Sunday, June 19, 2022

It's Father's Day

and I don't have a father. I mean, I did have a father, but he died when I was barely out of first grade, so I didn't know him. I had a stepfather for seven years, but he wasn't what anyone would've called a father. I don't think of him on Father's Day. 

On Father's Day I think of other fathers. My husband, for example, who is an excellent father. And his father; also, a good parent. Being raised by a good parent probably leads to good parenting, but it's not a prerequisite. Thank goodness, or else how many of us would be in trouble?

As a kid who did not have a father, I was curious about them. Friends' dads. Neighbors. Uncles. But for the most part I didn't give them much of a thought. And then Father's Day would roll around and it was time to make a Father's Day card in school and you'd see commercials of men grilling and fishing and how you should buy your dear old dad a tie or cologne or whatever. For me those commercials may as well have been talking about space aliens. And sometimes it hurt to be reminded of what I didn't have and would never have. 

All of this is to say that I try to be mindful when it comes to kids and whatever their particular family arrangement is. But the other day my mindfulness went out the window. What happened is I was working at the desk at the library and a mom came in with two kids. 

This one, she said, gesturing at a boy around twelve years old and happily bookish-looking, isn't mine. He's a neighbor and he wants to check out books today but he doesn't have a library card. 

I sat up straight, eager, of course, to help, but explaining the unfortunate but necessary rule that while minors may apply for a library card, they've got to have a parent or guardian with them to finalize the deal. 

The kid's shoulders slumped. 

But hey, I said brightly, you can ask your mom to come back with you later, or tomorrow. Fill out the application online. It takes like, three minutes. 

And then I had a better idea. Maybe, I said to the kid, you have a library card already? Your mom might've gotten one for you when you were little? I can check the system for you. 

The kid looked anxious, but hopeful. He gave me his name and birthdate, and sure enough, there he was in the system! I don't know who was more excited about it, him or me. Come back up to the desk, I told him, when you've got your books and I'll check you out. You can ask your mom for the card when you get home and if she's not sure where it is, the next time you come in, I'll give you a new one. 

He nodded and headed down to the youth section, but the neighbor mother lingered at the desk. I thought she was going to compliment me on my quick thinking and expert management of the problem, but instead, she leaned in a little and lowered her voice. 

Not a big deal, she said, and he never would've told you himself, but he doesn't have a mom. He's got two dads. 

Oh! I said. 

Not a big deal, the woman said again. Just thought you might want to know. 

I do, I said. Thanks! But internally I was still wincing, scrambling back through the earlier conversation, all of my mentions of mom and why had I made that assumption and here we are at the library, a place that strives to be safe and welcoming to all.

When the boy came up later to check out his books, I was still feeling like a ding dong. I didn't want to say Dad this time or Dads because I didn't want him to know what his neighbor had shared with me. Twelve-year-olds, I know from experience, don't feel comfortable learning that adults have been chatting behind their backs, and who can blame them. Instead, I said what I say to all of the patrons who stop by my desk. 

Have a nice day!  

And I do hope he had one, has one. Odds are, he will. A kid with two dads on Father's Day. My childhood self would've been over the moon. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Please This Is a Wedding Dress: A Drama in Three Acts

Act One 

It's Tuesday and my errand for the day is: mail my daughter's wedding dress to her. A few months ago she visited and tried the dress on for me (Beautiful!--SHE'S beautiful, the dress is beautiful! Exciting!--I can't believe she's getting married in four months! But also, sad-ish--my little girl is all grown up!) The dress fits perfectly and she wants me to store it in our house, which I am happy to do, 

but then, she changes her mind and would like for me to mail it back. I am fine with this, although, a tad anxious, not totally confident in the US Postal Service, and further complicating matters, the Ship and Sell place I'd been using to return Returns, recently lost a Return. So, what to do? 

I fold my daughter's dress and place it carefully back into the box and head out to tackle the task, choosing the nearest package-mailing place, which I will henceforth call: the POO-PEE-PESS Store.

Act Two

The guy at the counter is young-ish and bored-ish, but dutifully takes the box and asks me where I'd like it mailed. While I'm reeling off the address, I am not-watching and watching as he sticks three rather small pieces of tape around the box. 

(A word about this box: It opens on three sides. The dress is accordian-ed into it and threatening any moment to poof out. Will three small pieces of tape keep the thing safely secured? I don't know!) 

"Excuse me," I say, "could you add a little more tape to that?"

The guy looks at me boredishly. "It's got enough tape on it." He moves on with the transaction and I fiddle with my credit card, popping it into the machine as I eye the box and the very small amount of tape again. If I had done this at home, I would've strapped half a roll of tape around the box and maybe that would've been overkill, but really, is there something between half a roll and three small pieces that might be... better? 

"Okay," I say, and I chuckle a little to show the guy that I am cool and not possibly, a nutjob. "But could you just humor me and add a few more pieces of tape? This is an important package." 

The guy looks at the box, a hint of an eye-roll threatening. "Trust me," he says. "There's enough tape." 

"Yeah," I say, chuckling again, but more manically this time. "I'm asking you to add more tape. Please. This is a wedding dress." 

He looks at me. I look at him. He shakes his head. No. 

My heart is banging. Blood is sloshing around inside my skull. I am imagining the dress spilling out of the box on a roadway, its copious lace tearing and unraveling. I won't be able to sleep tonight, I won't be able to live with myself if I don't get THIS GUY to put more tape on the box. 

For a moment I am in the library facing the woman who wanted me to help her with her tax forms and I kept trying to explain to her why I couldn't do that and she kept growing more upset and why wouldn't I help her and finally I walked away and sent the Circ Manager Who Gets Paid the Big Bucks to deal with situations like that. 

But there is no one else working in this POO PEE PESS Store!!

Act Three

I grab a roll of tape off the wall and not chuckling at all, I tell the guy I am buying this tape and I am taping the box myself. He stands aside as I do that, then we complete the transaction, with an additional eight dollars and eighty one cents for the tape. 

I pay for it gladly and burst out of the POO PEE PESS Store sweating and jittery, only thinking when I get into my car that I should've taken the box back from the guy, told him to F off and gone some place else, but what are you gonna do. Sometimes we are at the mercy of the world, the bored, the disinterested, the unwavering, the just-doing-their-jobs,

and okay, maybe I should've been kinder to that lady at the library who didn't understand why I was the last person in the world who should be giving tax advice to anyone. Even so, I could've been kinder, I truly could have been, and next time I will be, I promise, I PROMISE, but in the meantime, let the tape hold.

Please. Let the tape hold. 

The End

PS: It did. 


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Nine things I didn't know until this month (and one thing I still don't know)

1. You can pour boiling water directly over freshly pulled leaves from the garden (mint, sage, raspberry leaves) and make a very tasty cup of tea.

2. Never try to help an impatient crochety patron on the computer who is trying to interpret a complex tax form and English is her second language and you are wearing a mask and your body decides at that very moment to have a hot flash. 

3. Butterfly bushes are bad and you should never plant them, and okay, you THINK you're planting a bush that will attract butterflies, which sounds like a good idea, but then the butterflies will lay eggs on the plant, and caterpillars will hatch, but they can't eat the butterfly bush leaves, so you've pretty much stunted their entire lifecycle, and what kind of cruel joke is this nonsense?! 

4. Instead, plant Butterfly Weed. 

5. Never repost a heart-wrenching poem written by a grieving mother on your social media account without first checking to see if the poem was actually written by the person you thought wrote it. 

6. Addendum: Never repost anything on your social media account.   

7. If you sign up to attend a special program at the library on How to Turn Your Backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat, you will show up to the event and find to your surprise and amusement that every single person in the audience is, like you, a middle-aged white woman who has quit coloring her hair. 

8. Deep fried deviled eggs at the Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky. I know. I know. It sounds... gross. It did to me too. But, trust me. So freaking good.

9. When you stumble across an urban farm (down the street from the Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky) and you excitedly strike up a conversation with the farmer about pollinator gardens and seed exchanges and you'll think you've found a kindred spirit, another gung ho Let's grow herbs and attract bees and make our own tea, but realize very quickly that this guy is next level serious when he tells you that this is no hobby for him (like it is for you, is the implication) but that the entire global food chain is one step away from collapsing, and oh my God, I need to get home right now and plant more food in my backyard.

1. How to poach an egg. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The marjoram in the garden

turned out to be tarragon. For three years now I've had it growing, the only plant I took with me from our old house, and the first one I planted in the freshly filled up koi-pond-turned-herb-garden. 

Marjoram, if you don't know it, (and I didn't) is kind of like oregano. Rub a leaf between your fingers and you'll get a pizza-y vibe. (I never rubbed a leaf between my fingers.) Also, I never knew how to pronounce the word until yesterday, right before I yanked the plant out of the ground by the roots. I had been putting the emphasis on the second syllable-- marJORam. But actually, it's pronounced MARjoram, which makes me think of margarine, and another mark against it in my opinion. 

But this is entirely unfair, considering that it was not marjoram that I had growing in my garden for three years, but tarragon. (Pronounced TARragon). Tarragon, if you don't know it (and I didn't) is widely used in French cuisine. You will need it, for example, if you want to make a Béarnaise sauce. According to the New York Times Cooking Section, a good Béarnaise requires one tablespoon plus one teaspoon of tarragon leaves. If this is accurate, and why wouldn't it be, I could've made several oil-sized drums of Béarnaise sauce with the amount of tarragon leaves I had. 

For the record I am not a huge Béarnaise sauce fan. So, why did I have tarragon growing in my garden? Good question! What happened was, we were moving and everything was rush rush rush and I grabbed the plant to take with me to the new house, and then there was a global pandemic, and I was deconstructing the koi pond in the backyard to keep my mind off mass sickness and death and I planted the plant I thought was marjoram. 

Cut to: it took off like a weed, and the other day I was looking at it, really looking at it, and really thinking, why do I have so much marJORam (mispronouncing it in my head) and what can I use this for in my cooking, and when I looked it up in an herb cookbook, I saw a picture of marjoram and it registered for the first time that THIS plant was not marjoram. 

It's tarragon, and I don't want or need this much of it and over the past few days it's pretty clear that I have thought entirely too much about it. But this beats thinking about what I really don't want to think about: 

how when I was teaching fourth and fifth graders twenty years ago, we had a faculty meeting about school shooters and the protocol for a lockdown was for the teacher to run to the classroom door and pull any stray children in the hallway into the room before locking the door, and if a child happened to be left out in the hallway, alone, 

you have to leave them there, instruct them to hide in the restroom and squat on the toilet or something, good luck, and I couldn't stop picturing it, my children your children, finding themselves alone in the hallway on the other side of the locked classroom door. My mind wouldn't picture it any further, 

the part where there was a crazed gunman roaming the school, blowing children's heads off, but today I am picturing it, despite all of my best efforts, the children in the classrooms or outside the classrooms, the abject terror on both sides of the door, and for a moment

I want you to picture it too, this horror that happens over and over again in our country. Sit with it, squirm with it, hold it for longer than four days, and let's do something about it this time.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Socks of Many Colors

Last night we were talking about book banning and how maybe we should listen to the people who are afraid of books AND WHAT SCARY STUFF their children might be exposed to, and therefore, they must dictate what books should not be allowed for the rest of us.  

We were at a party and it was like we weren't in a pandemic, nobody wearing masks and a packed house and everyone touching the same serving spoons, but oh my God the food was so good and all of us happy and chatty and casually dressed up, the bright lights and noise from the house spilling out into the dark night, the clink of glasses, the colorful abundance of the dessert table, and how have we gone so long without parties? 

We were sitting on the sun porch and there was adequate ventilation, but still, I could sniff a whiff of covid in the air. Or maybe not. We keep dodging bullets. Taking all of the precautions and sifting through risk tables and suddenly you wake up one day, and it's been two years and two months and eight days of the Global Pandemic, and even though the cases are rising (again), sometimes you just want to go to a damn party. 

The couple my husband and I were chatting with was the same couple we'd chatted with the last time we went to a party. It was three years ago, but it felt like yesterday, and at the same time, it felt like the distant past of a fragmented fever dream. Same hosts and same delicious food and same casual dressed-up-ness. We even picked up where we'd left off in the same conversation: the renovations we were doing on our new-old house. 

In the past I told the story of the previous owner's weirdo wooden board obsession and how much dismantling was involved, the various tools and screwheads (whatever the proper terminology is) and the couple seemed interested, the wife, a writer friend, even going so far as to volunteer her services, and my husband and I threatening to take her up on this, but then, alas, it was fall and winter and then came the pandemic.

We dismantled it all ourselves, we told them in the present, one of our main projects during the lockdown. But it did make me want to dial back, go into the past, to a different timeline where there was no pandemic, and the only thing to worry about was dismantling weirdo wooden structures, and in this timeline we'd invite the couple over to help.

Another writer friend entered the sunroom and the conversation morphed into book banning, another thing I wish could take place in an alternate timeline. I want to listen to these people, the writer friend said. Just, hear what they have to say, or do you think they're too dug into their position? 

My husband, quiet up to this point, was the one who answered. Two things, he said, and he leaned forward seriously. 

First thing, when I'm at work and training people, it's understood that 30 percent of the trainees will be on board and gung ho about everything. Forty percent are in the middle and can swing either way. And the other 30 percent wants no part of whatever you have to teach them. So, forget them. They'll either come around or they'll move on. 

And thing two? 

He stretched his leg out and pulled up the hem of his pants. Socks, he said. I've noticed that the men here are wearing colorful socks. 

He didn't mention anything about alternate timelines or a world where there wasn't a crazed segment of society clamoring for book banning, or a pandemic and the fact that we were (possibly?) all risking our lives attending this party, and okay, maybe it was just me, overthinking it, how I tend to, 

but when the other guys in the circle stuck their own legs out and revealed their socks, I snapped a picture and froze us for the moment into this timeline, 

which, for better or worse, is likely, the only one we have. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The world is broken the world is beautiful

and I am trying to make sense of it. The white supremacist man who murdered ten people at a grocery store yesterday. The lovely writer friend who offered me seedlings from her garden. Six tomato plants. Two zucchinis. Two cucumbers and one chamomile. I really love that chamomile. I went to a rally

with my husband. The last rally for reproductive rights I attended I was with my daughter. Several hundred people gathered outside the Ohio Statehouse, a woman from Planned Parenthood waving her megaphone, telling us: "Next time, come back with your boyfriends, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers." This time the men are here. This time there are several thousand of us. 

Some of the men wear rainbow vests that read Clinic Escort. It makes me want to cry when people show up for each other. My friend had all of the carefully potted and labeled seedlings waiting for me when I came to collect them. I say, my friend, but the truth is I hardly know her. A few years ago she gave me an aloe plant. She'd read a blog post I'd written about a weird encounter I had with an aloe juice salesman in Prague and offered the plant to me. I take back what I said about not knowing her. I know this: she is a giver of plants. 

My husband held my sign for me at the rally when my arm got tired. He was hot and his back hurt, but I was the one who said it's okay, we can go now. My sign is the same one I take to all the rallies. A stop sign with the word NO. Here is one way I have of making sense of things: Hold up my hand to everything that is terrible and refuse to consent to it. White supremacists with guns. Deluded people who want to tell others what they can and cannot do with their own bodies.

The man who murdered the people in the grocery store was an eighteen-year-old forced birther. In his "manifesto" he raged about how white women need to give birth to 2.6 babies or be replaced as a race. The world is broken the world is beautiful and I am trying trying trying to make sense of it, 

but what if there is no sense of it? What if it's only us, here, now, in all of our brokenness and beautifulness? After the rally I went to work at the library. I stashed my NO sign in the back seat of my car. I packed up all of my extra seeds and filed them in the library seed exchange. 

It isn't much, but I like to imagine later this summer, my flowers growing wherever strangers have planted them.  

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Notes on Rage

I never had an abortion. But if I'd found myself in the situation, I might have had one, when I was fifteen. Fifteen, I was a messed up little fool. Fifteen, I was still a child myself. But as messed up, foolish and young as I was, I was old enough to know that I was not yet ready to be a mother. 

There'd been a scare in my childhood friend group that hammered the point home. The girl almost died of pre-eclampsia when she was delivering her baby. I went to the hospital to see her with another friend and we were turned away. We were too young, the nurse told us. Apparently, you had to be eighteen or in the company of an adult to visit the fifteen-year-old, nearly dead, new mother. 

By then, I was already noticing the unfairness, the inconsistencies. A discussion in the news of a pregnant girl who was kicked out of the National Honor Society at her high school for showing poor leadership. A commenter pointed out that maybe the girl had shown strength and courage for choosing to keep her baby, despite the obvious difficulties and shame. The spokesman for the school said the girl was a bad role model and shouldn't have gotten pregnant in the first place. 

There was no mention of the boy in the equation. Presumably, he got to remain in the National Honor Society.

Another reminder: the girl in my own Catholic high school who was expelled after accusing several boys on the baseball team of raping her. Slut who had it coming to her was the general opinion of the school. I was sitting in the library right outside the principal's office the day the girl and her parents came to empty out her locker. I could hear her sobbing, the cries turning defiant and reverberating across the hall and into the quiet library, and then a screamed out Fuck you that I still remember forty years later. The anguish in it. The rage.  

I feel that same mix of anguish and rage now. 

I don't want to argue with you about abortion. I suspect that whatever your position is, it's firm. I also suspect that if you disagree with me that women should have agency over their own bodies, that they should have the right to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, to plan when they will have children (or not), I won't be able to change your mind, and anyway, you've probably already quit reading. 

Good. Whatever. 

To everyone else-- what can we do? Vote. Well, yes, of course. March. Sure. I'll march. But I'm wondering if this is enough. We've voted. We've marched. And yet, HERE WE ARE. There's an interesting article in the Atlantic about Ireland and the fight to overturn their punitive and restrictive pro forced-birth laws. The movement gained momentum in 2012 after a 31-year-old woman who was seventeen weeks pregnant was denied a medically necessary abortion and died from sepsis. [Pro-"lifers," if you're still here, before you say it. No. It was not God's will. Not unless you believe God grants life or death based on whether a person goes to a hospital in Ireland or in England] 

What I liked about the article was how the women in Ireland fought back. Three, in particular, who were well past child-bearing age, bought abortion pills online and then presented themselves at the police station to be arrested. One of the women joked that she could catch up on her reading in jail. The thought was: What? Are you going to arrest everyone? 

I'm thinking that this method of protesting might work for me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on myself. A long list of books that the same people who want to ban abortion are now threatening to ban. 

I don't know if they will hear me, hear us, the middle-aged women, the childbearing women, the girls, and all of the men who love us. If they could, though, I would tell them this: 

I never want to go back to when I was fifteen years old. But if I did, this time I would rise up out of my seat in the silent library. I would march into the hallway to join the girl who was screaming. I would scream with her for a moment and then I would take her hand and walk with her out of the dark school and into the light, where all of our friends are waiting.