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No Bullshit Motherhood

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Where the Love Is

February 16, 2018

By Danielle Scruton

Her voice was muddled by dreamsleep, but I heard the words nonetheless: “This is where the love is…”. She had that look of peace about her. The one that melts me every time. The one that helps me feel less like a mother who can never get it right and more like a hand of love: helping her, guiding her. Her face lit softly by the nightlight, she looked years younger than ten. She would lose this babyface soon and while- as a mother- I was far from ready, as a woman I smiled within at what the tween and teenage years would bring.

It’s a bit unusual, her situation. Her father and I are divorcing and she has two other men in her life. It’s not something I give much thought to, but it is different I suppose. She will never have a stepmother, though it is very likely she will have two stepfathers. My bond with my daughter is as unshakable as any other mother-daughter relationship, but it’s possible she needs me even more because of where the chips have fallen. I could be wrong. In any case, I feel the importance of my influence in every exchange we have.

And her slumber-filled words meant more because the day had been hard. It was like that sometimes and more so with her than with my son. She had spent a weekend with her father. Her emotions loomed around her and came at me with defiant words. Tons of attitude. She was annoyed and yet wanted me close, only to push me away again moments later. Continue Reading…

#metoo, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Dear Little Baby Girl Child Nestled In My Arms

February 5, 2018

By Kimberly Valzania

Dear Little Baby Girl Child Nestled in my Arms,

I see you looking up at me, with big brown eyes. I see you smiling. Happy to be clean, cradled, and loved. Safe, innocent, with your tiny, feminist fist already flailing and pumping.

A girl baby without a story. No stories at all to tell, just yet.

An empty canvas of a life, just waiting for paint.

Maybe by the time you are older, old enough to do all the things you will surely dream of doing, all of this sexual predator stuff will be a thing of the past. Maybe you will grow up in a world where people do not behave this way. Where men, especially, do not prowl and prey. Where some men do not look for a way to pounce first, and then deny or downplay.

Maybe you will not know how it feels to be bullied by a boy, or passed over for a boy. Maybe, for example, you will raise your hand to answer a math question in class, and you will be called on by your teacher. Maybe your teacher will champion your worth, your potential, your intellect…at the very same time you recognize it in yourself.

If something happens, maybe you will be believed the first time you tell your story. Maybe your words will be all the proof they need. Maybe your voice will not ever be muffled, or bought. Maybe your body will not be consumed, or judged, or hurt, or caught. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Parent

February 2, 2018

By Sally Lehman

My Mom taught me how to fold sheets and iron pillow cases and measure flour with the dipping method, and how to pinch the edges of a pie crust to make it bake pretty, and how to hammer a nail and hang a picture and paint a wall, how to swaddle a baby and change a diaper and repress bad memories because we don’t talk about those kinds of things, and how to not cry or I’ll give you something to cry about young lady, and how to bite the webby part of my hand instead of screaming because when things are just too much and I can’t stand to live with it all anymore, no one else should find out.  She taught me to be ashamed for thinking sad thoughts and how to avoid people I dislike and how to hold a grudge for years, and how to sew and crochet and work if I have pneumonia because the phone company doesn’t give a shit that I have pneumonia.  Mom taught me how to drink a gin and tonic and how to make a decent cup of coffee, the kind that will rip a stomach apart after three cups, and how to order a glass of wine at a restaurant when I was only sixteen.  And how to pretend I was asleep when a crazy drunk person woke me up at 3 in the morning to say they are sorry for every single little thing they might have ever done ever.

My Dad taught me to shut the fuck up already.

My Mom also taught me to hold my head up, chin out, no matter how out of place and lonely I am, and how to look a person right smack in the eye when I talk to them. She taught me to look just the right way to the make children do what I tell them to do, and that I should be ashamed for taking antidepressants every day because it made her a failure as a parent. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

The Love Jail

December 31, 2017

By Jennie Lee

My 16–year old son just tackled me onto the couch. I was mid-email and in no mood to play. I struggled to get free, but he held me down until I caved in to laughter. I can’t blame him for these antics. He learned them from me a long time ago.

I am a lucky parent actually, to be tackled by their teenager. Even luckier since he talks to me too, hugs me, hangs out with me and trusts me. How is this possible? I credit the Love Jail.

Don’t think for a minute that I have one of those easy kids, the ones that rarely cry when they are babies, are content wherever you place them, even-tempered and jovial. No, mine never napped, has always been explosive, and perfected his “NO” even before he knew how to say it. When he was small, I studied the parenting books and leaned not to indulge his tantrums, just ignore the behavior rather than give it attention.  But I also believed in raising my son to speak his mind and know his feelings, so I couldn’t very well shy away when he let them all hang loose. As a single mom, it was overwhelming at times to stay present while he screamed and thrashed; inconsolable, irrational and escalating. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Mommy Wars

December 18, 2017

By Callie Boller

I’ve only been a mom for 6 years, so I am definitely still a rookie, but one thing that I’ve learned during my short time with this parenting gig is that everyone is an expert. Whether it’s the woman in line behind you at the checkout stand, or your co-worker down the hall, EVERYONE has an opinion on the right way to do motherhood – and they are willing to go to WAR over it.

I can go on social media right now and find countless mom-shamers with thousands of followers, you know…the ones who only let their children play with wooden toys, wouldn’t even speak the words “formula fed,” and have a PhD in being a perfect fucking parent. Something about the combination of a keyboard and those damn Instagram squares makes people delusionally entitled. The judgmental comments, the better than attitudes – I’m so over it.

So here it is. This is MY WAR on Mommy Wars – and here are my rules of engagement: Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, The Hard Stuff

Fail, Birth

December 10, 2017

By Sara Nolan

You can’t fail at birth, they tell you.

But you sure fucking can, and here’s how you do it.

It starts when your baby’s heart rate slows down so much that even a novice midwife, or, for that matter, even a four year-old, would know something was wrong.

In my case, you could think whole profound thoughts between those heart beats.  You felt like John Cage, because the silence was as loud as the noise. You felt like a Buddhist Monk whose awareness is so attuned she can see through the holes in time and space to an eternal present where your baby’s next heartbeat never comes.

Well, it wasn’t that bad.

Yes, it kind of was.

My husband doesn’t freak out.  Generally.  But stooped in the desk chair by my bedside, he had the same look on his face I get when I burn toast, or when the baby (yes, there is a baby at the end of this) gets a little too pinkish red around the lips, or when my computer doesn’t save my hard-won revisions.  Panic.  In him, though, it’s only detectable by those who know that slight agitation in the corner of his eyes means the earth went off its axis to court Mars. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Racism

Blue Blazes

November 27, 2017

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

“It’s hot as blue blazes!” I said, wiping the sweat from my face with a faded, red bandana. I wet it under the garden hose and lay it, cool, around my neck.”

“Can we get more ice cubes, Mommy?” Rebekah asked.

“We’ve used them all. They go fast when it’s a hundred and six.” I answered, stepping into the soupy water of the plastic pool where my daughters sat with squirt toys, dolls, and blades of grass bobbing on the surface.

Rachael hugged my bare legs and lay her cheek against my knee. “Can we go to a real pool, Mommy?” She begged. “…a big one with a divey board and everything, … please?”

“I think it’s time we found one…” I said, …but let’s eat first!”

Both girls stood up in the tepid water and began to dance. “Swimmy pool, swimmy pool!” they chanted.

I stepped out, brushed the green cuts of grass from my legs and headed for the house.  “You-all play in the sprinkler while I make lunch!” I called back.

“OK, Mommy!” shouted Rebekah, dragging a hot hose with a sprinkler ring spraying behind it.

I walked up the back steps, where three air conditioners roared from windows in our rented home. The one near me sounded a loud boom and the walls and wood floor lurched, as the thermostat switched it off or on. I had learned to sleep through it, in fact, it comforted me; for I was born and raised in the blistering heat of North Central Texas. Continue Reading…

Bullying, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

In Trump’s Tomorrow, A Muslim Mother Confronts Her Past

November 19, 2017

By Kulsum Tasnif

“Hi, I’m Cricket–and welcome to my world! Let’s be friends, we’ll do things together, we’ll have a great old time…Let’s be friends, just you and I–I’ll be talkin’ to ya!”
Cricket Doll commercial, 1987

It’s the song that still pops into my head sometimes while driving my kids to school. I don’t tune it out any more like I used to. I’m a mother of three. I’m in my 40’s. But I still feel like the bullied 13 year old when I look back at my 8th grade experience.  That sound brings it all back.

“Lez” Be Friends
Her name is Shawna. She is an animated blond, blue-eyed tomboy who smells of stale cigarettes and BubbleYum. I am a short, brown, scrawny introvert with a

“flat chest” she whispers. We’re in homeroom and everyone laughs. I fold my arms across my flat chest and retreat to the safe place in my head. Shawna sits behind me with her legs propped up on the creaky desk. She has full access to the back of my head–which she taps with her Payless wing-tipped shoe.

“Does my shoe smell like dog shit?” she asks with a baby voice.

I sit still. She then calls Ms. Hollander a “bitch” and gets sent to the principal’s office. I can rest at ease until P.E. My mind calculates the steps I would need to take to avoid Shawna today. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Hey Parents, Chill Out

October 16, 2017

By Jackie Boeheim

I was at the park the other day with a group of moms and we were discussing various topics on preschools, pacifiers and bedtime routines. I was becoming very stressed out, second guessing myself as a parent and breaking out into cold sweats. In fact, as I looked around the group, all I saw were panicked faces of worry filled moms.

The conversation prompted me to call my own mother and relay the chatter that happened at the park. “I just don’t know if I have my son in the right preschool,” I said. “The one I attend has a smaller class size, the one I toured yesterday has more complex activities…” my mother started laughing. Wait, let me correct that statement, my mother interrupted me with a bout of laughter. Does she not understand how serious this is? My mom finally told me to just chill out, have a glass of wine, paint my toenails and stop worrying so much. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

The Shoemaker

September 29, 2017

By Nina Uziel-Miller

Not too long ago, I was sitting in Katherine’s chair as she told me all about cutting her son’s hair for the first time.  She said her little boy, while very cute, had been going through life practically blind, and so she knew it was finally time to do the deed. She explained that she had the “great idea” to do it in the bathtub because then he’d have nowhere to run.  Only he squirmed and splashed and shrieked like crazy. I will never understand what makes first haircuts so scary to kids, but according to Katherine, her son was in a state of abject terror. Rather than abort the mission, she forged ahead and speedily hacked away at him with her newly sharpened scissors until all that remained was a jagged, uneven fringe of barely bangs just below his hairline. That and a soaking wet bathroom.

As Katherine, who happens to be my excellent hairdresser, shared her story, she pulled strands of my own hair across my face, measuring and trimming until she was completely satisfied (no crooked cut for me) and then she pulled out the blow dryer. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, No Bullshit Motherhood

New Baby Smell

September 22, 2017

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Sami Peil

It was 8:52 on a Wednesday morning. Wednesday, December 11, 2013 was the first time I heard her heartbeat. Seeing her tiny heart beating as she wiggled around was the biggest relief of my life. It was too soon to determine her sex, but I had a guess that we were having a daughter. When I got to my car I burst into tears—thankful, prayerful tears of relief and love and joy. I hadn’t realized that I was so worried until after. Baby had just been hiding when the doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat two days before.

Since that day exactly one year ago, I have looked at my little girl’s picture every morning. I have the image memorized: At the top it says 12/11/13 8:52 AM 12w5d, and below is the only picture we’ll ever have of our Alaska Eileen—her profile in the grainy grays of the ultrasound. The hospital didn’t offer pictures from the scan 19 days later when we discovered, on the same black and white screen, that our baby had died. No heartbeat. We waited three weeks for the pathology report that confirmed my feeling that she was a girl and left us with no answers about why she died. We received her ashes a few days later. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

A Temporary Amnesty

September 18, 2017

By Lisa Werhan

I wear the mottled flesh of a person too long submerged in the agitated waters of tribulation, fingertips colorless and puckered, my lips the unmistakable blue-gray of a corpse. No, no, I exaggerate. My lips are naturally pale except for my blanched-white scar, lower lip, y-shaped, the one spot that I keep biting, compulsively; this feels like the slap and sting of the surf that erodes and eats away the ash-gray sand. I can’t not nibble at it, gently, gingerly, the faint tang of blood washed away by salty saliva.

I linger over the dinner dishes a bit too long, scrubbing the tiniest bits of detritus from the supper skillet, scratching away metallic flakes with my too-short nails. Yes, yes, I obsess. I am too long at the sink, all that water having gone to my head; my brain swirls with foamy thoughts, my-child-is-suffering, that slosh haphazardly, forming angry eddies which drain away into the abyss of my broken heart. All things lead to my broken heart these days. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting


August 20, 2017

By Billie Hinton


I’m being held in the arms of someone while my mother and father board a plane. We’re on the tarmac and they walk away and up the steep steel stairway into what appears to be a black hole. I push away from the chest I’m held up against, straining to follow the two people I know best in this world. The stairs roll away and the black hole closes and the plane moves away, slow and then fast. The black hole opens up inside of me; everything I know slips into the distance with that plane. I stop pushing and cave in to the chest, allow myself to be held, hot tears soaking into fabric that does not smell like anything familiar.


In his small office my therapist sits too close for comfort, my knees and his a few inches apart. I find solace in the large window that looks out to trees and flowering shrubs. The wash of light through blinds is an escape hatch. He asks for my earliest memory. I tell about watching my parents leave in an airplane. He asks if I felt comfort with the person I was left with and I tell him I don’t know who that person was. It seems unfathomable that my parents left me with a stranger. How did you calm yourself? he asks and I tell him, I didn’t. I still don’t.


In the office of my therapist, I write the final check for the final therapy session. His office feels larger now. The check number is 2001 and he comments that it has been an odyssey. I am moving to Texas to attend graduate school in clinical social work, inconsolable at saying goodbye to a man who has sat across from me several times each week for several years, knees inches away, wearing Birkenstocks which at one point I mocked, but have come now to love. After I leave I meet friends for lunch, still bereft at the loss of my thrice-weekly sessions, tears sliding down my cheeks at random between bites of food. One gives me his wristwatch to wear while we sit in the sun with take-out containers and iced tea in plastic cups. Comfort. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Poison In My Home

July 16, 2017

By Kirsten Wasson

There is poison in my home. And the poison is my son.  My one and only child—Jonah, my soulful-eyed, shy-smiling son who paints landscapes of rocks that seem to have opinions, empty shimmering roads, and mounds of land floating in green fields rippling on the canvas. My son, an actor-hopeful who, with no help from anyone managed to get himself a manager for acting, a contract with L.A. Models. Jonah, my only living family–only child of an only child of only children, my blood, heart, and soul. My poisoned and poisonous son.

Maybe the poison is the reason my hands are shaking. Maybe it’s the reason I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for where he hid his last pill. Maybe the poison is the reason I keep wanting to get to CVS to buy bleach and then wash my son’s dingy gray-white  shirts; I want to make something clean.

It is the week of Thanksgiving.

It’s been exactly a year since Jonah came to the full realization that all the memories and dreams about his father touching him when he was about 3 are accurate. A year ago, Jonah flew to Syracuse, New York for Thanksgiving at his dad and stepmom’s house. He spent three days there. Then he got back on the plane, and ordered a drink–after having been stone cold sober for two years and eight months. Working the steps in a rehab, and then a sober living community, and then moving on, out into a relationship with Anna, and working in a rehab. After all that, he just got on the plane and ordered a drink.

Jonah didn’t tell me about the drink on the plane; he told Anna, and said that he thought he was able to have a drink with her now and then. She was naïve; she didn’t understand addiction. She loved Jonah. He said he wanted to be able to have the occasional drink with her, that he’d decided he could drink like a “regular person.”  And so, Anna drank like the regular person she was, while he drank like an addict, keeping bottles in his backpack and on the grounds of their apartment complex. He was also consuming pot most of the day, though she didn’t know.

One night Jonah got furiously angry at something small and then furiously sad at something small and, Anna told me later, he said in a wild, quiet voice that he’d realized in Syracuse that his dad had molested him. “I knew it when I got in the car with him at the airport.  When I looked in his eyes.”

Anna repeated this to me a month and a half later; she called me just as I was getting into the elevator at school in Westwood where I taught English as a Second Language.

“I have to talk to you.” Anna’s usually low, gravelly voice was squeaking.

“Hold on. I’m getting into the elevator. Is Jonah OK?”

“Not really. Call me back.”

I rode the elevator down, imagining he’d lost his job as an R.A. at the rehab, or they’d gotten into a bad fight. I walked out of the building and across the alley to the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery where there were benches for me to sit, and where no one but the dead could hear the conversation. Anna started with some background, about having been at her wit’s end with his recent behavior–mood swings, violent nightmares, and general erratic behavior.

“And he’s drinking. All the time.”

“What?! When?” I was shocked. He was, as far as I knew, completely sober.

“Since Thanksgiving.  Since Syracuse.”


“Kirsten, that’s not even the point. Jonah told me something. Those nightmares he’s having…they’re about something…that happened to him.”

It was about 4:30 on a hot L.A. February afternoon, and the graveyard was just getting cool, as the sun lowered and the sprinklers came on. I stood up and walked to a spot near the wall of famous dead, Marilyn Monroe among them. It had surprised me that Marilyn didn’t have a mausoleum in the cemetery; just one square in a bank of lost lives. But she did, every day, have fresh flowers, jammed into the alabaster cup by her name and dates.

“I don’t know what you are saying.”

“Jonah made me promise not to tell you.”

“I’m sure he did, but I need you to tell me.” I could feel that she wanted to tell me but felt loyal to Jonah. Anna and I did like each other and, to some extent, trusted one another.

“The dreams about being hurt. When he was little. Those are real.”

I remembered an awkward conversation with Anna a few months earlier; Jonah was working the night shift at the rehab center, and she and I went to a movie and had Chinese food.  She seemed both listless and worried, not like her usual tough, lively self.  She told me that Jonah had bad dreams about being chased or attacked, and would wake up flailing his arms, even trying to hit her. I listened but couldn’t really hear it, and I shelved it in some drawer of my brain. But now I remembered the conversation, my own uncomfortable-ness, and my thinking Anna was whining.

“Someone hurt him?” That made sense. Nine years of wondering why my son was so troubled, so angry, and a drug addict in and out of four rehabs. I had a cold, clarifying feeling I’d just been slipped a piece of paper with an essential clue. I got off the bench and started to stride across the graves, their wet, glistening grass.

“Was he…abused? Like, molested?”

“Yes. And he knows who.”

For a second I thought. “His dad. Is it Art?” A bizarre conclusion, but I was spinning, and reaching toward what made no sense, and what might just make perfect sense.

She was quiet.

“If it was his dad, Anna, then say nothing.”

Anna said nothing.

It felt like a thin, silver snake slithered inside my bloodstream, moving from my head, down my neck, into my heart cavity. Around me, the sprinklers were shuddering, rhythmically spraying into the air. The bottom 4 inches of my slacks were soaked. I was shocked, but not that surprised that Art had molested our son. I couldn’t have known back when it was happening because it didn’t happen when Art and I were still in the house together. I realized that, tried assuring myself with the idea that because I didn’t know, this was not as horrible as it was.

Here’s the “sense” it made: my ex-husband had been emotionally sadistic to me, and our sex life consisted of me tolerating a number of things I hated. I never once climaxed with him in ten years, and he didn’t care; I was, he told me, “frigid.”  There was also the glaring fact that Jonah had had a lot of intense tantrums from three to four whenever Art came to pick him up. I had thought the tantrums were about the divorce and separation anxiety. My therapist said it was normal. More things fell into place, including the baby talk Jonah used after returning to my house.

Three weeks after Anna told me, I brought it up with Jonah, despite Anna’s request that I not. I had to hear it from my son’s mouth, and know what he was feeling. We were in Woodland Hills, sitting on a bench outside of Trader Joe’s.

“Please don’t be mad at Anna, but she told me what you remembered. Or realized. About your childhood. When you were little.”

Jonah stood up, walked stiffly and swiftly around the bench. “I can’t fucking believe she told you that.” Then he threw himself on the bench. He looked away from me, down Ventura Boulevard, his long legs crossed at the ankles, his arms folded in a white t-shirt, his profile so defined: large forehead, long eye-lashes, full lips, and strong jaw. So like my mother’s, I often thought.  Without turning toward me, he said,

“Well so now that you know. Can you imagine that Dad would do that?”

“I can.”

He asked me a few questions about why I could, and I told him, without too many details. Still not looking at me, Jonah commanded: “Do not say a single word to Dad. Not a word. I would lose it. And become crazy.”

“Okay, Jonah,” I nodded.

A few days later, I found a therapist specializing in trauma, and Jonah saw her for a few visits and then stopped. She’d told him she needed him to be sober. Jonah was drinking, and also—although Anna didn’t know nor did I, imbibing pot all day.  By May, he’d lost his job at the rehab, and Anna had thrown him out. I didn’t blame her; he was yelling all the time, and punched a few holes in their walls. He was driving drunk.  He was poisoned and poisonous.

A funny thing about Jonah is that he always gets work, and always works hard. So, he got a certificate as a security guard, faked the drug test somehow, and got a job at L’Hermitage, a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills.  For four months, he lived in air b’ and b’s with four beds in a room or hostels, and worked nights at the L’Hermitage. When he spotted a celebrity, he’d text me. Escorted Tom Cruise and crew down elevator. Seemed nice. A lot of fillers in that face.” I’d get messages on my phone under my pillow as I was falling asleep. “Saw Cher fall down in the hall. Completely drunk. Pretty like a ghost.” I’d squeeze the phone in my palm until it started to sweat. My boy. At least he’s in touch. He is working. My son was damaged and in pain and I could do nothing.

Jonah was twenty-four years old, financially self-sufficient. I couldn’t make him go back to rehab, and he wasn’t even admitting that the drinking and pot were a problem.  I thought about Jonah all the time during that summer and saw him every few weeks. His affect ranged from forced smiles, “It’s all good, Mom,” to raging about Anna to crying about her. He shut me down when I brought up the molestation. He lost his contract with his modeling agency, and his acting manager was clearly almost done with Jonah because he missed appointments, and probably his auditions were lousy.

After years and years of therapy and Al-Anon, I know I can’t guide my son. I kept mumbling to myself the one Al-Anon slogan I could almost stomach, “Let Go and Let God.” Sometimes I prayed. Sometimes I hoped he’d get caught driving high and go to jail. Sometimes I thought about buying a gun and getting on a plane to Syracuse. I mean really thought about it. I looked up gun shops and the rules about purchasing a weapon in California.

In October I went to Chicago for a work conference, and let Jonah stay in my apartment and use my car; I was still thinking I should do things to help him. I was still in denial.  When I called to see how things were going, he screamed at me for checking up on him.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?! Leave me alone, Mom!”

“I’m worried about you driving when you’re tired and…maybe high?”

“I have a life, Mom. Or I’m trying to. Leave me the fuck alone.” He hung up.

I realized I’d made a mistake by letting him stay in my place and use my car, but all I could do was to ask God, who I wasn’t sure I believed in, to not let Jonah die.

When I returned, my apartment was a mess. Mad, worried, but not yet aware that Jonah’s life was close to imploding, I swept and swabbed and folded laundry. And then I found the piece of paper stuck in the couch that listed the drugs he’d bought, how much they cost, and the days he’d bought them. I recognized “Ox” for Oxycotin, but didn’t know “Roxies,” “Norco,” or “Girlfriend.”  He was doing opiates and cocaine.


Lucky to be alive, my son. Jonah does not feel lucky. He feels, he told me recently, “tainted.” I never heard him use that word before, and it’s not one I’d imagine him using. “I never feel clean, Mom. No one knows what I really look like–on the inside.”  I wanted to tell him he was beautiful and clean and good on the inside, but I don’t know what it feels like to be molested by a parent when you’re three years old. I don’t know how you carry a secret—one that you don’t even know the meaning of—for years, then find it inside dark dreams and feel it within yourself like a heavy, aching weight that will not let you go.


When, in late October after my Chicago trip, I told him I had found the scrap of paper, he shut me down. Into my cell phone I spoke sharply but still trying to sound like a person who understood him, telling him I knew he was doing pills and cocaine.

“I think you probably want me to know, Jonah. You left that paper for me to find…don’t you think?

“I fucking did not. You think you are so fucking smart. Have me all figured out. You don’t even know what that paper meant.”

“I looked up the things I didn’t know.”

“Aren’t you a genius, Mother.”  I don’t know who hung up first.

Every day I worried. Every day I tried to lead the life of the normal. I succeeded about twenty percent of the time. Most days I floated blankly through my new job as a counselor at a high school, then grocery shopping, yoga, talking to friends on the phone, making dinner, lying on the couch for hours watching tv. I got especially attached to “American Horror Story,” where the evil spirits, self-mutilation, and toxicity resonated.

Then in the middle of November, we had a conversation about his “tapering off.” Jonah called around ten one night from L’Hermitage on his cigarette break. I was still up, very alert, as I’d been waiting for months for this call.

“I know I can’t do this any longer, Mom.  I want to stop the opiates. I know I can; I did it before, right?! I’ll taper off. I am tapering off, actually.”

“Right. But before–you were in rehab, taking suboxone, that helped with the cravings, and you had around-the-clock professional care.”

“I want to quit, Mom. I’m already down to half of what I was using the last few months.”

Wanting to believe him, I said he could stay at my house the week of Thanksgiving—for 6 nights. During that time he would decide if he were going to go to rehab again or not. Monday he’d have to leave—for rehab or back to one of crappy hostels where he’d been staying.

The first few days I cleaned up his addled messes around my apartment after he left for work at noon, and then watched my favorite show. Scenes of carnage and violence—a decapitated witch spewing racist epithets, a couple having sex in a filthy hotel room, both aware of a stinking corpse in the bathtub, a woman gouging out her own eyes with a kitchen knife—these scenes kept me steady.

On Thanksgiving, Jonah and I went out to dinner. We both dressed up.

His pants wouldn’t stay up because he’d lost so much weight. I gave him my belt. I drove us  to a place I’d seen in a local magazine that looked classy and funky. The waitress flirted with him–as every waitress has ever done since Jonah was around nineteen. Jonah was warm and funny and sweet to me. He asked me about work, and whether I ever thought I’d meet the right man and how much that mattered to me. I didn’t flinch when he ordered a beer. And then I ordered a glass of wine. My salmon was perfectly grilled. On the way out, I asked the flirty waitress to take a photo of us.

It was like getting to see the sunlight after months inside somewhere cold and dark. I bathed in the strange grace of our being out to dinner together–a mother and son on a holiday–a bath made of milk and honey and normalcy. For the hour and a half we were out together, I did not think about whether Jonah would choose to go to rehab. I did not think about the fact that this was the anniversary of his recognizing that his father had molested him, and his starting to use again.

He had the couch, and I went to sleep in my bed for a few hours. I woke to hear the TV blaring.  I came out, and Jonah had fallen sleep in his clothes on the top of the sheets and blanket I’d left for him. His phone was right by my foot. I turned off the TV, and unlocked his phone; his password was his birthday. So I saw then, that earlier the same day he’d contacted someone to buy “chrissy.” That, I found out online–back in my bedroom–was crystal meth. And from what I could see on his phone, he’d been doing it for months.

I should have known: the weight loss, the staying up all night driving around after the hotel job, a certain hollow look in his eye. I should have noticed that hollow look. But he’d had not that look before, because he’d never done meth before. I pulled the covers off my bed and lay down in a hard nest on the floor next to my son. He was completely still on the couch.  I listened  to him breathe, thought of him breathing in his crib at two. Sometimes I slept on the floor next to him back then. His breathing calmed me, and I didn’t want to sleep next to Art. Now Jonah was sweating, and occasionally moaning. Eventually I went back to my bed because I saw we were both ghosts of our former selves, and if I were going to be the parent I better get sleep.

And although I intended to confront him in the morning. I could not. I thought he might run away if he knew I’d discovered the crystal meth. I needed time to think, to talk to someone else. There were three days until Monday. So I let him sleep late, shower, go to work. “Bye, Mom. See you tonight.”

Jonah leaves my apartment with a furtiveness that makes me nauseous. I feel the wet heat coming out my eyes. Then I pick up Jonah’s clothes, turn his pockets inside out. I look in his toiletry bag but find only toothpaste and floss. There is poison in my house, and the poison is my son, his pain, his attempt to numb his pain. My blood, my heart and soul. Now I know: My meth-addicted son. I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for his last bit of dope, last sources of known relief. My poisoned and poisonous boy.

Kirsten Wasson works as a college counselor at a high school in Los Angeles; four years ago she left a job as an English professor in Ithaca, New York, to move to LA and begin her life over at the age of 50. For many years she wrote a blog about the experience (, and she is now finishing a memoir on the subject. Kirsten has previously published a book of poetry with Antrim House Press, and her non-fiction pieces appeared in The Ithaca Times for ten years. Active in the L.A. storytelling scene, she recently won a “Best Of 2016” at the SHINE storytelling venue in Santa Monica.

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