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Laughs with the DMV

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I wrote this two years ago and never published it, perhaps because I actually like the people at the Brewster DMV and felt bad about calling them out when everyone’s just trying to do what they can. But as I read it again, I think it’s funny and dated content that won’t insult anyone, especially because now we are deep into our pandemic days.

So. My son Jace turned 16. It’s time for him to take the written test for his learner’s permit. I visit the New York DMV website to figure out the process.

Yes. This is a DMV story. Yes, it is absurd. No, I am not making this up.

Dutiful mom that I am (who appreciates kids learning to drive so I can send them out when I need something), I print out the checklist of materials needed and the forms for us to fill out ahead of time. I don’t want to arrive without being prepared.

I’m ready to make an appointment. Still on the website, I find the DMV in Brewster, which is only 20 minutes from my house and where I’ve been several times already. I then spend about 10 or 15 minutes going around and around various pages on the site trying to make an online appointment by clicking the link that says “schedule an appointment online.” That link, however, repeatedly brings me to a page of all the services that can be done online that don’t involve actually going to the DMV. I cannot figure out where I actually make a reservation.

Eventually, somehow, I find a page saying that only certain locations schedule appointments online. Brewster is not on that list.

Ah. Good to know.

I then wait for the Brewster office to open and I begin calling to schedule an appointment. I call four times that day. The first time, I am on hold for an hour before I get cut off. The second time I am hold for far less time but again get cut off. The third time, it’s just over 20 minutes and then I have to go, so I hang up. The fourth time, I am on hold for an hour and a half before I hang up.

Yes, I am self-nominating for the Mother of the Year Award. Also, I had my phone on speaker so I did other stuff while listening to the compelling combo of music and ads for the Putnam County Fair, an event that had already transpired.

I decide to send a private message to the NYS DMV. They write back with impressive concision: “The Brewster office is operated by the Putnam County Clerk.”

The Putnam County Clerk is not on Twitter as far as I can tell, but he is available on Facebook, so I private message him. He asks for my number and says someone will call me.

The next morning, the County Clerk again messages me that the call is on the way, and the call comes even before the Clerk’s message reaches me. The DMV person is very nice and says that the website will be updated so that the process is more clear. And she tells me the process is visiting the DMV and standing in line to make an appointment to come back another day for the actual learner’s permit written test process.

That’s right. The Brewster DMV requires that reservations be made in person. Even though the whole point of making a reservation is to have a time commitment before actually visiting the site.

I thanked the DMV rep for her help. I thanked the Putnam County Clerk for his help. And I also messaged the latter as well as the NYS DMV about how ridiculous it is to require people to visit a site in person to make an appointment to visit the site again on a whole separate occasion.

It’s absurd. It ought to change. But I’ll follow the process anyhow. Why? because I’m goddam Mother of the Year, that’s why. And I also can’t wait for Jace to do the occasional Dunkin Donuts run for me. We all have priorities.

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To my daughter on her 21st birthday

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It’s a big deal, this turning 21 and being able to drink thing. Oh, I know you decided you were ready to drink alcohol before turning 21. I know you don’t fully trust the government to make decisions for you. And we all know that you didn’t have a drastic change as the clocked moved from midnight on September 15 to 12:01am on September 16.

Still. As arbitrary as it is, let’s use this moment to reflect because there are only so many Big Birthdays. I think we should mark them. We can note that time is passing and you are growing, and we can pause to wonder what it all means.

And alcohol seems like a fitting lens to help us think, yes? I haven’t had any yet today, but I plan on having at least a sip when you come home from work in a half hour. I want to celebrate you. Alcohol is sometimes a marker of celebration, a special occasion, a reason for a toast. I will raise my glass to you! I think the world of you. You’re the cat’s pajamas.

But alcohol is also a vice, right? It’s associated with bad behavior and poor decisions. With abuse. With death. With addiction. I don’t say this to mess with your birthday or to make you nervous about this upcoming toast. I say it because that’s part of being 21 and able to drink legally—you’re old enough to deal with the harsh realities that are not separate from but rather somehow linked to the good things. Yin and yang. In Carol Vance’s parlance (speaking about sex, not alcohol): pleasure and danger. What does that mean regarding alcohol? It means your eyes are open so you’re not blindsided. It means you plan ahead. It means you make smart decisions before you drink because you have a clue about the way alcohol works. And it also means you appreciate the pleasure of a good drink and a good time.

You’ve heard my speeches over the years. So I’ll stop going on about the dangers of alcohol and just say I imagine you’ll do some dumb things when drinking like one or two of us has, but I trust (hope?) that your decisions won’t be so dumb as to cause lasting harm to you or anyone else.

As a matter of fact, I hope that alcohol is part of many positive moments for you in the upcoming years. I associate alcohol with the pubs of Ireland, with music and dance and storytelling. With college parties and family parties. With Zoom happy hours and games. With quiet moments with good friends. With dinners and wedding receptions and backyard cook-outs.

So maybe that’s something else that’s important at 21. To remember that you’re not alone. You have people to connect with, to celebrate with, to mourn with. Alcohol may be part of those moments, but it’s not the essential part.

Twenty-one years ago, many people celebrated your arrival. We toast you again today, not just for being born but for growing into an impressive young woman, with or without a drink in your hand.

gaslighted by Jiffy Lube

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Updated to add: Jiffy Lube corporate saw my blog post and followed up. A person from the regional Jiffy Lube contacted me and listened to the story, and being heard helps a lot. They are addressing the situation appropriately. I’ll be getting my skid plate replaced on Saturday if it all works out.

I think I am in a toxic relationship with Jiffy Lube.

We had a transaction on a Friday that resulted in a part coming off my car the following Monday (which you can read about here). I called and the person on the phone said I should come in, and she also said the issue is common to my car. That is, JF immediately deflected blame. (We will call all Jiffy Lube employees or managers “JF” from here on out because the entity seems more like a JF than a JL)

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my skid plate that came detached from my car

I brought the car in on Saturday—the only day that will fit with my work schedule. JF apologized and said the manager wasn’t there, but they took my number and said the manager would call me on Monday. I felt better than I did after the earlier phone call because I appreciated the apologies and there was no deflection of responsibility.

Monday came and went with no phone call. As did Tuesday. I started trying to call JF on Wednesday. I tried Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. No one answered. The phone just rang and rang.

I brought my car back to JF today (Saturday, just over 2 weeks from the original date of service). I brought the part into the shop and JF greeted me and began talking to me…without a mask. I was already irritated about my car part coming off and not being called back, and I asked him to mask up. He started telling me why he wasn’t masked, and I repeated my request that he mask up. He walked behind the plexiglass area to find a mask and he made excuses: he was just eating lunch, he thought it would be a quick conversation, etc.

No other customers were there. Two other workers were behind plexiglass and were not masked, and they should’ve been, but I didn’t say anything. I only have so much time and energy, and I decided to prioritize my skid plate issue. Still, it was one more sign of what I could and could not expect from JF.

Today’s version of JF was some kind of manager and he was a talker. He talked and talked and talked. He kept making excuses about the mask because he wanted to be reassured that he is a good guy who treats people well and so on and so forth. I did a little reassuring, but to some degree, I just don’t think that’s my job. If you don’t wear a mask, I get to call you on it, and I don’t need to reassure you that you’re a good person. And vice versa. When I forget (because I do!), I should be called on it, I should apologize, and I should put the damned thing on without asking for any energy from the person who was brave enough to say something to me.

JF also talked about my skid plate. He initially said they would put it back on, but he talked and talked and talked about the skid plate fasteners and the problems and the wear and the tear and how it wasn’t JF’s fault but really these things always wear out over time and they just happened to be the unlucky ones who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Okay, hon, we’ll call you when we have the part.”

So I leave, ignoring the “hon.” Whatever, sweetie pie.

I’m in my car, ready to back out, when he comes rushing over, my skid plate in hand. JF has more to say. He points to rust on the bolts and the issues with the hardware and says that it wasn’t the fault of his workers, and he watched video footage of the oil change and saw the guy fasten all the bolts, etc.

I listened and said I could call the dealer and ask them about it since I had bought the 2017 car just a couple months before. I asked him three or four times if he would please put the skid plate in my backseat. I had to keep asking him because he kept talking. Eventually he put the skid plate in my back seat and I drove away.

I went to do another errand, and somewhere along the way, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure how we left it. Would JF still order the part and put it on? or had I agreed that the dealer would be the accountable one? I didn’t even have a phone number to call and ask because JF doesn’t answer the phone.

I decided I would go back, I would ask JF to give me only yes or no answers because the (over)talking was stressing me out, and I would ask for a good phone number and pitch this plan: I would first call the dealership to see if they would take care of it since I just bought the car, and if the dealership said it was not their responsibility, I would call JF to follow through.

So. I went back to JF.

A couple women were at the counter ahead of me, so I waited. There was a lot of chatting and joking around between the women and the women and the JF workers, and I was fine with waiting. A JF person in the pit area got the JF manager-guy for me, and he masked up and beckoned me outside to talk, saying that way I wouldn’t have to stand in line. He did not mention that the other customers would not hear our conversation if we talked outdoors. (Side note: The JF guys behind the plexiglass were still not masked.)

I asked JF if he could please give yes/no answers because all the talking made my stress level go up. He nodded. I asked if I could have a phone number that someone would answer or that would go to voicemail, with a return call within 24 hours. He nodded, and then he launched into a story about Xfinity and it being their fault that the phones didn’t work but they were fixing it (a story he had already told when I was there earlier). I clapped my hands (a stressed out gesture, not applause) and reminded him about yes/no answers. JF got mad and said I was being rude to him, and I shouldn’t clap at him, and I may be a customer and customers are supposed to be always right but he didn’t have to deal with rudeness and he would walk away from me if I treated him like that.

I said I was sorry I clapped at him and I didn’t mean to be rude. In my head, on some back burner, I was thinking about the rudeness of JF not respecting my request for brief answers, not to mention deflecting responsibility and not calling me back and not wearing masks consistently and calling me “hon” and simply wasting a lot of my time and energy.

But I didn’t say any of that. I asked if we could have this as a plan: I would contact the dealer and ask them to replace the skid plate, and if they agreed, JF was off the hook. If they didn’t, could I call JF to order the part and replace it?

JF said they would do the labor for free but I would have to pay for the part. He said they couldn’t take responsibility for that.

I saw red. I clapped at that guy. Right now, that is cracking me up. He told me not to clap rudely at him a minute prior, so I clapped at him when he told me I would have to pay for the car part, and then I turned and left. I really have an immature side when I’m angry. What a ridiculous display of my rage. I clapped with venom. He said something as I walked to my car (I have no idea what). I thought about giving him the finger as I left, you know, with both hands over my shoulders while walking away like some movie character, but I didn’t. As I drove out of the parking lot, I thought about telling the two women who were still in the waiting room that JF was bad news. But I didn’t.

Instead I burst into tears. I drove for about a block and pulled into a parking lot and sobbed in my car. I thought about all JF’s talking and talking and how he paid a lot of attention to anything that might be a problem with the Honda CRV. But he never noted that JF could’ve given me a heads up if something was off when they did my oil change. And he never noted that if a JF manager was supposed to call me, a JF manager should have called me. He was completely lacking in awareness about what a complete dickhead he was being as he talked and talked and talked. And I will also note that all that talking made it impossible for him to be a good listener.

I wanted to call my Honda dealership right then and there to see if they would replace the part (because I’m a problem solver), but I made myself wait because I needed to gather info before making the request.

While I sat in that parking lot sobbing in my car, I received a phone call. It was JF.

The JF over talker manager guy said I seemed very stressed when I left. I agreed—I was very stressed. He said they would buy the part and put it on at no cost to me. He repeated that this decision was in response to my stress.

I cried. I have no shame. I was just relieved that a reasonable solution was at hand (or what I hope will be a solution; I don’t feel 100% certain that something won’t still go awry).

But you know what? Even with the agreement that they will replace the part at no charge, the relationship is still toxic. JF is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. They shouldn’t be replacing my skid plate at no cost to me because I’m stressed out and upset. They should be doing it because they didn’t do their job properly in the first place (whether by not putting the skid plate on securely or by seeing that the parts were worn out and not informing me). They should have done the original work correctly. They should be wearing masks. They should call people when they say they will. They should listen and apologize.

It’s not rocket surgery. It’s just being a decent human being. Or corporation or small business or whatever the heck JF is.

Kudos to me for fighting to be treated appropriately and being aware of the ways I’m being gaslighted, even if I don’t execute my role with much flair or grace. It’s far easier to write about it after the fact than to figure it out and articulate it in the moment, especially when encountering an over-talker like JF was today.

JF is all about appearing to be a good guy. But being a good guy means being accountable and acknowledging mistakes; it does not mean pretending you’re a hero who is rescuing the damsel in distress (especially when actually you’re the one who caused the distress by misbehaving to begin with).

I somehow don’t have a good close for this post. So I’m just going to trail off and say that yeah, that happened today. I had revelations about my toxic relationship with Jiffy Lube.

a range of emotions in response to JF today

Curve ball commute

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Over the last week, I have been doing the kind of nesting associated with prepping for a baby (or for a new school year for you teachers out there)–I basically was trying to get Everything in My Life in order before starting a new job at a new university. I did a lot of house projects, ironed a lot of clothes, did some serious grocery shopping, updated my Libby audio books and my podcast library, cleaned my car, visited Jiffy Lube, etc etc.

My commute is almost 90 minutes each way, so I wanted to be a Responsible Adult while being kind to Future Laurie.

Last night, I put on the finishing touches: I picked out a dress and heels, filled water bottles, cut vegetables, and prepped both breakfast and lunch for my first day of work. I went to bed at 11:00 but woke up a few times, finally getting out of bed at 4:30 this morning because I just couldn’t sleep any longer.

I left the house at about 5:45am. I was feeling good. I was going to arrive early, and that made me feel relaxed about my first day.

I jumped on the turnpike, and everything was going well. I reached the first toll booth and slowed down, and there was suddenly some intense noise–the kind of noise you hear when driving over rumble strips. I paused and kept listening as I went through the booth, and as I sped up, the noise disappeared. I chalked it up to a rumble strip type of surface designed to slow people down.

I drove on and came to the second toll booth and the same noise occurred. Now I thought maybe it was my car, so I checked out the instrument panel, but no warning lights were coming on. I kept driving past the toll booth to see what would happen. Sure enough, as I sped up, the noise disappeared. I thought maybe there really was something going on with the roads by the toll booths. I wasn’t convinced, but I figured if there was a problem with my car, I would just have to find a garage in Kutztown.

When I arrived at the third toll booth, I had to slow down sooner. And I couldn’t continue: It sounded Really Bad. I could feel something wrong in the front end of my car. I had to stop.

I pulled onto the breakdown lane just before the tolls where I could get out safely. Nearby was a parking lot, a few cars and trucks, a building, and a couple guys moving heavy things less than 100 yards from me.

I got out and kneeled down on the road to peer under the front end of my car. The problem was plain: A big silvery metal Something was trapped under my car and was being dragged along the road…a Something that was either part of my car or that I had somehow picked up and dragged…a Something that was well out of my reach.

So I walked over to the men who were working. As I approached, they would look at me and look away. They were clearly hoping I would not interrupt their work. In those moments, being a middle-aged white woman and all, I was suddenly very nervous that I was being a Karen. But it was my first day at a new job, and I had driven an hour and still had a half hour left, and I had worked really hard to prep for this day so that nothing would go wrong. So I kept walking to the men even though their body language did not indicate any sense of welcome.

Once I was near them, I apologized for interrupting, and I talked quickly so I wouldn’t hold them up too long. I explained that my car was dragging something, and did they have any advice or did they think I should just call triple A?

And you know what those men did? They said, “Let’s take a look.” And they walked back to the car with me, where one got next to the driver’s side while the other kneeled next to me on the road in front of the hood, and together they reached far enough under the car with their gloved hands that they were able to grab and pull and finally take the Something off from where it was still attached to the underside of the car. They handed that Something to me and said I would be fine driving without it, but I should save it and bring it back to Jiffy Lube and give them hell.

I reached for my purse. I wanted to give them something for their time, their help, their good will even when they were in the middle of their own intense labor.

And you know what those men did? They said, “No” to my offer of money, and they said it without hesitation, turning and walking quickly back to the job I had interrupted.

I got back in my car and sat for a moment trying not to cry at the kindness and thinking about how much I love people. And then I drove the rest of the way to work. And I was still early.

And people continued to be good to me all day long.

my biggest parenting challenge?

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My children are becoming adults. My son Jace is on the cusp of 18, and my daughter Callie will turn 21 in September. When they were infants, I helped them give up the breast for the bottle and the bottle for the sippy cup. In their toddler years, when they showed signs they were ready to use the potty, I used sticker charts to motivate them to take control of their bodies. From the time they were several months old, they spent time in daycare and then kindergarten and then a whole series of schools, learning and growing and interacting with people without me around.

I have not been an overprotective mom for the most part. I’m not a tiger mom. I’m not a helicopter mom. I don’t think my job is to make my kids happy. I don’t think my life should revolve around my kids. Instead, I’ve tried to instill basic values with rules based on safety, kindness, and character; and I’ve tried to let them know I want what’s best for them and am on their side even when it may seem like I’m not.

But today in a therapy session, I discovered that I do have a strange belief that has guided my behavior: I believe that if my kids don’t get along with each other, it means I’m a bad mom. And that I should somehow “fix” the situation.

What I discovered with my therapist’s help is that this set of beliefs is not accurate. In fact, if my adult children have conflict, it has nothing to do with me. It is their conflict. And the only way they are going to learn how to resolve conflict is if they have experiences resolving conflict.

Does this seem obvious? As I write it, it seems like it should’ve been obvious to me. But it hasn’t been. I regularly intervene when my kids have conflicts with each other. When they were little, we rehearsed certain dynamics over and over and over.

C: Jace is taking my toy!
Me: Jace, what do you say when you want something someone else has?
J: Callie, can I please have a turn with that after you?
Me: Callie, how do you answer?
C: Yes. I’ll give you a turn in a few minutes. And then I want another turn after you.
J: Okay.

Boy was that tiring to have to go through again and again. All these years later, I don’t know why I have continued to feel compelled to teach them how to interact with one another. But I’m going to do my best to stop. I’m writing it here partly to hold myself accountable.

At this point, being a “bad” mom is intervening in the conflicts my children have with one another. It’s keeping them from figuring things out. It’s seeking to control and protect them instead of allowing them to make decisions, to experience consequences, and, sometimes, to hurt.

I’ve been impressed with all the ways Callie and Jace have become independent and strong, not by being Stepford children who avoid missteps but by making mistakes and figuring out how to cope and move forward. I need to step back and let them learn what else they can do. Some of it may get ugly. And resolution may happen on a timeline that is far longer than what I would like. But that’s not for me to figure out. The days of sticker charts are over (unless they create sticker charts for themselves, which is an excellent idea, but I’m not going to suggest it).

I’m likely to bear witness to tensions, rudeness, cruelty, anger, and hurt. When it is too much, I will remove myself from the scene. That will take a lot of will power. I don’t think it’s my job to make my kids happy, but I find it crushing when they wound each other. Still, they need to learn how to behave differently, and I cannot get in the way of that learning. Their relationship is their relationship. It is not mine to fix.

Does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself? That’s because I am.

Probably all parents have particular problematic dynamics that are difficult to shift. For me, I’ve hit on a big one. But I am going to take a deep breath (as often as necessary) and keep telling myself that my job is to trust that my kids will figure it out.

And whether I actually do fully trust or not, I’m going to behave as if I do. And my kids will end up impressing me eventually. They always do.

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a conflict-free moment in Maine back in 2014

 

Confessions

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Confessions
of a former Catholic
a current Unitarian Universalist
of an aspiring feminist
an Irish-Scottish-Portuguese American
of a former babysitter-cleaner-waitress-elementary school teacher-English professor
a current university administrator
of a left-leaning voter
a single divorcée
a daughter-sister-niece-aunt-mom-friend-colleague-neighbor:

I continue to center my own narrative.
A therapist once reminded me: “You are an adult. A professor.”
She asked: “What are you afraid of?”
I just learned what Juneteenth is.
I once called “Macedonia” “Mesopotamia.”
Every time I spell “principal” or “principle” I remind myself “the principal is your pal.”
I intentionally lost my Boston accent so people wouldn’t make fun of me.
I miss my Boston accent and love faking it on occasion.
I let the man at the storage rental facility take off his pandemic mask when filling out paperwork in close quarters and reassured him it was all right even though it was not.
I live as if I would rather be a nail than a hammer.
I am probably a hammer anyhow.
I am always doing too much for others.
I am never doing enough for others.
I appreciate my work hours because they set boundaries on when I am available to my family.
I appreciate my work hours because they set boundaries on when I am supposed to be working.
I constantly worry what people think of me.
I cry every time someone says to me: “You deserve to be happy.”
I cry every time I tell myself: “You deserve to be happy.”
I am 51 years old and still care about pleasing my parents.
I haven’t made any effort to learn about possible solutions for immigration tensions, but I know putting children into detention centers is never part of the answer, and I should probably take time to do the former if I actually care about the latter.
I know immigration experiences of people from Europe and Asia are not the same as immigration experiences of people from Central and South America but I almost never say so when hearing the former complain about the lawlessness of the latter.
I don’t point out the difference because I forget in the moment.
I am good at forgetting anything that is hard to say.
I am good at averting my eyes.
I am too hard on myself.
I am frustrated with myself.
I let myself get away with things for years or decades at a time.
I see myself through other people’s eyes constantly.
I’m embarrassed that I don’t eat seafood because someone told me it was a sign I’m provincial.
My 20-year old daughter recently taught me that “dry” is the opposite of “sweet” when used to describe wine.
I find myself using Zoom like a mirror instead of looking at the person speaking.
I remembered the date of my wedding anniversary just before my divorce.
I am glad I got divorced.
I am mad at myself.
I think I’m an amazing mom.
I worry I may have damaged my kids by being so unwilling to address the poor communication patterns in our household for so long.
I often don’t know how to talk with my kids about our pre-divorce family or our post-divorce family.
I don’t want to be silent when people say fucked-up things.
I don’t want to speak when people say fucked-up things because I don’t think they’ll hear me and their fucked-up beliefs will become even more entrenched.
I think some people aren’t worth wasting my time on but I sometimes waste time on them anyhow. Both parts of that sentence seem terrible.
I want to be the boss of everything and set it aright.
I want no responsibility or the burden and blame and stress that comes with it.
I want much more money than I have.
I want a simple life.
I’m biased against people with a lot of money.
I’m biased against people without enough money.
I’m drawn to beautiful people. I want to mean something deeper than physical beauty but that’s not what I mean, though I’m also drawn to people whose goodness radiates in ways they talk and move through the world. That last part is not a confession. I’m good at answering my self-confessions with fuller ways of seeing myself.

I hydroplaned on the highway in the most recent storm and could’ve crashed and killed myself or someone else. My tires were bald. Before divorce that was something my husband paid attention to. It was luck that I didn’t kill someone with my carelessness.
I almost never notice the price of gas.
I still feel like a child.
I’m mad at myself for behaving like a child.
I have farted many times in public and in private without admitting it.
I hate paperwork, especially doing my taxes, even though my dad is an accountant.
I occasionally drink too much. I’m a sloppy drunk, and I cry a lot, and I also flirt.
I was never good at smoking pot but sometimes think I should try it again and figure it out.
Sometimes when people are talking for too long I grow impatient and just wait for them to wind down. Sometimes I’m less internally polite and wait for them to shut up.
I suck at sports.
I don’t know how to throw.
I eat a lot of sweets.
I dislike my fat and my wrinkled neck even though I keep telling myself to love my body and my age.
I love falling asleep on the couch.
I think I must be a good person because I have so many good people in my life who love me.
I want my therapist to think highly of me.
I want to please people too much.
I cry constantly.
I’ve had a pretty easy life.
I’ve had men touch me without my consent and I haven’t stopped them. And they are fucking assholes. And I hate them.

When my black college classmates organized a boycott of the Brandeis bookstore because they had been followed around as if they were thieves, I thought I shouldn’t believe their accusations against the bookstore employees until it was proven.
I had white friends who stole sweatshirts and textbooks from the Brandeis bookstore and were not caught. I stole ramekins and salt shakers from restaurants for fun.
I’m proud to have graduated from the same college as Angela Davis.
I don’t trust my own judgments.
I was pro-life as a Catholic teenager.
I use social media for validation.
I use social media to distract myself.
I procrastinate.
I love myself way more than you’d think from reading my confessions.
I’ve had sex dreams that I will never tell anyone about and that I would not ever act on.
I have this weird hope that my confessions will help other people feel less alone.
I want to be the hero of my own story.
I want to be the hero of your story, too, but I also don’t want that, and I know the desire to have value by rescuing others is one of my unhealthy patterns.
I’ve never read Moby Dick and probably never will and I don’t think I’m missing out.
I sometimes imagine my funeral as if I’m Tom Sawyer and feel reassured that people would care if I died.

I have memories of being a complete asshole that I’ve never apologized for.
One time I said, “I make soup from a can” with defensiveness about my poor cooking skills when I was being served delicious home-made chicken soup that a good and generous person had labored over.
Many times I’ve been grumpy and short with students for no reason except something was off with me. Students never deserve that.
The time I called the 12-year old girl I was babysitting a “chicken” when she wouldn’t go to her neighbors’ doors to sell Girl Scout cookies. What the fuck was wrong with me? I was seeing my own shyness and fear reflected in her, and I translated those emotions into cruel words.
The many times I yelled and screamed at my kids. The overly harsh punishments.
I let my African American neighbor move a big box on his own because I was hurrying to join my white friends at a #BlackLivesMatter protest.
The time I read in my driveway in the sunshine with my dog—while my next-door neighbor got in his car with his family to go to his dad’s funeral. I really should’ve been going to that funeral, too.

When I was a kid, we used to say:
Chinese, Japanese [while using our index fingers to make our eyes slant up and down]
Dirty knees [we would bend down to put our hands on our knees]
Money please [we would hold out a hand for money]
To look at these [we would use both hands to pinch our t-shirts and pull them out to look like we had breasts].
I was probably in my 40s when I recalled this “childhood rhyme” and understood how sick and horrifying it was.

I didn’t include enough writers of color in the textbook I wrote.
I compare myself to other women.
I feel relieved when other women have bits of fat.
I hope people think I’m pretty.
I’m ashamed of my tiny apartment.
I think I’m good at decorating.
I think I’m good at teaching.
I think I’m good to people.
I think I’m fucking amazing really.
I don’t know what I think.
I believe I’m not alone and that my confessions are human, not particular to me, but I don’t really know that. I don’t know it at all.

I drove by a woman standing in driving sheets of rain without shelter and thought about stopping and offering her a ride or at least giving her an umbrella. But I didn’t. I thought about circling around to help her, but I didn’t.
I’ve driven by many hitch hikers even though it would take so little to help them out.
I saw a small rabbit stuck in the fence at a dog park, unable to go anywhere, and all I did was distract my dog and leave the park because I was afraid the rabbit would bite me if I tried to help. That rabbit may always be with me.
I think grades are mostly unhelpful. I think schools are mostly mediocre.
I feel pride in my work as a teacher.
I still buy bottled water sometimes.
I wonder: If I were a character from The Hunger Games, would I be someone from The Capitol? I hope not, but I think about it every time I paint my toenails, and I don’t do much about it except wonder.
I hate preachy people.
I hate being corrected.
I want to retire.
My favorite Disney princesses are Belle because of all the reading and Sleeping Beauty because of all the sleeping. I should want to be Mulan or Pocahontas—active political leaders rather than princesses with a lot of leisure time.

I drove drunk at least twice.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had unprotected sex.
I never had an abortion but I probably would have if I had gotten pregnant in the wrong circumstances.
I’ve tapped bumpers of cars in front of me and behind me when pulling out.
I may have dinged some cars with my car door. I don’t know. I’m not even sure if I care a lot though I probably should.
I’ve lost my temper more times than I can remember.
I’ve quoted parts of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech using an approximation of MLK’s voice even though I know that’s racist; and I justify it in my head because I love MLK’s cadence and voice that brings the words to life. And even while writing about this habit, I started doing it again.
I text and email during work meetings.
I tell students not to text or email during class.

This is the edited list of confessions.
I have omitted the confessions that would unnecessarily hurt others.
I have omitted the confessions that I have not yet been able to admit to myself.
I have omitted most of my answering voices, my reassurances to myself, my acceptance that I am human, my self-compassion, my belief that if we stop growing we stop living.

I wonder how self-indulgent my confessions are.
I want to submit this for publication.
I’m too lazy to submit this for publication.
I want to be recognized.
I don’t want to put in the effort to create something finer that is worthy of recognition.
My confessions keep on going.
I will never be enough of anything.

And yet I will pause

and breathe

here.

And maybe even

act—

***

PS I’m going to do a bit of contextualization here. If you don’t want to read on, the short version is: My emotional health is pretty good, so don’t let my confessions make you worry! A few details follow.

I started writing this poem in my head on a long drive yesterday when I was doing some reflection. I woke up in the wee hours of this morning with more to add, and once I put my initial thoughts on the screen I kept coming back to it, adding to the confession as the day has progressed. I didn’t make an ending for the poem until very late.

Also, I use the word “poem” loosely, though I’ve been thinking of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg styles as my chronicle of confessions has grown. The length of this poem, and the feeling of it being overwhelming and a bit random—that seemed fitting to me. That dash at the close of the poem is 100% Emily Dickinson. Do I have great hubris to put myself in conversation with big time poets? Whatever. All three of them inspire so I’m crediting them.

It may seem like I’m overly harsh with myself in some of these lines, but it’s part of a process I’ve been trying to engage in: Instead of running and hiding from things that are uncomfortable, I’ve been allowing myself space to articulate the difficult feelings. Once I articulate stuff that’s piled up inside me, I can deal with it better, considering when I’m being unfair to myself, where ethical choices are tricky to figure out, why I care so much about others’ perceptions of me.

It may also seem like the opposite—it may seem like I think it’s enough to admit to instances when I’ve exhibited poor judgment, carelessness, selfishness, casual racism or sexism or classism. But that’s another part of articulating moments I’m ashamed of. Instead of being stuck in these moments of shame, having it lie inside of me like sludge holding me back, I hope to learn from these moments and let them go as I correct my own behavior and do better in the future.

The funny thing is that I keep thinking of more confessions. But, as I said at the end of the poem, I’ll pause here to breathe. And maybe even act.

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 2.33.51 PM
a lot going on behind that smile

 

Day55 Mother’s Day

Posted on Updated on

I’m crazy about my own mom and grateful to her for a zillion or so things, but today I feel like sharing what I like about being a mom. And it’s Mother’s Day, so that means I get to do what I want.

When I was a working mom with young kids, sometimes people would say things to me like

Don’t you just LOOOOOVVVVEEE being a mom?

And I would say, “Yes, but it’s really hard.” I regularly felt the need to temper any kind of romanticized or idealistic notion of motherhood with this reminder. Let’s not act like motherhood is only watching little people act in adorable ways and cuddle and so forth. That part is definitely amazing, but motherhood for me also involved often having too many responsibilities and not knowing how to manage them all, and dropping my son off at a daycare where he screamed and held out his arms to me as I left for work, and negotiating ridiculous conflicts my children had daily over who got to open a door or push an elevator button, and resorting to yelling sometimes when the kids weren’t listening, and regularly being overtired or irritable or frustrated or whatever.

All that said, one of the favorite parts of my life was when the kids were small and every day involved reading stories, singing songs, and lots and lots of playing of all sorts—trains and cars and dolls and pretend and catch and hockey and baseball and board games. I loved it.

I also appreciate how many ways I learned who I was and what I valued as I mothered. I became good at certain things I had no reason to learn otherwise. For example, I’m really good at finding lost things. For some reason it drives my kids crazy when I insist that we go through these approaches, but it almost always works to

  • Figure out where you last remember seeing the lost item
  • Retrace your steps
  • Check every conceivable spot where the lost item could be, even if everyone is certain that it’s not in that spot or that they already checked there

I’m also patient about untying knots in laces or necklaces and fixing the little screws in glasses.

I learned that I believe in song as a way to soothe. I believe we should share and take turns and communicate explicitly about our wants and needs. I believe it’s okay to set boundaries on what we share; with my kids, it was a favorite stuffed animal for each of them that they had permanent dibs on.

I learned that hunger and tiredness affect my ability to cope with life just like it affects my kids.

I figured out boundaries and discipline. My kids know that the non-negotiable rules for me are the ones connected to safety, kindness, and character. I hope they also learned that we all make mistakes. The important thing is what we do after we mess up. I hope I’ve taught them that one.

I learned that I love to play and tell stories and listen to little ones and watch them grow and learn and laugh.

I experienced how important cuddling time is for all of us.

****
At this point, my kids are aged 20 and 17, and we are all dealing (or not dealing) with the grief and pain that comes in the time after divorce. My daughter Callie is in college. My son Jace is finishing his junior year of high school and lives with his retired dad. Jace and I get together as much as we can—it was usually twice a week in the pre-pandemic months. But I have to work full-time to support myself and my kids, so right now I have a good job I love, but work is 2 1/2 hours from where my apartment is because I chose to rent a place near Jace (and also near a good support network, but that’s for another post).

These days, it seems obvious that motherhood is hard. Post-divorce fall-out for me, and pandemic for all of us.

I still wonder if I’ve failed the kids by choosing divorce. Is that always a part of being a mom, kinda like being a teacher—seeing both what we did well and what we might’ve done better? Their dad is a good man, and he was a good man when we were married. But our relationship was not healthy, and I spent years distracting myself from looking at it. Maybe my kids will learn about healthy relationships from this. Or maybe they won’t. This whole situation is in the grey area of parenting. I’m muddling through.

So the current hard part of being a mom for me is worrying about the ways I’ve been a poor role model for my kids. And then I think, If I’m too hard on myself, then they might think that’s how we should be. It’s a lot of pressure, being a role model, but it’s also a reminder of our values. If I’m gentle with myself as I continue to learn and grow, maybe my kids will learn to be gentle with themselves, too.

So, yeah, it’s hard being a mom right now, but it is still something I appreciate more than ever.

Part of not living with my kids very much in the last 10 months has been realizing how much I love them and how grateful I am to be a mom to them. The silver lining of the pandemic for me is that I can work remotely from my kitchen, and my kids are taking turns staying with me and with their dad, so I get to spend real time with them again. Not just visits or going out to dinner, but the kind of time that you get when sharing a household.

The truth is, both Callie and Jace have their lives that don’t involve me. Callie, especially, craves a return to a life of living with people her age; she wants to travel and learn and be ready to launch into the next phase of her life when college is over. Jace has a year of high school left, but he is like most teens in that he spends plenty of time away from me. That is as it should be. They are growing up.

So it’s not that they stay in my apartment and we do some deep bonding every moment. It’s more that when we interact, we might enjoy a meal or a tv show or an activity together (I set up Wii; I am still horrible at MarioKart, and they are both still pros); I get to see how cool they are as they figure out their linguistics work or analyze the cinematography in a movie; we laugh together or share angst or vent to one another when small things go awry; we have minor and major conflicts, and we resolve them. I appreciate all of this in a new way. My eyes are a bit more open because of the months I’ve had of deeply missing these wonderful human beings.

I think the pressure to be a “good” mom makes mothering less enjoyable. But when I think of mothering as an opportunity to grow while helping a couple other human beings grow, it’s easy to love it.

Now that my kids are no longer toddlers, people don’t really ask me,

Don’t you just LOOOOOVVVVEEE being a mom?

But I’ll answer that anyhow.

Yes. Yes, I do.

 

Day40 Mask Medley

Posted on

Yesterday, in an email, my friend Janet wrote

Being seen is one of our greatest human needs, I believe, including seeing our wonderful selves when at times our invisibility seems so real!  Struggle with that myself!  These masks aren’t helping!!!!! 

That was in response to a note I wrote to her saying how she made me feel seen. What a gift that is to receive.
***

In the recent days of wearing masks with my son and my daughter, we talked about feeling ready to rob banks or stage coaches, and we said things to one another like, “You’ll never get me, Copper!”

We looked at people wearing masks in their cars and wondered Why—why wear a mask when you’re all alone? We legit brainstormed possible reasons because we couldn’t imagine making such a choice without a compelling reason.

We continue to take off our masks as soon as we have the opportunity.
***

In Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, Ramona dresses as a witch for a kindergarten Halloween celebration, and she is very excited to be a witch with the power to spark a bit of terror in others. But it’s not long after donning the costume that Ramona discovers she doesn’t like the experience as much as she anticipated. Why? Because no one knows it’s her. Rather than forsake the scarily fun mask, Ramona makes herself a name tag. She both masks and unmasks herself; she performs a witchiness and also finds a way to reclaim and comfort her mortal self when faced with the existential dread of not being.

Yes. I’m saying that Ramona, in her witch costume, had a Hamlet kind of moment. I do not remember if there were also ghosts in Ramona’s kindergarten room.
***

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 12.33.15 AM
from The Poetry Foundation

***

I use the soft video focus on Zoom so I look better to others and so I look better to myself. Tonight I FaceTimed with my friend Lindsey and was regularly distracted by my wrinkly neck. Lindsey told me she read that Zoom-fatigue was partly due to the energy we expend in thinking about our own performances when we can see images of ourselves on the screen. Yes, I thought: I’ve been seeing too much of myself lately.

I don’t know how old I was when I realized we can see the faces of others but the only way we can see our own face is indirectly, through mirrors or photos or, now, phones or Zoom images.

And then there are Zoom virtual backgrounds that mask the messiness or intimacies of our home lives. These backgrounds hover and shimmer. Objects and body parts appear and disappear and appear again. The illusion announces itself, but we are unable to see beyond the illusion except in tiny glimmers.

Sometimes the combination of reality interfacing with these virtual backgrounds is fantastically funny. At one point, a friend of mine looked like she was walking on the moon—and it wasn’t on purpose—and I cracked up. Yesterday during a work meeting, a colleague was wearing headphones and used an active beach scene with the surf coming in for her background. When she needed to walk somewhere, the movement of her head made it look like she was jamming out to some music on the beach, and it was all I could do to focus on the content of the meeting. I knew she wasn’t actually listening to music on a beach but instead was walking through her home, but it sure looked like she was listening to music on a beach. It was such a startling and incongruous sight during a meeting that I was dying to bust out laughing. But all I did was wait for her to be settled again.
***

Many (most?) of us have a growing collection of masks. My first mask was a store bought one that was gifted to me, and I never used it but both my kids did (a week apart…I think that was okay?). My second one was homemade and gifted to me along with a couple for my kids. That one is a fancy red and black pattern. My friend Angela brought over a couple masks she made, wrapped in plastic with directions. My daughter immediately claimed one because she had misplaced her other mask, and I haven’t been out of the house in days so I haven’t worn the other one yet. But I will, and I’m looking forward to giving it a spin. I also made some no-sew masks—one from a cloth napkin that was horribly uncomfortable, but my son liked it for some reason. And two more from a soft pink t-shirt. My son claimed one of those as well.

I also ordered masks for my parents because my dad said he was still going out a few times a week to run errands. I think my parents now also have a growing collection.

And we all swap information about the care and use and protocols for mask cleanliness and upkeep. It’s like a whole world of people getting their first pet or first motor vehicle and comparing notes about how it works and what are the pros and cons of one style or another and how can we use training techniques or regular trips to the mechanic to exhibit some agency and control in a world that allows us so very little agency and control….

That sentence petered out. As I was writing it, I thought about how we control enough. Or maybe we don’t. But we might as well call it “enough” because, if some things are out of our control, it’s better to accept those things and to control or influence the parts that are more malleable.

And I’m also thinking that we control our own responses. At least to some degree.
***

It’s late, and I’m sleepy, and I need to get up early in the morning. But as I write, I keep wondering:

what are the masks I use to hide from those things that scare me? what are the masks that become not the solution but the problem? what are the masks that substitute an illusion for messiness and intimacies and imperfections? and

what are the masks that help us survive and even thrive?

 

mask
I already used this pic in another post:  my son & me, sporting masks gifted to us

Day23

Posted on

Sometimes, because it’s so overwhelming to process, I need to list things with markers—not dry erase markers or sharpies (though those are wonderful for listing as well), but rather points that I can locate, changes that can make sense in my brain.

March 5 is when our study abroad trip left for Ireland: 164 cases in the U.S.

10 days later, March 15 we returned, from Ireland: almost 3500 cases in the U.S.

2 weeks of self-quarantine later, March 29: approximately 141,000 cases in the U.S.

Today, 8 days later, April 7: approximately 395,000 cases in the U.S.

In just over a month, 164 to 395,000 cases. (With apologies about the numbers—different websites report them differently, and so many people haven’t been tested that actual numbers are much higher, etc etc. But the point, in case you’re missing it, isn’t about exact numbers but rather about the pace at which things can change.)

Here are some other markers.

March 16: My nephew in the Bay Area advised all the east-coast family members via our family Facebook page to prepare for lockdown. He had just begun a 6-8 week lockdown with his family.

March 24: The first time I found out a person I know had the virus.

March 30: I talked with my niece who lives in NYC and found out about a promising position suddenly ending in one workplace…and a new opportunity arising, with a long commute and long hours but good community. She has been helping check people in for testing.

April 2: My friend told me of firefighters in the Bronx who responded to 5 respiratory failures in a single hour that day. All 5 people died.

April 2: I talked with a friend from my prior university who had the virus.

April 3: The first case of the virus in the university where I currently work was announced to the campus community.

April 3: My first time at the grocery store since March 16. I learned I should not use reusable grocery bags, and I figured out how to stand in line.

April 7: My son and I wore face masks in the grocery store for the first time.

I could trace time in other ways, too, noticing how much more proficient people are with Zoom, appreciating the remote social time I’ve had with friends, treasuring the way priorities are in stark relief, thinking about ways we celebrated my mom’s birthday, seeing the creative bonding that happens in place of pre-corona virus life.

I really haven’t been directly affected in an intensely negative way (yet). But sometimes I need to mark the sadness of a sickness spreading. I need to pay attention. I need to mourn.

mask
wearing masks at the grocery store / marking the changing times

For my mom’s 84th birthday

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This year we decided to have a birthday week instead of a single birthday celebration for my mom. We divided up the 6 days prior to March 31 among her 6 kids (with each one of us also including our own families). I thought, for my day, I would honor my mom by putting together some of the things that make her happy.

This is for you, Mom!

Daniel O’Donnell

I tried to get Daniel to call you directly, Mom, but I didn’t get through to him. Maybe it will work out for your 85th bday. In the meantime, enjoy some familiar tunes.

Gardening, also known as “playing in the dirt”

Here are photos of flowers from your garden that you framed for me a few years ago. Every time I look at how bright and beautiful they are, I think of you! Sometimes I think of how nurturing you are, and sometimes I remember the time I was gardening with you when I was about 10 and you threw a worm at me. You have a bit of the devil in you!

garden

Coffee

Pictures and videos don’t really get us anywhere, but next time I visit, I’ll pick up some Dunkin’ or some McDonald’s coffee for you and Dad.

Coconut dainties from Tuck’s…and Mounds bars

You already ate my box of coconut dainties that got returned when dad tried to send them to me for Valentine’s Day, but here are a couple pictures so you can think about how delicious these treats are.

 

Rockport

Mom, there’s stuff in this CNN video that I never knew about Rockport. I hope you get a kick out of seeing your hometown through a journalist’s eyes!

and here’s a tribute to Rockport on adjacent living room walls in my new apartment:

Cunninghammotif

Ireland

These are some pictures from my recent visit. I took the photos of flowers with you in mind.

I wish I had visited Ireland with you. But I’m glad I wasn’t there the time you left your pocketbook on the bus that took you to the airport. That sounded so stressful, even though you laughed about it when you told the story later!

St. Agnes Church

I don’t know if you’ll recognize the priest in the video, but I think you’ll recognize the positive energy.

And I think you’ll recognize these guys:

 

Last but not least, your many friends and your ginormous family

Of all the things in the world that make you happy, I know it’s the people that matter the most to you. So during your birthday week, please know that we are all celebrating you. You are as well-loved as I think a person can be!

circle

bday

Love you, Mom!
xoLaurie