteer time for student council, it was the place I found the New York Times, and the Kansas Room, and the pleasure of curling up with a book—that was way too advanced for me—on one of the pink sofas in the back of the library, where adults read the newspapers, and plants and statues stood watch over the weird, curved windows overlooking 4th Street.

When I was a kid there was a ten book limit when you checked out books from the library. This was always hard for me, both because I am an avid reader, and because I suffer from FOMO. What if the ten books I decided on were not as good as I had hoped? What if my mom won’t bring me back for another week? What if I read them all in one day? I was anxious as a kid. The reference section was a good place for me. It had small shelves, easily accessible, and I never had to worry about which book to check out because you couldn’t take any of them home with you. Same with the periodicals. So I spent most of my time thumbing through those sections, with my stack of ten books waiting for me at checkout.

I’m not sure the architecture of the building, but I can see it clearly, it’s black overhang shielding me just enough from the rain on a wet and cold Saturday morning when my mom would swing her 1972 Dodge Cornett into the lot for me to race up and shove my books into the return. There were always plants planted just outside the door, and just inside was a water fountain that I stopped at a number times for a gulp after I had walked the block from East Middle School.

The original public library in Leavenworth, like many other small towns, was built in 1900 from funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. It was a two-story brick and limestone building, originally named the Carnegie Library, and it was, and still is, designated on the state and national registry of historic places. The library of my youth was built in 1987, and when it was brand new it was one of the most unique buildings in our small town.

Not much had changed in the library the last time I visited, but that was maybe ten years ago. There were still the same old blue chairs on the small desks for studying. The same glass blocks around the offices behind the check-out desk, and the same pink chairs in the back. The same plants. The same statues. The same weird, curved windows. And of course, the same smell. That old, musty library smell. I’ve come to love that smell, and as of late, miss it a little.

The library is actually two stories, but most people didn’t know that because most people didn’t venture upstairs. Upstairs was mainly just administrative offices, but once or twice as a kid I’d meander to the elevator, wait for the beep, then head upstairs. It was always quiet up there, always neat as a pin. Always a little dark. It wouldn’t take long for me to become afraid that someone would catch me and I would race back down the stairs on the north side. It always felt like a close call.

The year I spent volunteering at the library, seventh grade I believe, was spent mostly shelving books, living and dying by Dewey Decimal. I also got to spend a bit of time in the kid’s room, where I would sometimes cut out shapes for children to glue together, or help little ones find the book they were looking for. I usually got suckered into a corner by a kids’ book myself, and would lounge on the giant bean bag chairs with a Sesame Street reader until the cart was full of books to be shelved again. Volunteer of the year right there!

It’s a little funny, but I don’t know why I am telling you all this today. I don’t know why over the last few months I have been drawn to old buildings. The ones I knew growing up. Why the places we spent time in as a child, end up being so important to us as adults. And maybe they aren’t. Maybe I’m weird. Either way, sometimes, when I can’t find a comfy spot to read my borrowed book of essays, or I walk into a fancy, new library around my new town, I can’t help but wish I was back in Leavenworth. On one of those musty, pink couches. A secret bag of Doritos in my book bag, and the current copy of the Kansas City Star on my lap. Trying to figure a ride home. An escape from that town. A way out of that life. Maybe that is exactly what the library is for.

M.

Crying in Bed

I’ve been in a funk. Maybe a “I got to see my friends and now I’m sad cause I miss them” funk. Or maybe a “I have no idea what is happening in our house over the next six months and I’m stressed” funk. Or, it could be just a classic case of the “I started new medicine and my old medicine is leaving my body and the new one is kicking in and it’s making me crazy” funk. I’m betting on a combo funk this time around, either way, I’m lying in my bed, a half hour before I’m due to get Jackson from school, crying a little, and trying to brighten other people’s days with funny memes and pics of me being a fool. I think it’s working for them. I hope it works for me.

I tend to do this. I tend to “reach out” by actually reaching out and dropping a funny note or a ridiculous picture. Then of course if they want to talk I close up shop, like nah, I’m good. I’m starting to understand this about me. Starting to discover why I do the little things I do. I figure if I’m having a down day, one of my friends is bound to be having one too, so I check on them, ignoring the fact that I’m in bed at 1:30 pm. That I haven’t been able to write in five days. That I’m taking offense to the most bizarre shit and crying because why won’t someone #ImpeachThatMotherFucker already?!

I guess this is my check in with you guys. I’m alive. I’m eating, of course I’m eating. I’m still walking (I just usually forget my Apple Watch so I don’t know how much), and I’m working on things. Always working on things. Tomorrow is therapy. Tomorrow will be better.

Stay happy and safe out there, y’all. And take a day if you need to.

M.

This is Not a Fetus

I know a very lovely woman who is sweet and compassionate and well-educated. She loves her children and she loves Jesus, and although her and I do not agree on some things politically, we can still be sociable. She is wonderful to talk to. Her kids are sweet, and she has a knack for always saying something nice, just the thing you need to hear, when you see her. She is still accepting of my f-bombs on social media, meaning she still hasn’t blocked me or hidden me like some of my “friends” and family members (I see y’all. I see you. Please just delete me!) But there is one thing that we are very, very far apart on, and that is the topic of abortion.

To be fair, I have never had a conversation on the topic with her. I just know, from social media, that she is anti-abortion. She knows, I assume, that I am pro-choice. And both of us just take the higher road, which is something I wish I could say for a lot more people. But alas, life isn’t so much about open discussions anymore, as much as it is about “being right,” and that is sad and a bit scary.

Having said all of this, I have to share a picture that I came across the other day from her newsfeed. She was explaining that her church, or a local church maybe not hers, made a mobile clinic to go to the rural areas in the counties near them and do ultrasounds, and pregnancy tests, and discuss options with women. And honestly, I support that. I know there are a ton of woman, a lot of them young, a lot of them scared. A lot of them in need of some kind of support, and this might be the key to helping them. Some might just stop in to get a free pregnancy test and a hug, some might just to see their baby on the screen. Some might still go to a local abortion clinic, some might choose “the word of God” like they promise. Either way, it seems it is one more thing that is helping women who might need it. It is a group taking action. And there is an awful lot of talk and no action these days. But they have done something that angers me so much when it comes to anti-abortion propaganda. They have misrepresented a fetus.

Now am I more offended by this because I had a baby who was not anatomically correct? Probably. My daughter was born with half a heart, half a brain, a severe cleft palate rendering her unable to eat, and her intestines formed outside of her body. So yeah, this is a touchy subject for me. But, this is something that anti-abortion people do to make women feel bad for even considering abortion. And they wonder why people react like I do when I talk to them. Let me share the picture.

These are not actual representations of a fetus, and we have to stop pretending like they are. You see that 12-week embryo/fetus there? That is not what your 12-week-old gestational baby looks like, because there is no such thing as a 12-week-old gestational baby. See that 16-week-old “baby,” that is not an accurate depiction of a 16-week-old gestational “baby.” That is not what your 22-week-old baby looks like. Ask me how I know what a 22-week-old fetus looks like…

I understand wanting to get women thinking about embryos and fetuses like babies, but give us some credit here, y’all. Give us some damn credit. And we will try to give y’all a little bit of grace. I know you think you’re doing God’s work here. But so do we. The difference is, we aren’t being deceptive.

I don’t know what I am suggesting, other than to get rid of these damn dolls and speak truth. Real medical science. Listen to the women. Don’t just push your agenda. And remember, remember above all else, no one is keeping score here. You don’t get extra points for “saving a baby,” but imagine how satisfying it could be to save the life of a teen girl who got herself into a really bad situation and you are her only hope out.

Think. Love. Act. But most importantly love, regardless of anything.

M.

Representation Matters

I had a necessary and slightly concerning conversation with some other parents at Jackson’s school the other day that revolved around a picture that is on a website from the fundraiser that we are doing right now. This is the picture:

It’s cute, right? What sparked the conversation was one of the other mommies telling me she wished we would have made it to Midvale sooner because we have been such a blessing to them and Jackson is such a great kid. I thanked her and agreed. I told her this was the best elementary school we have ever been in, and that we have been in three of them.

The first one, I told them, was also great, on paper. It was not a Title One school, which is very important to some people. Like, very important. Like one of my old friends, upon asking why her daughter went to our kid’s school (at the time) when she lived just as close to another one, rolled her eyes at me and she said (in a voice just above a whisper, even though no one was around,) “That’s a Title One school,” and gave me a knowing smile. I didn’t have the heart, or maybe the nerve, to tell my “sweet” friend that I was raised in a Title One school. That I am a product of poverty. That I got free lunch. Of course, this is the same woman who said she wouldn’t send her dog to the Charter school that was in our town, even though she knows people who work there, kids who go to school there. And I’m guessing I know some of her reasoning. PS… She’s a teacher. #EekFace

Our kids at that time, my son and her daughter, were in kindergarten together in a school that was, in the state of North Carolina, an A-rated school, sometimes an A+. The problem wasn’t so much that it had a 3% free or reduced lunch population (which we were a part of, unbeknownst to my friend I’m sure), it wasn’t even that I could count the number of “diverse kids” as she referred to them, it was that the school itself didn’t reflect real life. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the school. I met some amazing people there. Of course I also met some people who turned out to be some real assholes, but most of them were pretty cool. And I’m still friends with some of them. And I still think they are doing what is best for their kids, given where they live.

Let me quickly address the free lunch thing, since I sorta just snuck that in on you. We were on the free or reduced lunch program in kindergarten because at the time that school started we had just moved to NC, and Jerimiah didn’t have a job yet. We were still living off our savings while he looked for work, so the school district automatically qualified us for the program, and we took advantage of it for a few months, until Jerimiah found a great job, and Jackson started to bring his own lunch to school. But still, it impacted the “numbers” for the school, and still the people who were privy to this probably looked at us differently. Most likely. This may be shocking to some of you who knew us back then, especially because people always assumed that we moved to NC because of work. But no. We moved to NC to find better work. We knew we couldn’t stay in Southern Missouri. We also didn’t know that the town we were moving into was basically more of the same, just with more money. I never told people that because I was ashamed of it. But truth be told, we were kinda bad-ass for doing it. For selling off most of our things, for taking a BIG chance. And we have been reaping the rewards ever since. But, again, that sorta behavior scares people. And you can’t make friends easily with that origin story.

Again the school we were at for kindergarten through half of third grade was great. The real problem was just that 90% of the kids were little white kids with the same socio-economic status. And as some of you might know, some of you who have left your bubble, moved away from the places you were born and raised (unlike my sweet friend mentioned above) this is not reflective of real life. As I told this story to my new friends one of them actually gasped, a white woman, and said that was her worst nightmare for her kid. To go to school with people who looked just like her. I agreed. Explained that it was a driving force for us to move into “the city” and enroll Jackson into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, even with its many problems, it was much more reflective of real life. Then I brought up this picture.

Again, it’s cute. But, after what I just said, can you see the problem? You might hear a lot of people talk about representation nowadays. And if you are white, you may not pay much mind to that talk, well because, you are represented. Everywhere. But this pic concerned me in a lot of ways.

First off, this is the pic that all the kids and parents see when they first log into the site. So if you are a little Black girl (which we have a lot of at our school) then you see a scene that is not reflective of your life. If you are an Asian boy (which we have a lot of at our school) you are not seeing yourself represented very well either. And so on and so forth.

This might be a good time to add that the county that we live in, DeKalb County, Georgia, is the second most affluent county IN THE COUNTRY, with a predominantly Black population. Let me break that down for you. Most of the money, coming in and out of our county, is from affluent Black families. We are minorities here. Jackson is a minority in his school. Both in sex and race. This is our life. Our community. And it is good. Really good.

Back to the picture. Did you notice all the white kids are on one side, while all the “other” kids are on the other side. See that? See the token Black girl? And the Asian boy? See the two kids that could “pass” for Latino? It’s a bit odd. And maybe I’m reading too far into it, one tends to do that when they have been enlightened to white privilege, but I don’t think so. I also don’t think, or want to believe, that the company did this on purpose. I think it was more of an, Oh shit, we need some “diverse” kids in this pic too! And then they hurried up and made sure they had “one of each.” That’s how I think it went down. Either way. Bleh.

I think I’m just noticing things like this more because I am more aware of the world that we live in. The world advertisers create. The world the white-males make for us, and I’m starting to call a spade a spade, if you will. Like my sweet old friend, who still has others fooled, but I’ve seen her true side. Her “Christian” side, and it ain’t pretty. But more about her in another post.

So that’s what’s been kicking around in my noggin today. Representation. The importance of being around people who do not act like or look like or live like you. The importance of cutting through bullshit and getting down to the nuts and bolts of what needs to be said. So here I am, saying it. Like always.

This weekend, try to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. Eat at a new place, try a new store on the “other” side of town. Start a conversation with that one Black man that lives in your town. I dunno. Try something. Be present. Show up for others. You won’t regret it.

M.

Classic Country

We were talking with friends the other day—who shall remain nameless in an attempt to protect the guilty—and they didn’t know who Charley Pride is. Ahem. One of them is a music professor. Damn it, it was Accordion Dave. Sorry Accordion Dave, but they all already knew it was you! So I was APPALLED. As one should be, to learn that people you like very, very, much, have no idea who Charley Pride is. Jerimiah and I almost ended the Google Hangout, instead we made it a teachable moment, you know we like those, so we started to sing…

“Kiss an angel good morning, and let her know you think about her when you’re gone. Kiss an angel good morning, and love her like the devil when you get back home…”

It was beautiful and magical and we were totally in sync and everyone loved it. Ahem.

Then we gave them a list of other country music rockstars to learn about before we meet next, including David Allen Coe, which came with apologies for his racism and a, But remember, he did live in a cave for a long time. Not that the excuses the racism. #EekFace

This all got me thinking. Not all people were raised on old, classic, country music like Jerimiah and I were. Which is sorta weird to us, but also good for those people cause they don’t wake up singing: “When whole lot of Decembers are showing in your face, your auburn hair has faded and silver takes its place…”

Or my personal favorite, “See the marketplace in Old Algiers, send me photographs and souvenirs, just remember when a dream appears, you belong to me…”

I can’t speak for Jerimiah, but I was raised with an 8-track player, a record player, a cassette player, and an AM/FM radio. And a mother who would sometimes drink beer and cry to Patsy, and Loretta, and Merle. You know, the greats. Her biggest dream was to see them all on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Isn’t that everyone’s dream?!

Breathe, Missy.

So not everyone was raised like me. Some people were raised on classical music. Some on Motown. Some on Elvis or classic rock. And I like and appreciate all of those genres, more so as an adult than ever before. But sometimes, when I am feeling sad, hopeless, or drinking a beer all alone I pull out one of my old records, and I spin for a while, and think about my childhood and the people who made it so memorable. Loretta, and Tammy, and Patsy, and Conway, and Merle, and Charley. Here’s to the greats!

M.