Porn. Really, it's about porn, so be warned.

I've already alerted you that this blog post is about porn, so honestly, if you're easily offended or don't like to think about icky things, look away. Or skip to the next post -- it's all touchy feely about parenting rules.

This one, however, will have bad words and worse ideas in it.

Now that that's out of the way:

I want there to be websites for porn for teenage boys and girls that are, well, normal. And relationship-centered. And, frankly, I want it to be like Playboy was when I was a kid. Or even the really bad one, Hustler.

Because I read Playboy and Hustler when I was about nine and I stole a couple from some guys who did work around our house. And they were gross, and they were thrilling, and forbidden and wonderful and disgusting. I felt shameful and degraded just by looking at them, and I felt excited and adventurous at the same time. So, this, then, was the big secret. This is what all of the inside jokes were about. This was what the movies were talking about, and what the giggling was. I got it, now. I saw that it wasn't anything at all like the anatomy books I'd been given, and it was way, way more complex than "a special feeling between a man and a woman."

But you know, there were some scary things, too. Someone talked about pee, and I was grossed out forever. Someone else talked about (we're gonna get graphic here, people -- we're talking about porn, remember,) anal sex, and I have never been able to un-see that. Not ever.

But that was it. I never saw any other porn until years later, when I was an adult and could make my own choices and didn't have to steal it if I wanted to see it, except from a boyfriend.

And I will not, for the sake of keeping to topic, get in to the very real, very important topic of whether porn should exist, the women and men who make porn, the degrading and dangerous business of making it, and the fact that children are sometimes involved. We're talking about what is.

And what is, today, is frightening.

I have a son who's 12.

He will, at some point, want to see boobs. Unless he's gay, in which case I have an entirely different blog post on my hands. But I have two sons, so let's assume that one of them will want to see boobs.

And one of them, in the next year or so, or maybe two or three if I'm lucky, type in, "boobs" into a computer. Because it's not just computers that can do this anymore. Net Nanny can't save me. He can type in boobs on an iPhone, or an iPad, or an iPod touch, or on a Kindle browser. He can do this on a friend's phone, at the Apple store or when I run to the bank.

It will happen.

And he will not get pictures of boobs. He will not get Playboy images, still-lifes of naked women, posing demurely.

He will go, in one afternoon, from wondering what boobs look like to having more disturbing, icky thoughts in head than were possible twenty years ago.

I just asked him if he'd ever seen a picture of a naked woman, and he said yes -- I'd shown him a picture of a friend of a friend who was a lingerie model, and she posed in a g-string.

That, for him, is porn. He asked why I was writing about porn, and guessed, "Because you're saying that no one in this family has ever looked at porn?"

Do you know what the top hit is on google when you type in "boobs sex"?

"Want to slide your dick through MILF TITS? Saggy tits of housewives, biggest tits, natural tits & sexy tits."

Yup. In ten seconds, he's got images of mothers who like to fuck, housewives who like to go down, you name it.

What if he googles, God forbid, "porn"?

Top hit is "youjizz.com."

Where you'll see videos like "luscious nasty slut immobilized" and "beat-down junkie ho tells all."

The "luscious nasty slut" shows pictures of a woman tied up in a bar, having sex with at least four or five men at once, while others look on. From the little I'm willing to see, it looks for all purposes like a gang-bang of a teenage girl in the middle of a crowded bar.

I like sex. I adore my husband and I love our sex life. "Luscious nasty slut immobilized" has NOTHING, nothing, nothing to do with what adult sex is like in the real world, if you're lucky.

I know that someone, somewhere, wants to watch this, and someone is willing to pay big money for it. And, frankly, I'm sorry for them. But my real question is, how do I teach a decent, sweet, normal kid that sex is a natural, beautiful, wonderful thing between two people that love each other when he will be surrounded by images that have nothing to do with love and are nothing near beautiful or wonderful?

I would not trade away my internet for anything, but I'm sorry this part of it exists. And in case you haven't looked recently, no, you don't have to be 18 to see this stuff, you don't have to have a credit card and you can just click, click, click and it's there.

I am the last person you'd ever call a prude, and I consider myself a pretty open-minded, easy-going person. But seeing that poor girl tied up on a bar, having sex with six or seven men? There's something wrong here when that's a form of entertainment.

And there's something more wrong when it's only three clicks away from children.

I have no answers. I don't want censorship. And I know people who go to couple's clubs and who watch other people have sex onstage because they think it's good for their marriage. To each their own.

But these are tough waters to navigate, these teen years with the internet out there.

If there were a parenting map, when teens hit the internet it would say, "Here there be dragons."


Parenting rules

Sawyer, my oldest son, was born 12 years ago this week.

And when Sawyer was one, my nephew Matthew, who was 11, moved in and became our adopted kid until he left for the Navy at 17. So, though I only have 12 years of motherhood under my bra, I have raised kids from birth through 17. Nice trick, huh?

And a fact that I realized tonight that stopped me cold: In one year, Sawyer turns 13. And I will then have a teenager in the house until June 6, 2030. Clearly, this was not well-planned...

I have no more insight on parenthood than anyone else who's gone before me, and don't have any answers as to how to do it right.

However, there are certain things I wish I'd been warned about, and there are rules I've come up with to make sure I'm on the right path. I'm sure in ten years, when I have another twelve year old, this will seem quaint, and I'll have a new list of rules.

But for now, this is what I know and what I've learned, half-way through this parenting gig:

The bodily fluids. Oh, God, the sheer volume of it all! Who knew? I knew there were diapers. I knew there was potty training. But oh, the amount of things I was't ready for!

There will be poop. Yours, when you're pushing the kids out, just to get you used to the concept of public defecation. And then, of course, the baby starts in on it. But after the first baby, the poop won't even make you blink. Not most of the time, anyway. 

There will be pee, and this is the least of your problems. You don't even notice pee by baby number two. It's not nearly gross enough, compared to everything else.

There will be boogers. More than you ever thought about. And you'll clean them up with your hands when you're desperate. Even if you swear you never will. You will.

There will be vomit, and just when you've cleaned up and changed the sheets and you're sound asleep again, there will be more vomit.

There will be blood. Hopefully, not much, but more than, say, your husband or your best friend bleeds.

Remember the thing about pee not being a big deal? It becomes a big deal again. When they're ten, or twelve, and they pee on the front lawn. Or off the back porch. Or anywhere, really, all the time. In fact, it's possible that ten-year-old boys pee everywhere except into the toilet. They're very, very good about hitting around the toilet, behind the seat in the little cracks that are impossible to clean, and in the screws under the toilet that will fester and stink. But never, ever, actually in the toilet.

There will also, of course, be laundry, tears, spilled drinks and messes, but we're talking about parenthood here -- that's just part of the deal.

There will be pain. Parenthood will hurt more than you ever thought possible.

Remember the first time you fell in love and you thought you'd never get over the feeling that you were flying and how amazing it was? Someone wanted you and loved you! And then, the first time you were dumped and nothing has ever hurt that much? Yeah, parenthood's like that.

Only about ten million times more intense, and you can't dump them no matter how much of an ass they are. Even if they do the equivalent of cheat on you and humiliate you and insult you and tell you that "you're a bitch and they don't have to take that shit from you" in public.
And they will. 

And it gets worse: You have all of the pain of loving someone desperately and not having control over how they behave -- and that, of course, is incredibly painful -- but they will be in pain, and it will hurt you. They will cry when a friend says they're annoying, and you hurt worse than they do, because you can see that it was true, even as you swear to them that they're not annoying.

Someone will break their heart, and yours in the process. How fair is that? It used to be that you had a say in having your heart broken -- you could choose "not to play the game, to be cool."

Nope. That's all gone. You're in the game for good, now.

Nature vs. Nurture? That's gone, too. It's all nature. All nurture does is protect the good stuff and keep the bad from taking over. Your family's the garden. Your kids are seeds. You can help the plants thrive, and you can provide it with moisture and food and keep it from turning into one giant weed bed, but if you end up with turnips and you wanted tomatoes? Too bad. You're probably a turnip yourself, you know. Or your husband is. Why did you expect tomatoes in the first place, if you're from a family of turnips? And it's a sad day when a banana is grown up in a watermelon family, so to speak. Because that banana knows he's not what they expected. The sooner he goes off to find other bananas, the better.

Your funny little introvert who loves to read and play computer games and who hates sports? He's not going to play football for UT. He just isn't.  Move along, now. And my little kid who wants to be a veterinarian so badly he can taste it, and he always has, and he has his whole life planned out? He's probably never going to be into history and art. I'll make sure he learns the basics, but I'm fooling myself if I expect him to change what his passions are.

Stick to the rules. They're a clear path through the minefields. When you can't find your car keys, you're covered in maple syrup and you needed to leave the house 14 minutes ago and someone can't find their shoes, remember the rules -- they'll help keep you sane.

Rule number one: Never, ever, ever share a drink with your kids. I know I said boogers don't bother me and I can do poop and vomit with no issues. But drinking after a two-year-old is like French-kissing someone with a mouthful of peanut butter, half-chewed paper and cold cereal. Their backwash is legendary. Don't do it.

Rule number two: Don't do something once unless you want to do it at least a thousand times. This includes everything from singing "Old MacDonald" at bedtime,  letting your kids eat cereal in the playroom "just this once," riding without a car seat while you move the car "just this once", and letting them play Angry Birds on your iPhone when you're desperate for quiet and you're on the phone. The next thing you know, they're experts at Angry Birds, they have a right to ride unbuckled if you're in the driveway and they set the table in front of the TV for breakfast. And you're so sick of singing Old MacDonald that his farm now has robots, caterpillars, scorpions and dinosaurs.

Rule number three: Video games are junk food for the brain. You know it. They know it. Anyone who tries to tell you they improve coordination or that they're good for social skills is rationalizing. Video games are a cheap, easy way to get an endorphin rush without actually working for it. They're bad for kids in anything but tiny amounts. Sure, you can binge once in a while and play a lot. But a steady diet of video games and you'll end up with the brain's equivalent of eating Cheetos and Coke. Every hour spent playing video games is an hour not reading a book, playing a board game or learning how to be bored and working through it. Don't buy into it.

Rule number four: Kids are inherently good. They just don't know what you want. And they're desperate to know that they're needed and that what they do in the family is important. And they don't see the big picture, so no matter how many times you tell them the details, they don't get it. 

You can tell them to put forks on the table every night for three years. They still won't understand that this means that they're supposed to set the table every night, and every night they will be surprised that you're asking them to do it. They're still surprised when they're hungry because you they don't realize that they have to eat every night! But it's critical to them to know they have an important role in the family. Even if they forget every night, make them set the table anyway. Don't do it yourself, just because it's easier.

Rule number five: Choose your battles. Only fight the ones you're really, really willing to sacrifice in order to win. Everything else is just negotiation. I'm not going to fight over food, clothes or haircuts. If they don't eat, so what? If they like weird clothes, so what? I'm willing to go toe-to-toe over schoolwork, character traits and video-game time. Other families might want to fight to the death over bed time, curfews or homework. But don't fight over everything. Life's way too short.

Rule number six: This should be a no-brainer, but in too many families, it isn't. If you don't want someone to treat you that way, don't do it to your kids. If you're at a restaurant and you spill a glass of water, imagine your husband yelling, "That's IT! I told you the last time you spilled that you're not allowed to have a drink unless you're more careful! Waitress, she can't have any more drinks!"

Yeah. Or, when you know annoys him, but you do it anyway, imagine him trying to ground you and keep you home. Or punishing you. I don't think so.

If I wouldn't want Mark to do it to me, I don't do it to my kids. Really, there aren't many exceptions. I don't want someone to tell me to finish my dinner or I don't get dessert. That's just obnoxious. And I can't imagine anyone ever telling me that they really love me, but I broke the rules, so they're going to have to hit me now to show me what I've done wrong. This is a simple one: Don't hit your kids. Don't humiliate them. Don't yell at them, or make fun of them, or embarrass them. It's just mean. 

Rule number seven: Be kind. Always. The world is a hard place. There are people who are mean. There are bullies. There are doors that are too hard to open, math problems that are too hard, girls who don't like them back, machines that steal their money, scary dogs and scarier stories that friends tell them. Kids need a safe place where they know that no one will ever make fun of them.

They need to know that they can go home and tell someone how awful their day was. And honestly, if you don't have your kid's back, who does? If you don't put them first, in front of everything else, who ever will? If they say their teacher was mean, believe them.

Take their side, always. No matter how trivial. Be their biggest cheerleader. Stand up for them when they succeed, yell the loudest in the grandstand, and don't be ashamed of it. You only get one go-round of this. That's your kid, dammit! Yell loudly, cheer proudly, and let everyone know that if they mess with your kid, they're messing with you! Kids need backup. They need to know that there's a safety net.

And the last rule, which seems to contradict rule seven, but doesn't: Be hard on your kids. Expect a lot from them. To those whom much is given, much is expected -- let that be their motto. If you're reading this on a computer screen in a first-world country, your kids are in the category of "to those whom much is given." Don't let them forget that.

Heinlein said, "Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy." They're capable of amazing, wondrous things, if you ask it of them. 

 Don't accept anything less. My favorite saying, one I have on my desk, and the one I use to make decisions about my kids: "Don't prepare the path for the child -- prepare the child for the path."

Other truths: Don't label your kids too early. Easy kids turn into hard kids. Your hard kids become your easy ones. Problems that you thought were huge disappear. Others show up later. Things will change as soon as you've got it under control. Roll with it.

ADD is real. So are peanut allergies. Even if you don't believe it. Until you've lived it, don't judge it.

Sleep when the baby sleeps. It's the only sane thing to do.

Snuggle. Enjoy them. But don't feel like you have to enjoy every minute of it. Sometimes, the minute you're having really sucks. Who wants to enjoy being kicked in the guts by a screaming toddler simply because you were trying to keep her from getting run over? There's enough guilt about parenting.

Enjoy what you can. Do the best you can. And know that your kids will love you, no matter what. 



Sawyer's birthday

As of today, I've been a mother for 12 years.

What a funny thing this motherhood is, you know?

I was so disappointed when I found out Sawyer was a boy. I'd grown up in house with my mom and four girls. Girls were all I knew. Boys were loud, obnoxious, liked sports and cars and hated poetry and writing. And they hated arts and crafts and all of the things I loved to do.

I mean, I loved my husband, and he was a boy, but still. Boys were aggressive. They were bullies. They would never let me hug them in public.

And the worst part is that boys grow up and leave. I wanted someone to cook Thanksgiving dinner with when I turned 70. I wanted a friend, someone who would be like me, not the unknown, stinky, truck-loving boy I was getting.

And then I met Sawyer, and the world was new again, and I had to unlearn everything I knew and start over.

Talking about Sawyer is like talking about my hands.

How can I describe my hands? They're so much a part of me, so much of who I am and what I do, that I don't even think about them, or show gratitude for them, or appreciate them for the miracle that they are.

I don't want to tempt the gods by crowing about how wonderful he is. I don't want to, in essence, hold up my solid gold coin for the world to see, flipping it back and forth to catch the light, and then wondering why it's gone.

For the first five years Mark and I were married, I was convinced we'd be divorced or he'd die. I had been so sure for so long that it was my destiny to have good things taken away that I would say to myself, "Well, at least I've been married for a month, and it was good one. I'll always have that." 

 When I found myself saying, "I've been married two years, and they were happy, and at least I've had that in my life, and that was more than I ever expected," then it began to sink in.

Maybe, just maybe, even I was allowed to be happy. Perhaps I was going to be allowed to be  the one in my family that escaped. Maybe there was no big hand waiting to snatch me back to my past, to all of the bad things, to take Mark away from me. Maybe I could relax.

And then I had Sawyer.

And the realization that having a child was so much worse, and so much better. I would always be happier than I had been. I would always have more of a capacity to love, and know more joy.

It was as if I was threading a needle in dim light, and I couldn't understand why it was damned hard, and then someone turned a light on and it became easy.

But when there's more light, and you see more clearly, you can't un-see the things that had been in shadow before.

There would never be any relaxation. There would never be another time, even for a minute, where I wasn't mentally keeping track of another human being.

 Every second of every minute, even when I'm sleeping for the last 12 years, I have been aware of Sawyer. I know where he is, who's watching him, what he's doing. The day he was born, a small part of my brain activated, the Sawyer-GPS section, that keeps tabs at all times.

See the picture above? One night last year, Sawyer couldn't sleep and asked to get in my bed. When I went in to move him, that's how I found him -- he was holding Scout's hand.

There should be a whole new dictionary for parents with different names for pain, right next to the dictionary for people falling in love for the first time.

Because with the new way of seeing the world comes the realization that this can all end. That the light can go back out and leave you in the dark again, struggling to see. That this really is the most wonderful, amazing, painful, miserable thing in the world, and why didn't anyone ever tell you that it's awful, too?

And then, as he grew, his personality started to reveal itself. Clearly, genetics is everything. There is no nature vs. nurture debate for me anymore: You can screw up a kid, sure. You can enhance a good set of genes. But you have no more control over what that kid's personality is like than you do over turning a Golden Retriever into a Pit Bull.

Sawyer is nothing like the boy I had anticipated. He's more Christopher Robin than Heathcliff; much more Harry than Draco. I was expecting aggression and Hot Wheels and Legos and trains; I got stories and affection and a tiny hand to hold. Sawyer loved to rub my arm to fall asleep at night, but it had to be just the right spot on my arm. His father and I adored him, to the point of idiocy. He was never out of our sight, never with a babysitter, he never cried. It was the three of us, a trio, and he went where we did. We took him to Italy when he was nine months old, and I went to New York with him when he was a toddler.

He rode on his dad's shoulders to see the Macy's Thanksgiving parade when he was three, and when Sander was born, he was four and he took it in stride, just like everything else. 

He's even-tempered, calm, eager to learn, and wants to know everything. He reads more than I do. I didn't think it was possible. He reads MORE than I read as a child. The one recurring argument we have is that I need him to function during the day. He has to stop reading to eat. He has to stop reading to get dressed and go out. He has to stop reading to do other schoolwork, like math.

He has to stop reading when he's crossing the street to get the mail, or he's going to be hit by a car.

He's not easy, though, this child who is more like me than I imagined. He wants to do things the easy way, the quick way, and he's bright enough to figure out shortcuts. I used to hold the thermometer up to the lightbulb to avoid school. Sawyer has a headache and stomachache whenever the dishwasher needs to be emptied.

But he is insightful, honest with his praise, desperately eager to measure up, funny, infinitely patient, kind and always ready to help.

I'm amazed when people tell me their kids don't do any chores. On a normal day, Sawyer empties the dishwasher, feeds the chickens, dogs and cats, changes the cat box, helps prepare breakfast, entertains his sister while I work with Sander on schoolwork, does a load of laundry and takes the garbage out.

It's not farm work, obviously, and it's not hours of manual labor, but he helps keep the house running. He does about half the laundry for the whole house with lots of prompting, and about half the dishes. And he changes diapers, too. 

I can’t imagine him growing up and leaving -- I imagine him growing up and cooking Thanksgiving dinner right alongside me, proud to be home with his family. He’s really a great kid.

Happy Birthday, Sawyer. 


Building an education

It's funny, the second or third things that people ask about when they find out that I'm homeschooling my kids. They always ask how I do it -- how I teach so many subjects, and how I'll be able to teach chemistry, calculus, French -- anything that's hard.

It's just such a strange thing to ask that it always throws me -- why on earth would I teach chemistry? I can't even understand why they're asking, and it takes me a minute to realize what the question means, and I know right away that they know nothing about homeschooling and that we have to start the conversation on a very basic level.

Oh, and for the record, the first and second things people ask? How my kids are going to make any friends, and how I can do it, when they couldn't possibly. Those are entirely different questions, to be answered another day. What I'm addressing now is how, not why. And why it's a whole lot simpler, and more complex, than most people seem to think.

I have an extended analogy, if you'll forgive me for it, and follow along. I think it's a good one, and it's the way I frame homeschooling in my head.

I think of building an education like building a home. You start at the bottom, with a good foundation, and you build the walls, add a roof, and if you've done it right, you've got something that will last you a long time. You can always add on later, and of course, if there are parts you don't like, you can start over.

But here's the thing: I'm the contractor for my kids' education. I'm not the builder. I'm not the designer. I'm not even the architect. All I do is figure out what they need built, how much time we've got to build it, what materials and terrain we're working with, and who's the best person to complete each job.

And then I just get out of the way.

The public school system does the same thing, of course: They're the country's biggest provider of educations, or in this analogy, "houses." Public schools crank out cookie-cutter houses. I hate cookie-cutter houses, and I always have. Sure, they'll keep the rain off. But they all look alike, and they have that stupid two-car garage right in front, staring at you, letting you know that there was no thought or care put into the design, and the materials are cheap, the construction is shoddy, and there's nothing custom about them. You could have the same house in Arizona, Florida or New York, and you wouldn't know the difference.

I'm a funky, custom-made, do-it-cheap-but-well, add-all-the-finishing-touches-you-want sort of girl, myself.

If you want a yurt in Alaska, that's what you should have. But find a good yurt builder, someone with a passion for that type of design. Don't go to David Weekly homes and ask them to build you a yurt. You're going to get a two-car garage tacked onto that sucker, whether you want it or not. Plus a two-story entrance way with windows that no one can see out of, looking onto a view of your neighbor's garage.

Nope. For my kids, I help them figure out what they need, what style they're looking for, and then I find people to help them build it.

I'm thinking Sander's going with "log cabin in the woods."

He needs an education that involves the outdoors, hands-on, animals, working outside, and he doesn't care if he ever reads a classic. Unless maybe it's White Fang or Moby Dick. Chemistry? Maybe. If he needs it to get a job as a forest ranger or a veterinarian.

But all the actual "work" of his education? The walls and roof, so to speak? We'll put the studs and walls in here -- teach him to read, figure out what kind of floor plan he wants, a little math, lots and lots of books about animals and nature and science. And then for the fancy stuff? Animal physiology, vertebrates, mammalian study, botany?
I would no more teach those classes than I would lay in my own electrical work. Sure, I could do it with a step-by-step manual, and some people do that for education. They buy a set curricullum, and on day one it says, "Turn to chapter one, read it, and answer the questions. Read pages 1-17 in the textbook."

But why wouldn't I hire an expert for science, art or math? They're the metaphorical equivalent of tilework, electric, plumbing and painting -- and I'd rather have someone with a gift and a passion for those subjects do them, thanks.

Writing? I can teach writing. And if I built a house, I'd love to help design and lay out the garden, plan the kitchen, figure out what appliances to put in. But I'm sure as hell going to stay away from the electrical grid if I want the house to run right.

So, for Sawyer, I teach writing, and we both have a passion for history. His "building" is more Griffyndor common room than log cabin. His building, were it real, would be full of classics, literature, art, and a bit of modern technology. That's an easy building to create: There are lots of plans out there for kids who want that style. There's classical education, a little tradition, maybe some Waldorf for a touch of magic.

A lot of Charlotte Mason, with some good teachers for the sub-contractors. I don't teach math -- he uses Teaching Textbooks, Khan Academy or some other fabulous resource with brilliant instructors. I'd be doing him a disservice to use anything less. Same for science -- sure, we could use a textbook, read the chapter, check off the answers. But in that case, why not just go to public school and get the same standard education that everyone gets?

So we'll find a science teacher with a passion for teaching small groups and let her lead Sawyer into a whole new world. It's like finding a good tile guy -- once you've seen them at work, you wonder why you ever even attempted to rent the tile saw from Home Depot. You're just fooling yourself. Let the expert get in there and do it right.

And Scout? We're still figuring out what kind of foundation she'll need. We know it requires a love of learning, a joyful curiousity, and a passion to excel. Beyond that, does she need an urban loft, driven by technology and the need to fit into an electronic world? Or will she need an artist's loft in Paris, and need a love of language, art history, style and drive?

The jury's still out on her. Frankly, the boys are a work in progress as well -- Sawyer's only just turning 12, and only going into seventh grade.

But the foundations are in place, and have been for years. I can build walls, and I can teach Sawyer to build walls, so when the time comes to renovate, he'll have the tools and know-how to do it. And when it comes times to decorate and add his own style --  writer or an engineer, Harvard or University of Texas -- he'll have helped design, build and put up the structure. He'll have seen me hire the subcontractors to do some of the work, and he'll have worked with them on the details. And when he stands back after his college graduation, he'll have something to be proud of, something that he helped build.

And it will look very different than the houses that most people have. But that's the way it should be, right? Because if you're going to live with that house for the rest of your life, why wouldn't you build it to spec? I guess the people who ask if I'm going to teach chemistry have a valid point, if they think all homeschoolers are simply attempting to do the equivalent of building homes themselves with a how-to manual and a giftcard to Home Depot. I'd be pretty wary of that, too.

And maybe there are some homeschoolers who do just that. But for us, we spend our days immersed in the fascinating world of building now to create futures, and there's very little that someone else's blueprints can tell you.



My stories


Published April 9, 2011

I am, in essence, a cheery optimist. To the point of idiocy.

I believe in the goodness of people, of kindness, of laughing babies and sunny days at the beach and the mantra of “everything is going to be just fine.”

Even when, quite obviously, it isn’t.

And so, although I have promised myself that I would write my stories down, of where I came from, of who I am, of my journey here, I haven’t. Because they’re not pretty stories.

They’re not clever or cheerful, though some of them are quite funny. Well, they are now. At the time I wasn’t too thrilled about them.

I’ve decided to skip the dark parts and stick with the wonderful. 

The day to day. Not quite unicorns and rainbows, but raising children and visits to the swimming hole and the man I have loved and adored for fifteen years and the stories of him. And of strong, fierce boys who amaze me with their insight. Of lessons learned.


How did I, in fact, get here?

If you know me in real life at all, you know parts of it. 

If the stories were about battle scars and old wounds and tales of heroism and bravery, I’d tell the stories.

But a lot of the stories are about people I love, deeply, who have deep emotional pain, with invisible, but still-fresh scars.

In fact, they have places that haven’t healed, that break open every so often, to reveal festering, nasty, oozing things that infect anyone around who tries to help.

The stories of how these happened is not one for a cheery optimist. I still think, in my cheerful idiocy, that maybe the wounds can be tended, they can dry up, and the person can be cured. 

But some of these hurts happened years before I was born. 

Some I watched happen when I was a child. If they haven’t healed by now, perhaps they aren’t going to.

To go and revisit the causes is to relive it.

And to write about the experiences that have crippled lives and wrecked generations is to reopen wounds yet again.

The stories, though, are how I got here.

And they are, as all good fairy tales, cautionary stories that cause the reader to reflect on good versus evil and the ways of the universe.

A four a.m. trip in a taxi in Paris, frantic and hysterical, dropped off at the back door of a crumbling wreck of a hospital built by Napoleon, with my companion’s screams and rantings drowned out by the sounds of the mental patients mocking us as we found our way to the emergency room.

My mother, calling from England to say goodbye -- she’d just swallowed poison since I was such a terrible daughter, and to please find a home for her cat.

Fires where the entire house went up. Over and over again. 

Fistfights at weddings, and at funerals. 

People I love in jail, and then out. 

In mental hospitals, and then out. 

Starting over, this time, with a clean slate and a fresh start. 

And this time, with the right medication. And this time, she’ll stop drinking. Or really leave him. 

Or will never burn down another house.

Floods where I lost everything material that mattered, only to find out that it was planned. 

Having to hear that someone I love is hurting. Again. And this time, jail or a mental hospital won’t help.

Watching the crimes that happened in 1946 come back in 1978. And again in 2001.

Being powerless to fix any of it.

Having to manipulate, and lie, and bargain with the devil to rescue children from those crimes. And watching some of the children thrive, and some sink slowly beneath, with the weights of the past too heavy to tread water any more, as I begged them to take life jackets or allow me to help. 

Pleading, begging, struggling to save anyone, and finally having to let them go.

No. I’m already crying, just from this. 

I have two boys full of glee and mischief, a handsome husband with a wicked sense of humor and a deep appreciation for me, and a baby girl who is the light of my life.

I might be able to write about how the shadows make me notice the light a bit more.

I know I can tell stories about how I do things differently than most people do, and why I think through my parenting more closely. And I might muse on how to parent without a map.

But the dark parts, the sad parts, the oozy stuff?

That’s not for a cheery optimist to get into.