Thursday, July 9, 2009

Screw Stages, This is Real Life

I come home from my drawing class, tuck the kids in, crawl into bed myself and burst into tears. On this seemingly random night, what I have been trying to deny for over two years overcomes me: my marriage is over.

I feel as if I am floating in the middle of the ocean on a flimsy raft. No one is around to help me and I don’t know where I’m going. Almost all of my friends are married and I don’t know how to talk to them about my separation, so I seek solace in books.

While scanning the divorce section at the library, a punch in the gut memory comes to me. I’ve just gotten home from the same library, only this time I’m carrying my infant son and several parenting books. I only need to glance at a few of the back covers, where I see a male author grinning at me, to automatically hurl those books across the room. A quick peruse of a couple more, that state my baby should be sleeping through the night by now, get those books chucked as well. I make a vow right there and then to never trust a smiley-faced jackass over myself when it comes to my life.

I leave the nonfiction section and fill my bag with various fiction and memoirs about divorce. No one is going to tell me what to do, but they can keep me company in my lonely evenings. I’m tired of being alone on this raft.

Although I try to avoid advice, I still glean there are several stages divorced women go through: denial, adjustment, and acceptance. Like my son, I am not going through these phases. I’ve passed through at least twenty in the past four months, but none of them were the “right phases.” But I want to share some of them with you anyway. because I have a hunch, you are not an “appropriate stage” person either.

Salt in the wounds. Obviously a masochist, during my cry for hours and wake-up looking like I lost a boxing match phase, I deepen my pain by holding my wasband’s (isn’t that a better word than ex-husband?) shirts to my face and inhaling deeply while gazing at photo albums depicting times when we were happy and in love. The wedding album serves as the granddaddy rock salt for such occasions.

Purging. I need change and I need it now. Any big idea that floats through my muddled brain is implemented immediately. Chopping off all of my hair, giving away half of my possessions, a service project in Guatemala, and designing a tattoo for myself are a few of these changes. The verdict is still out on which ones are actually good decisions.

I can’t live without this wrench. While grilling salmon for friends, I cry, “He’ll take the grill to his new house.” While unscrewing my son’s bicycle tire, I say, “I love this wrench. It always worked better than mine. Maybe I’ll hide it so he doesn’t take it.” I never mourn any of the possessions I recently purged, I only cry over things I assumed would always be there.

Bumps in the night. Insomnia kicks in and with every 2:00 a.m. wake up comes an onset of fears. What if someone tries to break in? How am I going to afford being a single mom of two kids on my meager writer’s salary? Will I always be alone? What if the hot water heater explodes right now and I have to go to the emergency hot water heater store, but the kids are sleeping and they have school tomorrow, so I can’t watch over them and also clean up the mess while ….

Mother’s little helpers. Along with Simply Sleep sleeping pills, I become very fond of gin, wine and chocolate. Being a single mom becomes a lot easier with the aid of that second glass of wine. 

Stalker. The night-stand full of books can only keep me company for so long. Eventually, I need to talk to other women. Whenever someone mentions they are divorced, separated, or single and my age, I stalk them. The woman at Trader Joe’s who bags my groceries, my son’s teacher, and a woman who comes to one of my readings, are a few of the kind souls who finally submit to my pleas for joining me for a cup of coffee. Once I have them captive in my car, I say, ‘Screw coffee, we’re going to go get a drink. I need to hear everything about your divorce, starting with, how long did it take you to stop feeling like shit?”

Ecstasy. Feeling lonely, scared, guilty, and generally as if I’ve screwed up not only my life, but my kids’ and wusband’s lives as well, was mildly tolerable when it was pissing down rain every day, but then the sun comes out and everyone in Seattle acts as if they’re on ecstasy. Not only does this make me hate my situation all the more and resent all of the happy people, I also feel depraved that I don’t know where to get free drugs.

Get Out. My home, which had been my sanctuary for years, begins to feel like a prison. I can’t stand being surrounded by the constant reminder of happier, or at least more denial-filled, days. I take another drawing class, learn how to salsa dance, join a meditation group with free childcare, drop in on friends, drop in on my kids’ friends, go to the beach, have picnics in the rain, and strike up numerous conversations with the chatty, because she’s insane, neighbor all as a way to avoid the tomb that is my home.

3. I start to view the world in threes rather than fours. I set three plates every night for dinner. I am the third wheel when I stow away in the back of my friend’s car so I can accompany her and her husband on their date night. I am the third person in a world filled with twos and fours. 

Aliens. But of all of these twos and fours, I do not know a single couple that I admire. I know very few that I would even call happy. I rack my brain for any time or place when I may have known a role model couple, and I can’t think of any. Yet, I’ve ended a relationship with a very sweet and conscientious man, albeit depressed to the point of being emotionally unavailable, because I’m sure there is something better than comfort and familiarity. I’m sure there’s something more than love, there’s being in love. It feels analogous to giving up my life as I knew it to search for aliens and UFOs.

Remote Control. My stalking pays off and I befriend some other “ones.” They are fortunate enough to have survived this heinous thing called divorce and are kind enough to share their experience with me. “You’re going to make it, really,” they coo as they stroke my head and feed me sugar.

“I want to fast forward my life so I can be you (I point to the vertical friend) and not me (I point to the crumbled mass on the floor).”

“It doesn’t work that way. Plus, you would miss out on a lot of joy and healing along the way.”

I am about to scoff, but know they’re right. Sure, these last few months have been brutal, but I’d still take them over the despair and loneliness I felt while being married. Being alone feels as if it has possibilities, whereas, my marriage felt like a dead end.

I’ve laughed, cried, screamed, hurled things, smashed things, and yelped with joy far more in the last few months than I did in the fifteen years I was with my wusband. And my kids, who have witnessed and emoted right along with me, seem thrilled to no longer live in a house deafening with it’s stony silences. They live in a house that is alive. They hug me and tell me they love me more now than ever. Gone are their nightmares and other signs of anxiety and in their place are laughter and statements of, “I can do it myself!” And they can.

And I am a better mother for them and like myself more because I finally feel alive. I am able to have all of my emotions, I’m taking care of myself, and am putting myself and my writing out there in ways that I never would have dared to. My life feels full of possibilities and I am inspired by all of the other “ones” I am meeting. Women who have not crumbled, but rather blossomed after the big “D.” All of this allows me to feel confident that I can endure this journey into the unknown. In fact, I’ll do better than that. I’ll rise from the ashes and soar.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I am David Sedaris' Mom

It was the end of a long, hot week and all I really wanted was for a handsome man to fan me while serving me cool, refreshing beverages. What I got instead was the playdate from hell. Two minutes after shoving three children into the back of my very small car, I had to pull over in a "oh my god I've become my mother" episode.  
"I can not drive with all of this screaming. You HAVE to settle down right now, damn it." Both of my kids' eyes widened and they looked at each other with the all knowing, "She's in one of those moods" looks. But my son's friend, the one I was mainly yelling at, didn't bat an eye. He resumed his thrashing and screaming, I yelled again, he yelled louder, so I turned up the stereo and sped home. Once there, I told the kids to play outside, threw them some snacks, and locked the door. 
Occasionally, I would hear a scream or yelp and drag my sorry butt to the window. 
"Put that shovel down, someone..."
 "Bang! Owww!" 
"Are you bleeding?"
And the window would close. My resourceful three year old daughter came inside, using the unlocked front door, and found me sprawled out on the couch.
"Those boys are crazy," she stated.
"I know. Did you get hurt?"
"No, I just watched them. What are you drinking?"
"Juice," I lied. 
"Can I have some?"
"It's special mommy juice."
"Why are you drinking it in a coffee mug?"
"I have no idea. Let's go upstairs and spy on the boys. They won't be able to see us from the top window."
And that's where we remained until we saw the friend's mother pull up, which caused me to stash my "juice cup" in a potted plant and pretend I was a normal, if at least somewhat attentive, mother. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

From Separated Mom to Single Mom

I’ll admit it, part of the allure of separating was having every other weekend to myself. I’d finish my revisions, write in my journal, sleep in, stay up late, see friends, watch movies, and daydream over coffee in bed. I couldn’t wait. I knew how impossible it was to delve into my own problems or gain any insight about my life while watching the kids. Even when they’re asleep, I’m still a mom. I’m still responsible for them and I still place their needs and safety first. 

But all of that drifted off of my shoulders the first glorious weekend I had to myself. I kissed everyone good bye and drove to the ferry terminal. Before I even got on the ferry, I had jotted down more insights about my marriage and ideas for solutions than I had been able to come up with in two years of counseling. This was going to be good. 

And it was good. The two weekends I had away were fabulous, cathartic, healing, productive, relaxing, inspirational, and insightful. And then it all came to a screeching halt. Jason traveled to Utah and Portland for work and then went to Thailand for two weeks with his brother. I looked at the calendar and saw that not only would I be with the kids every weekend (and weekday) in March, but there were also a large amount of “no school” days.  

I bitched and moaned and complained to anyone who would listen. I cursed Jason’s work, threw his Thai guide books across the room, and felt very sorry for myself. But then I thought, “You know what. It’s going to be good. It’s been your biggest fear and now you’re going to have to face it. Single parenthood.”

I entered the abyss. And for the most part, it is good. I’ve had to give up my “I can do it all” ideas and let people help me. The first being the kids. They make their own lunches, clear the table, get ready in the morning and evening on their own, and entertain each other. And when that’s not enough, I call a friend. I don’t worry about whether it’s my turn to watch her kids or not, I merely say, “I need some help,” and they almost always say, “Of course. I’ll be right there.” 

I no longer harbor my negative feelings from the kids and wait to release them once I’m alone. It’s not healthy, nor is it possible anymore. They need to see all parts of me and I can’t run away from them every time I feel bad. Being forced to be with them all of the time has actually made being with them easier. I’m no longer, “Happy Mama” or “Appropriate Mama,” when I’m with them and someone else away from them. I’m me all of the time. If I’m grumpy, I say so. If I need to have an adult conversation, I tell them so and call a friend. I don’t try to be infallible, or always nice, I’m just me.

And I’m not perfect. Which was clearly dispalyed after I spent a half an hour constructing paper, wire, and tape into big horn sheep horns for Little Dude and a flower for Odo, only to have them immediately throw them on the ground and yell, “That’s not right!”  

“I knew this was going to happen, that’s why I didn’t want to do this stupid project in the first place!” I snapped. “You should be thanking me, not throwing a fit. Now get upstairs and get ready for bed, I need some time to myself because I’m so frustrated.” Little Dude cried, screamed, and slammed some doors, but within twenty minutes we were all snuggled in bed reading books. 

“Do you feel better now?” I asked. 

“Yeah,” he smiled.  

“Me too,” I said.

Even on the yelling days, I know we’re doing the right thing. The kids and I are learning and growing and becoming stronger every day. They’re learning that I have needs, just like they do, and I’m allowing myself to be more honest with them.

 When I’m in the middle of querying an agent and say (or bark), “I need ten minutes of no interruptions so I can finish this,”  they say, “Set the timer.” Once they see that I’ve set the timer for ten, not fifteen, minutes they scamper out of the room. If they ask me to play chase and I don’t feel like it, I tell them so. I say I’ll watch them chase one another, and that usually satisfies them.  

Last night, when Odo started up with her 101 bedtime questions I said, “I’m out of patience, I can’t answer any questions tonight.”

“OK, Mama,” she smiled. “Nighty, night, sleep tight.” 

It’s an amazing thing to ask for what you need and not be met with resistance. Especially from a three year old. 

I may not be perfect, but as any single mom is, I am Super Woman and I kick some serious ass. At the end of every day, I feel so empowered. I did it! And no one got hurt! We even laughed and danced around the kitchen! I even revised my manuscript on time and filed our taxes! I’m fucking amazing!

During my third week of single momhood, I got an email from Jason. We was on a sunny beach in Thailand, snorkeling from island to island, enjoying daily $10 massages. I looked outside at the bleak, grey, forty degree day and sighed. I felt the lump in my throat from the strep throat Little Dude and I had caught and thought about the twelve bottles of pills on the counter, all requiring a complicated and varried schedule. 

Little Dude needs to eat with his antibiotics otherwise he’ll puke them up. I should have an empty stomach when taking my Chinese “calming” herbs. Vitamin C should be taken by all of us as often as possible. Acidophilus for me, three times a day without food, and three times a day for Little Dude mixed in with food. Amoxicillin for me, again three times a day. With food? Without? Oh, who the hell cares? I wish I was in Thailand. 

I wrote Jason back, but instead of complaining, I told him how Odo is learning her letters and Little Dude actually said, “Whatever,” to me in his first act of defiance. I remembered how we all cracked up on the way to school that day because Odo kept calling my doctor, “Doctor Green Beans.” I thought about how their faces light up when I pick them up and I looked forward to going out for Mexican food with them that night. And I no longer wished I were in Thailand. Not only is this where I need to be right now, it’s where I want to be. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Motherhood: Egg to Zine Performance

A week before our first live performance my kids get the flu. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday pass without any puking. From me that is, there is plenty from the rest of my family. By the time Thursday rolls around, I figure I’m in the clear and move on to other concerns. 
Most of the nine presenters have never met one another, we have a vague notion of what we are reading, but not a set agenda, we have never practiced together or practiced at all for that matter, one of the owners of the site where we are reading just delivered a baby, the other manager has yet to secure our contract nor can he guarantee he will be there to show us the sound system, lights, microphone, etc., no one is familiar with either locale where we are presenting, and three of the writers are coming from out of town and the highways have been closed due to snow and flooding. I’m not sure which is worse, women screaming at one another and pulling each other’s hair or reading to eighty empty chairs, but both images continually come to mind. I know there is nothing I can do to prevent snow, floods, or ill tempered women, so I settle on the mantra, “It will be what it will be.”

The day before the show Angelina from Chelan calls me and says, “I spent all last night having Southern Comfort poured down my throat. I’m still drunk!”

“Where are you?”

“We’re driving home.”

“What!? I thought you were in Seattle already.”

Maybe it was her cell phone or maybe it was the Southern Comfort, all I know is she wasn’t making sense, she wasn’t in Seattle, and she wasn’t sober.

“Don’t worry,” she says. We’ll be there in plenty of time for the two o’clock show.”

I don’t believe her, but I can’t will her car to turn around. 

It will be what it will be. 

An hour later I call another performer to tell her we still need her bio. 

“Oh yeah, I forgot,” she laughs. “I’m going to try to make some time tonight to write my piece and I can send you my bio then.” 

“You haven’t written your piece?” I try to hide my panic, but am sure I fail. 

I hang up the phone, lie back on the couch, and try to tell myself the tightness in my stomach is due to the past two phone calls. When I run to the bathroom to throw up, I tell myself it’s nerves. Even though I’m the one that reserved the sites and convinced the others to perform for a large audience, I am horrified by the notion that in less than twenty four hours I will actually have to read aloud to someone besides my cat. I broke out in a sweat when I tried to read to my mom and the kids, how the hell do I think I’ll be able to read for a room full of strangers? 

As the day progresses, the drunk Angelina, unwritten piece, and fear of crowds subside and in their place are the chills, more puking, and all over body aches. Twenty hours until show time and I’m out cold with the flu. 

I sleep for sixteen hours and awake feeling somewhat better. Just as I’m strategizing my “puke anytime EXCEPT for while on stage” tactic, Angelina calls. 

“How mad will you be if I’m late? The car broke down and we got a late start and the kids have to get dropped off in Marysville...” I’m not sure all of what she’s saying, all I know is I’m starting to feel as if I’m going to throw up again. 

Twenty minutes before show time I get another call. The belly dancer needs a boombox and she’s lost. She’s the opening act. We’re so screwed. 

I apologize to the audience, tell them this is a dress rehearsal of sorts, and reassure them that we’ll be starting shortly. An elderly woman scolds me for listing the wrong address on our press release, and says she is already disappointed. “I chose this performance over the evening one because I thought you’d be fresher, but you clearly don’t know what you’re doing.” I give her a fake smile and try not to puke on her. 

We adlib and I introduce the first reader. I can barely hear her due to a noisy, incessant fan. Our second reader bursts into tears and can’t finish reading her essay. The words “Fuck” and “Shit” are forgotten to be omitted and all children present look up and finally notice the crazy women reading aloud. We’re almost through with all of our pieces and still no sign of Angelina and the belly dancer. 

During the final stanza from the final reader, Angelina and her seven children and hubby arrive, doubling our audience. She jumps right in and begins her piece. We see the belly dancer pull up outside, so Angelina adlibs a second piece, giving the belly dancer time to change and set up her music. 

Somehow, we make it through our first show and I can’t wait to go home and lie down. Just as I’m leaving, I hear a couple of the writers say, “Let’s go get a drink. Or two or three.” 

It will be what it will be. 

The evening show has an MC, full bar, troupe of belly dancers, stage, lights, sound system, and microphone. Someone is actually able to show us how to set up and use the equipment and the troupe of belly dancers is present and ready to perform an hour before show time. All of the readers show up on time, the microphone is set, the lights are dimmed, the chairs are arranged, and people actually begin to fill them. By seven o’clock we have a full house and the first introduction is made. 

We read and dance for two hours and no one seems restless, no one leaves, no one pukes. Some pieces make me cry, several make me laugh, and all of them touch my heart. It is an incredible show. People praise us on their way out and thank us for an amazing evening. I ride an emotional high for days, exuberant that it went so well. I bask in the cathartic nature of facing a fear and moving through it and look forward to rewarding myself by resting. 

The telephone rings again. It’s Angelina planning our next performance in Chelan. “I’ll set us up for two shows in Chelan and a third show in Wenatchee. And then I want to do a Portland show this summer. It’s mama writer land, we’ll draw a huge crowd there. Want to help me set it up?” 

I think I have the flu again. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dreams Versus Reality

The Dream: Taking my kids downtown to see the Christmas lights, giant train in front of Macy’s, and horse drawn carriages will be fun.

The Reality: My kids act like bats out of hell downtown and it’s twenty one degrees outside. I don’t even think about chasing them because I can barely move under my ten layers of clothes. They leave a pile of tourists, homeless people, and the Salvation Army lady in their wake. When not apologizing profusely and picking old ladies off of the ground, I try to keep on eye on my kids so they don’t get run over by downtown, rush hour traffic. Within twenty minutes of my supposedly sweet winter wonderland fantasy, I am staring longingly into every bar I pass.

The Dream: Downtown restaurants are kid friendly.

The Reality: Several downtown restaurants claim to be kid friendly, but as soon as my motley crew enters all well-coiffed, cellphone talking heads turn and stare. I could hear a pin drop if it weren’t for my daughter’s shrieks of, “I want dessert!” as she tears past tables adorned with white tablecloths and long-stemmed wine glasses. She nearly trips several waitstaff along her way and I start to second guess my insistence on eating a decent meal. This may be a good time to break my boycott on McDonald’s.

The Dream: My children know how to behave in restaurants.

The Reality: My son waits patiently for his food to arrive, eats his ordered meal, and then reads quietly to himself. My daughter grabs all of the knives from the table and wields them frantically as she jumps up and down in her seat. When everyone at the table refuses to join her, she deems us boring and races around the restaurant looking for allies. I eventually find her behind the bar, shaking every colorful, breakable bottle she can get her hands on.

The Dream: A night out on the town with my children is fun.

The Reality: Now that they are tucked securely in their beds, a night on the town with my children was fun. And next time I plan an adventure with them, I won’t remember any of the realities, only the dreams.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Taking Over the World

Over the summer a couple of stores asked if I would be interested in doing a reading. After coming out of my deer in a headlights paralysis, I said, “Maybe, let me think about it.” But as soon as I left the store I knew there was no way in hell I was going to speak in public.

I write so I don’t have to speak. In fact, after so many years of communicating mainly with people under the age of six, I am quite certain I am incapable of speaking coherently. There was no way I would willingly humiliate myself that way.

But then I received an email from the Angelina Jolie of Chelan, WA. She invited me to join her for a reading at the independent bookstore in Chelan. It seemed innocent and easy enough, so I said, “Maybe” and meant it this time. I don’t know anyone in Chelan and she promised there would be wine, so I thought it could be fun. But when I learned that Jason would be out of town that weekend and that the roads were icy, I wasn’t heartbroken to have to cancel.

But Angelina wasn’t going to let it go. She is a mother of seven, yet somehow still has time and energy to wreak havoc on the old-boy network of Chelan and be a Marketing Queen. She writes press releases in her sleep, calls local papers and is offered a bi-weekly column, and is on more committees than I knew existed. Basically, she is everything I’m not. And I have to admit, I resented this at first. I was jealous of her successes and envied her courage. She was doing all of the things I said I was going to do, but never did.

I contemplated making a voodoo doll of her, but decided learning from her would be a better option.

“Teach me how to be a marketing bitch,” I begged.

She willingly accepted the task at hand. “It’s easy, you’ll see. We’re going to take over the world.”

“Cool. Wait, huh?”

I decided it didn’t matter how or when our world domination would take place, the point was, I was on board rather than hiding at home like I usually do. She made it sound so simple. Her enthusiasm and vigor put me under a spell. Almost like being drunk, yet still able to function. As soon as I got off the phone with her, I’d find myself approaching a new bookstore to sell my zine, querying a new agent, or telling a small press that I had a readership of 8,000 (what’s a couple of zeros?). Before I knew it the words, “Why don’t you come to Seattle for a reading?” came out of my mouth.

She agreed, of course, so it was up to me to make it happen. I started small, by emailing bookstores and places that I was familiar. But by the time a couple of smaller venues had gotten back to me our quiet reading had turned into a Mamapalooza. We had a belly dancing, goat milking, radio talk show mama and a hip-hop dancing zinester on board and they were ready to perform. Press releases were being written, papers were being notified, and world domination was beginning.
“We can’t belly dance in a book store,” I claimed. “We need something bigger, something grander. This is no ordinary reading, it’s a performance.” Clearly, I was having an out of body experience when I called the Hugo House, literary Mecca of Seattle, and asked them if I could book their cabaret. It was available, which I took as a sign, and gave them my credit card. And then I didn’t sleep for three days.

I’m still not sure I’ll be able to read in front of a crowd, but the show will go on with or without me. And it will be fabulous. Join us and see for yourself.

Motherhood: From Egg to Zine (and everything in between)
will feature belly dancing, music, and live performances by Christina Marie Wright of Gonzo Parenting zine (, Christy Cuellar-Wentz of Mommy Muse radio talk show and E-book (, Monica LeMoine of Exhale zine (, Nina Packebush of the edgy-catin mama and the true adventures of the feminist snails zines, playwright Ann Teplick, Pushcart Prize winner Kristin King (, authors Janna Cawrse Esarey ( and Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti. Join us on

Saturday, January 24th at 2:00 p.m. at Play Matters
on Greenwood Ave. (
Saturday, January 24 at 7:00 p.m. at Richard Hugo House
on Capitol Hill (