Things Moms Carry

Things Moms Carry

“Nooooo!!! I yant CHEETOS!!” They aren’t Cheetos, but there are no battles of logic with a 20-month-old. They are the grossest bag of generic weirdo-brand bacon cheddar hot fries that I’ve ever seen. 

“Let’s get…these chips…” I try quiet horse-whisper-bribery, which angers her further. 

“Nooooooo!” She squeezes the bag so hard with passionate angry-love, I do think the cellophane seal might pop. 

“Okay okay…release!” I finangle the bag from her grip. Her moist hands streak across the bag producing the syncopated stuttering of poorly strung bow. 

So we carry Tito’s acid-burp bacon chem-fries around the store. I say “we,” but I mean *I* carry them and I carry…Clara because she insisted on walking instead of riding in a cart but then got tired…and Clara’s giant baby doll because she couldn’t possibly leave her in the van…

Oh annnd…the other 7 items I collect while Keith waits with our cart on 8 deli employees to take 20-min to slice him 1-lb of roast beef…alternately speaking to each other about their break times, avoiding direct eye contact with customers, occasionally asking him if someone helped him, and forgetting what thickness he wanted. Holding up pieces of meat…this? Like this? How’s this slice? …and this one?

My bra is too tight, it is about 7:45pm, I am thinking–why did we wait so long before having supper? I am thinking–the minivan ride home is going to be horrendous with the defiant mood Clara is in. I am thinking–how am I going to sneak these laxative Cheetos out of her sight? I am thinking–what if we have to buy them and she eats them…and then digests them and then…!? I was thinking–Calgon!

I am thinking–

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” (On the Waterfront) <back of hand to forehead in dramatic pose> 

Then as I feel my bicep slowly sinking into the abyss of defeat, I feel Clara’s arms wrap around my head…she kisses my cheek a couple of times without me asking, “Love you…Mommy.”

Strength returns to my arm, to my heart. A life of purpose. 

Worth it. It’s all worth it.

…I didn’t buy them, and deep down I know she appreciates it. 

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Grip

Grip

I hold a tight grip around what I think should happen. The kind of grip that has to be ripped off, where you have to hammer each finger repeatedly and pry and attempt to uncurl them. 

I don’t want this. 

I don’t want my oldest three daughters living their summer days a block away from my house with their stepmom while their dad works. 

Should I seat myself gingerly on a settee, spread my skirt folds around me properly and smile silently? Sit up straight with grace and poise and fan myself every so gently as I wave to my daughters  through my window?

But…I’m their mom. Should I pull out photos of myself with a weird mushroom haircut and toasted almond lipstick, pregnant at 21? A tent t-shirt, a layer of net maternity panties, a layer of cotton panel maternity jeans…with stylish boot cut openings barely skimming the top of my shoes because I never did find long length…is that what we all need to see to remember I’m the mom?

Should I highlight the “right of first refusal” clause and text it to Norman? I might have done that. And he says–that doesn’t apply anymore; they’re old enough that they don’t need a babysitter. 

Should I cry about it to my own mom? I might have. Should I create an analogy where Norman is at his house, I’m working 40 hours, and the girls are sitting at my house with their stepdad? I might have done that too. 

Should I think about our summer days of years past…dying their hair with punky colors, watching them play softball, giving each other manicures, taking them to swim, signing them up for the summer reading program, taking them to my gym where I ran the kids’ summer fitness program, teaching them how to crochet, helping them set up an eBay business to sell their outgrown clothes, tie-dying tank tops and tshirts, watching them learn to swim like champions with Tideriders, driving them to church camp…

Should I throw my phone at the bed and leave the room? Should I call my lawyer? Should I argue and debate and push my side of things down his throat? Should I say that she doesn’t have a right to play house with my daughters?

Maybe I did do all that.

Should I pray?

Should I feel my grip relax in a calm, peaceful way that no hammer could produce? Should I see his side? Should I let go?

I’m not saying I’m some shy, agreeable fairy by nature. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not full of gracious wisdom on my own. 

People don’t tell you this part of a divorce. And you don’t know it until you live it. And if you haven’t lived it, God love you, but you cannot relate. You literally cannot empathize. You can imagine as a friend or you can scoff as a non-friend, but that’s it. 

Sitting on the back deck with your two youngest daughters, close enough to hear your oldest three squealing and laughing in a yard just over the hump in the road. 

Maybe I should’ve just been a perfect person then? And not gotten two divorces…

Oh yeah, let me just get right on that. 

I wanted to be right. You know? I wanted things to go my way. I wanted to keep my grip locked tight, tight, tight. But I thought, and I prayed. And I texted back that we can do what he wants. I’m not saying I didn’t fight first, but…

It’s not always about being right. 

It’s about doing right.









Velcro, Snaps, Ash

Velcro, Snaps, Ash

We were friends.

Was that true?

I think we were friends. 

I remember.

Weren’t we friends?

I was your friend.

Weren’t you m…

I remember spotting you doing pull-ups… 

“Gross. I need gloves. Do you ever shave?” I rub the gross off my hands. 

“Stubble grips my pants in place like Velcro.” Kareequa falls off the bar, shrugs unapologetically. 

“Oh is that it? I thought you were trying to get out of doing your pull-ups by grossing me out…thinking there’s no way she can touch these legs for a full 10. Sucky for you–I can’t be grossed out!” Was there ever a time we weren’t laughing?

“I want to get down to your size.” Kareequa faces the gym mirror and pulls her shirt up, pinching and jabbing at her smooth tan stomach. 

“You look good. I like your shape. Shit, you’re smaller than me now! You don’t want all THIS.” She had probably lost 60-70lbs, lots of hard work training with me and on her own. I pull up my own shirt and start tugging on my love handles. 

“Yeah but look at you from the side. Your stomach is so flat. Mine is huge, and I got this fupa.” She sticks her gut out exaggeratedly and rubs it like a pregnant belly. 

“Fupa? What the hell’s a fupa? I had a tummy tuck after Audrey. That makes it flat in front. So then when I gain, it all goes to the love handles. Cruel.” I flop my love handles out and teeter around like a little teapot. 

“Fat Upper Pubic Area…don’t Google images.” Some guy we don’t know pokes his head in the room we are standing in at the gym; he pivots out quickly. 

And we’re standing there with our flabs hanging out like…what? Come on in. 

______________________

“Make me pretty.” I flop into Kareequa’s salon chair. Always a mess, I’ve never sat in her chair looking even halfway decent. 

“Let me guess…you didn’t wash or brush your hair.” She popped the cape and draped it over me. 

“Can you not choke the living hell out of me with this thing? I look like a Barbie with her head smashed down onto her neck. I’m going to need more breathing room and some of my neck needs to be visible!” I thrash around under my cape. 

“You smashed your Barbie heads down?” I see a look of annoyed admiration in her eyes as Kareequa readjusts the choke snaps.

“Only when that little head-knob thing had broken off. Okay…and maybe I’d smash them down if I felt like Barbie was being a bitch that day. Oh? Who’s pretty now, Ms. No-Neck?!” She laughed, and as she freed my hair from its twisted and bound bun, her smile pursed into irritated determination. Natural curl…tangled like mad. 

We traded out services–I trained her; she did my hair. Neither of us tried to be the easiest client to deal with. But we had fun. And if she ever says I wasn’t one of her favorites, she’s lying. 

“Where’d I put my thinning shears? I need to make this brush out easier…” She didn’t really mind. She is very chill. In fact, I don’t think she ever got mad at me, only ever fake mad. 

I got mad once and stomped out. It was a misunderstanding about our appointment time. And I was having a bad day. I apologized, she shrugged it off, forgave me, and I made a few awkward, apologetic jokes about my temper…then it was forgotten. 

“Ewww!! Have the decency to turn me away from the mirror until I’m pretty again! I look terrible in this lighting without makeup on, and you’re about to frizz my hair into the blond Diana Ross. I want my sunglasses.”

“Dork. Okay. What’re we doing today?”

Who knows what I did that day? Bangs, lowlights, shoulder length, bleached out, ombré, balayage…over the 6-7 years we were friends, she did whatever I wanted and I always loved it. 

I love my hair. I’d rather find a new surgeon than a new hairdresser. And I loved you, loved you. You know I did.


______________________

So how does that work? I come to your house crying. I ask you questions because the details look bad to me. I want to know–is it you? 

And then you fire me as a client. That didn’t make it obvious. 

Ohhhh because I’m crazy. Oh okay. That makes sense then. 

I was crazy. I’ve always been crazy fun. I got crazy sad. And then 6 weeks later when he tells me it IS you, who was crazy that night? Not me. 

I bet you wish I hated you. Sometimes I wish I could. Well, I don’t hate you. I got really hurt. That’s what happened. THAT is what happened. 

If you want to look for reasons to hate me, you can find some. It won’t be hard. I’m no angel. But I didn’t give you any reasons. I really didn’t. 

I know enough about cheating to know…it wasn’t about me at all. Not about anything I did wrong. Not about how I would feel. 

It’s a cancer that takes over, and it’s not even fun. It wasn’t special, and you didn’t win any prize. 

Pour gas over it all, flick a match over your shoulder. Don’t look back. 

It’s okay. And I’m okay. 

Turns out…ash is some of the best fertilizer.


Ears, Nose, Toes…

Ears, Nose, Toes…

Why do fingernails grow before children can clip them for themselves?

And noses run. 

Ears need cleaning. 

Hair is not Kleenex, not a napkin. Someone tell her, explain it.

Buy the food. Eat the food. Crap the food. Clean the toilets. Remove trash. Sweep the crumbs. Wipe this. Dust that. Wear clothes. Wash clothes. Fold clothes. 

Clean the tub so that we can clean the humans. So that…

My existence can have a purpose. 

Sprint to stand still. 

Find a chair. Think too much. Cry. Get quiet. Teach me, God. How does a family work?

And why?

And when I get quiet. I do understand. 

  

Sevens

Sevens

Every seven years, “we become essentially new people, because in that time, every cell in your body has been replaced by a new cell.”

That spacing makes perfect sense to me when I think about my own life; every seven years (almost exactly), I feel like a completely different person. So much so that when I tell a story from a particular time frame…each Emily feels uniquely separate from the other Emilys. And except for the Emily I am today, they all feel like…not really ME. And each story from my past becomes a story about someone who is no longer any part of me. 

Does that make any sense to anyone else out there?

0-7 years–I don’t have many memories from this age range. I lived in Wisconsin til I was almost 5, and for some reason, most of my vivid memories from those years are MTV music videos that I watched with my dad’s three youngest siblings. “You Might Think” by The Cars was my favorite song and video. “Jump” by Def Leppard, “How Will I Know?” by Whitney Houston…

7-14 years–Aw, my coming of age tween years. Bad haircuts and being a tomboy. Skipping baths as often as I could get away with it. I had one older brother–Josh, one older sister–Heather, and I was the baby for 9 years and 17 days…until my younger sister–Candace was born. I was an animal on home videos…nothing embarrassed me–not what I wore, how my hair looked, how I behaved…NADA. Then a switch flips at 11.5 years when I started my period, the change in me is almost overnight if you watch the home videos. I am quieter on videos, all showered and brushed, painfully self-conscious of the camera…nowhere nearly as funny or entertaining. 

14-21 years–Geez, I don’t even want to say these words; I don’t want them to be true…I lost my virginity on my 14th birthday. Can that be right? The date is correct, but no…it’s not right. Wait, teens. Please wait.  That event threw me into my next segment for sure.  I was desperately in love (obsessed) with Name from age 12-16 years old…until I met Norman. Norman and I dated 2.5 years, and got married when I was 18 (almost 19). Yes, we were young. I wouldn’t change that if I could. Lots of good years and memories, lots of growing up together and figuring out life…figuring out who we wanted to be, in so many good ways. And years later, figuring out who I never want to be again. 

21-28 years–My first round of mothering years…I was pregnant with my first daughter, Margaret, on my 21st birthday. I had Hazel (2nd daughter) when I was 23; Audrey (3rd daughter) when I was 24. I took everything about being a young mother very seriously. That was my identity. I started driving a minivan at age 23 (still drive one). I had the girls’ photos taken and printed regularly. I sent over 100 Christmas cards with family newsletters every year. I wanted to do everything right. I shelved any hopes or dreams I might’ve once held for my own existence. Well…I did get my bachelor’s degree at 22, and between ages 23-26, I did write and produce 3 plays at the little theatre downtown. Those were a few satisfying self-goals, but they were definitely in the background to dance recitals and diapering days. 

28-35 years–The years of my hardest life lessons…Norman and I were actually separated for 7 months when I was 27 (so I guess this life segment wasn’t EXACTLY at the seven year mark like some of the other segments). After the 7-month separation, Norman and I reconciled for 4 more years…then I cheated with Demetrius and left when I was 31…after 15 years together. I married Demetrius, had Clara (my 4th daughter) with him when I was 33, and tried to force us both onto a path of righteousness again. I was the fool; I thought things were good…thought we were mostly happy. Guess it was just me. We were together only 2.5 years. When I was 34, Demetrius cheated on me with Kareequa (someone I would have said was a pretty good friend) and left us. 

35-42 years–I was single for 5 months after Demetrius left, for the first time in my life really.  I met (well…started texting with) Keith on February 16, 2015. Things between us progressed beautifully and quickly. We were married on my 35th birthday last year, July 27, 2015. And we had Rebekah (my 5th daughter) on February 15, 2016 (one day shy of a year since our first conversation). Not everyone’s fairy tale goes like this…but ours does.

God, help me stay humble. Help me keep getting it right. Who will I be next? Who knows…

  

Shakedown

Shakedown

You feel like everyone knows. You hate the bastards that knew all along. No one is my friend? No one could tell me? No one could kindly walk me to the exit door and discreetly whisper? No one? Thanks.

You are a deer crossing a road you’ve crossed many times before. And slam. A truck crashes into you. You never saw it coming.

I’m all right. I’m all right. Didn’t hurt that bad. Your back half is mangled. You try to convince everyone that you’ve always wanted to try walking with just your front two legs. Your friend abused his position in your life, betrayed your trust, didn’t even know they were bulldozing together and now there’s a shack being built from the scraps.

But he didn’t make you promises. She did. It hurts no matter which window you look in. 

I guess everyone would prefer that you run off into the woods, to heal or die out of sight. For the love of God, don’t drag your broken ass around in plain sight; people have to look away. They can’t bear it. Eye contact is a precise arrow. 

Well too damn bad. Sometimes we have nowhere to go hide, and we have to bitterly think–I’m sorry if the very sight of my existence causes awkwardness. I am alive. I’m still breathing. I don’t have the luxury of taking a month vacation. So here I am. Look away if you can’t look at me.

Ecce homo. Behold the man. Dancing the clumsy ballet of a damaged deer. And you don’t have to run into the woods. You don’t have to. 

I know how it feels to find the door locked. I know how it feels to peer into the window from the outside, fogging up the glass of a house where you used to feel safe and welcome.

I know you don’t want sympathy.

I know. 
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So here are some songs…

“I Gave You All” Mumford & Sons

“I’ve Got Friends” Manchester Orchestra

“I taught myself how to grow old” Ryan Adams

“Crystal Ball” and “Bad Dream” Keane

“I know” Jude

“Where I stood” Missy Higgins

“So you don’t have to love me anymore” Alan Jackson