Tomorrow is my birthday. As a present to myself I have allowed a certain “slack” for the last couple of weeks. I’m still adjusting to the routine change that happened over the fall break with Thanksgiving. I don’t mean this to sound like a Dear John, but Dear John:
My thoughts are scattered and translucent. I haven’t been very good with making things work lately. The month of November all but killed me. I am still recovering and picking up pieces finding new footing. The dark has settled in and I try to remember that the shortest day of the year is a mere 9 days away and then we start to turn again and face the sun.
I went on and one to my newly arrived to the Northwest friends about what it takes to make it through the winters here. But I didn’t happen to notice the boards of my soapbox were cracking beneath me, as I stood there so smug. I feel like as an adult now, nothing can phase me, but yet I find myself blindsided by predicament still often enough.
I’m still scrambling to the top of my heap of a life and trying to get a handle on things. Get my vices organized.
Ah change. I like to be in control of it and I honestly do not feel like I’m in that seat right now. My brain waves have changed, is there some astrological event? I need an explanation; if I can’t control it, dammit, I will understand it.
There is just one more week of school before winter break and our routine will still be in flux. I am really hoping that January and the New Year bring about some fixes. My mood is fine, its just everything around me is shifting. I feel like such a bystander.
I spent about an hour and a half on the phone with my sister this morning. Thank the fates for my older sister cause it worked out in my favor; being the younger in the relationship gives me the benefit of her experiences. She called me specifically so I could bitch and moan at her. And with that opportunity, I forfeited 2/3 of my morning while the wee ones galloped off to glue multi-hued paper together, sign along to the Itsy Bitsy Spider and bash graying rainbow dough into someone else’s tabletop. But I feel better for it.
In fact, I have been whining for the last two weeks to the detriment of several of my closest friendships, I am sure. I am slowly recovering from my funk and working out the details. Shaping my ship so out with it I can be.
One needs to protest one’s life to one’s friends. It's the hallmark of every female relationship I have / have had. As I have poured my heart over the phone and to any hapless soul willing to make eye contact above my scowl the past week, I have worked out the trouble I feel in and figure my way out. So now I’m done feeling sorry for myself and am back to just getting through the day. Usually when I start feeling that weary depression seeping at the edges of my life, I think of the mothers in the Sudan. What those women go through every day to get to the end and how in comparison, I have very little to complain about. But I let down my guard a couple of weeks ago and let all that pity affect my attitude. I think I started to feel indignant when I mentioned what had me down to some folks and didn’t hear the response I wanted. I like my girlfriends to bob their heads along with my tirade and “amen, Sister” to my litany of complaints. But there were a few… someone who took the other side or offered the perspective I already know… who did not care to indulge me.
The catalyst for strife in relationship arguments usually transpires when one party gripes and the other commits the offense of actually trying to solve the problem. Men often make this mistake with the women in their lives. We do not want answers, we do not want your suggestions; we want the satisfaction of being in the most pitiful one-upmanship position. Dammit, when I have something to bitch about, I want you to listen and agree with me entirely. (Unless I am paying you $80 an hour, in which case suggestions are helpful and certainly welcomed.)
It does not appease me to hear how hard it must be for my poor husband to be gone 18 of the 30 days this month. I want you to stroke my poor soul and mummer soothing coos at me. I don’t want to hear how much of a sacrifice it is for HIM, you are to “tsk” and shake you head in my defense. I don’t care that I am lucky that he even has a job… oh wait. Yes I am. After reading about how Citibank laid off 10 percent of their employees over this morning’s coffee, I am glad my husband has a job. In fact, it was his job as he stayed out of town over the weekend, to fire many people in his employ - just before the holidays. So now that I have sung my blues, I can dry my eyes and look for that sharp silver edge in the clouds. I can think again about the mothers in Darfur and be thankful that my life is as easy as it is.
I am trying hard to process the last two weeks of my life. Now as we travel back to Portland, my mind wanders to the responsibilities and obligations of home while I categorize the events along this journey.
We’re stopped in Albuquerque for a two-day stand still while I regroup and gear up for home. I was just looking at the map and realized we have gone through 16 states with one more to go before we start backtracking. (Those are physical states of our great union, not emotional states - I can’t even count those yet.) In chronological order we have driven through:
(Back to Tennessee)
We’ll head through Arizona on Friday before repeating the first three.
I have seen many old friends and family along the way, which puts time and space into a perspective I only try to understand. It’s been discombobulating to say the least. When I left Portland two and a half weeks ago, fall had begun to lay its colorful exchange of seasons as the northern hemisphere pivoted away from the sun; but as we traveled across the continental divide, we fought the revolution of the earth and chased the summer warmth still generously spread in the south. Autumn in Memphis feels like summer in Portland and we stretched the lifecycle of this summer’s faded wardrobe eager to be put away back home.
Moving through time zones was also confusing, as I had to keep resetting my clock on the car. At one point each of my electronic devices displayed a different zone: Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern time. Thankfully, the magic forces at work inside my iPhone automatically matched me from the correct location to time zone.
My tenuous grip on reality was challenged in many ways on this journey. I am thankful my children are with me to anchor me to my identity in Portland. Otherwise I could have floated into the ether of many other places, of times. Memphis felt the most like home and 16 years collapsed in the span of 20 short minutes. If it had not been for my 3 year-old reminders, I could have easily forgotten my present life and resume the past with aplomb. Many things felt different and many things had changed, but I eased into a worn groove without the slightest protest. I was surrounded by familiar sights and moments trapped in amber. Even my body remembered the city streets as I turned without knowing where I was going. This was not the dead reckoning I use to navigate with my keen sense of direction; this was a physical memory only a little rusty without use. I knew my way around as if a switch was flipped and it was only when confronted by a street name doubled in Portland when I would come to and become disoriented.
When I first arrived in Memphis, I was astounded by how thick an accent everyone had. Long round vowels rolling off tongues made familiar faces seem foreign as I searched behind the worry lines for recognition. As the days slowed to an off road pace, the lingering syllables seemed to stop their stretching and everyone began to speak clearly.
How strange, I thought, that their accents have faded.
It was not until I was talking to G on the phone and heard my twangy refrain echoing from a cell tower that I realized I had resumed a language lost. In Portland my accent only drawls out of the bottom of my second beer. Even now, two days out of the south, I can hear it against the LA/ television affected speak as we inch closer to the west coast.
Mama Tried comforted me in my southern crisis: It is good to visit people who knew you when you were young. It was good; it is nice to remember being young. They remind you that who you were is who you are. I once was someone else. I had a different name. Not just my last name, but my first as well. A nickname that family figured I dropped as I got older and assumed a more mature identity. Really, it was just easier to answer to my given name during roll call my freshman year at college. It seemed silly to explain a nickname bestowed by a southerly transplanted grandmother from the country. I used to not be her anymore, but I am still she. The identities integrated; I am both and all.
From time to time I will leave a comment on someone’s blog that turns into an essay. And I think this compulsion to wax garrulously is what inspired me to have my own blog in the first place. So anyway, I read a friend’s post that was essentially her way of commenting on ANOTHER post and so on ad nauseam like a free flowing meme. What follows is my response about names and whether to take your husband’s last one.
My sister named me. Already having two younger bothers, she asked my mother for a baby sister and here I am christened with her request. I have to say I was never fond of my middle name (with apologies to my mother, its only redeeming quality is that it contains no proper vowels). And as I struggled with my relationship with my father and found feminism in college, I created a new last name for myself. I went so far as to inquire at the social security office how to make it legal, but never did. And when I asked my school about the consequences for obtaining transcripts with a name change, I was congratulated for getting married. When I corrected the assumption I was treated to the slack jawed and eye squinting judgment that sent me scuttling from the south to the open arms of the west coast where crazy people named “Rain” and “Summer” did that sort of thing every day. (Don’t get me started on the garden variety “Bubbas” and “Peggy-Sues” grown on the other side of the continental divide and to the right.)
But even here, in the lenient Pacific Northwest, I never persued the paper work part even though I adopted the alias in my professional life. And interestingly enough, the law requires you post the new name for a specified time on a special board where it is fun to read all the changes (mostly adopted children and trans-gendered people trying on a more fitting title). When I married, I hemmed and hawed about the decision to assume my husband’s last name. Oregon law is very generous with its tolerance for last name distribution so I had an opportunity to do what I wanted in terms of my identity. Which is what the agonizing is all about. I had already been reborn into a new identity and how would sharing my husbands name sit with this old school feminist? My fiancé did not protest or really have an opinion – he left me to my own choice. His ambivalence on the matter is probably what made it easier for me to take his name. Which is what I did, bumping the formerly changed last name to the middle .
Part of the decision is because we have children – the sole reason we tied on the ankle chains – and like to travel abroad. Upon your departure from this country and entering a new one, if your passport does not bear the same family name as your child’s, you must present paperwork that proves your relationship to the child. And if you are traveling without your parental partner, you must have their written consent to leave the country with your child. It becomes one more serrated piece of tape that becomes more comfortable to shed with the other airport hassles. Knowing we would be a family with a suitcase always packed, we decided to all bear the same luggage monogram.
And I purposefully gave my children middle names that could suffice as a last name if they so chose. In fact, my younger two have first names (in honor of my grandparents) that even sound a little clunky with their father’s last name tacked on and only flow melodically with their middle names inserted. I have over-thought this issue to the point of considering to not bestow middle names for my children in the event they would like to choose one themselves or add their potential future spouse's last name onto the already burdensome train of monikers with which I parceled them. However, when their name is called by the gym teacher imparting 11th grade American History, he will read their last name first so it will sound better. Or it will ring more harmoniously if we ever move to Southeast Asia where the family name always comes first.
(I warned you that I had a lot to say on the subject; I’m avoiding the gym.)
When I utter my full name or I hear it spoken, the ending always sounds awkward to me as if I am incognito or using a pseudonym. But I also like the anonymity it provides. My last name can be found among hundreds in an archaic phone book or on just about any NFL jersey. My husband even has a doubly named cousin because it can also be used as a first name (although what CAN’T these days), making a great onomatopoetic serial killer character on Law and Order - dun dun.
Because I have done so much research and analyzing on the topic, I have discovered some interesting anthropology. Iceland, for example, has a unique naming system based on the gender of your child. A surname is selected by affixing either “son” (son) or “dottir” (daughter) to the end of your given name, offering both a matronymic and patronymic system (although I am unclear whether of not this includes the mother’s given name, or just the father’s). Björk Gudmundsdóttir' is an example. This system is actually less confusing to me than the previously employed distribution of names by other Scandinavian countries that depended not only on your gender, but also your birth order and whether you would have your father’s, mother’s, grandfather’s or grandmother’s last name. And as I mentioned earlier, in Southeast Asia your last name comes first and in Indonesia most folks just go by one name (also if you are a celebrity of international renown) so it’s all a matter of cultural perspective.
Call me an anthroponymist and pass the salt. I have friends that have made all sorts of creative decisions when in came to the last name of their children. One friend kept her “maiden” or birth name and also gave it to her children, daughters. Another friend gave his children last names that were a combination of his and his partner’s last names (Smith + Jones = Smones). And yet another friend AND her husband hyphenated their last names and gave that to their children as well (which begs the often made point of continuingly hyphenated amalgams like Smith-Jones-Johnson-Nguyen). My point is our names are our identity and when it all comes out in the wash, who do you think you are? I have my political convictions, but I compromised to make nice with the international community and create some cohesion in my own little nuclear dynamic. My last name is merely a point of reference in relation to other people who may or may not live in my household and be found sitting next to me on an airplane. It’s all the same to me as long as you wear a nametag until I get it straight.
Not blogging reminds me of gaining weight. It is a slow and gradual process and I try not to look at the scale that reminds me the numbers are increasing (or decreasing as the case may be). Out of sight; out of mind. Denial. My head feels like its gripped in a vice, pinched in a concussive shroud. Exhaustion is a formidable deterrent.
Paralyzed in the night by anxiety, I wrote myself a permission slip to take a break from blogging. And just when I thought this cloud of “bloggers block” would not lift, I had a breakthrough: I need hot water in order to think clearly.
I was at the gym, sitting in the Jacuzzi when the ache subsided slightly and a sliver of clarity emerged bobbing to the surface. I actually do have a medical condition that may be contributing to my blog-absence, but I really believe I have reached some sort of maximum thinking capacity. My brain is over saturated. For which there are many contributing factors that will sounds like rationalized excuses here. But, I am truly overwhelmed.
Sometime before daybreak this morning while I was wedged in fetal position at the end of my bed, pinned by flailing limbs and the heavy absence of my business class husband hurdling through the air on a Boeing 727, I resolved to try and get something posted today. Anything. And then I wondered if I should apologize. But would these words emit a tinny echo reverberating only against my keyboard? Because to whom do I owe an apology? (Bear with my rhetorical rant – There… there you are! It does feel like I am talking to someone after all.)
But for a few moments I wondered. Does anyone care if an unfit mother moans against a chorus of endless monotony? (You know, a variation on the ole proverbial tree in the forest... .)
My point is I vowed to keep a blog for myself. And along the way I began to care if anyone read it and the pressure to perform contributed to this anxiety that whacks me in the head and causes this pressure and pain. But I don't write just for an audience.
It was in the early 90’s while reading Milan Kundera’s, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, that I was ironically inspired by the concept of graphomania and began to keep a journal. Almost daily for over ten years. I have these tomes stored in boxes in a bench on the landing to the second floor and can feel the breath of all those years sigh as I pass. They pulse like my head and whisper back the repeated threats to read through and edit them for someone else to read. I often think if I never get to them before I die, I want my daughters to have them. (But in the event of an untimely demise, not until they are 18. The escapades of my youth are not even “PG” fare.)
So I am apologizing to myself.
Self, I am sorry. I am sorry I have been ignoring something to which I committed.
And if it entertains anyone else along the way, then join me. But this time I set aside to write is for me. A gift.
And I never want to think of this sanctuary as a burden so if I am sloppy and tired and let the days slip by again, know that this promise to myself is stronger than me at times.
And you would not believe what I have accomplished by NOT blogging.
I have fallen into one on the blogosphere. And I am: uninspired, gardening, doing Japanese homework, getting ready for new exchange intern, overwhelmed with Tavi's therapy, involved with school volunteering, bemoaning pet peeves at the gym, socializing with friends, sewing, spring cleaning... . Shall I go on?
Margaret Cho tomorrow night. And oh yeah, I broke my toe.
In the corner of this page, in the section to your right, you will notice I have not debased my integrity in this blog for any commercial gains. Mostly because I have not been asked. Nor have I pursued it. Until now. I still think of myself as a newbie to blogging in my ninth month – far enough along to produce a whole human child. So is it a baby yet? And is this baby ready to monetize writing efforts in participation with a nominal token of economic exchange?
BlogQuake solicited me for ad space on my site. After reviewing their contract, and exchanging email negotiations with Luke, I declined. If they could not allow me veto power over a specific endorsement, then I would not submit. I would not be ok with posting an ad for McDonalds while preaching about diversity in the wholesome toddler diet and recommending Michael Pollan’s book: The Omnivore's Dilemma, for example. But the subject opened a new door to an internal dialogue. The conversation in my head went something like this:
Pro: I'm trying to take myself seriously as a writer, so being paid, however nominally, would legitimize that aspiration.
Con: But am I compromising some purity if I offer ad space on Unfit Mother?
Pro: Why shouldn't I be compensated? Compensation legitimizes this endeavor.
Con: If I am rationalizing a pro-ad decision, part of me would feel like a "sell-out". And would my readership falter?
I decided to review the blogs that I read most often and see which have ads and which don’t. The result was approximately 50/50. And I wrote to some of my co-bloggers about their decision to either have or not have ad space.
Karrie: I used to be strongly opposed to the commercialization of private blogs, but now I am a bit less so. For me, running the same Blogher ads that 90% of women bloggers seem to run does not seem profitable, but I could be wrong. Before when I was against those ads, I did not understand that the blogger retains some level of discretion--I was concerned about a big WalMart banner or a pro Dick Cheney button scrolling across my blog.
My feeling now is that if a travel or outdoor company wanted to run an ad or give me swag in exchange for a review, I would do it. :But...very few people read the new blog,*so I doubt EMS or Icelandair will contact me seeking ad space anytime soon.
Kelly: I don't really get why we (as a society) don't want our artists and writers to get paid. Like how people get so pissed off at their favorite indie band for letting their music be on a commercial. As Dean Wareham from Galaxie 500 once said, ‘that commercial kept me from having to get a desk job that year’.
My readership doubled after getting the ads, because of the "More from Blogher" links at the bottom of the ads. And it's a woman-owned and -operated company. And it gives me a better understanding of a part of blog culture that is somewhat different from the mother-bloggers.
So I’m out blog-walking the internet, trolling for ad johns. Since I am not happy with the contract sent by BlogQuake, I contacted BlogHer:
Hi, I have been approached by BlogQuake / IZEA about posting ads on my blog, Unfit Mother (http://unfitmother.typepad.com/unfit_mother/). After reviewing their contract and not being given answers with which I am comfortable, I asked other blogger friends about their choices in ads displayed on their blogs. BlogHer was the first, and most often the only choice. I realize that you are not currently accepting new applications, but as per your web message, I would like an email message to let me know when you are.
Thanks for your email! I'll be back in touch as soon as we are accepting new sites. Also -- we'll definitely accept your site; it's really great!
So that’s where I’ve left things. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it.
My first job was at a gym. I was sixteen, fresh off the employable vine, living in Memphis, Tennessee. Have you ever walked into a restaurant or a retail store and there is a paper wrapped box sitting on the counter promising a prize? Maybe you are bored waiting so you submit your name into a drawing for a chance to win a free membership to a gym. These slips were collected and dumped onto a table in a windowless room where 10 fresh-faced adolescent belles gathered them by the handful and began dialing the hopeful numbers scrawled across the notes. We congratulated each and every entrant on her 2 free week package to Mademoiselle Spa Lady, the second prize. Next we made an appointment for the lucky winner to come tour the facilities where upon her arrival each was told her free two weeks would be added to the end of a paid membership. Obviously, it was a scam. I became one of the highest commissioning procurers even after my conscious caught up with me and I quit but the scores still trickled in. There was one thing that lingered in my subconscious from that place. It was the smell of the chlorinated Jacuzzi wafting thought the ventilation shaft mingling with the distinct odor of human sweat and accompanied by the reverberating bass notes rattling the drywall. I was hooked on the gym scene.
Even as a sluggish, surly, black-clad teen, I would pedal miles on my bike in my combat boots. I managed to win the president’s physical fitness award in high school even though the sporty image was one I was surely trying to avoid. But I watched the track team with envy; was angry even title nine did not guarantee a girls’ soccer team at my school. I worked out in secret; was a closet jock. And I have been a card-carrying gym member every year of my adult life. Except for the last year and a half.
When we bought a new house in July of 2006, our family had to reallocate every penny of the budget to make the West Coast real estate market work in our favor. One of the first items on the chopping block: my gym membership. I tried to exercise at home – I went for walks, calculated household chores into calorie burning equivalents and thought about running. But despite my best laid plans I became flabby. With folds of skin pooling on top of each other in soft mounds, I gradually lost muscle tone. I spend my days in a puddle at the computer and at night dreamed of accumulating digitized hours on a treadmill in a musty room pumping house music. I did not realize how depressed I was becoming. Delving deeper into a dark tunnel of melancholy while my eyes adjusted to the lack of light.
Soon my clothes seemed tighter and even though I weighed about the same, my body changed and betrayed me. I became self-conscious and began wearing the same oversized sweat pants and baggy shirts until I morphed into a ridiculous parody of the frumpy housewife. A role I did not realize I was playing and yet fit the part perfectly. Somewhere inside this method actor haus frau, Gym Girl slept waiting for the kiss of a bar coded membership card to a full amenity exercise palace.
After I tacked the new 2008 calendar to the wall, I decided to make the change. I felt like one of those enthusiastic new years resolutioners when I walked into the 24-hour fitness office Friday morning. The West Coast heavy oligopoly is building a facility only two blocks from my house in the new Vanport Square development. When I read about it in my neighborhood rag I was excited beyond relief. A full Magic Johnson Super-Sport building is coming! But when? The block has been demolished, but the hard ground is unbroken. I decided I could wait no longer. Our finances have adjusted to the new mortgage and I reclaimed a line item for this necessity. Taking advantage of my nanny time, I made my way to the further location. The young car sales type recruiter had an easy mark; I was not a hard sell. Show me the machines and sign me up! I was practically in tears when I saw the saline Jacuzzi and both a wet and a dry sauna. My heart was pounding for a long lost love.
I returned a few hours later donned in my work out regalia, albeit a little more snug than usual and impacted further by the predictable holiday ten. I took my place among the rows of treadmills and began my routine. Tentatively at first, I began sneaking peeks at my co-workers out. I was not the pudgiest and I began gaining confidence. No one was staring at my accumulated bulk. All fingers were busy selecting target heart rates, calorie counts and volume settings; none were pointed at me fronting gales of giggles. By the time I made the rounds on the machines I was back in my element. The body has a memory and neglected muscle groups were perking up, singing. I was so impressed with the amenities of the gym that I did not think about the throngs of tank-topped muscle-heads. I was intimidated until I realized that there were so many people here, even on Friday night, I was anonymous. They looked like ants milling about a mound with a mission. There were the worker ants, the soldier ants and the soft-bellied queens. No one noticed me or if they did, I did not care. I was back in my house of worship; my religion is in the gym.
I read this and thought this:
My sister always comments that I am an “older mom”. I find this amusing because I am about the median age among my peers with children of a similar age. And I can’t help but note a tone of resentment in her voice when she says it.
I was 32 when I had my first child. My sister married at 21 and had her first child a month after her 23rd birthday. Likewise, my mother was 23 when she had my sister, who was also her first child. Comparatively, my mother had me, her last child, at age 31. I have noticed that among my mom friends, many entered motherhood at roughly the same age their mamas were when they half consciously squeezed them out into the waiting arms of a scrub clad, masked spanker. I have no scientific data to support this equated age claim; it is anecdotal at best, but a curious observation nonetheless.
I neither would have nor could have had a child in my twenties. That decade was a time of lost and found. A raging period of self-indulgent exploration and healing that only after, emerging in my 30’s, was I stable enough financially, emotional and maybe even physically to begin my family. A choice. Or maybe it is just the way things worked out. Circumstances.
I have navigated my life by the course of my sister’s mistakes. I don’t mean this with any disrespect or in judgment of my sister; quite the opposite. The big sister I always look up to and admire offered cautionary life experiences to which I took notice and headed like mythical parables. I simply learned from her hardships struggling as a young mom with three children. That was not a life I wanted to live. Which again is not a judgment on choosing to become a mother in one’s 20’s. But in the 1990’s, as an urban, educated, middle-class, white woman, I was able to make my choice with nary an eyebrow raised.
And while working through issues of post-traumatic proportions in my 20’s, I also lived with the relish of a wanton grrrl exploring all that life has to offer. At the prime age of 20, I suffered through a disastrous break-up with my first “true love” (which I now consider a near miss [near Mrs.]). Otherwise the course of my life could have echoed my oldest sibling’s. In retreat, I partied through college, trekked across Europe, moved cross country and had countless potential life partners (ok, maybe two or three real contenders) before I felt ready to “settle down”. And at 27 I was ready, finally, to inventory my accumulated adventures and make a big change. I met my husband at 28, married at 29 and had Ivy at 32. My husband and I honeymooned by spending a month in Japan riding our bikes across the rural countryside and setting the stage for a life long cultural exchange. In other words: before Saturn returned, I had sown my proverbial wild oats.
My point is this: I would not trade my chosen path for one of different opportunities to have my children. And demographically, I insist I am in the norm and protest the “older mom” label. I have several friends, after all, who began their families in their 40’s. I have plenty of energy to chase my heinous monkeys around the living room or the neighborhood park. And I have the budget necessary to indulge them occasionally and keep them in the candy colored clothing proffered at the Hannah Anderson outlet. I am a better mom by having waited. I can be the mom I want to be.