An Essay That Should Be Irrelevant

An essay, written two years ago, that should no longer be relevant.

In the Aftermath of Grief

On the day that Christopher Harper-Mercer shot and killed members of his English composition class, I was applying for a job as a writing teacher in a local hospital. While the supervisor and I discussed specific job duties and the emotional detachment that necessitated working with sick children, Umpqua Community College students huddled together, in the aftermath of one man’s rage, in grief. Later, I picked up my six year old daughter from school and held her too tightly until she complained and squirmed away. She is still young enough to live unaware of the dangers she faces every time she walks through her school door.

Like many Americans, I’ve seen too many depictions of shootings. I’ve seen them acted out in movies and on YouTube with sad music in the background. I’ve looked at low quality images taken from a phone, secreted beneath a desk. It is too easy to imagine what happened at Umpqua. A typical day that starts with roll call, the teachers goes over the lesson plans, there are papers to turn in, please gather into small groups now for discussion. Someone walks in late and you don’t pay any attention because college students are nothing if not notoriously late. But then the atmosphere changes, things are suddenly charged and there is a sense that something very bad is about to happen. Your classmate, the guy no one really likes, the one you try to avoid after class because he makes you feel weird, is standing in the doorway with a gun. You think this should be a joke. You’re waiting for the part where he takes off the angry mask, acknowledges the poor joke, and then sits in his seat to discuss critical essays. But he begins yelling and suddenly everyone understands the joke was in believing such a thing as safety existed.

Media following the shooting shows students clinging to each other in grief, shoulders hunched forward as they attempt to bear the weight of death without relief. I watched those clippings on my phone while waiting for my own college classes to start. Later I would walk to my car with my mace unlocked and clenched in my fist.

I was raised in a world filled with the boogeymen parents warn their children about, the same monsters I teach my daughter about now. I have listened to Amber Alerts, read obituaries of classmates, and watched students on TV huddled together for comfort in grief. I live in a world inundated with events called horrific, unjust, and deplorable, but each day, when I pull through the valet line at my daughter’s school and watch as her braid and pink backpack disappear into the mob of other small children, and I wonder if my last words to her, that I will see her after school, are true. This chill of uncertainty settles over me like an impenetrable mist that no amount of logic can eradicate.

I struggle to find comfort here.

The names run together in a stream of nightmarish flashbacks: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Umpqua, Oikos, and Red Lake. Knowing even half of these names means I have become accustomed to the possibility that my life, or the lives of those I know, might end within the safety of a school classroom.

The shootings are often used for platforms to launch political agenda. Politicians and angry parents stand in front of cameras and make declarative statements with attempts to sway a nation to change. This is a gun control issue, this is mental health awareness, this is having parents in the home, this is knowing what your teens are doing with their free time, video games, media, gangs, culture, self-protection, constitutional rights, human rights, inalienable rights, you have the right to remain silent, you have the right to a fair trial, you have the right to a last meal.

Where is the right for safety?

I have sat in my own Graduate English classes, ones that now include a lock on every door, and struggled to remember exactly when they were installed. I have overheard teachers recount stories of calling security on angry students, and then dismiss the event with a shrug or joke.

The real story is this. A man once walked by my class. He was good looking and tall, hardly someone I expected to walk in and start shooting. He held a paper in his hand and peered into the room. His face was taught and grim and I became distracted by the intensity of his stare. He walked away from the window and I was drawn back towards the lecture. He’d reappeared in the corner of my eye and I felt the familiar fears from a lifetime of horror stories fall over me like a shield.

What would I have done if he’d walked in and started shooting?

I like to pretend that I am just paranoid, one of those helicopter moms who would rather insert their child into a protective bubble than send them into a world that hurts without remorse. Or someone with an overactive imagination that runs unlikely scenarios through my head as a form of entertainment.  But when I live in a world where I have to ask myself if the images I’ve seen, of college students crouched together in front of buildings, will someday be a picture of someone I know, or if the lockdown drills my daughter practices at school will ever be necessary, I don’t know that I can blame all of my fear on strict paranoia.

Instead, each shooting seems to reinforce my inability to understand the world. So I watch the news clippings of Umpqua students huddled together, their college sweaters the only thing distinguishing them from any of the other school shootings, I sit in my own college classes and struggle to focus on the discussions when the loud voices of students down the hall startle my heart into overtime, and I watch my daughters small figure recede into the montage of bright jackets and sneakers, and hope, that I will see her again soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Waves

Dear Daughters,

I am sorry. When I discovered I would give birth to daughters, I felt my duty to raise you in a world that objectifies you, grow even harder than if you had been boys. Perhaps this is delusional.  When I learned that you were girls, still safe in the harbor of my body, a place where no one could touch you without permission, reduce you to the parts that make you girl, imprint on you the idea that you as girls, are less, I wished to find the same safety for you in the world.

Today I have to apologize. I thought I had created a better place for you, that we as women had continued moving forward. Today, I realized I was wrong.

We have long been riding the waves of feminism. Daughters, you are still too young to know feminism by its true name; at home we call it equal. I can feel the tension building below the surface. We are ready for a new wave of feminism, of equality.

We aren’t demanding to vote, aren’t defying the man by burning bra’s, getting jobs, and letting our body hair grow; we want to be treated as more than the organs that define us as female. With each wave we have pushed the shoreline farther. We have broken against the rocky outcrops that defy us, roared in protest at the walls that have been built to break us.

Dear daughters I am sorry that in my belly you grew, the smallest pieces of you that make up you, are what you are going to be judged for.

You are going to learn the things that I learned as a girl: boys will always be allowed to do things you can’t, the prettier you are the more people will listen to you, except when you are too pretty, and then you will be reduced to the qualities of your body and no one will listen to you at all. You will learn that it’s ok when men grab you, when they stare, whistle and call out at you, because it’s how men are. You will learn that this level of thought is not only perpetrated by men, but by women as well. You will learn that not all men are like this, and this will help, but it won’t drown out the cacophonous cry of the public voice telling you, you aren’t enough.

Dear daughters you will learn all of these and now I fear that you will learn more than I ever had to. You are going to hear stories of your female friends being raped; their rapists will never face charges, and they will be accused of lying. You are going to hear of your sisters, your cousins, your peers, leered at, ridiculed, and blamed when they go to receive abortions. You will never hear anyone attack the father of these children the way they do the mothers. You are going to hear elected officials, men and women who dismiss sexual and objectifying remarks, as talk that all men participate in.

You are going to hear lie after lie after lie, and you may start to believe it.

As your mother, I am sorry. As a woman, I am scared for you. My job is more urgent now. I am here to protect and love you, to shape your character, raise strong independent thinkers who demand equality, who, when they hear the common voice croak the words meant to subdue and demean, have learned to shout louder,  and be the crash of the wave as it breaks on the rock.

 

Love,

Mom

Storms

 

I think back to anniversaries. The ones we intentionally celebrate with status updates, pictures, and gifts, and those we carry with us like an invisible shawl, draped around shoulders that bear the deceptive weight of grief.

Each day Facebook asks if I’d like to look back at my memories. These last few weeks of memories were filled with reminders of our pregnancy announcement, the congratulations we’d received, pictures and blogs celebrating a new life. In the last six days the memories are a constant reminder of what we lost.

I am surprised by the place Zachary and I have come from. At this time last year, we spent a lot of time sitting on our couch and crying together. We prayed more than we ever had in the time of our entire relationship. We constantly cried out to God, and asked friends to pray for us.

On Friday, the actual anniversary of our miscarriage, we’d gone out to eat at Thai Bamboo. As we slurped our way through Egg Drop Soup and spicy noodles, we talked about our life together. We felt blessed to be where we were at. When the fortune cookies arrived I followed my made up superstitious rule and ate the entire cookie before reading off the waxy slip of paper. “Nothing is more beautiful than love that has weathered the storms of life.”

When Zachary and I held each other through a torrent of tears one year ago, I’d never felt closer to anyone, ever. In the days and weeks and then the months that followed, I found new reasons to love my husband and myself. If the pain had created rivers in the ache of our hearts that overran with the rain of our tears and anguish, then it had also created deeper avenues we filled with love.

I miss the baby I never got to meet.

I would rather have my baby in my arms instead of a new found strength and wisdom. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for the opportunity to survive something I found terrifying. Our memories bind us together, until we are tightly and beautifully knit, a shawl of love I drape across my shoulders each morning, before I greet the storms of the day.

The R Word

Once, a woman I’d met only moments before, had asked if my daughter was “fucking retarded.” Her question came at the end of a short story that I thought was humorous; my daughter, upon seeing my long hair chopped off and shaped into a pixie cut, had asked if I was now a boy. The woman I told the story too also had a pixie cut and so I found the anecdote appropriately placed in our conversation.

I can’t remember if I responded to her. I’m almost positive I said nothing and managed to walk away a few minutes later on the pretext of needing to use the bathroom. I avoided her for the rest of the evening but have found that now, a year later, her words are burned into my mind next to the other similar incidents of ignorance and character flaws.

The word retarded is like a bad math problem with no real solution, it’s used in correlation with many other words that depict individuals as less than or unequal too, so that the end result is a deep feeling of ineptitude and stupidity. I’ve known countless people who wouldn’t think of calling an individual with a learning disability a name other than what their parents gave them at birth, but who, in the presence of smarter company, throw around the word retarded like a child who has just learned how to say no. It’s used for everything, to define something as stupid, dumb, unnecessary, ignorant, irritating, or overwhelming. No matter that our language provides us with hundreds of other beautiful words to describe our myriad of complex feelings. Retarded is often the go-to word.

My tendency is usually to ignore this obvious poor word choice in conversation; I rarely ever speak up against the speaker, knowing full well that their intention isn’t meant to harm. But when I adamantly tell people that I believe in the power of words, the power that language has to change minds, to grow, to encourage and uplift, I have a hard time believing that my choice to ignore an ignorant comment is for the speaker’s sake and not mine.

I wish, in the instance of pixie-girl versus me, I would have chosen differently. I imagine the scene where I stare at her blankly and then ask her why my five year old daughters question about gender roles had anything to do with a learning disability. Or simply ask her to explain herself in a way so that I could understand the true meaning behind her words. I doubt she would have apologized or back-pedaled to a safer conversation, maybe choosing instead to launch into a debate for the freedom of self-expression. And she wouldn’t have been wrong. Because it is our ability to freely choose our language that spurs the beauty of our growth as individual thinkers. But given the choice, I will always choose differently.

 

 

Dear Mom Who Became Famous for Leaving Her Baby Alone in the Car

Dear Mom Who Became Famous for Leaving Her Baby Alone in the Car,

We don’t know each other. We live in the same city though, have been stuck in the same dreary weather for the last few months, and have grown tired of the cardigans and scarves and boots with wool socks.

Dear Mom, we don’t know each other, but I’m a mom too and so there are some things I do know.

I watched your video flood my facebook feed. I saw your frustration as you were confronted by a stranger because you left your baby in your car while you ran into target. I heard the man videotaping say he would never leave his child in the car alone. I heard you say that you would parent your way and he would parent his own. I read the comments, maybe you did too. Anyone entitled to an opinion has chosen your video as an opportunity to let you know how bad of a mother you are, how your mistake is unforgivable, and your sin too great.

Sometimes I think of the way I’d like to become Internet-Famous. You know, the way most moms envision it; they make a cute video of their kid and get invited on Ellen and leave with a car or scholarship to Harvard or something. Maybe you’ve thought of the same kind of silly fame, but I’m sure you never would have thought of this.

Dear Mom who made a choice to leave her baby in the car, I’m sorry you were publically shamed for what others felt was a mistake; that your actions were captured on video and then used to hang you with on social media.

After watching your video I was reminded of the many many mistakes I have made with my own daughter. In one similar incident I’d decided to leave my sleeping eight month old in the car while I ran into my sister’s apartment to bring her something. I’d only done it because her roommate (a person I only knew informally) was sitting outside by my car having a cigarette, and he’d said he’d keep an eye on my child while I dashed in. It’s only one of a million mistakes I’ve made as a mother. When I look back on that particular choice I am filled with shame and fear; so many things could have gone wrong.

My point, Dear Mom, is that none of my parenting choices have ever been recorded and displayed without my permission and then publically judged and crucified. And while I do believe in stepping in to right wrongs, or calm situations, or call attention to inattention, I am not sure that posting this video offered you a chance for reflection or growth as a parent.

I can already hear the arguments of those reading this letter; what you did was unsafe, bad practice, illegal (according to SPD it isn’t), and wrong. You made a choice, Dear Mom, one that you as a parent had a right to make, the same way a parent is allowed to forgo vaccinations, or homeschool, or allow their children to grow up without rules, or feed their children processed foods, or raise their children as vegans, or teach them things like social superiority, racism, and sexism. The same argument can be made for any of these.

Dear Mom when I think of the ways we judge each other as parents I am ashamed. And it would be a lie to say that I’ve never done it; being a parent sometimes seems to automatically entitle me to an opinion worth more than those who aren’t because I’ve been there. But if my choices had been confronted, taped, and then shared, I don’t know that I could look back on that memory and use it as a reminder for my daughter’s future. I question my parenting every single day (what parent doesn’t?); am I doing things right, am I teaching her to be compassionate and understanding, a good citizen and friend, and to stand up for what’s right in a way that is respectful?

I already live with a million voices in my head that tell me I’m not measuring up to other parents, that I am in fact doing it all wrong and will never raise a happy, loving child. But the beauty of these voices is that they are often silent and never spoken aloud. So Dear Mom, I’m sorry that yours were.

 

Sincerely,

Another Mom.

The Possibility of If

(An earlier post from October when we were still keeping our pregnancy a secret)

We talk about this pregnancy in terms of if; If we make it to the second trimester it’d be fun to announce it on Christmas, If we have the baby we’ll need to convert the spare room into a nursery, If things go ok we should look for a crib on craigslist. And there is the unspoken other; If things you know, maybe we should redo the spare room into an office, or take a trip just the two of us, or I’ll enroll in that summer class.

We talked while we showered together.

“I think to myself, if you miscarry, you’re going to be ok and you’re life is still going to be wonderful. But if you don’t miscarry, you’re still going to be ok and life is still going to be wonderful. How can I feel that way about both things when it involves the loss of a life?”

He says he doesn’t know, that he understands, but he doesn’t know. He strokes my cheek with his hand and then exits the cavern of steam we’ve created in our tiny bathroom.

We are in the third full day of our pregnancy. I could not bring myself to joke with him the first day. But yesterday I began calling him the Father of my Poppy Seed. He smiles when I say it. In fact, the first day, when he’d read the results for himself, he followed me to the living room where I’d flopped myself down onto the couch to stare at the ceiling. I’d sat there breathing and muttering to myself and God, when I looked over he was beaming at me. This only exasperated me further.

“Ugh,” I whip my head away from his look of silly glee.

“I’m sorry,” he tries to straighten out the corners of his mouth, works hard to relax his face into a somber expression that matches mine. He fails. “I’m sorry, I’m scared but I’m happy for us.”

I cannot afford to be happy. I cannot afford to tell people news that tomorrow might only be history like a vague and scattered dream that causes many more months of brokenness.

I cannot take out the books I’d bought before, begin to read them and flip ahead to chapters where I think “What will I be feeling by week 20?” Because sometimes there is no week 20.

I cannot take the previously purchased cloth diapers, wonder if I will need more, search the internet for sales, watch my browser history fill with baby themed URL’s.

I cannot look at myself in the mirror, notice the places that I’ve defined by months of core training, and wonder if those places are going to begin filling out soon.

In the earliest parts of the morning, when I am moving from a dream into a place of awareness, I half-knowingly caress the place I know my baby is. I take my husband’s hand and place it there, just below my abdomen. In those moments it doesn’t matter that I cannot afford to believe this baby will live.

If I cradle the place I know my baby is, will it know that it’s loved? Will it hear my timid voice and begin to recognize me as its mother. If I imagine a world where the spare bedroom is converted to a nursery, and the crib is bought from craigslist, and we surprise our families on Christmas, will my baby live?

Sticking With You

Ever since I quit my job I’ve had what I felt were realistic expectations for how productive I would become with all my new free time.

(Let’s all pause for a reflective chuckle)

I often stare at the piles of laundry (Bob has taken up permanent residence on our couch but has now leased out the coffee table to his nephew Bobbie), the haphazard stacks of Handyman Magazines, books, and old grocery lists, dishes I meant to wash two days ago that I’ll probably put off until tomorrow, and the fur piles drifting up around my baseboards that mock me as they attack my socked feet, in contempt of the truth they flaunt; that although I’ve more hours each day, I’ve somehow managed to fill my time with everything other than daily domesticated tasks that keep my house in an orderly state.

And now, in my current state (manufacturing a human), I find my desire to clean, when coupled with my overall fatigue, dismal and severely diminished. Today, after picking Madison up from school, I promised myself a quick nap, twenty or thirty minutes top. Because I had exactly one billion other things to do and I hadn’t been productive all week; today was my chance for redemption! An hour and a half later I emerged from a less than restful sleep feeling groggy and severely irritated. I had vague memories of Madison asking to watch tv and then wandering off to play in her room. Otherwise my sleep was a distorted mess of sounds fading in and out, lights playing in front of my eyes as I tried to cover my head with my blanket.

I had exactly a half hour to wake up, feed Madison dinner, and drive us to our church for worship practice. I hadn’t done the laundry, hadn’t destroyed the fur drifts, or contemplated the run to Costco I’d needed to make for the past week, and I still had gobs of homework to sludge through.

As I woke up and called to Madison to get ready, I felt wildly unprepared, like the dreams you have where you’re at the airport and you realize you haven’t packed anything. I tried to hurry through the house but found myself wandering around trying to decide what I needed to get ready. Madison at this point was excited that I’d woken up and wanted to tell me the myriad of things that had happened during my nap. Her loud chatter began to echo in the back of my head until I had to ask her to hold all further questions and comments until we got in the car. Her face fell and with it my heart.

Once we were buckled and pulling away I tried to explain myself to her. I told her I was sorry but that sometimes I felt overwhelmed and it scared me. She asked me if that happened because I was pregnant and I told her yes.

“Mommy, I hope you know that Zachary and I are always there for you. And I know we’re always there for you because you’re always there for me.”

I held back the proud mom tears and handed her a sandwich while I drove in contemplative silence.

What amazes me most about this brief episode isn’t that my daughter was capable of such articulate emotion and compassion, but that she’d said exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. If she hadn’t said it, I would have wallowed in my self-pity a little more and then resolved to try harder tomorrow. Or perhaps decided to stay up late tonight finishing a majority of things I’d told myself I’d get to. Instead in her one simple statement, she offered me a grace to be loved exactly as I was, dirty laundry and all. She reminded me that love is so much more than the daily acts of service we offer others. That despite my inability to be the mom that had it all together, she was sticking with me.

So tomorrow when I wake up with my lists and my plans and the harsh mental criticisms I set aside for myself if I don’t complete exactly everything, I will try to remember the words of my daughter, who loves me in spite of this.

Announcements

It has been an incredibly long time since I’ve blogged (WordPress reminds me that almost three months have passed). And that’s because I just completed my first quarter of Graduate School as well as my first trimester of Pregnancy! And while I did a lot of journaling in between classes, and trying not to throw up while making peanut butter sandwiches for Madison, my husband and I decided to keep our pregnancy secret until Christmas, thus limiting what I could post on my meek little mommy-site. So in the next few posts I will include journal entries that I wanted to share from a few months ago. 

On a Thursday night when I was about seven weeks pregnant with my third child (the second having succumbed to miscarriage at six weeks and how bizarre it feels to say third child), I sat on my couch and had a panic attack. How was I going to go to school and have a newborn and family? How long was I going to be tired and nauseous for? How was I going to keep my pregnancy a secret from my family for another five weeks in order to protect myself from their feelings if I suffered another miscarriage? What if I couldn’t love this baby? What if I didn’t want this baby? Why was I even having these feelings?

I silently ugly cried on the couch while Madison watched TV. I stared at her fair skin and long hair illuminated by some show she was enraptured with. I loved her; how I could I love another child? Love was such an exhausting thing, and every part of me was already exhausted. Eventually though my choked sobs were loud enough to disrupt her.

“What’s wrong mommy?” Her eyes were filled with a mature concern I hadn’t realized she was capable of. A separate part of my brain was insanely proud of my daughter for having compassion for me.

“Sometimes, mommies just get sad and need to cry,” I said in between hiccuped sobs.

“Do you need a head rub? Sometimes head rubs make me feel better.”

I nodded and she nestled closer to me, where she very earnestly began rubbing my head and telling me she loved me. This act of sympathy only fueled my panic further. If this was the outcome, this beautiful child who’d come to me in the form of a mistake, a screaming baby, why was I so scared?

Later, when I had mostly calmed down, I called Zach to tell him how I was feeling. It was horrible to say those things to him. That I felt like I didn’t want this baby. That I wasn’t going to be a good mother. After I had finished he took a long pause and said these words;

“Maybe this is just how your body responds to pregnancy.”

I don’t remember the rest of our conversation. I remember getting off the phone, still on the couch, and thinking very hard about the differences between my first pregnancy with Madison and my current pregnancy. I had always blamed my circumstances, the fact that I was a single 19 year old McDonald’s employee, as the reason why I hadn’t been in a good place to keep my baby. I’d known I was depressed but I thought my circumstances were the foundation of my depression (they certainly didn’t help).

And here I was 7 years later, a 26 year old Graduate student, fiercely passionate about my life, family, and relationship with God, with the same disorganized and irrational feelings that had accompanied my first pregnancy.

I considered my husband’s words; maybe it was just my pregnancy. Maybe no matter how “good” my life was, how much I wanted a baby, and how much I’d prepared for one, pregnancy would always render me an emotionally unstable individual.

I wouldn’t say that I routinely if ever, have epiphanies. They seem too cliché to be real, as though our ability to truly grasp something can happen in an instant and change our lives forever. But when I sat there and understood that all of my fears might be founded on the chemical imbalance happening in my body, I was able to forgive the younger version of myself.

I’d both hated and blamed the person that I’d been during my first pregnancy. If I hadn’t been so young, so immature, so incapable of a healthy relationship, then I wouldn’t have had to inflict my unborn child with all the feelings of fear and hate I’d fed myself. But when I understood that regardless of my circumstances I would suffer those same late night panic attacks, the same questions about my ability to parent, my fears that I might not love my child, I was able to forgive my younger self.

And it wasn’t so much that I ever thought I needed to forgive myself. I’ve made it a point to talk to people about my ante and postpartum depression; to spread awareness and be a voice for other women who are debilitated. But I hadn’t realized how much I pitied my younger self for being unable to be happy.

I want to say that everything changed after that night. And some things did. But I still had late night panic attacks, days were I felt lonely and depressed, upset from feeling so sick, still wondering how I was going to care for an infant. But over the last five weeks I’ve been more forgiving of my feelings. When they enter my mind I look at them like the scary monster in the nightmare. I stare them in the face and say, “you’re not real and when I wake up you’ll be gone.” And I can turn around and walk away without being afraid.

 

The Spokane Woman, Age Six

The Spokane Woman, Age Six

At Madison’s wedding she will have cake that she won’t share, not even with her husband Brody. When she grows up she will probably be a fireman. But she also likes the idea of being a teacher because her first grade teacher, Mrs. Carol , is nice and pretty. If she couldn’t be either of those she would probably be a construction worker, or a police officer, or possibly a chef. She would learn how to make Pad Thai because that is her favorite food. Once a week she decides she doesn’t want to grow up. Being a grown up means doing a job, getting a lot of money, and involves a lot of dishes. She isn’t exactly sure she wants that kind of responsibility. Being six means that she is finally old enough to make a lunch with her parent’s supervision. The peanut butter and banana sandwich isn’t perfectly cut in half like she likes it, and there is sticky peanut butter all over her fingers, but she has done it by herself.

Here are the specifics about Madison: She is six years old. She has never exceeded the tenth percentile for her height and weight which means she is often mistaken for a four and sometimes three year old. She finds this endearing. Her blonde hair falls to the middle of her back. It is often wound like wonderful ivy, snarled around itself, so that every few days she is begging to cut it off. Her skin is fair and pale from months spent in relative darkness in her Pacific Northwest hometown, but each summer the faintest of freckles appear on the bridge of her small nose.

Madison lives with her mother and step father in Spokane, Washington. Their home is small and humble; a reminder of the valley in the 1940’s with hardwood floors and copper plumbing. Madison spends most of her limited TV time watching house flipping shows. She has decided that her home needs to be ready to sell for “top dollar” even though her family has no intention of moving from their current school district. She uses words like “wainscoting,” “outdated,” and “neutral-tones,” and begs her parents to reconsider the use of Chop-Stick paint in her bedroom.

Her mother keeps two jars, labeled Fun and Chore, stored on top of their kitchen cabinet. Each jar contains strips of paper; once a chore is completed from the Chore jar, Madison is able to blindly pick a paper from the Fun jar.  She has on two occasions, picked the “freebie” from the Chore jar and been able to go straight to the Fun jar; this is her favorite thing to happen. So far Madison has picked the park, library, pumpkin waffles, and swimming from the fun jar. Her favorite park to go to is Riverfront because they have the carousel and her grandmother bought her a summer pass so she can ride for free, all alone, as many times as she wants. This is quintessential to being six.

But she also likes the library because it is quiet and yet not, she is entranced by the giggles of other children reading books. She loves that she can bring home a million books and keep them for months. Sometimes, if she finishes more than one chore she is allowed to pick two things from the Fun jar. Picking a pumpkin waffle is the tastiest treat in the jar. Her mother drives her to Boots bakery, where she orders a pumpkin waffle (which is vegan and gluten free so Madison’s grandma can have some too), and then when available, talks to Mackie, the Boots barista and lead singer of Spokane band, The Rustics. Madison knows every word to their album but is still small enough to interpret all the songs as being about rain, love, and trees, of which she understands a lot.

She was once asked by a relative from down south, about her hometown’s inclement weather changes.

“It gets hot but then it’s cold. Sometimes it rains, but other times it starts to rain and then snows.”

“Which one is your favorite?”

“I think snow because then you can build a snowman. But when it’s hot we go to the pool and they have really nice pools with slides here. When it’s grassy outside you get to play hide and seek. Then when it’s chilly we have so much fun.”

“What’s fun about chilly weather?”

“Well we go to Greenbluff and get pumpkins. Sometimes when it’s hot we go to Greenbluff and get peaches and honey sticks and those are my absolute favorite.”

Her parents are recent standard Americans turned northwest hippies. They have introduced Madison to canning and gardening. Together they have grown a garden, attended free canning classes at the library Madison loves, and begun the arduous process of cleaning, sterilizing, properly sealing, pressure-cooking and storing their home grown goods. Madison isn’t as interested in canning as she is in eating the tart pickles and juicy peaches that come from the cans. When asked what she thought about canning she said, “It’s important to make our own food because it makes us last.”

Although Madison has protested the idea that she will someday have to grow up, she once ventured that she thought the best part would be to play with your best grown up friend. She would go to the dog park and the carousel, she would let her dog ride the carousel and then later they would get ice cream. She doesn’t want to learn to drive so she would ride the bus instead. She would ride to the library and sit with her friends but if she didn’t have a friend she would sit by a stranger and make a friend.

She is entering a stage of awareness, no longer completely inhibited by a sense of isolation in her world; she lives each day in a state of consciousness to those around her. She watches the men hold signs on the corner, wants to know what their signs say. Will she have no home when she gets older? Why won’t anyone help them? When her mother attempts to explain homelessness and mental illness, Madison is dissatisfied with the answer because “someone should share with them.” She is acute to the changes in her peers as well; they are harder to play with and quicker to exclude. And she is devastated by their rejections but distracts herself by listing off things that are beautiful: flowers, dresses, family, dogs, rainbows, stars, cakes, and laughter, smooth rocks, smiles and summertime.

During the summer, when her parents have made a small fire in their backyard and she is unencumbered by any sense of duties or social interactions she is supposed to participate in, she will sit on her mother’s lap and stare at the stars. Although they live in the city, they are fortunate enough to live in a place that offers almost year round views of the celestial heavens during the late hours of the day. She and her mother will lean back in chairs, necks craned towards the sky, while the wind carries the smells of neighboring hay and wheat fields to their backyard.

And while they stare in bereft wonder of the moon, Madison will remark, “It makes me feel adorable because my face is round and perfect like the moon and I’m perfect the way I am.”

When You’re too Cheap for Jiffy Lube-Girl’s Guide to an Oil Change

When You’re too Cheap for Jiffy Lube-Girls Guide to Oil Changes

This is how my once, every three month, oil change happens; husband-man casually mentions it should be time for me to get my oil changed and I typically respond with a “oh, that would make sense because my oil light has been flickering off and on.” Then, after his exasperated/irritated sigh, he promises to change my oil soon. In Husband-Man time, soon is a magical time that means not now, probably not tomorrow, and maybe next week. I generally contemplate driving through Jiffy Lube (husband-man would be so appalled) but although they advertise a quick change of $20-$30, by the time they’ve factored in the labor, oil change, filter change, oil disposal and sometimes they trick you into thinking you need a new air filter, you’re looking at a cost of $60-$70 (although I do know a person who once paid $120 for an oil change and new serpentine belt). What exactly are they doing under there that it should cost $60 to change my oil anyways?

So in lieu of Spendy Lube and the soon-time of my husband-man’s promise, I thought, what better time to change my own oil than now?

Except that I didn’t know how to change my own oil. I mean I knew it was simple; jack up car, unscrew something, let oil drain into something else, fill with more oil and voila, no more blinking oil light.

But since I am nothing if not safe (and worried I would somehow get crushed underneath the car) I decided to have the husband-man instruct me in my endeavor.

To enlist his help I used the most powerful tool I have; reverse psychology.

“Honey, does it actually matter what oil I put in my car? Like, is there a difference between 5D and 40D?”

“You mean 5w30 and 10w40? What are you doing?”

Of course he wants to supervise this enterprise, partly to coach/criticize and partly to watch his lovely bride get covered in oil and grease.

So in case any other female should be left with the weighty decision to overpay at Spendy Lube or wait for soontime to happen, I present to you the step by step list of the Girls Guide to Oil Changes.

  1. Change into something you’re ok getting dirty in. Since I’m still a true fashionista at heart, for this adventure I wore Carhharts and Toms.
  2. Follow the specifications listed in your car manual and buy the proper oil and oil filter. Husband man will tell me to explain that different oil types are based off of expected climate temperatures and something about viscosities blah blah blah (I had to stop listening it was getting too technical).
  3. Prepare your car by running the engine for a few minutes (this helps pollute the atmosphere), this helps warm the oil up so you’ll be able to get as much of the old oil out as possible.
  4. While you’re in there warming up your car (ie singing Karaoke) put your car in neutral without the E-Brake on.
  5. Using a Jack (or if your husband-man is the hulk use him), place the round flat piece under the strongest/most stable part of your car (usually directly behind your license plate).
  6. Feeling stronger than you actually are, jack that car up.
  7. Place the car-holder-upper things (husband-man calls them jack stands) underneath your car. Like the Jack, they should go under the strongest parts of your car (usually close to your wheel on the actual frame).
  8. Pretend your Vin Diesel, pull your E-Brake while simultaneously shooting a pretend gun, this is crucial.
  9. Time to get down and get dirty. Crawl under your now secure and lifted car. Place an oil drippins pan underneath the oil reservoir (the technical term is oil pan, how confusing). Using a wrench (or your husband-man’s strong hands) unscrew the oil cap (Husband-man says it’s a drain plug) and allow the oil to drain into your pan. Then replace oil cap (drain plug).
  10. The oil filter (which looks like a soup can sticking out from your cars underbelly) should be removed at this time also. You want to make sure your drippins-pan is underneath the oil filter as well.
  11. Scurry out from underneath your car and oil the rim of your new oil filter with some of the old oil. Then install the new oil filter. Under Husband-man’s instruction, the filter should be tightened well but will typically swell and tighten on its own after being driven (tight but not too tight, like a mother’s hug).
  12. Remove the car-holder-upper-things and slowly (oh so slowly) use the jack to drop it like it’s hot.
  13. Refill your oil reservoir with the correct amount of oil (as determined in your manual). Then check your oil stickie thing. There should be a barely visible line of oil a little more than halfway between the two notches. Then, clean it off, and check the oil line again.
  14. And because I enjoy extra work for myself and the husband-man informs me this is correct protocol; run the car for a few minutes (sing more Karaoke) and then check your oil stickie thing one more time. If necessary add more oil.
  15. Enlist Husband-Man’s help to clean everything up.

And just like that you’re done! Don’t let the oil and grease stains cover up the fact that you’re a badass girl who just changed her own oil.

Now go, spread the knowledge and never wait on soon-time or spendy lube again!