on my love life.

In a dream, my childhood babysitter told me to write about my love life. Sarah Songer was funny and loving; she fed me Fudgesicles, she had the best sticker book, and most importantly she so effortlessly drew the most beautiful people on command. They were perfect, I thought, except that she always drew them with serious faces, when I felt they clearly should be smiling. So I would erase those tiny pursed lips and draw in a smile, sure that I could equally effortlessly make my replacement upturned lips match the quality of her drawing. I could not.


As an adult, infrequently, she comes by my parents’ house and drinks a bottled coke— made with real cane sugar— that my dad keeps stocked in the refrigerator in the garage. Despite my almost being 35, she still comments, almost every time we cross paths, that she’s amazed I have boobs. I now have a partner, a 16 month old daughter, a baby on the way, and I own a home, which is all neither here nor there, not a specifically important list of personal qualifications except to say generally those things happen after boobs and not before. I mean, I got boobs, or some minuscule version of them, over 20 years ago.


I never really understood her commentary until I also had the experience of watching someone, who was emblazoned in my mind's eye as a child, also grow. And then I understood: people are, often, or we believe that they stay, exactly as we first knew them to be. So to her I am a Fudgesicle-loving 6 year old, who's afraid of having to sleep under the dining room table as punishment for misbehaving. It’s so often not the boobs that aren’t growing at all, but our perception.


Sarah arrived in the dream, out of where I don’t know, and when she said “love life,” I dream laughed out loud, not out believing my life to be humorously devoid of love, but because the specific phrase love life resonated so little with my experience, past or present. Love life, to me, elicits some idea of an ongoing quest for partnership that includes actual dating and maybe drinks and definitely flirty floral dresses and ballet flats. I have always been more into tennis shoes.


I never dated really. I was terrible at it. One of us was always too in love from the get go, and it never worked. My actual loves were three. I would count maybe a handful more as significant in my romantic experience, but wouldn't deign to embarrass them or myself by admitting so here.


Diogo was my first real love, my first everything. He came into the restaurant where I worked in Berkeley during college-- a predominantly vegetarian spot with counter service, where I worked my way up to the position of assistant manager, topping out at a luxurious ten dollars an hour plus the pennies of tips college students let clamour into the metal bin sitting afront the register. I always smelled like salad dressing and french fries, and he rarely looked me in the eye.


I thought he was rude, in fact I was sure of it. I remember taking special note of how rude he was, until one day, another regular, who was, unbeknownst to me, his friend and roommate, said, "My roommate speaks really highly of you." I have no idea what I did at that counter that might have made a boy admire me. I learned, later, to my shock, that he just thought I was a babe and he wanted to make out. At 19, I had been kissed, really kissed, only once before-- a single time at camp when I was 17. I was not a babe. I wore vintage cat-eye glasses-- genuine deadstock with my very paltry prescription tailor-made to fit-- and jet black hair, finished by bangs with a deep swoop, both costumes for my discomfort. I was fat, maybe, kind of, and definitely insecure. I could punch in an order on that register without even looking, but surely that was not something to admire.


All it took, though, was those few secondhand words of validation for my opinion of Diogo to shift completely. His shyness was suddenly intriguing, his stoic silence painfully enticing. We flirted across the counter each time he ordered a sesame tofu salad by basically doing nothing other than knowing we liked each other.


One day, somehow, I knew. I knew it was my day. I packed my most beautiful outfit to wear after work-- two layered vintage slips over jeans and covered with a chunky sweater. Tennis shoes. And, indeed, that day, he asked me if I'd like to "talk" after work. My first date, if you will.


After my shift, we sat in the corner of the restaurant. He tipped his chair back the whole time-- an offense, as an obedient private school girl-- I still find unforgivable, but I was so enamored I didn't care. I don't remember much of what we said, except that I discovered he had two dictionaries in that backpack he always wore-- an English one and one with Portuguese translations. He was 21, from Brazil; he spoke English fluently, but, like me, was a writer, and anguished regularly over the most appropriate translations of words, the nuances, the grammar. He was the kind of person who would say "With whom are you going to the party?" because it was grammatically correct, even though, I explained, it just sounded weird.


And that is who he was in a nutshell. Brooding, precise, reflective, curious. There was a meticulousness about his mind and his love that captivated me endlessly. On our first real date, he took me to jazz show at a local music school and bought me an apple juice. He worked, I learned, with children with autism; he played jazz saxophone but listened to hip hop, always on vinyl; he rode a skateboard most places; he wrote incessantly; he paid attention to me with the same carefulness he did words. I loved him.


After one month, I lost my virginity to him. He was clinical about that first time in a way I almost needed. He told me what was happening, who we were. At the end, I looked at him and embarrassingly said, "Does this mean you're my boyfriend?" and he, so gentle with my heart, assured me he had been mine long before.


Maybe a year later, he moved back to Brazil. Before he left, he stuck a typewritten story he had made for me on the refrigerator. At the top, scribbled in his very linear handwriting, a note: "This is on account of my loving you forever..."


We were not not together but we were not together. He was in Brazil. I had only been infrequently outside of California. We wrote disjointed emails and sustained phone calls with poor connection. Though just 15 years ago, the technology was seemingly 600 years old, especially when you were definitely in love with someone who lived on a continent you barely comprehended the existence of; there could never have been enough closeness.


One day, he told me still loved me.


Then, he died.


I almost can't tell that story again right now. Surely it only makes me sad in the way a movie makes someone sad; surely I don't still feel it. But honestly I have no idea what's true in that situation.


The abbreviated version is his roomate, the same roommate who had told me of the high speaking, said I needed to get in touch with his family. It sounded ominous, and I distinctly remember saying to my best friend, as we padded down the Berkeley campus to my apartment on University street, everything would be fine as long as he hadn't died.


A week later, finally, just weeks before finals, before graduation, I found out he had.


He was driving on a windy road. Another car took the turn too wide and crashed into his car head on. The steering wheel crushed his lungs.


I communicated with his dad and his sister for years, maybe, too long, grasping to hold onto pieces of him, asking for stories to breathe newness into the things I knew about him, as if adding moments to my knowledge of him kept him alive that much longer. The thing I think of most often is his dad's story of going to identify the body and how he introduced me to the word suadade.


I drank a lot of alcohol. I cried a lot. I got his words tattooed on my arm. I am not sure it's something I even truly reconciled, but mostly just pushed away.


Some time, maybe a year later, I convinced another boy to love me. Not to lessen the importance of that relationship, but that statement is about the sum total of it. His name was Charlie; he was the inverse of Diogo. He was not brooding or reflective; he was a sweet corn-fed boy from Kansas City, who seemed very happy to smoke pot and watch skate videos for his whole life. There was a levity about it that was relieving to me. We worked at a restaurant in Ghiradelli Square together, and, I think, quite literally, I spent the better part of a year convincing him to love me. If you had asked me why, in the midst of it, and I'd answered honestly, I think I could only say because I had begun.


Eventually he did love me, and then he loved me so much it overwhelmed me. We were together almost three years. He gave me whatever I wanted. He wanted, really, nothing. I was bored and had dreams about marrying him that felt like nightmares. One Christmas he gave me his grandmother's diamond ring. Two weeks later I broke up with him.


That feels like a terrible story. Much less ceremonious and respectful than my love for Diogo, but also, it's the truth. I don't remember much about our days together, our what or our why. We had fun. It was silly. I probably stayed with him a year longer than I wanted to, because I loved his mom so much, but that was that. It was a too-long, light-hearted transition out of recoiling from Diogo's death. It was not meant to last.


Recently, I saw a person who looked and moved and spoke so much like him it was eerie. In a fit of nostalgia, after years and years without contact, I sent Charlie a message to say just that. "No way he was that good-looking," he replied, quickly. I laughed and left it at that. That exchange was our relationship in a nutshell-- sweet and funny and easily left behind.


I don't want to think about the years following.


They are years I'm glad I had, for perspective, but also which I could not possibly be paid enough to repeat. They are years I hope my daughter has the respect to keep to herself should she woefully experience the same. They are years that convinced me I would be alone forever. I would not have a partner. I would not have children. I had resigned to it, not pitifully, but with some determination. I had decided my life might look a lot different than I'd anticipated, but it would be okay.


Then came Nic.


I will maybe mostly skip that story, the beginning I mean. I will skip the romantic part of it-- or the part that, to me, felt like romance, because our stories these days are much different in retrospect, and the romance is not actually my point in this instance. The beginning of the story was made of mutual friends, margaritas, and social media. Nic lived in New York. I lived in San Francisco. Yet somehow, despite the distance and seeming absurdity of it all, maybe a year after the first mention of him, we ended up talking on the phone, regularly.


After several months of regular communication, in which I became fervently sure I loved him, he came to San Francisco to visit. I have written now, too many times, that moments before getting him from the airport, my girlfriend said, as girlfriends do in dramatic moments of anticipation and excitement, "What if you're about to meet the father of your children?" but I will write it again, because, I did, and he is.


He twirled me in the airport, and six months later, I moved to Louisville, not really because he wanted me to, but because I felt like I couldn't not. Three years later, I gave birth to our first daughter, Melby.


I cannot help but wonder if dream Sarah wanted me to write this to clarify, something about what I believe love to be, about us. Nic and I are not married. That's not what's definitive about our relationship, but it is significant. I cared for some time, before and after Melby. I cared, because I was raised in a very traditional household. I cared, because my parents care. I care, because it's a gesture, because taxes, because society, because the word boyfriend sounds juvenile and underplayed, partner, though totally apt, doesn't seem to resonate with people here in Kentucky, and husband is not actually true. I still care, somehow, because it's hard to shake deeply instilled ideas of how things should be done.


But I have never cared out of any sort of belief that Nic is not one hundred percent committed to me. This fact about our relationship is only significant, because I believe it conveys something fundamental about who we are. We are not big into ceremony. We don't give gifts for holidays or birthdays. We don't really go on "dates." We don't have any anniversaries to speak of. There is very little fanfare surrounding love in our relationship. We are, just, in love, whatever that means.


It has evolved so much for me since those first days of translation-filled longing for Diogo. Love life once sounded like those imagined dates in floral dresses, a glass of sangria in hand, knees touching nervously in a bar over a barely touched skillet full of potatoes, and now it looks a lot like being the first one to peel themselves out of bed and gesture to make breakfast. Years ago, I read about our particular union as viewed through the lens of the Chinese zodiac-- combining our specific years and months of birth and our potential compatibility as determined by those elements. I distinctly remember the words, "a lot of togetherness," which basically described a relationship which always took work, which did not necessarily mean something negative, but just exactly that, a relationship that required constant attention.


That prediction turns out to be the truest possible descriptor of us. We work at our relationship, always. We are constantly talking, checking in, reassessing. We apologize, we make amends, we work to accommodate and understand each others' perspectives regularly. No stone is left unturned. If I, in my deep-seated training as a contemporary woman, act out of passive-aggressive frustration, Nic will not relent until I tell him exactly what is bothering me. Often I don't even know. I have pushed so deeply aside all the small annoyances out of some belief that it's better, that I cannot even recognize what is bothering me, until, through so many haphazard accusations and assertions, which I can now quickly recognize as untrue, I arrive at, "You left your suitcase flopped open in the front room, when you clearly know it's important me to keep the house looking nice, especially when it seems like my entire 'job' is baby and house, and that makes me feel disrespected!"


This is, to be honest, the source of my passive-aggressiveness, ninety eight percent of the time, or something quite similar, so I am now able to recognize it much more quickly. But the point is that instead of accepting my nonsense at face value, Nic constantly asks me to be honest and the work in progress is learning how to do that, even for myself, and then, in turn, doing the same for him. The feeling is not nonsense at all, but burying it and acting out something else, other than the truth, is. It is a waste of everyone’s time.


I firmly believe I could have an easier relationship with probably many other people. I also believe being with Nic is fundamentally the most important thing I could do if I ever want to grow as a person, partner, or parent. Not because he knows more than me, but because his fervent insistence upon honesty, transparency, and self-awareness invites me to look at my own bullshit. One hundred percent of the time when I am mad at Nic, it's because he's making me see something I already don't like about myself.


This is not to say he's not often annoying or circuitous himself, but even those things, did they not reveal something within me about my own self, would not be so irksome.


I went to a Kundalini yoga class in Santa Barbara once. Kundalini, for the uninitiated, as one time described by the very teacher of a class I was taking, is "the weird yoga." It's repetitive movements for a truly uncomfortable amount of time and weird sounds and breathing in a way that's supposed to move energy, just generally nothing like the downward dog of Lululemon fame. Many practitioners wear head-coverings and all white. At this specific class, I was already feeling out of place, when in walked a very scruffy white guy in a turban, gauchos, and lots of jewelry. He was chanting loudly and laid down his literal piece of sheepskin as his mat.


His total brazenness and/ or comfort with himself, which it was, it couldn't quite yet tell, made me extremely uncomfortable, and so, of course, he cornered me after class to talk to me. I can't remember why or what he said, but I discovered then that he was actually just comfortable with himself in a way I found unnerving. He made intense, yet somehow totally not inappropriate eye contact with me the entire time he talked, and he introduced himself by some name I cannot recall, but followed it with, "That's my spiritual name." I replied, not trying to be funny, "I'm Beth. That's my birth name."


None of this is important, except that then he said something, again, in what context I'm not sure-- maybe there was none, "There is no other," which was to say, whatever we're battling, wrestling, succumbing to, mourning, chasing, trying to make fall in love with us, is also just us. Every single moment and person and experience in life that elicits something in us, that touches us enough to trigger a spark of emotion, positive or negative, is just something we're working on ourselves.


There is no other.


And I believe that totally, entirely, absolutely to be true. It's not to say other people are not responsible for their actions or that they're entitled to be dicks, but our reaction to it is ours alone. The end.


And somehow Nic is like the khakis-wearing, beer-drinking equivalent of this person-- someone who insists I look at myself and become responsible for my own actions. A mirror. My other, who is no other. And that sounds like pretty much the least romantic thing a person could ever write, but I think for me, it's the ultimate. I feel like I'm in this very miserable, maybe never ending process of reckoning, but I also think if I didn't do it, I maybe still would be that six year old with no boobs afraid of a table. And I just want some fucking boobs. I want to grow up, even though it's hard.


We are expecting another baby in late July. I always wanted another baby, but I'm still scared shitless. And yet I am also, actually, the most totally confident that Nic and I as a team can raise the best possible babies ever, because we work together, and we complement each other's understanding, and, just as a couple, we are always working to grow as parents, and also we are just pretty cool and fun.


And so, I guess, this is love.


It took a tremendous amount of life experience and words on the page to get here. My dream babysitter insisted I sit down and write until I arrived at the realization that the person I have committed to loving, the one with which I started a family, a whole life, the end game to my "love life," is the person, who ultimately insisted I love myself.  Not in a trite, Instagram-quote, kind of way. But in a true, coming to terms with exactly who and how and where I am and who and how and where I am capable of becoming/ going and that that simple acknowledgement is unconditional love. And giving that to ourselves is the only possible way we could give anything even resembling real love to someone else.


I tried to write this in my dreams last night, to get it all out. My brain was so busy I couldn't sleep for hours on end-- an infrequent occurrence these days as I drag myself through the always-so-tired stage of pregnancy. I told Nic this morning I was taking a personal day. I don't leave him with Melby often, not because he's not more than capable of and happy to be with her solo, but when he's home from stints of flying, I like to be together as a family. Today, though, I had to leave. I wrote for hours. Then I texted him and said I was coming home even though I wasn't done.


Nah, he said.


Keep it up. Get it done.


A fervent insistence upon honesty, transparency, and self-awareness.


I have never felt more capable of being, of owning and embodying and evolving, every single thing I already am. So often, we change, but our perception doesn’t grow. I am so grateful to have found someone, who insists, for the love of God, for my own sake, that it does. This, this is love. This is the story of my love life.


1512

I remember the first time I saw 1512 in a picture. I was at work at Schmidt's, San Francisco's sweetest corner German restaurant, a neighborhood homestead. I was weeks, maybe minutes from moving to Louisville, relatively blind. I had visited only once for four days-- a whirlwind of anxiety and sex-- and was moving to be with a boy I'd known only a handful months. But even still, with life so full of unfamiliars and unknowns, I was sure I had to go.

the  picture

the picture

The picture was of a little house with painted white brick, latticed windows, and a scalloped trim. In retrospect, I see how rundown it looked, with so much flaking paint and nests of browning weeds, but I didn't notice it then. I saw it with the eyes of someone first in love, for whom quirks and flaws are not only forgiven but seen as something of beauty. It was a cottage, a story book, a home after so many San Francisco years of living in in someone else's basement or sleeping in a kitchen on a loft made for boxes.

I had generously tasked Nic, who I, again, only realized in retrospect might not be totally sure what exactly he had not quite agreed to in receiving me, with finding us a place to live. He was in school, living with his family. I was moving cross country without a job or any money. We were not the most appealing tenants without any income or proof that it would eventually come.

He dragged his feet, my anxiety growing with the feeling of mounting unknowns. I pressured him to figure it out, so I could envision something, anything, about this eventual life to come. But as I've learned over the course of almost five years, things always work out for Nic. He doesn't do anything preemptively. He does it the exact moment it has to be done. And somehow that moment is never too early nor too late.

The moment was that small hazy picture, taken as a driveby photo, while leaving his friends' house quite nearby. Said friends had parents, who owned several properties they rented out throughout Louisville, the storybook cottage being one of them. It just so happened that the current tenants were moving out at the end of July, while I was scheduled to move within the first few days of August. They said we could stay there as long as we needed.

I had my picture to hold in my pocket, my mind's eye. There was my little house, there was my life in Louisville.

On August 5th, after some number of days, twenty-three hundred miles, so many podcasts, and infinite tears, Pearl, my trusty little white truck, Candice, my travel companion and dear friend, and I, seemingly brave adventurer for love, arrived in Louisville.

The house was not yet vacant, as planned. We stayed at a friend's house. We waited. We drank beers and waded through the sticky summer heat, both, I think, secretly wondering what on earth I had done.

Several days later, the news came that the house was free. We hitched my tiny Uhaul and took the short drive to the new house.

I still remember the feeling of first smelling the house from the street. When I smell something now that reminds me of it, it is both sickening and weirdly nostalgic. It was the smell of urine. Not fresh, but asphyxiated. Suffocated by so many layers and closed doors and no light.

The house was beyond disgusting. The previous tenants had kept dogs chained up inside. Parts of the floorboards were warped and stained with moisture. Animal hair was everywhere. The walls were filthy. Ethernet cords ran through gaping holes in the floorboards from the top floor to the basement. The carpets were torn. Unmatched shoes lay in every room. Mangled pieces of highchairs and bottles lay around the back room, along with a built in bar made of the kind of opaque red plastic you'd get as a soda cup at an old school pizza parlor. The windows were broken. The ceilings were covered in glow-in-the-dark stars that had been painted over. The window ledges were shredded into flakes of wood. There was actual poop on the floor in two of the rooms upstairs. I have literally never been in a more disgusting house in my life.

I cried. Of course, I cried. So much build up. So much anxiety. I had driven across America on this dramatic adventure, only to be about to move into a house full of poop and trash.

And yet we did.

We spent days, scrubbing that house from top to bottom. We ripped out all the carpets. I literally washed every inch of the place from floor to ceiling. We knocked out the bar, pulled all the weeds, trimmed the hedges, threw out all the trash, and painted the walls. We treated the floors and aired it out endlessly, the AC still cranking, but also pouring out into the summer heat. The windows were still broken, the sills were still shredded, it still kind of smelled. And then we moved in our few little things, because we had no other options at that point.

I remember asking Nic if we were staying. I wanted to know if I should unpack the dishes. I don't know that he answered me.

Four years later, we still live here.

Sometimes I still get whiffs of that first smell. It lives deep in the floorboards and creeps out when the air is still too long. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to open our blinds when people come over. But I love this house.

This house is our home. We have made it ours. We slowly pieced together a life here. We found a dining table and some paintings. A coffee table and some chairs. We never did things lavishly. We could never afford to walk into a store and buy all that we wanted. We made a home quietly, slowly, by going to antique stores and little hole-in-the-wall places, by collecting hand-me-downs and choosing those few special pieces.

We had Christmas parties with Glühwein and Zimmtsterne. We shoveled the driveway during the snow, built a fire pit in the backyard, ate so many breakfasts on the front steps, repeatedly watched the tree blossom and become bare through each season. We fought in this house, reconciled in this house. We made biscuit breakfasts, watched too many hours of tv, cried, stretched, and kissed. We played frisbee in the yard. We walked the 2 mile loop after dinner. We planted holly and herbs. Nic became a pilot again here. We had our first baby here.

I have a video of the day we brought Melby home from the hospital. Nic had arranged for a sign in the yard that said "Welcome Home Beth & Melby!" The rest of the yard was covered in cardboard cut outs of beer steins. I didn't cry when Melby was born, but I did cry, driving up and seeing that. Our house, our new baby, this silly guy, who gets me, a home. In the video, Nic is upstairs, giving Melby a tour. He's showing her the rooms, introducing her to the cat, welcoming her into our life. It all came together. It came together here.

People come into our house and comment on how much they love it. It was maybe once a nice house that is now in pretty terrible condition, but I believe that people can feel what we've built here. Love, stability, safety.

For a while, we considered buying it.

Then, we decided we wanted more. Or just different. Less proximity to McDonalds and a mini highway, less work to do on the very bones of the house, more family-friendly neighborhood, more walkability, maybe more aesthetic work to be done, but not the undoing of deeply rooted smells.

Nic started to look for houses. That story is uninteresting. It's the story of everyone looking for a house. It's endless scrolling of Zillow and anxiety over numbers and disappointing open houses. Hope and stress and heartache and annoyance. We gave up. We decided to put it on pause.

One day, months later, Nic randomly decided to go to an open house, while I was at a bridal shower. I met him there, right at its end. Nic loved it. I did not, but I decided I could live there. We could grow into it, just as we had 1512. I flip flopped, an emotional mess, and conceded that we should make an offer. We went into our realtor's office to do just that. At the moment we were about the sign the offer, he said, "I can't believe you didn't want the house on Sils."

What house on Sils?  I said.

There were too many houses. I'd lost track. They were all a blur.

He pulled up the listing and everything came to a halt. I  saw a sweet little craftsman home with a beautiful front porch, lots of windows, and a peekaboo dormer. A tiny deck off the back, a modest but tidy yard, cheery bedrooms. It was just two blocks away from my yoga studio, the farmers' market, coffee, tacos, and beer-- all my favorite things. I loved it immediately.

obvs better quality photo than 1512 was afforded. sorry og house.

obvs better quality photo than 1512 was afforded. sorry og house.

I could not make the intended offer until I saw that house.

We saw it the next morning, put in an offer that moment, and it was accepted that evening. We close on Thursday.

The house has obvious flaws. Amongst other things, its kitchen is too small, and the bathroom needs to be redone. I have had many doubts and worries, but nothing has dissuaded me from wanting to live there.

Except, of course, my sadness to leave this place that was my first and only Louisville home.

I'm not sure exactly what it means to love a house. The house itself has so much I am desperate to change, but I love my life here so I love the house that held me while it unfolded. I love the way it feels when we put our Christmas tree up in the front window, how nice it is to sit on the porch and eat a slice of watermelon for breakfast at the beginning of a blistering summer day, how it flows between rooms like you are in all of them at once but still have space. I love the people in it. I love the things we've built here, the people we've become. I love our shitty yard and our stinky floors and the speckled outlines of stars that are still on the ceilings. I love the imperfections, because we've put our love into being here.

I love it even though I ask myself every day if we should be in California, and even though the answer is usually yes. I want to be in California, certainly for the superior weather, but definitely more so for my family. But at the end of the day, I realized that where we are now, financially, it's not quite possible to live there. And if I can't be there, where I am loved, I will stay here, where I am loved.

Four years ago, I moved from California, terrified and excited. In retrospect, it was insane. I didn't know where I was moving, I barely knew the person I was moving for. But I felt a glimmer of this, I felt the seed of what is now. I moved here to fall in love. What I didn't understand is how big it would become, how much more it meant than I could ever imagine. I am in love with a man and the most magnificent baby we made together. I am in love with how terribly painful and full of growth these past four years have been. I am in love with the absurd number of people, who so willingly opened their hearts and adopted me-- weird, vagrant California stalker that I am.

It all started in this house.

I am excited for our next chapter, but also so deeply sad to leave this one behind. And yet, I know, this house is not the container of my love. It was just the plot, where I got to let it grow. I know that I can take it with me, that it will change with me. But still, my heart's a little heavy today.

1512, you are where it all began. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd live in Kentucky. I never thought I'd love a pee-soaked house. Even more so, I never thought I'd be sad to say goodbye to it. Thank you for the space you've made for us to grow, to become a family. It's been weird, and big, and totally wonderful.

I hope whoever comes next understands; I hope they appreciate you.

on flying with babies.

most people know:

nic is a pilot. 

oooooooo! people say to/ about nic. you are/ he is so cool and rich!

unnamed.jpg

being a pilot sounds super glamorous. i guess nic is cool because of it. it's a pretty big deal to maneuver a multi-ton, metal tube full of people and peanuts through the air at high velocities. as far as i can tell, it's a lot of staying in crappy hotels and eating subway sandwiches and waiting in airports amongst frantic travelers, but nic loves it, so i love it too. that being said, i am also very glad i'm not a pilot.

we are also definitely not rich, but we might be one day. stand by on that one.

the biggest downside to nic's career is he is gone at least 60% of the time. melby and i miss him. we talk about him. we take videos of us doing mundane things to remind him we're cute. the biggest upside is that we can fly for free anywhere american flies! including europe! while we have yet to take any spontaneous european vacations, we have been on a grand total of 14 american flights in melby's short 6+ months of life, starting when she was 6 weeks old.

thus, one of the number one questions people ask me is about flying with babies.

the short response to:

q: how do you fly with a baby? 

is

a: you get on the plane with the baby and hope for the best.

but we have flown enough times that i have some basic tips so here they are.

1. take the earliest flight of the day.

babies (and people?) generally disintegrate as the day goes on. the bewitching hour is a thing. being tired from a stimulating day is a thing. if you think you will take an evening flight and your baby will sleep, you are probably wrong. chances are, baby will be too overstimulated to sleep (if they are old enough to be aware) but exhausted and lose their mind.

morning flights are the least likely to be delayed too. so get out of bed early, get that baby to the airport, and hang onto the good mood while it lasts.

2. bring a stroller/ carseat combo (if this is an option) into the airport.

the first time i traveled i didn't take either of these things. i was alone, and carrying a baby and our 47 items was borderline impossible, especially if for some godforsaken reason i had to put her down. airport floors rank right above public restroom floors in cleanliness in my mind.

the stroller was an awesome place to store all our crap as we walked around the airport so i didn't have to carry it, and i could set her in the seat if need be. and then when you get to your destination, you have your usual carseat (most don't need a base these days! you can just use a seatbelt). you check the stroller gate side before your flight. just walk up to the counter and tell them and they'll give you the right tag. you pick up stroller gate side after the flight. 

the only downside to this option is it slows you down. you have to wait to pick up the stroller, which can sometimes take a minute and you also have to use elevators instead of escalators. if you have short connections to make, this can be stressful!

please see: me RUNNING full speed (ie not very fast, but totally crazy) between terminals, mowing down people with the stroller, while we raced to our standby flight after a delayed flight during christmas. some guy ran behind me, shouting, "you clear the way!"

we did make it. i feel like people clapped. or maybe i imagined that.

3. despite having a stroller, WEAR YOUR BABY.

as i'm sure you already know, people have no idea how babies work and want to touch them. oh i just coughed into my palm, let me hold your newborn baby's hand! her face is so sweet, i'm just recovering from the flu, but let me kiss her with my creepy mouth!

planes/ airports are cess pools. if your baby is attached to you, people are less likely/ able to sneak in baby touches. it also definitely doesn't mean they won't. as my friend said, keep her close and be ready to scream if necessary. sometimes you just have to be rude. i am not a germaphobe, but i still get on a plane and wipe down the area around me with a baby wipe.

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wearing baby also means they might sleep on you. i try to walk melby around before we get on a flight so she can snooze through it (this works about as well as all of my other plans for motherhood, ie about 10% success). SOME airlines (ahem, united) will not let you wear your baby during take off and landing, which i think is insane, but be forewarned. which leads me to...

4. nurse/ give bottle or pacifier during take off and landing.

melby has not been bothered by the pressure on planes at all, which is why i root for sleep over boobs. but some babies are and the sucking helps. also the sucking helps mostly ANY other plane crisis that might occur. i am basically topless 90% of most flights.

5. ANYTHING GOES.

this ties in to 90% boobs. do whatever you have to do. for me, a plane ride is about getting through each minute. she normally goes to sleep on her own? nurse her to sleep. she normally doesn't eat anything but beets and sweet potatoes? give her that bag of cheez-its. she's not allowed screen time? let her watch all of game of thrones on repeat.

realistically, for melby, a plane ride looks like a snack/ boob, one toy pulled out at a time to entertain her as long as possible, seven thousand trips to the bathroom to walk up and down the aisles, bouncing on legs, trying to go to sleep in a carrier, and generally praying. you just get through it. take one minute at a time.

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just like it’s legitimate to drink in an airport at 8 am (right??), it’s legitimate to do whatever necessary to survive your flight in relative peace. it’s not a time for perfect parenting. it’s time for survival.  

6. change baby immediately before the flight. bring 50 changes of clothes.

changing a baby on a plane is borderline impossible. some bathrooms have janky changing tables above the toilets. some (usually smaller planes) do not. either way you will feel 100% too fat and uncoordinated to maneuver changing on a plane, so avoid it if possible.

of course that means they poop the minute you're in the air. melby also ALWAYS decides to have a blow out. bring more clothes than you think necessary. hope for the best.

7. baby gets their own carry on.

you get an extra carry on for baby. it can only have baby related items in it, but you can bring a whole other item on in addition to your personal item and carry on. this is why that stroller comes in handy!

 

8. accept help.

i’m usually traveling by myself so maybe this occurs more for the seemingly single mom, but endless people offer help. TAKE IT. let people open the door and carry your crap and go before them in line.

people aren’t offering help and you need it? ask. seriously. practice saying, "would you mind helping me for a second?" traveling alone with an infant has been such a great reminder how important it is to both offer and receive help and how willing most people are to participate. it’s humanizing; it makes both parties feel good, and it means you'll make it through alive and intact.

 

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9. board first.

you have a baby! you now qualify as someone, who needs "special assistance." don't think you're exploiting luxuries that are not yours to take. they are yours! getting down the narrow aisles with your bags and baby and body, when the seats are already full is challenging. go first and get settled.

 

10. relax.

just kidding! there’s nothing relaxing about traveling ever, let alone with an infant. but i will tell you this: most people are really quite nice and understanding. people like babies! they're adorable! they're soft! they're tiny! and if they actually hate you and your angelic babe, you never have to see them again.

the last flight melby and i took in our impressive history was a dreaded evening flight, which i optimistically told myself she might sleep through. hahahahahhaaaa... she didn't.

instead she screamed bloody murder for 20 minutes (which felt like 20 hours. of being tortured. while giving birth, unmedicated. on a bed of hot coals...) and EVEN THE BOOB COULDN’T FIX IT. my entire chest was literally hanging out as i frantically tried to pat and shush and sing her into calming down. i was stress sweating and borderline crying myself. i kept saying to the people around me, “i promise it won't be like this the whole flight.” (i had no basis for saying that except very wishful thinking.) after many relatively successful flights, it was my worst nightmare come true.

and you know what? it was horrible. but it was also fine. the woman next to me patted my leg and told me she had 7 grandchildren. the man to my left smiled and smiled at melby; he said he worked for scholastic and handed us a new clifford stuffed animal he had in his bag. the woman behind him leaned forward and said, "i'm a mom too. i know it's hard." and then behind me, a faceless woman i never got to see chimed in, "you have another mom back here! we're with you!"

eventually, mercifully, melby fell asleep and i had a moment to reflect on worst case scenario come reality. it was okay. it was beautiful even. because a bunch of strangers reached out and reassured me that no one hated me or thought i was a terrible mom, that even my worst nightmare was okay and relatable, that i wasn't alone.

in summary, flying with your baby is a lot like anything else you do as a parent. you can follow all the rules and everything might still fall apart. in fact, it definitely will at some point, but it's a good reminder we're all doing our best. sometimes somebody's screaming, sometimes you're accidentally topless on a plane, sometimes you have to ask for help, but you're doing your best, and one way or another, you'll get where you're going.

mom friend



She cried for 6 hours straight. I think she's possessed.

Also, is pie a good dinner?


The messages come in rapid succession from my friend and fellow mama, Amy, who has 20 month old and a four week old baby. I am incredulous that she is functional enough to text; I survived seven weeks postpartum with my now six month old baby girl, Melby, before I realized I was deep in the most debilitating postpartum depression. I seemed high-functioning. Nursing was easy, my body healed quickly. I showered, I cooked and cleaned, I moved, I rested, but throughout it all, between my intently smile-filled visits with friends and family, I cried, blankly, endlessly, desperately clutching at some nameless thing no one could give me, until another day began.


I kept saying I was lonely. It was the only word that made sense to me, but in retrospect, I understand that what I felt was a chasm between my identity and what I perceived to be my new identity as a mother. I felt untethered. I had no concept of who or why I was, and this unfamiliar infant that alternately screamed inconsolably for hours on end and then slept so many consecutive daytime hours that I was sure she was dead left me totally reeling.


Every time someone would ask, with hope and reverence in their eyes, how much I loved being a mother, I'd muster a diplomatic response about how "we're figuring each other out," because it was true, but felt much milder than the Please send help/ what have i done?/ I'm not sure I even like her that was screaming throughout my entire mushy body.


I knew I needed something. For a while it felt like it might be a steady stream of IPAs and the candy disguised as protein bars on my nightstand, but at some point I realized even alcohol and sugar couldn't rescue me. I needed friends. Not just friends, but "mom friends--" as I said again and again, specifically other moms with fresh-off-the-press babies. Moms, who were also maybe reeling and crying and struggling to find their way, because, while empathizing with someone's experience is certainly powerful, inhabiting it with them is something else entirely.


As it turns out, making friends when you're trying to make friends is about as casual as wishing you weren't the only single person at a wedding. I felt crazed and desperate as I talked to people at a postpartum group offered at a local natural foods store. I heard some girls I loosely knew planning a walk together, which sent me into a spiral of self-deprecating thoughts, as I wondered what so mortally wrong with me that I wouldn't be invited (please see again: postpartum depression). When another woman introduced herself as "Ann," I heard "And," and then offered, "A conjunction! That's an interesting name!" and then started stress sweating when I realized I was wrong/ potentially insane and cried the whole way home for being so awkward. I felt zero percent my sociable, bubbly self and so much like a ninth grader at some horrific intersection of puberty and an identity crisis.


And then, a miracle. Pretty much exactly one year prior, my mom had sent me a Christmas gift-- a lusciously fuzzy blanket from Pottery Barn-- in the mail, except instead of sending it to our actual address at 1512, she sent it up the street to 1412. Through some convergence of small world connections and social media, the accidental recipient of my Christmas blanket learned I was the rightful owner and delivered it to my door. One year later, having still never actually met, we had become friends on Instagram and began slowly connecting over one another's baby-related posts. She had a then 15 month old with a hilarious disposition and a penchant for over-accessorizing and another little girl on the way. I had a newborn and a partner, who was a pilot and on the road at least sixty percent of the time. We were both stay at home moms.


So we sent messages on Instagram. And then we texted. And then we liked all of each other's post on Facebook. It escalated quickly; we now consumed one another's attention on all the most popular e-platforms-- a regular modern day romance. When I took Melby for walks, I'd strut by her house, sure to exude an extra bit of confidence and ease, thinking maybe she'd peer out and see me and think "I definitely want to go on walks with that girl and won't worry if she accidentally thinks my name is a conjunction." We took a ridiculously long time to meet in person. I felt anxious about it, because I really, really wanted this person to be my friend. It felt too good to be true.


It turns out it wasn't. One random Wednesday, we went for hamburgers. I drank a beer. She didn't judge me. She would have had a beer at 11:30 am too if she weren't cooking up a baby. She laughed when I made stupid attempts to be funny. Suddenly, we were not only real friends, but mom friends.


Fast forward four months, we talk every day. We talk about sleep, poop, baby food, adult food, clothes, and most importantly, we identify with each other's feeling that staying home is the most important thing we could possibly do, that it is filled with joy and intimacy and growth and is all concurrently sometimes the most mind-numbing, exhausting thing in the world. We have decided on what I now believe to some essential rules of mom friendship:


1. Leggings are pants. Whoever tried to convince us, when leggings first came on the scene in a big way, that leggings are illegitimate outside the fitness world is just wrong. As a postpartum woman with a weird, unfamiliar body, leggings are an appropriate choice anytime, anywhere. No gym membership required.


2. Texting at any hour is okay. We text at 5 am. We text at midnight. It is okay to seem overeager and text back immediately. It is okay to not text back for hours on end, because your baby is crying and you're losing your mind or you temporarily forgot how to create words.


3. Drinking at any hour is okay. I know the "moms + wine" paradigm is a little played out. I don't need a t-shirt that says how much mommy needs a nap and some wine (No judgement if you do. Chances are I love your shirt.) but that being said, when you haven't left the house past 5 pm in six months, it's cool to drink a beer at 11 am. I was awake in the middle of the night for four hours; what's time anyway? It makes what otherwise can feel like an endless cycle of drudgery seem a little bit more like a party.


4. We don't judge each other. Amy co-slept. When we decided to sleep train our baby girl, she supported me wholeheartedly. Her daughter loves cheese. I have sworn mine will not have dairy for years (check in when I'm more than a month into solid foods...). We are different in so many ways, but we rally for each other no matter what. We remind each other that we are total badasses, just doing the best we can. A friend once told me the part she was least prepared for in motherhood was all the judgement and comparison. It can be intense, but it turns out that if you lay it all out there and just say, I'm doing the best I can and I'm not sure it's enough, your girlfriends can be pretty darn supportive.


That's pretty much it really: leggings, phones, alcohol, total acceptance.


Motherhood can be really lonely. For me, it wasn't lack of support, visitors, or resources. I just really needed someone to know exactly how I felt, because she was feeling it too, and say, I feel you. I'm with you.


My mom lives cross country and wasn't able to be here when my daughter was born, but little did she know, she inadvertently delivered just exactly what I needed through a blanket sent to a then stranger's door. I take it as proof that, even though we might feel like we don't know what we're doing, a mother always knows, somehow. I believe it, fundamentally, but thankfully, when I forget, I have my mom friend to remind me.

It's 7:05 pm.

I'm in my pajamas in bed. My sweatpants are pulled up high over my bellybutton, because, even alone, I'm uncomfortable with how my stomach feels and looks. It's... loose. It's like pancake batter. Lumpy and mushy. I stuff the top of my pants with the mushy batter and then stuff the pants under the covers. I finished dinner 45 minutes ago. I had leftover rice, soft boiled eggs, and roasted brussel sprouts. I ate at the dining room table and looked at my phone. I pretend I'm not going to look at my phone during meals, but I do. I did the dishes and swept the kitchen floor and then turned off all the lights except my bedside lamps.

Melby is asleep. Every now and again, I look at her on the baby monitor, not because I'm worried, but just because I love seeing her little body flopped there in total peaceful resignation. 

I google "best movies on Netflix" and filter out anything that sounds scary/ too serious/ political/ sad. I just want to not be alone. I want a movie to keep me company in bed, something to pass the hours between her bedtime and my bedtime, something that doesn't require too much of me.

There is not a lack of time. Maybe the lack of time or energy to get things done that comes with motherhood is later. I am not working. Or maybe even if I were, time wouldn't be the time. Time isn't my thing. I have plenty of time.

I have too much time. To sit and spin in circles in my brain.

Motherhood is lonely. SHIT motherhood is lonely.

People said it to me beforehand. They said, motherhood can be lonely and boring. I, of course, thought I understood what they meant.

I did not.

I took it at face value. Motherhood must be lonely and boring, because you are in a house with small creature(s), who, while communicative and precious in their own way, just don't offer the most endlessly stimulating interactions. Because you are quite physically tethered to them for a time.

But, now that I'm in it, I see it quite differently. I was almost always in this bed at this time. I stopped going out long ago. I became a homebody, always choosing Netflix and a snuggle with Nic over anything wild. It is not the 7:05 pancake batter in bed that is lonely and boring. It is not missing out on whatever events I'm constantly saying no to, reminding people that Melby goes to bed at 6, and most of the time, I'm home by myself.

It's the feeling that this is all I am. And then the deep, deep sadness that "only" giving all my love and energy to the most beautiful creature I've ever met, whom I also created with my body, is somehow not enough. Feeling like what I still actually think is the most important job ever is so unfulfilling during the day-to-day, THAT is motherfucking lonely. Waiting for nap times to start so I don't feel guilty about spacing out for a moment is lonely and then waiting for her to wake up, because I just want to hug her again is lonely. Just moving between the micro stages of each day is lonely and breathing a sigh of relief when it's sweatpants time is lonely and then staring at the monitor because I miss her is lonely. Feeling dissatisfied with each moment is lonely. Wondering what makes you feel valuable is lonely. Having people tell you you're valuable but not feeling it one iota yourself is lonely. Wondering if you ever feel better is lonely. Being alone is lonely. Being with other people and still feeling lonely is lonely.

Sometimes, when I'm writing, I flicker back to the girl, who wrote the postpartum piece about crying in the late afternoon each day as Nic worked in the backyard. I cry much, much less these days, but I am beginning to realize I'm still that girl. The one, who feels hopeful and capable and satisfied each morning as I nurse my baby girl and make coffee with her and look out at the day with her in my arms and do my small collection of sun salutations with her smiling face beaming back up at me. The one, who does the errands, checks off the list, keeps up communications, exercises, hits all the marks, and then still, come afternoon, spirals into a pit of existential questions that just can't seem to be answered.

I hadn't seen my therapist in over three months, and when I told her that I had fallen into a serious depression and now I was okay, she asked what I did to become okay. I said something about food and moving and whatever else, and then, she said, maybe we should consider that you're not fully recovered from that and that's okay.

I do feel better. On so many levels. I feel connected to my baby. I feel wildly in love with her. I no longer feel like I made a mistake in having a child. I feel baseline (for me) in control of my body. I'm sleeping. I have good relationships. I get time to myself. I am beginning to feel physically strong again.

But I am still so lonely.

I am lonely when Nic is gone and I'm lonely when he's here. I'm lonely when Melby's asleep and I'm lonely when she's awake.

I am lonely and bored.

I'm not asking for a solution. I'm not asking for a claim that I'm good or valuable or doing the right thing.

I am telling you that this is the hardest thing I have ever done, because I am sitting with myself and it's not my body that makes me unrecognizable. It's the feeling that maybe I need a whole fucking lot more and maybe this is everything and maybe everything is not enough and maybe I'll never love myself and maybe if I don't figure it out really fast, I'll never be able to teach my baby girl to be different than me. And maybe it's the feeling that I believe it won't always be this way, that one day I'll walk tall, with my shoulders back, and own the fact that I am a motherfucking badass and I do actually know it. But that time feels impossible to get to. And I don't know how to get there. And I'm scared that I'll be stuck under the covers, hating myself and feeling alone forever.

That I'll LET myself stay here. That is scary.

That took 40 minutes.

I don't know if I feel better. But for me, there is solace in just saying it.

I am lonely and I'm terrified that I'll let myself stay here forever.

i stopped writing, because i got sick of saying the same thing over and over.

i wrote something about being unstuck and then, moments later, i felt like i had been cemented in place. STUCK.

what really happened is: it got cold. real cold. icy. for days on end. i tried to drive once in the snow and had a panic attack as i flashed back to the day the snow sent me spinning across the highway, totaling my car. it was dramatic, but also real. i was scared to leave the house.

suddenly, melby and i couldn't putter around louisville the way we normally do. staying inside all day, time just some choppy succession of naps and not naps, pacing our worn out floors like a caged animal, i really lost it. at one point, i googled "how to survive winter with an infant without losing your shit." no one had much advice. also that is a terribly ineffective way to use google. i started to try to curate an inexpensive hobby i could do at home. the internet suggested couponing and online gaming. sorry, no.

am i the most boring person alive? i'd ask myself. how do normal people pass the time? how often can i clean the kitchen counter? why are there so many things i could do that it seems impossible to do anything? i'd start writing. and stop. i'd start yoga. and stop. i'd start drawing. and stop. i'd start cooking. and stop. i'd start organizing. and stop. i'd even start crying. and stop. i couldn't even pretend to start reading. my brain was swimming too much. i felt insane.

so i did what any 21st century person does when they're listless. i looked at my phone for 3000 consecutive hours. i refreshed and refreshed. did you post a new story on instagram? because i definitely looked at it the second you posted it. did you comment on some stranger's post on facebook? because i'm definitely creeping on you and then creeping on that person and diving deeper and deeper and deeper into the black hole of social media. that cycle has no end. and it just makes me feel frantic and sick, but it's also a full blown addiction.

so i deleted facebook. and then i deleted my blog. (real talk: i didn't delete instagram, because i NEED a place to curate my 9000 daily photos of melby.) i just wanted myself to go away. i didn't want to hear all my stupid ramblings. i didn't want to wonder if people liked me or thought i was insane. i just wanted to escape. i needed a break from my brain. i felt so trapped in my own thoughts.

two weeks (maybe?) passed and i didn't even think about facebook. or my blog. until people started asking me if i'd unfriended them. or how they could see pictures of melby. or WHAT ON EARTH WAS HAPPENING. and then like 19 people told me their random friends i've never met really appreciated and related to my blog.

and i felt maybe even more insane.

because i didn't know what was right. because i just wanted to fix myself.

because i do this constant thing, where i try to pretend i am someone different than i am. i try to pretend i'm not going to share photos of every moment of melby's life or pieces of every one of my thoughts. i would like to be less transparent, less of a word vomiter. but guess what? i'm not.

i do need to hone it somehow. streamline. but i'm just not there. i'm still just exploding feelings. and the feelings are always different and conflicting. but this is where i am.

i also revived the idea of wine bar. over a year ago, i said i was going to start a wine bar. it took a year for me to realize that it's not about wine at all. wine is amazing. i like to drink it. but what i want is a community. i want my job to be about community. i want to create a space that's about community. but i literally have no idea how to begin.

i googled "how to write a business plan." i got to the part about numbers, the part right past my address and phone number, and i got stuck again. all i have felt lately is stuck.

FUCK.

the disparity between super loving my baby girl and wanting to drink up every moment with her and also feeling like i'm going to lose my fucking mind if i do it one more second has been really challenging. it's not about the moments with her. it's about the moments just being this list of things on repeat. nurse, change, play, laundry, nap, nurse, change, play, dishes, nap, nurse, change play, food, nap. it's dizzying. the time gets eaten up but it's nowhere. it's groundhog day.

i debated heavily a. if i needed to dig in and learn to be still. that this time is hard for me, because i've lived a life full of distraction and no longer have it and need to learn to just BE. or b. if i am an explosive, creative, dynamic person and being at home endlessly is just not for me. if i'm denying my most authentic self.

i feel like if i knew i were eventually going somewhere, this wouldn't all make me quite so crazy. if it was just this gestation period for my future self, it would be okay. but right now, i'm the zoo animal. and it's hard. and i feel guilty that it's hard. because i think staying home is THE most important thing i can do. but i also just feel like i'm floating in space.

i went to see my therapist after 3 months of absence. another thing i've been doing is trying to not hemorrhage money, especially since i make exactly zero dollars. but without shopping or facebook or treats (because diet became a whole other thing i was micromanaging but that's a different story) or therapy or ever leaving the fucking house, it was just too much. i am not a monk. i have achieved zero percent higher consciousness and sometimes i just need some help or a crutch. anyway, she encouraged me to stop fucking berating myself. she basically said, you had a baby less than 5 months ago. stop asking yourself to be a fitness model and a health guru and a new business owner and a perfect mother.

i cried because i forgive everyone else their imperfections, their being human, but i literally expect myself to be perfect 100% of the time. clearly that's working out great.

she likes wine bar, but she said i'm focusing on what i DON'T know how to do.

what do you know how to do? she asked.

i know how to talk to people. i know how to connect to people.

i am really sure that a majority of the things about me are shitty, because i am horrible to myself, but i DO KNOW that i am good at people. (for the most part. if you're someone who hates me, sorry, and why are you reading this?) i second guess everything i say and do and assume people think i'm a freak, but i also assume people like me. because i'm pretty unassuming and because i've shared so much about myself that i think i'm pretty non threatening.

this is a VERY LONG and painfully stream-of-consciousness way for me to get to my eventual point that's not a point at all, but an invitation:

i am starting a mom's group. 

that's the part i can do now.

i tried to make mom friends for a while (i think i did at least. i was really tired then and am not actually sure WHAT i was doing). i felt awkward and stupid most of the time. i also felt judged. i am pretty sure no one cares enough about what i'm doing to judge me, but i was judging myself, because i am a much different mom than i anticipated. melby sleeps in her own room, in a crib. we let her cry it out sometimes. i don't hold her all day. sometimes i give her tylenol. this is not the attached hippie earth goddess mama i expected myself to be. i felt like people saw that and went home and wrote in their diaries about how terrible i was to my baby.

needless to say, i didn't make friends. i was being too weird to make friends. i didn't feel like i fit in at the moms' groups i went to. mostly because i was too busy judging myself.

also because i really just wanted a glass of wine.

so i'm starting a moms' group that contains wine and the freedom to raise your baby however the hell you want. i certainly don't know what's right and maybe neither do you, but if we're making it through the days, then a-fucking-men.

if you have a young(ish) baby and you are willing to hang out with some other women, who are fumbling through it, let me know and i'll give you the details. because, even though i have high anxiety about what this will all look like, i think it's important to create what i want to exist. and i think that, even though it scares me, it's what i'm good at NOW. and maybe, in beginning that, i will feel a little less stuck. i just need some momentum.

this is admittedly the worst, most scatterbrained collection of words ever. but this is basically what it feels like in my head-- endless cycles of questioning, self-reflection/ flagellation, and anxiety-- so welcome.

i am not perfect. i am trapped in my head. i doubt myself at every turn. i want to do a million things and don't know where to start and am definitely too scared to start.

but i'm going to invite some moms over to my house and wear my imperfection and you are welcome to join me.

dear god it's cluttered in this brain. but i'm back.

on fires in the mountains.

i chose not to write or draw today. 

or so i thought.

it wasn't avoidance. it wasn't a preference for something more trivial. i just chose to enjoy my life in other ways and didn't feel guilty about it. 

until, now, lying in bed. 9:35 pm, which, for anyone who knows me, is far past my bedtime, i laid in bed, my mind racing.

because i saw some translucent red shapes on a map of santa barbara, detailing the mandatory evacuation zones for the thomas fire. those shapes are so close to my parents' house, my childhood home.

when i was a kid, maybe about 8 years old, deep in my emotional turmoil i blindly named "the empty feeling," there were sometimes fires in the mountains. i remember, so distinctly, having nightmares that the fires would blaze down those mountains and engulf our house. everyone would die but me. i was so terrified of being alone. to me, the fires were going to leave me alone.

looking at a map on the internet, 25 years later, that feeling swallowed my whole body. that panicky, fearful, lonely feeling. that desperation to cling to my parents for reassurance and protection.

i immediately called my mom. it must be getting close to your bedtime, sweetheart, she says, knowing why i'm calling so late.

she tells me they were just discussing what they'd take. they have gas in the car. they're getting ready.

i feel frantic thinking about my parents outside of that house. they've lived in that house my whole life. that house feels like part of us-- my mom, puttering back and forth between the rooms, cooking things, piling things, cleaning things, nurturing a home, and my dad, carefully placed before the space heater and his computer in his office, tapping away, calculating, balancing, measuring things. that's where they belong. i panic, thinking about them having to leave, to be outside of their space and their routine. i panic, thinking about my home not being there.

and then i feel selfish, worrying about this in the microcosm. even if their house is fine, so many are not. i feel selfish, because i'm worrying about what my christmas looks like, which has taken place in the same living room with the same windows with the same purple mountains on the horizon every year since i was born. i feel selfish, because of how intent i am upon melby having that same christmas, now, her first year of life. i feel selfish for being so linear and stuck in my thinking. i have ideas and i need them to continue to look just how they have always looked, how i i expect them to continue being. my mom in her rooms. my dad with his numbers. my christmas next to those mountains. that's how it has to be.

i am holding onto it. i'm holding onto it, tight and panicked. i'm clutching it in my sweaty palm. i will not let this go. letting it go means the fires might come down the mountains and burn them up and leave me alone.

that is, truly, at 33 years old, the precise feeling i am having in bed, now at 9:47 pm. sheer terror at the idea of losing literally everything i love. that's how this makes me feel.

i keep reminding myself that they will be safe. that that is all that matters.

i don't say all these words to my mom. i don't know them yet. i just know i needed to call her and hear her voice.

i'm not afraid, she says. this whole thing is creepy, but i'm not afraid.

that voice echoes in my head as i lie in bed.

that's my mother. that's the woman, who keeps me safe.

i immediately picture this photograph that often comes to mind when i think of my mom. it's us in a pumpkin field. i am a baby. i must be 4 or 5 months old. i am curled into my mother's arms, facing her chest, just a pile of baby, totally at ease. and she is standing, squinting at the camera. she looks, to me, like everything a mother should be. what that is, i'm not quite sure. she's just... there. self-possessed. sure that i am hers. she is holding me like i'm hers. she looks not afraid.

that's the woman i feel when she says those words to me. i believe that she is not afraid.

she talks about the humanity of it all— of people helping people, of service and safety and joy amongst tragedy and fear. she finds the good in every possible situation. she is not afraid.

my own baby is just feet away from me now, sleeping. her noise machine mimics the sound of waves, almost deafeningly loudly. she is swaddled tightly and at peace. when i scoop her up, when she cries, she becomes at peace again.

i, quiet woman, 33 year old woman, adult woman in a striped holiday onesie, panicked in her bed, am that person to another living human.

i wonder, briefly, if my mother feels scared and wishes for her own mother some days. i wonder, even more largely, what it's like not to have a person, who makes you feel that way. safe. deeply grounded and safe. like their body itself is home.

i am 33 years old and i can still call my mom, not only when i am scared, but when i am scared for her, and she will reassure me.

she will say, i'm not afraid. and i will believe her wholeheartedly.

in some ways, this makes me feel totally unprepared to be a mother myself. how can i make the world feel safe for another person, when i feel so lost in it myself?

and then i think of that picture. i was so small. her arms held me so easily. she grew with me. she became the mother i needed at each step of me becoming the person i was. she heard me and held me. and she still does.

i still feel scared. i feel attached to a certain idea of home, of holidays, of safety, of certainty.

but i am also reassured that, wherever i go, i have this woman, not only to call, but in my bones. she wasn't afraid in the pumpkin patch and she's not afraid now. that's part of my make up. that person made me and grew me and heals me daily. and, in turn, it is a gift i hopefully will be able to give my own daughter. a lifetime of being held, even when she grows too big for my arms.

for now, i will hold her tight. i will acknowledge the little girl in me, who is scared. i will acknowledge the woman i am, who is capable of handling fear and uncertainty. i will say thank you for my own dear mama, who taught me that both of those things are okay and true. that is something no disaster can take away.

 

stay safe, southern california, landscape of my childhood and my heart. i am thinking of you.