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Guest Posts, parenting, parents

Driving With Mom

August 15, 2021
car

by Susan Cohen

The house is bathed in black. There are no lights to guide me.  I move slowly, step by step on the icy walkway covered with snow, clinging to the iron railing.  When I reach the landing, I stamp the snow off my boots and ring the doorbell.

I hear the quiet, gentle, familiar sound of the chimes echoing through the hall and then wait patiently for the lights to flip on and to hear the sounds of footsteps on the carpet.  But minutes later, the house is still dark.

The car is sitting in the driveway covered with a layer of snow, and I don’t see any fresh footprints along the walkway.  My mother never goes to bed before the 9:00 movie.  My heart beats faster, remembering how last winter she was anchored like in her chair, robotically bringing a cigarette to her lips, one after the other.

Reaching into the ceramic pot through a clump of gray snow, I feel the sharp edge of the key and then try to push the front door open with a firm shove. It resists opening as if it’s frozen shut, and I need to muster up all my strength until it finally gives in.  I wonder when the door was opened last.

“Anybody Home? Mom?”

The electric radiator is clicking away, struggling to heat the air through a film of dust. I fight the urge to sneeze.

I am beginning to regret my decision to hitchhike home to retrieve the backdrop for “Midsummer’s Night Dream.”  I came without warning because I didn’t want my mother to get excited, make a fuss, and start shopping and cooking, but I forgot after one year at college that she had a habit of folding inside herself during the cold dark days of winter.

I slide open the kitchen door, and I see my mother surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke.   She doesn’t jump up, shout my name in surprise and wrap me in her arms.  Instead, she is staring at the upper left-hand corner where the kitchen cabinet meets the ceiling.   Deep in concentration, her eyebrows meet in the middle of her forehead, and her eyelashes flutter as if she is dreaming sitting upright in her chair.

The plan was to take her to a restaurant for dinner and then borrow her car to drive to the summer cottage where the backdrop is stuffed in a trunk in her bedroom. But I can’t leave her this way.  I decide to take her with me. Perhaps the memories of sticky hazy afternoons dangling her feet into the lake from the dock will reignite and warm her spirit.

After I rinse and load dishes in the dishwasher and scrub away fried egg glued onto a frying pan, I sit opposite her at the kitchen table.  I push aside a burning cigarette that’s dangerously close to an open newspaper.

She startles when I gently touch her hand.

“You want to drive with me to the summer cottage?”

Her gaze moves down from the ceiling and but she doesn’t look at me. It’s more like she sees through me.

“It would be nice to get out of the house, don’t you think?”

I pat her hand gently. She nods, gets up from her chair, and slowly heads towards the coat closet.  This is a good sign.

I watch her quietly as she slips on the same ankle-length mink coat she has been wearing for over thirty years. Miraculously preserved, it’s still soft and shiny, and I feel an impulse to pet it, just like I did when I was a child.

Thrusting her hands into the deep pockets of her coat, she pulls out a red wool hat with a pom-pom and a brightly striped scarf that I wore when I was in junior high. If she was pushing a shopping cart, she could be mistaken for a homeless person. On a good day, I could tell her I am calling the fashion police, and she would laugh.

In the car, we sit on the icy cold seats and put on our seat belts. I crank the heater all the way up.  A chill from the night air seeps in as my Mom opens her window a small crack and lights up a cigarette.

She blinks as she exhales as if the smoke is stinging her eyes.  I am waiting for her to ask about my studies or ask if I am seeing someone.  As much as I long to hear her voice, I’m not in a mood to answer either question. All I hear is the purr of the fan.

Suddenly she giggles.  I don’t know why she’s laughing.  It’s silly to visit a summer home in the dead of winter, but I wouldn’t call it funny.  My grip grows stronger on the wheel until my knuckles turn white as I drive down the ramp and merge into the middle lane of the highway.

“Hope you’re in shape. We have to hike through the snow to our back door.”

She’s doesn’t turn to face me but keeps her gaze straight ahead at twelve o’clock.

“Have you been to the summer cottage in the winter before?”

I am afraid she has been hypnotized by watching the white lines fly by, one after the other, and is now even further away from me.  Perhaps I won’t be able to coax her out of the car, and I begin to fear we will be doomed to driving forever. I fiddle with the radio until I find a light rock station. Putting my hands firmly on the wheel, I keep the speed at a steady 65 miles per hour.

Then I hear Carole King’s voice.  I see myself, thirteen years old sitting on my twin bed looking at my poster of a fluffy white baby seal taped on my wall, and I begin to sing,

“It’s too late, baby, now it’s too late.”   

“What does this mean?”

She’s speaking!  Her voice is sweet and soft, like a bashful child.   But then I am confused, and I don’t know how to answer. There are several different possibilities.  She might want to know why we are driving to the summer cottage or maybe the significance of life itself.

“Are you asking what the song means?”

She nods her head up and down. Something as simple as being heard feels magical.  My shoulders soften.

“A woman fell out of love and wants to end her relationship.”

“Yes, but what does it mean?”

“I guess there comes a point in a relationship where you just can’t try anymore.”

Then my mother exhales smoke with a loud sigh.  She seems satisfied with my answer for now.

I want to ask her what “it’s too late” means to her.  But I am afraid her answer will bring memories that will force her back inside her shell.  I have memories of my own.  Like the night my father came home late after making full professor; purple balloons strung along the ceiling, a bottle of champagne sitting in a sea of melted ice, cheese dreams with a hard crust from turning cold.  At midnight my mother jumped, thinking she heard his footsteps on the landing was the sound of a tree branch blowing in the wind, rubbing against the windowpane.

A sign announces a familiar exit up ahead, and I panic because I can’t remember if I’m supposed to take it. I try to bring back the warmth from the hot sun beating on the roof, the sound of crickets through the open window to remember if this is the exit l took last summer. Meanwhile, the exit is coming closer.  I need to decide.

I feel a sharp tug on the steering wheel and the car veers sharply to the right.   Terrified, trying to regain control, I grab the wheel and pull to the left. The car begins to skid.  It spins into a circle and then falls gently against a snowbank with a muffled crunch.

I turn towards my mother, looking straight at me for the first time, and I let her have it.

“What were you thinking?  You could have killed us!  If you reach for the wheel again, I am going to put you in the back seat.  Do you want to sit there all by yourself?”

My mother is squished against the car door, looking small and helpless, but now she is looking me straight in the eye as she tries to defend herself, “The exit was coming closer, and you were listening to the radio and not paying attention..”

“Why can’t you speak to me instead of grabbing the wheel?  Why do you have to act crazy and scare the hell out of me like this?”

This is a familiar pattern.  The withdrawal, a blowup, and then the gentle trickle of confessions and regrets.  A slow slide to something that resembles normalcy where you say what you feel, and it’s possible to breathe love in and out.

We drive in silence for a few minutes.

“Sorry I yelled at you.  But you could have killed us.”

“Why are we going to the summer cottage, anyway?” Her voice is stronger, challenging me.  Only now she realizes how strange it is to go to a summer cottage in the dead of winter.

“I want to get the backdrop for our production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“Ah, yes, it’s stuffed in the antique trunk in my bedroom.”

I sigh and take a deep breath. Although the spell is broken, there are more challenges ahead. I haven’t thought this through.  The snow might be so deep or icy that it is impossible to hike to the back door.  I didn’t even think to bring a shovel.  The door could be frozen shut.  Even if I succeed in prying it open, it would still take a miracle to hop through all the lawn furniture stored in the hallway, find that trunk, pry it open, and drag out that backdrop.  Even if I can set it free and reclaim it, it might be stained by mildew or, even worse, became a nest for baby mice or squirrels.

As we approach the lake, there are fewer and fewer street lights, just an occasional spot of yellow between long dark corridors.  When we reach the road closest to our house, there is a windy ribbon of snow leading to our back door. The snow has a slight crust on it, like cake icing.

Before I can take the key out of the ignition, my mother opens the passenger door, and a blast of cold air comes into the car.

She places her right boot on the snow, and she manages to stand momentarily when suddenly the layer of ice beneath her foot gives way with a loud crunch.  With one foot six inches below the other, she begins to lose her balance but manages to steady herself with her two hands extended out on either side. Images flash in my head of her twisting her ankle, me trying to lift her back into the car, looking for an emergency room back home late at night.  But she’s filled with energy and isn’t discouraged in the least bit.

She laughs, “I ate too many cookies.  I am just an old fatty.”

“Mom, it’s not you. The mink coat weighs a ton.”

I walk around the car and have us swap coats so that she can wear my light down jacket to reduce her weight. As I slip on my mother’s mink coat, there is the faint smell of sweat mixed with a hint of Channel Number 5 that I give her every year for Christmas.

“I will hug you from behind to help you keep your balance. One, two, three march!”

We sink just a little bit. Thankfully the edges of the ice aren’t sharp.

I start chanting a song we sang together when we hiked through the woods in the summer years ago.

Left, left, I had a wife, but she left.  My wife left me with 36 children, and there is no gingerbread left.

Crunch, crunch, crunch,  our feet keep pace with the beat. The snowdrifts form a peak reaching up to the roof.

“Oh my Lord, where is the door? Mom, I need to set myself free so I clear the snow.”

I release my arms from around my mother’s waist to walk around her from the left.  At first, the ice supports my weight, but then after just a few seconds, my foot crashes through.  I grab onto my mother for support.  We stagger and fell to the ground giggling, making two small craters where we lay side by side, our backs on the snow, our eyes to the sky.  The snow isn’t wet but instead squishes under our bodies like a soft cushion.  There is a grounding feeling of being flush with the earth.

I look up to see a long band of stars packed so close together they form a swirl across the sky.  I feel like I am a child again at the Planetarium, seeing a black field filled with lights.  There is awe in seeing the width and breadth of forever.

“Mom, look at the arm of the Milky Way.  It’s beautiful.”

“Did you know that there is a whole generation of children that have never seen the big dipper?  New laws are forcing businesses to shut off their lights so people can see the night sky.”

Ah, here is the mother I love, quoting US News and World Report, a river of words traveling through topics all over the world and through time.  There is that opening of the chest, the spark to the brain, the rapid exchange of thoughts and ideas, insightful, thoughtful, and rational.

“Mom, we could talk all night.  But if we don’t move, we’ll freeze to death. How can I even find the door through all this snow?”

My mother chuckles and then laughs.

“No need.”

“Mom, why are you laughing? You’re scaring me with this laughter of yours.”

“The backdrop is back home in the attic.”

“What?”

“I brought it back last summer when we closed the cottage. I thought you might need it for college.”

“And you just remembered now?”

I reach over and place my gloved hands on my mother’s neck as if I want to strangle her. We wrestle in the snow like we are two little kids.

We follow our footsteps back to the car.  This time separately, my mother leads, and I walk behind her, putting my feet in the same impressions in the snow.  After we settle in the car and fire up the heat, I hear about my cousin’s wedding and my uncle’s retirement.  After half an hour, she snores lightly.

I open the door to my home that this time surrenders to my touch easily, tuck in my mother, and place a kiss on her cheek.

Lying on my childhood bed staring at the wallpaper with vines running up and down the walls, I think about the patterns of my shared life with my mother;   the laughter, silence, withdrawal, absence, hospitalizations, medications, and her homecoming to start the cycle again. There are no facts but only theories about what triggers her slow disappearance; a bad gene, chemical imbalance, poor nutrition, failed marriage, empty nest, boredom, loneliness.  Perhaps it’s all of these things, or maybe it’s something simpler. Her spirit is searching for the calm that comes from having a witness, a caring soul to exchange her thoughts and feelings, the positive energy that comes from breathing love in and out.

Susan Cohen has had her work appear in Cyclamens and Swords, All Things Girl, Adanna Literary Review, Six Hens, and Chaleur Magazine and has been shortlisted twice for Glimmer Train short story awards. She is also the co-founder of a PR firm located North of Tel Aviv.

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Leigh Stein is amazing, no really she is. Leigh was cofounder and executive director of Out of the Binders/BinderCon, a feminist literary nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the careers of women and gender variant writers. The Land of Enchantment was our first introduction to Leigh, and her memoir of a broken love and lost dreams placed this writer firmly on our radar. Leigh’s recent novel, Self Care, received rave (and starred) reviews and is a highbrow yet satirical look at influencer culture. This month, though, she released a book of poetry  that is everything. What to Miss When: Poems is a look at the internet, the pandemic, and the life lived in between. Leigh is an amazing talent, pick up one of her books and let us know what you think!

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Beauty Hunting, Guest Posts

The Stream

October 11, 2019
stream

B Edward M. Cohen

Five year old Noah saw an old man in the market, he tells me, his body curling into an

imitation. He nods his head, pretends to be walking with a cane. The old guy was walking up and down the aisles, muttering, “Mine eyes! Mine eyes!” The memory makes him cackle.

I am not sure what this means but I’ll ask his mother later. Maybe she’ll know. Maybe not. . Ten minutes go by and, in the middle of another conversation, he mutters, “Mine eyes! Mine eyes!” his body curling, his voice crackling with make-believe age, and he giggles to himself once again. It doesn’t matter whether I understand or not. He enjoys the story.

He also loves to sing Allouette. He announces, “I can speak French, Grandpa!” Then he sings, “Allouette, gentil Allouette. Allouette gentil ploo merai!” He doesn’t understand a word. He is just mouthing sounds which his father probably taught him but he proudly sings the refrain over and over.

The most impressive thing about him at this age is the way he relishes private jokes, sets his own goals, pleases himself with his accomplishments, figures thing out, gets lost in his private fantasies.

We are spending the afternoon at the stream. His parents have rented a cottage near our summer home for the month because they can thereby get a vacation with free baby sitting: a treat for us all. They bring him over every afternoon and he has fallen in love with a nearby stream. We spent two hundred bucks on a membership in the town pool, figuring he’d meet other kids there, take swimming lessons, but no, Noah prefers the stream. The water only goes up to his waist so he can just wade in and sit and splash but the current is really strong and he loves to let the cool ripples rush over him. He has started to build a dam; flinging the rocks around, piling them up, then breaking them down, dousing his head under the waterfall he has created, singing Allouette to himself.

He used to be totally dependent on adults for information and stimulation. He soaked up whatever we told him. He wanted to hear the same story over and over. These days, when we walk to the stream, he talks to himself, repeats his favorite punch lines, does not care if I get the jokes or not.

In the fall, he will be going to a real school instead of the pre K he has been in for years. He will be learning letters and numbers. He will be losing old friends and will have to make new ones, travelling on the school bus. His parents are nervous, but not Noah. Now I know why; just when he needs it, his inner self is growing strong.

We walk home from the stream, he in his baggy bathing suit, hair golden from the sun, and he shows me his Karate poses, copied from television. He sucks in his tummy and I begin to see the outlines of muscles, like the very beginning of a scrawny pre-adolescent. He says, “I have to keep my knees bent like this for support!” God knows where he heard it but he seems to understand and is clearly impressed with himself.

I hope I never forget the way he is this carefree summer since there are so many hurdles ahead which he doesn’t even know about. He has been so happy in his current school, has been there for so many years, the darling of the teachers. This will be a great disruption in his life. To us, it seems frightening. Not to him. Maybe he is aware of the tension around him and, without even knowing, he has taken this summer to marshall his inner resourses. With the sense of self he is building, he will handle whatever awaits him. He knows it. We will learn. We have to, he is signaling. He will not be held back by our old-people concerns.

I know separation is a part of parenting but does it have to happen so soon?

This coming weekend, his friend, Andy, is visiting from the city so his parents tell us Noah will not be coming over until Monday. We will miss him terribly. After only these few weeks, we cannot remember how we used to fill the afternoons. And we are reminded how brief this period will be. Soon, too soon, he will be busy with soccer games and music lessons and boy scout meetings. There will be very little time for visits to his grandparents.

Maybe, every now and then, he will need to replenish his spirits by returning to the stream and, if so, we will be here.

Edward M. Cohen‘s novel, $250,000, was published by Putnam’s; his nonfiction books are published by Prima, Prentice-Hall, Limelight Editions, and SUNY Press. He has published over 35 stories in various literary journals, and his articles have appeared in CosmopolitanChildParentingAmerican Woman, and Out. Cohen has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NY State Council on the Arts.

 

Upcoming events with Jen

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Guest Posts, motherhood

Sequestering the Mother

May 12, 2019
mother motherhood

By PJ Holliday

“The mother is glass through which
You see, in excruciating detail, yourself.”
“The Mother” – Maggie Smith

Becoming a mother has divided my body in portions, passing out small pieces at a time to my child, husband and self.  I’ve been stretched to a capacity I formerly did not think possible and from there, have to learn to surrender my control of the unknown. I don’t recognize myself, and when I catch a glimpse of what was familiar, it vanishes like pools of water on hot asphalt. When I try to write, I am torn between comforting my child whose eyes are fixated on whatever I am doing. I try to catch some work between naps, but who wants to work when there is a moment for quiet reflection made available for the first time in the morning. I feel the pull of many children, my creative explorations and my boy, who undoubtedly should take precedent. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parents

Intergalactic

July 6, 2018
reality

By Amy Fowler

Several years ago, my mom started existing in a parallel but alternate reality. Her interdimensional trips began slowly at first, with the briefest of blips spent on the Other Side. Much more quickly than I care to acknowledge, Mom’s time-space jaunts became more frequent and lasted longer.

A lifelong fan of Star Trek, I’m quite sure she didn’t think this was what Captain James Tiberius Kirk had in mind when he said, “Beam me up, Scotty.” She preferred The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, anyway. I mean, who wouldn’t pick Patrick Stewart over William Shatner?

I know that Mom doesn’t enjoy her extradimensional travels. The time she spends out of this world leaves her frightened and flummoxed. And there’s nothing I can do, but sit and watch as she rockets toward the place where the ionosphere gives way to Outer Space. There’s nothing I can do but await her return, my eye trained on the sky through the twenty-inch Ritchey-Chreiten at Banner Creek Observatory. There’s nothing I can do.

Theres nothing I can do. Continue Reading…

aging, Guest Posts, parents

The Wild Green

May 9, 2018
green

By Zahie El Kouri

Less than a year before my father’s diagnosis, my parents bought their burial plots. They announced this when I came home to visit them in May.

“There is nothing wrong with your father,” my mother said. “It was The Greek Physician’s idea.”

“He wanted to buy his plots, and I guess he likes us, so he wants us to be near them.”

He shrugged, with a small, satisfied smile on his face, like he was talking about seats at the theater.

This was certainly not the first time my parents had discussed their deaths with me. Every year, my mother pulled out a yellow legal pad that listed all the details I would need to know, the combination to the safe, the location of a power of attorney, the man to contact about the life insurance payout.  Every year, on one of my visits home, we would sit around the kitchen table with the white marble floors and the view of the green lawn and the murky lagoon and we would go through the yellow list.

But this year, after we did this, the three of us got in my parents’ new dark grey Lexus and drove to the cemetery. As usual, my father drove, my mother sat next to him, and I sat in the back seat, just like a million car trips in the past. We passed the manicured lawns, whitish driveways, and big, new-money homes, always set back about the same distance from the street. Out of deference to me, my father turned off Rush Limbaugh, so there was silence in the car. It was a happy silence. Continue Reading…

aging, Guest Posts, parents

Trapped Out of Love

April 6, 2018

By Martina E Faulkner

I always think it will get easier.
And I’m always wrong.
Every time.

 It’s not easier over time, it’s more numb. Consistency and frequency only served to create an existential morphine-like balm to the frayed nerve endings of emotions swirling through my body and brain.

 And now, when there are gaps in time, the nerves become more sensitive, just like withdrawal. Only, the solution is not more ‘heroin’… the solution is recognizing the inescapable truth that it doesn’t get better from here.

 And even that, I’m afraid, is no solution at all.

I wrote those words yesterday as I sat in my car, throat choked up and dry cheeks. No tears would fall, even though they were there. They were dammed up inside me, bottle-necked… stuck. Trapped might be another word for it. My tears were trapped, just as I have been, as I have felt. Continue Reading…

Eating/Food, emotions, Guest Posts

American Chop Suey

February 4, 2018
chef

By Kimberly Wetherell

The name alone mortifies me. American Chop Suey. It’s the name my mother gave to her signature dish, the supper we ate at least twice a week every week for as long as I can remember throughout my formative years. What Julia Child did with beef, bacon, onions and mushrooms, my mother did with elbow macaroni, browned ground chuck, Prego (It’s in there!) spaghetti sauce, and a sprinkling of her “secret blend” of spices; very likely nothing more than dried oregano, parsley, and basil. It’s that sprinkling of the secret spices that made her a chef, she told us. That quip was something I mocked her for to my professional chef friends when describing how pathetic my mother’s cooking was, and how it drove me to learn how to cook properly and eventually become a professional chef myself.

I’m not a professional chef anymore, though. I opened my own restaurant in Brooklyn three and a half years ago, and three years ago tonight (as I write this), I was reviewing my year-end books. I could see that we had been hemorrhaging money and that by the end of February 2015, our doors would be forced to close unless a miracle happened. It didn’t. I was a solo entrepreneur and I had sunk my life savings into the venture, which included leveraging my tony Park Slope brownstone apartment for the business loan, and I lost everything. As soon as I could, I left Brooklyn behind for the warmer climes of St. Petersburg, Florida and I spent two years there in an attempt to recover. Continue Reading…

Dear Life., Guest Posts, parents

Dear Life: The Unending Drama that is My Parents

December 13, 2017

Dear Life,

I am the youngest of five kids, whose parents have been married 50 years.  ’50 years’, people exclaim…and say what a wonderful blessing and example of love. Well, sort of.

My dad started beating up my mom before they were even married, in the mid 60’s. That lasted about until the mid 80’s, when my brother died in an accident.  My mom was finally saying she was going to leave my dad, right before my brother died.  My dad had been unfaithful (another secret I didn’t know until my twenties, and at that, I learned from a sibling – it was, and never has been talked about).  When my brother died, things changed for a while.  No more alcohol (both parents are alcoholics), and my dad went to therapy for his abusive behavior towards my mom.  The physical violence stopped, but the emotional abuse continues to this day.  They control each other and are so co-dependent that they don’t like anyone else.  No one. Continue Reading…

Delight, Guest Posts, Relationships

My People Didn’t Dance

October 31, 2017
dance

By Mathina Calliope

When my father turned 64 a few years ago I gave him a playlist especially for him. I labeled it The Happy Birthday Daddy Salsa Primer. Salsa—the dance and the music—was a fierce passion of mine but unknown to him, and I hoped he would enjoy discovering something both new and important to me. But at the party we threw for him, my mother thought I was giving him instructions for dance rather than an introduction to music—an insensitive gift for a man with a bad back. From across the living room, I saw disappointment pinch her face before she rolled her eyes and looked away. It was subtle, but it rent me.

What passion for dance my mother might have held had died one night in the fifties when her father, turning into the driveway on a darkening Upper Michigan evening, spied her youthful profile in the warm yellow rectangle of her bedroom window. She was dancing in front of the mirror. I imagine her twirling, or lifting her arms over her head and letting them drift down, like silk parachutes, to her sides. Until, that is, my grandfather burst through the door, belt in hand. In his household, dancing was a sin against God.

Dancing was okay by my father, who loves many kinds of music. Alas, his family did not genetically endow him with that crucial dance prerequisite, rhythm. His clapping hands seldom sync with the beat. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, suicide

Life After My Son’s Death

August 16, 2017
suicide

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911. You can also text CONNECT to 74174. Every life matters.Every life matters.

By Kellie Julia

“13 Reasons Why”

My son was 31 when he left, he had suffered through some illness in the past 10+ years both physically and mentally. Sadly these things combined with life’s daily struggles led him to make the decision to end his life. I feel like the spirit does live on after physical death and I like to think he can hear me when I talk to him but there isn’t much I wouldn’t give to be able to hug him one more time.

There has been so much controversy over the series “13 reasons why”. It came out within weeks of my sons death, I watched it. My daughter watched it. We talked about it together, we talked about it with friends. It didn’t focus just on suicide it touched on some pretty real and serious issues for young adults.  Drug and alcohol use, peer pressure, bullying, date rape, homosexuality, mental illness, abuse, neglect, self esteem and so much more.  I feel that it opens the door for parents to start important conversations with their children.

I didn’t feel like it glamourized or romanticized the main character’s suicide.  Suicide is not glamorous or romantic. I saw it first hand and for me it was dark, horrifying, lonely, sad and final.

The series actually helped put some things about suicide into perspective for me.  There was nothing in particular that I solely did or did not do or anything in particular that anyone else solely did or did not do to directly cause my son to end his life. He didn’t list 13 specific reasons why he did it but I know that it was an accumulation of many things over many years packaged into his body and mind and that package became just too heavy for him to carry.  Am I saying “Hey everyone when life gets too hard just kill yourself” of course not. My life has not always been easy, your life has not always been easy and we are still here. But it did help me take a step towards not blaming myself for my sons death and neither should any of you. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, parenting

My Age of Fatherhood

June 28, 2017

By Vincent J. Fitzgerald

Parenthood was the furthest thing on my mind when you were thrust upon me, but I undertook the charge, and its grown-up responsibilities, because part of me desired to be a grown up. You were fragile, vulnerable, and needed me close. Fatherhood was the first time in my life someone needed me to survive, and although often confounded by its tasks, I adapted, and was saved from reckless games my peers played. I never looked back, fixed my eyes on you, and hoped your future bright.

Divorce darkened that future for a while, but I remained a steady presence during the death of our family. Infidelity and deception devastated you, and although you had grown some, you still needed my shoulder to provide your tears a place to land. The whole affair rocked you at peak suggestibility, and although my wounds were also deep, I ignored them to ensure I tended to yours.

You had been hospitalized for a million days during which I prayed for your return. The moment you felt the victory of verdure, we imploded, and I feared you would return to where people never smiled, and medicine was measured by voltage. It was more worry than could fit in me, but mine was a malleable mind, and it expanded to the point of burst synapse. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts

Not My Happiest Place on Earth

May 26, 2017
divorce

By Heather Grossmann

Mickey Mouse ears and divorce. Probably not an association the relentlessly family-friendly Disney would appreciate, but — with apologies to Walt — one that was cemented for me during a summer years ago and resurfaced recently, when my dad unearthed some architectural drawings of the prenatal Epcot Center.

My complicated relationship with Epcot — well, to the extent that a geodesic sphere and a 5-year-old girl can engage in a “relationship” — began in the early ‘80s. Epcot was a pretty young thing on the eve of its international debut, a stunning 160-foot diameter dome hovering 14 feet in the air in Orlando, Florida. I was a cute pre-K kid on a post-divorce junket, a little thing awash in dreams of pirate boat rides and spinning teacups, 3,000 miles from my hometown of Oakland, California.

I had only just joined the ever-growing ranks of the “children of divorce.” This was the trendiest club in town at a time when the U.S. divorce rate hit its all-time high. But in an age when many parents followed up their separation announcements with a balm of Cabbage Patch dolls and Barbie playhouses, I had something going for me the other members of my not-so-exclusive fellowship did not: My father was the project architect on Epcot.

When my parents sat me down at our kitchen table in the summer of 1982 to say that their marriage was over, there was major upside to the news — the next day, I was going to the Magic Kingdom. I knew something “bad” was happening, but a trip to Disney World? Come on! What could be better than that?

As it turns out, a lot. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

I Was A Mother Waiting To Make The Call

May 8, 2017
call

By Mallory McDuff

I waited until I was three months pregnant to tell him about the baby. Then he died three days after my phone call, when my six-year old daughter shared the news of a baby sister in her future, squealing her delight in a high-pitched voice that sounded like a toddler, although she was quite pragmatic and focused for a first-grader. What drove me to call on that day rather than later in the week, when it would have been too late? And why was I devastated by his sudden death but comforted by his support of this unusual pregnancy?

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” my mother always said, describing the twists and turns in our lives that both confound and amaze us. This phone call to my father was definitely a mystery, one of those encounters I could never have predicted, even if I’d written the script in advance.

For starters, I’d gotten pregnant while separated from my husband, separated for nearly three years, as we avoided the eventuality of the end of our marriage, much like we often waited until the last minute to do our taxes. While we waited for something to happen (a move, an affair, a sudden desire to teach English in Japan?), I got pregnant, much to my joy-filled delight. We were separated, but not separated enough, I learned to say to anyone who questioned the timeline. Hearing that quip, people stopped asking questions, which was the intended outcome. This conception came several years after we ended a second pregnancy due to a genetic disorder affecting the baby, a gut-wrenching decision made from a foundation of love in the midst of a crumbling marriage. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

A Visit From My Retired Parents Helped Reset My Anxiety Clock

February 23, 2017

By Marilyn Maloney

I’ve been riding a knife edge for too long. I have always worried, mostly about nothing, death, being alone when I’m old, some odd pain that could be a blood clot. Or not.

My daughter has been having more seizures lately. She is nine and lives with Leukodystrophy, causing her cerebral palsy, seizures, impaired swallowing, and overall low muscle tone. Researchers suspect they have found the genetic cause, and will tell us as soon as they prove their suspicions. Four long years have gone by since their discovery, and Maddy has developed daily seizures that can last up to a minute. Lately they have increased in intensity. Instead of a barely noticeable eye flutter, they come with a grimace and outstretched arm.

My son wakes up sniffling, followed by the telltale cough. His eczema puts his IgE levels 50 times higher than they should be, so the blood tests say he’s allergic to everything except cocoa. This year he developed asthma. The ER had a teddy bear on his bed when he was admitted, and “Jack” the bear sleeps with him now.

We pump Jimmy full of five different medications when the cough shows up, following his Asthma Action Plan from the Immunologist. Steroid inhaler each morning and night, steroid nasal spray and Zyrtec before school, albuterol before recess, and we pray we never need the Epi-pen. I label all his foods and send him “emergency snacks” in case he ever forgets his lunch. He has a pre-K crush on the school nurse. And the teachers like him, so he already ran out of emergency cookies. Continue Reading…