Thursday, July 17, 2014

Two Dresses

Katie is nearly eight. She goes up to my shoulder. Today I hung two handmade dresses in the back of her closet. I bought them long before Katie was born, back before my body changed. I loved wearing them. But my body has changed too much for me to comfortably wear them now without a corset or without being a contortionist.

I hung these two dresses at the back of Katie's closet so one day she can wear them. As fast as she's growing, that day will come soon.

Motherhood teaches us to accept our bodily mutations that allow us to give birth to a person whose body changes even more dramatically than our own. And so fast. Faster than you can imagine until it happens to you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Pat


Today would have been my brother Pat's 53rd birthday. He died on January 14, 2011, when he was 49 years old, of liver failure.

Pat didn't like to celebrate birthdays or holidays or special occasions. He lived every day like it was a party. Wherever he is now, I hope he's drinking and dancing and making everyone laugh like he did here on earth most of the time.

Pat was far from perfect. All of us are. Pat, like all of us, also had a special gift. Pat's gift was enjoying each moment of life to the fullest, drinking, dancing, jamming, laughing, partying like there's no such thing as tomorrow. Only the here. The now. This moment.

Might as well share it with those we love.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Puppies Make Great Therapists

Katie and Annie, 13 weeks old

We got a new puppy. The rescue worker guesses she's a Shepherd mix. She was a stray, so who knows? We call her a Shepherd Surprise. Her name is Annie. We adopted her for Katie's birthday gift.

She's a gift to the whole family. I napped with her this morning, spooning her warm puppy body. She's only 14 weeks old. I was afraid I might roll over on her. I was afraid she'd pee the bed. I woke up about an hour later, feeling relaxed and rested. And dry. No worries.

Puppies make great therapists. A couple of months ago our 13 year old dog Earl died. I didn't realize how much I felt depressed until we brought Annie into our lives.

Happiness is the absence of numbness and depression. I feel more alive when I'm happy than when I'm depressed.

Puppies remind us that life is full of shit and piss, but also full of fun and wonder. And really comfy naps. I look forward to seeing this puppy girl grow up.

The day we brought Annie home, Katie said, "I think Earl is happy for us."

I said, "I think Earl is happy for us, too."








Thursday, July 10, 2014

Nick Hanauer: A Reasonable Rich Guy

I was born a Midwestern, middle-class white girl. My parents rarely had trouble finding a job, and the times my dad did get laid off he was able to support our family with unemployment insurance until he got hired for the next job. My dad is a tightwad, so I wasn't spoiled with material possessions growing up, but I always had a full belly, clothes on my back, and shoes on my feet if I bothered to put them on before heading outside to play. I grew up in the suburbs with central air conditioning for when it got too hot outside, a two-car garage for my parents' cars, and zero economic worries for our family.

As a teenager I rebelled against my parents, two accountants who value a fat bank account, life insurance, health insurance, and other safety nets of the bourgeoisie. I read somewhere that money is the root of all evil, and I took it to heart. During several arguments with my dad during my rebellious teen years he called me a pinko commie, which I knew he meant as an insult, but it was a label I wore with pride. Even though the reason I hated money had more to do with Jesus than Karl Marx.

Although I was more of a flower-child myself, hippies were passe in the Eighties. It was a lonesome group of one at my high school. So I hung out with the punks. The artsy-fartsy kids, the drama kids, the gay kids, the misfits. I don't even need to take a "Which Breakfast Club Character/High School Stereotype Are You" Buzzfeed quiz to know I'd get Allison Reynolds.

"Fuck Authority!" was my nonviolent-resistance cry, along with "Fuck the Mainstream," "Fuck the Rich," and "Fuck Capitalism". The only good thing I saw coming out of Reaganomics was the punchline of a joke.

I've simmered down a bit now that I'm a middle-age, married mother, raising our child in a decent-sized ranch house in the suburbs. I see the benefits of a comfortable, safe life. We're not extravagant spenders, though. We're both concerned with over-consumption's effect on the planet. We reduce, we reuse, we recycle. We only have a one-car garage, but we do have central air in our house and few economic worries.

Even during the Great Recession, my husband Will and I have remained employed at well-paying jobs, enabling us to make our mortgage payments on time and keep our house, unlike many of our fellow Americans. We're far from rich, but compared to most of our neighbors we're well off. Our kid doesn't qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program, even though 70% of the kids at her public school do. We have too much income from our jobs and my husband's stocks, which he gets from his employer as part of his benefits package, to qualify for food stamps or housing assistance. We don't have to rely on charities or food pantries or WIC programs to feed ourselves each month.

I'm not trying to brag. I'm trying to show my gratitude for my position in life. I'm no smarter or better educated or less lazy than anyone. I just lucked out and found a job that I love that pays a living wage. Then I married a man who lucked out and found a job that he loves that pays a living wage. We might drive old clunkers and buy our clothes at the thrift store, but that has more to do with our interest in the whole reduce, reuse, recycle philosophy of living. People think because I believe all people deserve to eat, sleep, and live in relative comfort that I'm a pinko commie, but my way of living is quite conservative as in conservation.

When people ask about my political ideology, I jokingly call myself a pinko commie, or, at the very least, a bleeding-heart liberal underdog lover. I'm a registered democrat, but most of the people I end up voting for are far too-right wing for my taste, even though they're the most progressive of the limited choices. My favorite politicians are Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, too of the most socialist-leaning senators around.

But honestly, I'm not anti-capitalism. I'm just anti-capitalism-gone-wild. I believe in laws and regulations that help the middle class. That's why I love this argument for increasing the minimum wage. The crazy thing? It's written by a bazillionaire, Nick Hanauer. Damn, the teenage rebel in me is shaking her head. What's happened to me, that I've begun to agree with The Man?

Well, reason. And pragmatism. And an appreciation for a well-written argument.

Like all things, moderation is the key. If I can learn to listen to a rich capitalist, I think maybe some of my libertarian friends could learn to listen to someone espousing the benefits of government lighting fires under business owner's butts to pay their workers a living wage. How? Here are some examples:

"Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t shrink government with wishful thinking. The only way to slash government for real is to go back to basic economic principles: You have to reduce the demand for government. If people are getting $15 an hour or more, they don’t need food stamps. They don’t need rent assistance. They don’t need you and me to pay for their medical care. If the consumer middle class is back, buying and shopping, then it stands to reason you won’t need as large a welfare state. And at the same time, revenues from payroll and sales taxes would rise, reducing the deficit. This is, in other words, an economic approach that can unite left and right."

"Most major social movements have seen their earliest victories at the state and municipal levels. The fight over the eight-hour workday, which ended in Washington, D.C., in 1938, began in places like Illinois and Massachusetts in the late 1800s. The movement for social security began in California in the 1930s. Even the Affordable Health Care Act—Obamacare—would have been hard to imagine without Mitt Romney’s model in Massachusetts to lead the way."

"Sadly, no Republicans and few Democrats get this. President Obama doesn’t seem to either, though his heart is in the right place. In his State of the Union speech this year, he mentioned the need for a higher minimum wage but failed to make the case that less inequality and a renewed middle class would promote faster economic growth. Instead, the arguments we hear from most Democrats are the same old social-justice claims. The only reason to help workers is because we feel sorry for them. These fairness arguments feed right into every stereotype of Obama and the Democrats as bleeding hearts. Republicans say growth. Democrats say fairness—and lose every time."

"Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable. And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us."

"The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. The folks like us at the top have always told those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically, we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics."

Wow, just wow. Read Nick Hanauer's full article here. Then get back to work, you lazy hippie. I hope they're paying you a living wage.

Claire, the Not Judgy, Super Awesome Dental Hygenist

If you're looking for a good dental hygenist, I highly recommend Claire at Johnson County Dental Care. She was able to get a tricky stain off my front tooth. She's gentle, friendly, and best of all NOT JUDGY about drinking too much coffee or not flossing enough.

Sparkly white teeth despite my coffee addiction. Thanks, Claire!

If, like me, you dread going to the dentist for a six-month checkup and cleaning simply because you're not in the mood to hear a big lecture, but you want professional help to have the healthiest smile you can, give them a call to set up an appointment--and ask for Claire.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Slip

***trigger warning: sexual abuse, eating disorders***

Tomorrow Will and I will take our almost-eight year old daughter Katie to his folks house in an adjacent county where it's still legal to blow shit up on the Fourth of July. I smell barbecue. And fireworks. And hopefully no houses burning down.

Independence Day. I hate it. Not because I hate patriotism. I love my country. I'm proud to be an American, even though we do a lot of dumb shit around the world. Citizens in this country have tremendous freedom. Freedom to speak out against the dumb shit we do around the world.

I hate Independence Day because when I was four I almost drowned at the bottom of a muddy lake named after a legume. My parents had a cabin at Bean Lake. My family was celebrating the Fourth of July. One of my brothers, I honestly don't remember which one--Jay, who was seventeen at the time or Pat, who was almost-fourteen--lit a firecracker and tossed it a little too close to me. It went off and I jumped back. I slipped into the lake. I remember opening my eyes. I couldn't see anything but murky brownness surrounding me. I flailed my arms and one leg, but one of my feet was stuck in the mud at the bottom of the lake.

I don't remember being afraid, but I must have been. I just remember the brown muck and the pull of the mud on my foot. I don't think I realized yet that I was drowning. My brother Pat jumped in so fast and pulled me up for air that I didn't have time to realize how grave my circumstance was.

I was more afraid of my dad. I remember crying. Not immediately when Pat pulled me out of the water. I started crying at the sight of my dad running down the dock toward us. His face was red but it was not bright. It was scary. It was mean. It was mad at me.

"Where's your sandal?" I remember my dad asking me. It was the first time I ever thought that my dad is stupid. At four, even I knew that if someone has just been pulled from the bottom of a lake the first question that comes to mind is not where is your shoe.

Later my brother Pat and I would talk and laugh about the situation. "What an idiot," we'd say. "What an asshole." "What kind of person cares more about a sandal stuck at the bottom of a lake than their own child," we'd say.

Growing up, my dad's jerkiness didn't bother me so much because I knew it had nothing to do with me. Everybody thought he was a jerk. Even himself. I think that's a big reason why he's such a jerk sometimes. But when he'd yell I knew it was just him needing to yell and not because I had necessarily done anything wrong.

He's actually much better now. At 87 the old man's temper has simmered down. That, and some genius invented sertraline. Both Dad and I take medication for our chronic anxiety. Our relationship has never been better.

Dad and I should do commercials for Zoloft. I can see us standing side-by-side, big smiles on our faces. We're doing a side hug and squeezing each. Together we say, "Thanks, Zoloft! Big Pharma patched our shattered relationship!"

Still, we're not best friends, Dad and me. We don't have a lot in common. He likes to dance and play bridge and listen to Big Band era swing music. I like progressive politics and feminism and humanism and activism, all the isms that drive a guy like my dad crazy.

I see Dad on major holidays. Christmas. Thanksgiving. His birthday. Father's Day. My birthday. Katie's birthday. That's it. Not the fucking Fourth of July, that's for sure. I don't need to see his face on the Fourth of July and relive my drowning-in-a-lake-named-after-a-legume incident to understand that my life is so much better because of our independence from each other.

July is a big month for me, mental-health wise. It's my daughter's birthday month, a reminder that she's growing more independent of me with each passing year. It's a reminder that childhood is short so you'd better appreciate it. I find myself berating myself, "Live in the moment, dammit!"

Not only is my child growing up, but I feel like my life is in transition too. For eight years I've thought of someone else before I've thought of myself. That's amazing and wonderful, but let's face it--it's also a drain. I'm ready to get back into myself and my own interests and achievements in life. It's high time I quit riding on the coat tails of tales of my hilarious, sweet, smart child and start telling my own story.

Start? What am I saying, "start"? I've been telling my story for quite some time now. July 29th is the three-year-anniversary of the day I started this blog. 7/29/11. It was unplanned. Katie, our daughter, was planned. This Ambiguous Life, my blog, was not. Some creative endeavors turn out for the best when unplanned. Some are best planned out.

When I cut back my work hours three years ago to stay home and write a book, I had no idea I would actually do that--I wrote two even, a novel and a memoir--and yet still be unsatisfied. I thought once I got my book, or books, written, I'd feel more at ease. Instead, I feel fired up and ready to go.

You see, writing breeds writing for me. I suffered from fertility issues when I was trying to get pregnant with Katie. Not so with my other favorite creation: my blog. I can't stop writing. Just when I think I'm too exhausted or I'm producing narcissistic crap, why bother? I get another idea and start writing again. I love it. It's creative gratification for me at a time in my life when my human creation is seeking her own creative endeavors independent of her mommy.

Like parenting, I love to write, even when it's hard. Sometimes I don't know how I fully feel about a topic before I write about it. It's like the act of writing helps me work it through my whole body as an idea travels from my brain to the ends of my fingertips.

I need to write about something that's hard. I need to. I've been getting headaches this week. It's probably the erratic change in the weather, but something tells me it's my body's way of telling me that my head is about to explode if I don't write about what I need to write about.

I need to write about abortion and religion and politics, all the things that get people riled up and angry. I don't mean to stir the pot, but I can't help it. Like someone with OCD who lies awake in bed at night wondering if she should get up and check that she'd locked the front door, I can't stop thinking how I want to write about abortion and religion and politics. Even though it's hard. I don't like to make people angry, I swear.

Maybe I'm not giving my readers enough credit. Sure, if I write about abortion and religion and politics I'm bound to get some critical comments. Possibly a troll or two. I can handle that. But for the most part my readers are pretty open-minded and tolerant of my point of view. They may not agree with me, but for the most part, my readers respect my opinion.

And perhaps they even like it that I talk about things you're not supposed to talk about in polite society. After all, out of all the posts in the nearly three years since I began this blog, the one with the most pageviews is about abortion.

When I was young and showed an interest in writing, my mom advised me to think of my audience. People like funny. People like romance. People like thrillers and suspense. Whatever you do, DO NOT write about religion or politics. You couldn't even TALK about abortion with my mom. Normally Mom's the kind of person who nods and smiles and does her own thing. She'll openly listen to you explain your opinions, but that doesn't mean she agrees with you. And she usually won't even tell you that she disagrees. She'll just continue about her life thinking for herself and doing her own thing. "Live and let live," is a motto that applies to my mom's way of thinking.

Right the wrongs is mine. Considering how rebellious I am, Mom and I get along incredibly well. She's one of my favorite people on the planet. She's funny and smart and, as I said, open-minded. But most of all, she makes me feel like I can be myself around her. I don't have to be nice. I don't have to behave. I can go braless and not shave my legs and come into Mom's house spouting off about how I'm pissed off at Wal-mart, and she'll always be there to listen to me and hand me a cookie. Probably one she bought at Wal-mart.

Still, she never understood why I get so riled up about issues, things she sees as being beyond my control.

"Why don't you write movie reviews?" Mom suggests. "Everybody loves movies."

"I haven't seen a good movie in years," I complain.

"Here, have another cookie," Mom says.

Mom might suggest unsuitable things for me to write about, but she's never discouraged me from writing anything. I saved the email she once sent me saying I have her permission to write anything I want about her or our relationship. I've felt unconditional love from few people in my life. I know my mom doesn't always understand me. Heck, she doesn't always like me. But she loves me unconditionally. My mother's unconditional love is the foundation for the courageous, bright, confident writer I have become.

My childhood was far from perfect. As I mentioned in the anecdote about my near-drowning Independence day, I had a tense relationship with my father. I was told that he cried the day I was born because I was not a boy. He had wanted a son. He already had a daughter from his first marriage that had ended in divorce just a year before I was born.

But it wasn't just Dad. Other people who loved me hurt me too. I was sexually abused by Pat--the same person who rescued me from drowning--regularly from the time I was about three until I finally broke the secret and told my mom when I was five. I couldn't take it anymore when Pat brought his friend in on our "game". They were young teens. Old enough to know better. I had to tell Mom, even though I was terrified she would have to go back to the hospital.

When Pat was four, before I was born, Mom was taken against her will to the hospital and treated for depression with electroshock therapy. Years later, when we found out Pat was dying of alcoholic-induced liver failure, I'd go over to his house and sit on the front porch with him, petting his dogs and listening to him talk. Pat told me one of his earliest childhood memories is clutching our mother's legs as she was being pulled away and taken to the hospital.

"Don't tell Mom about our secret game. It will upset her. We don't want to upset Mom or she might have to go back to the hospital," Pat would say.

I didn't want Mom to go to the hospital, even though I didn't really know what that meant. Just that she'd be taken away from me. But I also didn't want to do those things with Pat and his friend. So I told. And she wasn't taken away.

She didn't go back to the hospital. But neither did any of us receive any psychological support or mental health assessments. Not Mom. Not Pat. Not me. I was told to "stay away" from Pat and his friend. Later, as a teen when I was talking to my mom about the abuse, she told me she didn't remember much about it. She remembers talking to Pat and telling him to leave me alone. I asked her why we weren't sent to a psychologist or a family counselor.

"People didn't go to psychiatrists that much back then. We didn't have Phil Donohue telling us it was OK to talk about our personal problems. And you know me. I don't trust doctors."

I didn't blame her. If I had been hauled off against my will and given electroshock therapy I'd be leery of the medical establishment too.

If anything, having a jerk for a dad and surviving sexual abuse from my brother and his friend taught me to always question authority. Just because someone is older than you, and bigger than you, and more powerful than you doesn't mean they're always right. The fact that people who hurt me also expressed ways in which they loved me (my Dad would read to me, eat popcorn and watch TV with me, show me off to his relatives at family reunions; Pat, with the whole saving-me-from-drowning-thing and many other instances of his being an excellent big brother) taught me that people who hurt people are not always bad people. I lived and breathed ambiguity throughout my childhood. I was well practiced at it.

And it wasn't just my dad and my brother Pat. My dear loving mother who I know loves me unconditionally royally fucked up a time or two, too. Don't we all. All parents do.

Mom sent me to Weight Watchers in third grade. I was the only child in the group. It was humiliating.

In fifth grade I passed out at school. Mom took me to the doctor. I remember how harshly he looked at my mother when he informed her that I had a psychiatric disorder. Anorexia nervosa. I felt sorry for my mom. It wasn't her fault I was starving myself. Yeah, she sent me to Weight Watchers, but she just wanted me to be healthy and our culture (and her own mother who suffered from bulimia herself) taught her that fat was unhealthy.

I don't blame my anorexia on anyone but myself, and "blame" is not the right word. But it certainly wasn't my mom's fault I become obsessed with weight loss. It was me. I was finally in control of my own body.

More crappy things happened. They do to everyone I know. We all have miserable childhoods. How is it possible that the human race survives without being full of violence and war and struggle and pain? Oh, wait.

When I was twelve, the summer before seventh grade, my dad, my mom, our dog Tiger, and I moved to Overland Park, Kansas. We left behind all my older siblings from my mom's first marriage who had grown up and moved away, or, in most cases, gotten kicked out of the house. My sister Jenny, who is almost eight-years older than me, had moved out the first time when she was a senior in high school. She moved back home, got a job, and moved out again. I had been born into a large family, the youngest of six kids between my parents and their ex-spouses, and yet somehow it had become just me at the dinner table, sitting between two people who barely spoke to each other anymore. And when they did it was too often Dad yelling and Mom standing like a stone, or turning to walk down the hall to her bedroom where she would enter and close the door. They didn't even fight well together.

My mom first mentioned to me that she was going to divorce my father when I was four years old. I kept waiting for it to happen, but it never did, until I was twenty-one. Their sober marriage lasted til it was legal to drink, and by then it wasn't in the mood.

I was thrilled when my mom left my dad. I was so happy to see Mom play an active role in her own happiness.

I'm telling you all this about my sometimes crappy childhood to bring up a point. The human race survives, despite all the obstacles.

I turned out OK. More than OK really. Pretty darn good. I'm married to a man who makes me laugh and gets me talking. Things make sense when I talk them over with Will.

Even when we fight it's good. We sit together closely and take turns expressing ourselves until we understand where each other is coming from. Trust me: ask my exes. They'd say I'm a yeller. I'm a hitter. I'm a screamer fit thrower door slammer drama queen when I get mad. They'd say I'm not a retreater like my mom. I go off. Fly off the handle. Get red in the face and rant and roar. Like my dad. But not with Will. Well, sometimes with Will. But my hot temper has mostly simmered down with patience on his part and, once again, thanks to sertraline.

Before Will and I got married, I told my mom what I liked so much about Will was how he made me feel: like I could be myself. After growing up with a fractured family, I had grown distrustful of the institution of marriage and the idea that human beings were capable of a long-term, happy, monogamous relationship. Then I met Will and everything felt right. I could say anything to him and he'd still love me. I could be dorky and neurotic and messy and intense and he'd still want to be around me. I didn't have to hide who I was from him. I belonged.

We got married. I went off birth control and we immediately started trying to have a kid. With the help of a Reproductive Endocrinologist treating my PCOS, Katie was born two years later. I miscarried shortly after that. We've been unable to produce any more viable offspring. I'm forty-three and my leaves are turning russet and golden and copper. My fruitful years are most likely over.

But I beared the best fruit I could and I sure got a ripe peach.

I once got into an internet argument with someone who called Katie my "crotch fruit". I literally laughed out loud when I first read it, a short, quick "HA!" Unbelievable. How could anyone think of her in such a vulgar way? She is my shining light. She is my best work. She is the result of the love I share with my husband. She is sacred and pure and full of all that is good in the world.

Please don't gag. Don't all parents think that way of their children? My mom certainly thinks that way of her children. Will thinks that way of Katie. His parents think that way of him. Yeah, my dad's critical of me and we don't like to spend tons of time together, but I know deep down that he loves me.

How is that possible? How can people who hurt us and drive us crazy also love us so dearly? Life is so extreme and weird and intense.

Which is why I like to write about it.

In my most-popular blog post to date, the one I wrote previously about abortion, Righteous Nun of the Day, I quote Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun:

"I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is."

I've been thinking a lot about this quote since the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby ruling the other day.

I hate abortion. I hate that someone didn't get a fair shot at life. Someone missed out on this amazing experience we so inadequately call "life". What is life? Breath? I sure thought so after nearly drowning. But no, it's more than breath. Trees provide us oxygen so we can breathe, but they don't breathe. Yet trees are alive.

I hate abortion. Yet I don't think the government or businesses or churches or friends or family or anyone--not even a doctor--has the right to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term. That decision is solely hers. It's her body. She controls it.

People get all upset about the issue of abortion precisely because it is so personal. As a person who has survived early childhood sexual abuse, I understand what it feels like to have other people take control of my body. I hate it.

But it didn't break me. I grew up to be a strong woman. A loyal wife. A loving mother. The abuse has been difficult to overcome, but I have made peace with my entire life. All the good and all the bad. If we want to make this world a better place, we must allow individuals to make peace with their own lives. You can't improve your external environment if you're in a bad place internally.

Have you seen that movie, "Parenthood"? It's directed by Ron Howard and stars Steve Martin. I love that scene where Keanu Reeves, who plays a ding-dong boyfriend who knocks up his teenage girlfriend, talks to his baby mama's mama about what an important job parenting is, and how we sometimes don't put into it as much effort as we should.



Keanu Reeves as Tod: "You know, Ms. Buckman? You need a license to buy a dog. Or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish, but they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father."

And that's just it. How can you require a license to be a parent? What kind of exam would you have to take? Both written and oral? Or would it be rectum since it's a baby?

OK, Mrs. Carleton. We understand you're applying for a license to become a parent. We'll begin with the rectal exam. Here you go. Take this baby's temperature.

But we don't require people to get a license to parent. We don't require parenting classes, support groups. Paid time off at work. We don't live in tribes where we take care of each other's kids. I can be rough.

So I understand that most parents don't mean to fuck up their kids. And most parents don't. If you watch the local news you'd think the nation is awash in sociopaths. But most people don't end up on the local news. Most people who have kids send the to school, feed them, clothe them, hug them, and send them off to a warm bed. No matter what kind of parent you are in our culture, most of us can manage these basic needs. Sure some of us yell. Some of us spank. Some of us are sometimes neglectful and self-centered. We are human beings, doing the best we can. None of us is ever going to be the perfect parent.

That's not what parenting is all about. Parenting is messy. It's a struggle. It's feeling like who the hell made you the one in charge when you don't know a damn thing about what you should be doing at any given moment. Parenting is anxiety and exhaustion. It's doing the best we can. And in spite of ourselves, most of us raise good kids who grow up to be healthy adults, who in turn raise good kids.

One thing I've noticed in my own family is how much it seems that with each passing generation we enjoy parenting more. My dad was a grump most days. You weren't allowed to talk to him too much at the dinner table. You weren't allowed to bug him while he was watching TV. You had to get out of his recliner when he entered the living room. He called me stupid a few times. He didn't care enough about things I wanted him to care about, like my education, my interests, my opinions.

But he also made sure I went to school, ate, wore clothes, got hugs, and slept in a warm bed at night. He wasn't all bad.

But my dad never enjoyed me like Will enjoys our daughter. They talk together. They laugh together. They go on donut runs and walks along the creek. Will plays the freaking teeny-bop station on the radio when Katie is in the car. He shows an interest in what interests her.

My mom, on the other hand, acts as if I can do no wrong. I most certainly cannot. She's called me out on my shit a time or two. She actually kicked me out of the house once, when I got kicked out of school, but a couple hours later, as I was packing, she kept giving me stuff.

"Here, you'll need this lamp. Here, you'll need this dish set. Here, you'll need this blanket and these towels, and oh, here, you'll need some money, let me go get my purse," she said. It was the kindest "get the hell out of my house you lazy bum" gesture a parent could make.

Mom often acted like she didn't know what to do with me. Like I was a different breed, a puppy who'd crawled into a box full of nursing kittens. She still let me nurse, but when I'd get too carried away she'd hiss, as if to say settle down, Puppy!

And it's not like I was a perfect child. Not that children's bad behavior warrants reciprocated bad behavior on the parent's part, but I can see how I must have worn my mom out.

But I always knew she loved me. I was wanted. I belonged to her because she chose for me to come into this world.

My parents had even rougher childhoods than I did, replete with relatives with mental illness, alcoholism, abuse, beatings, death, divorce, all branches on the family dysfunction tree. But they made it through their own obstacles to be the best parents they could be for me. As their parents did before them. And theirs before them. And so on, back through human existence.

Katie tells me I'm the best mom in the whole world. I tell her she hasn't met every mother yet. She squeezes me across the belly and says, "But you're MY mommy." I belong to her. She belongs to me.

I watched this Hank Green video on YouTube the other day. It resonated with me:



Hank Green:

"...so regardless of theories about why we have them, most schools of psychological thought agree that we are driven by at least three big motivators: sex, hunger, and the need to belong."

When I was a teenager, my parents were talking about someone who had accidentally gotten pregnant. My dad kept referring to the pregnancy itself as "a slip". I asked, "what's a slip?"

"A slip is when one slips through and the girl gets pregnant."

I didn't quite understand what he meant. Was he talking about a condom malfunction? A sperm slipping through a diaphragm? What? But the last conversation I wanted to have with my dad was one involving the word "semen" so I kept my questions to myself.

Dad went on to explain that his parents told him he was a slip.

"They told you that?" I asked, surprised someone's parents could be so callous.

"Yeah," Dad said. "All of us were. Me and my sisters." He said this the way someone might shrug their shoulders, like, yeah, so what?

Mom looked at me and explained further, "This was back in the Twenties and Thirties, before The Pill."

"I know," I said, annoyed she felt the need to tell me something so obvious. I did watch The Dr. Ruth Show with mom every week, after all. I had a liberal sex education growing up. "It just seems kinda insensitive."

"Well, they didn't want any kids," Dad explained. "They were both the oldest of ten and twelve kids. They had enough being around babies the whole time they were growing up and having to take care of their brothers and sisters. Their moms had a kid about once every other year. They actually had more brothers and sisters who didn't survive through childhood."

I imagined my dad was talking about horrible diseases such as influenza and cholera or something. But no.

"One of my uncles died when he was two when he fell on top of a wood pile and it collapsed and crushed him."

Toddlers crushed by a wood pile? God, life was hard back then. I get nervous when my nearly-eight year old crosses the street to go have a water balloon fight with the neighborhood kids. I can't imagine living in a time when I had to scrub all the family's clothes by hand, make three meals for the whole family from scratch, clean, work the fields, and still be expected to keep my eye on my dozens of kids. There's no way. I get stressed out if I have to load the dishwasher and the clothes washing machine at the same time.

That's why I'm a big fan of family planning. I want to live in a world where all children are wanted and welcome.

OK entrepreneur friends. This is where you come in. In an effort to kill no birds with no stones, I propose, in light of the recent SCOTUS ruling that enables corporations to dictate what kinds of contraception their workers' health insurance plans cover, we put our scientists, uh, hem, heads together and invent an inexpensive, easy to use, comfortable female condom that is sold over the counter. It won't solve all the problems that will stem from the Hobby Lobby ruling. Many of those medicines that employers can opt out of covering are used for things other than preventing pregnancy. We'll have to figure out a way to lower the cost of these medicines so more people can afford them, and write letters to our legislators to change the laws.

Why do I care so much? I haven't used contraception since just after Katie was born, and even then only for about six months. I care because I want more children to come into this world wanted. I'm afraid because contraception doesn't need to be covered on a worker's health insurance plan more people will just skip it, and they're bound to have more "slips".

My dad was told that he was "a slip". His dad was an alcoholic who beat him with a belt one day when my dad came home crying because a bully had beaten him up. My dad's dad took off his belt and beat him with it "to toughen him up" and forced him to return to the bully and fight him back. Dad was in second grade.

Dad's dad died at the age of forty-eight. My dad was twenty-two and found his father dead in the shower. He had to call his mom a few states away to ask her to leave her boyfriend and return home for his dad's funeral. What would Dad's life have been like if he had been born into a family that wanted him?

I'm not saying that I wish my grandparents had access to better birth control because I wish that they had not conceived my father. I do not wish my father's life away. Not only is that suicidal, but despite all our struggles I love my dad. I do wish his parents had lived in a time when it was cheaper and easier to access birth control so they could feel more empowered and satisfied with their jobs as parents instead of having the unwanted role thrust upon them when they weren't ready. Sure, people can give kids up for adoption, but have you "liked" any of the state adoption groups on Facebook? It's heart wrenching. Nearly every day there are beautiful kids' photos shared with captions such as, "Jake, 11, is looking for a forever home that will love him for who he is..."

There are so many of them. Orphans. Needing a family where they feel like they belong.

I want to scoop them all up into my arms and fly away with them. But life is challenging enough raising my one child. Because of my childhood trauma, I have post-traumatic stress disorder. As much as I want to adopt every kid available and spend all day hugging them and kissing them and telling them I love them for who they are, I just can't do it. I'd be too exhausted to be Katie's mom. I am one person of too few people fighting a battle that our whole culture needs to join.

There are too many unwanted children born in this world. I'm sure things have improved since the Twenties and Thirties when my dad and his sisters were "slips". We have a wide-array of options for birth control these days. The problem is, much of it is unaffordable. Every-other child that is born in our country is unplanned. That doesn't mean they are unwanted. Just "slips". Just a little "oops, now what'll we do?" But some of them are unwanted. Some of them are born into a cycle of family dysfunction so old and messy and hard to break through, that yes, it's great that they get the opportunity to be born, but what kind of opportunity are they presented with when their parents don't want them?

I do not want you to have an abortion. But I also believe each person has the right to control their own body. Certainly not the government. Not your doctor. Not your spouse or children or parents or friends or anyone but you.

I was planned. My parents had both gone through a divorce with their first spouses and remarried each other. I was born a year later. Mom wanted more kids but her doctor advised against it for health reasons so she went on The Pill. If I had another sibling, Mom would have been happy. Dad would have been happy, especially if it were a boy. But I can't imagine what would have happened if my parents couldn't afford birth control. What if her doctor was right and it would be a sacrifice to my mom's health? What if she was disabled, or God forbid, what if she had died in childbirth because she couldn't plan her pregnancies?

I was planned. Katie was planned. Will and I feel so blessed to have her in our lives. Parenthood is hard, but it's the most rewarding trip. It is the most important job. We tell our kids to plan for college. We tell our workers to plan for retirement. We tell our seniors to plan their freaking funerals. Why shouldn't we encourage everyone to plan their pregnancies?

As Hank Green said, sex and food and belonging: those are the three things that motivate us as human beings. People are sexual creatures. Sex is a natural urge like hunger and thirst and the need for sleep. Deprived of it, people get cranky. I want to live in a world where people are free to experience sex with consenting adults, with affordable birth control, so they don't have to worry about any "slips". Yes, most unplanned babies end up loved and well cared for. The world is complex and things often work out somehow.

But every time I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed and I see the faces of those children who need parents to love them and a family to belong to, I wish our culture had more open access to birth control options. Not that I wish any of these beautiful shining stars available for adoption had been snuffed out before they were able to be born, but I wish after they find their families it would all stop. We would stop having so many orphans. Our culture would cut back on the amount of children who are born into homes that can't provide them adequate love, food, and a sense of belonging because they didn't have access to affordable birth control.

There is an old saying in the abortion debate. Abortions should be legal, safe, and rare. The best, most efficient and most humane way to make sure abortion is rare is to have access to affordable birth control options.

When an employee receives health insurance as part of her salary and benefits package, the company should deduct her share of the premium and that's that. They have no business advising her on what to do with her own body.

I hear people saying this SCOTUS ruling in the Hobby Lobby case is about freedom of religion, and how it's a victory for Liberty. What liberty do we have if we can't even control our own bodies?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014