This Old Cat

This year, for the first time, I can feel my body actively aging. My feet hurt to walk on when I first get up. I noticed this week that my left eye is not seeing clearly anymore, even with my glasses or contacts. My muscles are stiff. I’ve easily put on 20-25 pounds in the past six months. Yikes!

I’m torn between resisting turning my body into a project and really wanting to feel (and look) good. The psychological gymnastics around it are tricky. I don’t care about how other people look: they can be fat, wrinkly, and slow, and it 100% does not matter because I can easily accept that everyone is just human. Why can’t I extend that grace to myself?

Admittedly, I’ve let myself go, which is a loaded phrase but an accurate one: it’s as if my body were a house that simply hasn’t been cleaned or paid any attention to, a sin I’d never allow to fall upon a physical space where I reside.

So, it’s time to clean up. My body is my home, after all. This morning I followed a yoga video, and it was hard, a new experience for me. I’ll get my eyes checked later on today. And I’m going to have to eat in a way that “cleans” me as well, rather than stuffing every inch of my digestive system with too much sugar. I’ve been most successful eschewing it completely, and I think that’s what I’ll need to go back to: treating it like an alcoholic treats alcohol.

I’m okay with getting older, but my goodness, not with feeling uncomfortable all the time. A poem I read once had the author referring to her aging body as “this old cat,” which I like: older, maybe a tad lazier, but always able to find what feels good, and always elegant. To cathood!

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Snippets, Installment 1

Note: I’m going to give shorter, “soundbite” blogs a try for a bit, and try to post every few days rather than every few weeks. Longer than tweets and statuses, but shorter than essays. Why? Partially, because I have few illusions about our collective attention spans. And partially because sometimes I’ve just got a bit to say, and not everything has to be fleshed out. So here’s the first:

In meditation, and in yoga, you’re supposed to concentrate on the breath; the breath will ground you. I’m still not very good at “quieting the mind,” and my feelings of anxiety just don’t allow me let go of the things I’d like to be able to, even temporarily, because they feel like emergencies.

Isn’t it just so unfair that when you feel bad, life punishes you by making you feel worse?

Things go badly – things that might even affect your ability to survive – and you get stressed. You’re stressed, so your body tenses. Your body tenses, and you get headaches, and fatigue, a higher susceptibility to illness, and a primal drive to overeat until your pants don’t fit your anymore. You gain much more weight than you should, and then you’re more fatigued and unhealthy, and then stressed about it, which leads to more bad feelings. “Oh, you’re not doing so well?” says life. “Why don’t we just keep that going.”

It’s totally unfair, and I’m mad about it. This game sucks.

All the Money, Part II

One of the headline news stories in the New York Times the other day was about the Providence hospital system, a “non-profit” organization required by law to provide free care to patients who make 300% below the poverty rate.

The deal they have with the IRS is that “in exchange for not paying taxes, they must provide free care to the poor in the communities they serve.”

Apparently, this is not what’s happened, and they’ve been exposed for hounding patients into paying for their care after all (sans itemized bills, of course) and sending them to collections agencies. Many of the patients’ credit scores are ultimately ruined. Doing this was, of course, illegal, but guess who paid for it? Absolutely no one… except for the victims. Doesn’t this just seem to be the way things work lately?

My mother worked at Providence Hospital in Waco after training as a respiratory therapist in the ‘90s, her first truly middle-class job. She liked her work and was proud of what she’d accomplished in learning an in-demand skill that could support herself and her daughters.

Still though, at least from what I can piece together from my memories, she was forced to take on debt to keep all the moving pieces together.

She switched jobs a couple of times as she moved up the ranks in reputation for her work, but in the spring of 1996, was fired, essentially scapegoated for a higher-up’s consistent mistakes with patients.

I first remember us getting several calls a day from collections agencies as a middle school student. In the beginning, I’d dutifully and politely pass the phone to my mother when asked. She’d try to tell me to say she wasn’t there, but I’d just stare helplessly as I tried to get her to take it (I’ve never been a good or willing liar).

Soon, she’d taught us to always say she wasn’t available for one reason or another when anyone called asking for “Miss DeVries” (always pronounced the wrong way), as they were always collections agency representatives.

I was not comfortable with it at all. I hated lying, and I didn’t understand why my mother couldn’t just do what she was supposed to do so I wouldn’t have to. One time when I told a bill collector that she was “in the shower” he became aggressive. “I know you’re lying.” “No, I’m not!” I said nervously and hung up the phone. My heart raced for at least 15 minutes after that.

Now, I get it. And I wish I could apologize to my mom. She was literally doing the best she could, a realization that I think all parents hope their children have at some point in their lives.

It’s not that she simply didn’t feel like paying them back or was trying to chat anyone out of their money, which is what the cultural message was (and remains) about those who fail to repay their debts. But rent had to be paid, car payments had to be made, groceries had to be bought, and it would also be nice to give her kids some Christmas and birthday presents, which I now see she made a great effort to do.

I also see a few more layers of context at this point. First, the macro: our economy is built on debt; it enriches a lot of people and keeps things going, and keeps people spending on things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. If everyone decided to “be responsible” and not use debt to buy anything, our economy would collapse, full stop. When people can’t pay, we scold them, but if everyone ceased to use it because they can’t pay, this would all be over.

A bit closer to home for me was the debt post-divorce.

I remember several tirades growing up from my father as he railed against credit cards and credit card companies. “They want people to spend money they don’t have so they’ll have to pay back even more money!” I didn’t pay much attention since I didn’t totally understand the concept of credit; I just knew he was against it.

Fortunately, for him, he could afford to eschew the system entirely. If things got tight, and they often did, he could always obtain “personal” credit through his older family members, and was helped out in ways that counted for so much… ways in which I can’t even imagine being helped myself.

How must my mother have felt seeing him being gifted several cars over the years, as well as the house where he lived (to be fair, half the house officially belongs to my sister and I, which is the only inheritance I’ll see) as she struggled to support us, even with child support, as debt collectors kept her own phone ringing more than ten times a day for years? Did she know about the shoebox full of “IOUs” that my uncle once gave to my dad as a Christmas present, all his “debts” forgiven? And how much was she kept up at night worrying about how she’d get everything paid for and about her daughters’ obvious discomfort with “covering” for her several times a day as if she were some sort of criminal?

Thinking about it inspires so much sadness and compassion.

Things got better when she married my stepdad, another respiratory therapist. Suddenly, we had money to spare. We moved to a nicer apartment, and got a better car, finally trading in the only new one my mother had bought years later.

But then, double-tragedy struck: Richard had a heart attack and needed bypass surgery. Right around the same time, the hospital they both worked at shut down from one day to the next for mismanagement and fraud. It declared bankruptcy, and, as far as I know, completely got away with having let go all of its workers at once, as well as not having paid the insurance premiums that had been taken out of their paychecks. Low and behold: the surgery wouldn’t be covered by insurance after all, and they were both out of work. Back to square one.

They both got new jobs, but my mother was not the same. She started having some more serious health problems around this time, and they soon realized she couldn’t work. And though she was fainting frequently, hitting her head and breaking her bones, she was rejected for disability benefits; “falling” isn’t a disability, they said.

Our economy, after all, is not made to help people that aren’t in optimal working condition. It doesn’t matter if they’re sick and can’t work. Though she clearly couldn’t work, the assumption was that she was a drug addict who was trying to live off the government because she didn’t want to. No one gets lectured on “personal responsibility” more than those struggling to survive, it seems.

I’ve had much better luck than my mother. To start, I had a great mother who took care of me the way she never had been through a childhood of abuse so bad it was a wonder she even survived long enough to have us; I also had two great dads, and a grandmother who was often there to help fill in the gaps with our care (and payments for ballet classes and braces). My uncle, the one who forgave my father’s debts and gave him the house, paid for the college of his nieces and nephews in full, so I am mercifully not saddled with student debt.

I am saddled with debt now, though. Partially, it’s just life: it’s expensive. Sometimes you have to pay unexpected taxes, or travel to another country because your mother is dying, and those things can get you into just deep enough a hole that the “what the hell” effect kicks in (what’s a little more debt?). It’s usually later that you realize your financial optimism was not a great position, and an endless string of independent contractor and freelancer gigs stop being as consistent as they once were. Savings are accumulated, then spent plus some for rainy days that come because gigs are, by definition, not that steady. A global pandemic hits.

But debt collectors don’t stop calling. Money from the poor doesn’t stop rolling endlessly up to those who have more money than they could ever spend. And we’re the ones who feel bad about it.

An Old Poem for Translation Day

Apparently, it’s International Translation Day! (They really do think of everything.)

I’ve been working on another blog entry, but have been doing so much end-of-month paid work to make sure we’ll have enough money in November that I haven’t been able to edit it. Next week, it’s happening!

In the meantime, a poem from a few years ago, Saint Jerome’s Day. A lot has changed since I wrote it: a pandemic, a separation that’s still taking forever to transition to divorce, a new life. My daughter is older. But San Jerónimo is still being celebrated every year in nearby-Coatepec, the town that claims him as their patron saint.

Is it sand or sawdust

on the cobblestone streets?

San Jerónimo, patron saint of this agnostic translator and

way too concerned with women’s purity if you ask me

and plus, did you really tame that lion

because I find that hard to believe.

Laid out so beautifully, fleeting murals on the ground

of this still-small town in Mexico

ready for the cleansing by trampling

of the devout.

Dancing clowns

a make-shift monster of pine branches and burlap

boys showing off their strength

as they carry a 2-ton altar to the church

complete with their refrescos on top (offering or just a convenient carrying spot? I can never tell)

That kind of raw but self-conscious masculine energy

has always made me nervous

It’s way scarier to me than the one who cracks the whip

in front of my delightful drunk friend, trying to get a picture in the middle of the procession.

or the day-fireworks, all bark and nothing to look at

My daughter sits inside the café wanting sweets

Other times on her father’s shoulders shouting “¡Mira!” as this procession we don’t understand

marches and dances by

destroying the beautiful ground murals that

never would have lasted anyway.

Let’s not fear this transition and destruction anymore.

All the Money, Part 1

I read an article in the New York Times the other day about the connection between debt and shame. I then spent about an hour in the comments section. It’s not that I hadn’t thought about it carefully before, but something about it hit me.

This particular article was about the hypocritical rage of those who thought everyone should “pay their own way” (legislators accepting millions in now forgiven PPP loans while nobody blinked an eye, anyone?) toward the not-so-lucky who’ve spent their adult lives buried under student debt, the principal of which most have already paid off and others have paid off several times over.

But really, I consider most debt advertised to the poor and lower-middle class as fair game for ample criticism. If workers’ wages had kept up with the rising prices of everything else, after all – hell, if they’d increased at the same rate their CEOs’ earnings had – almost no one would need debt in the first place. For the ultra-rich and sometimes for the merely well-off, debt is a tool. They can leverage it (and abandon it without being judged) to build their wealth.

If they lend money themselves, they can ensure continued monthly income as those much poorer than they struggle to pull together and send an ever-increasing monthly payment from their limited monthly earnings. Interest, of course, is what makes any “investment” worthwhile and what keeps debtors continuing those monthly payments far after the original amount borrowed has been covered.

For most of the rest of us, it’s a delicious-looking house made of candy in the middle of a punishing forest. What could go wrong? Time to carpe that diem…we already know that none of us are getting out of here alive.

Spending is emotional. It’s also social. To refuse to take on debt is to face this difficult question: to what extent are you willing to not let yourself or your children be included in the name of playing it safe? And what, are you not going to buy them Christmas presents this year? The cultural messages are maddeningly contradictory: if there’s anything worse than spending money you don’t have, it’s not providing your children with absolutely everything in your power to provide.

Then there are the intentional (as opposed to latent) forces outside of you. With one hand, an offer of credit, easy, that speaks to the optimist in you. Of course things will be better for you in the future! How could they not?

With the other hand, elaborately-crafted advertising to make you feel just awful if you miss out, or worse, cause your children to miss out.

But then comes a third hand from behind the back, the archetypal devil coming to collect the soul you sold him much later when the effect has worn off: “You knew what you were getting into; what makes you think you should get to walk away from your responsibilities, hmm? What kind of person are you, anyway?”

The above, of course, is debt that’s more or less taken on consciously but unnecessarily. Lots of people take it on very necessarily as well: a job loss, an illness, a car emergency. When you don’t have a lot of resources, and many hard-working people don’t and won’t, the debt itself becomes one of your only resources (while it lasts) – a lifeline. These are the personal, micro-reasons, but we forget that there are macro-reasons one might require it, too: wages that haven’t increased with the price of living. Institutional racism. The failure of your ancestors to have both produced wealth and grown it exponentially to pass down to you. The failure to have a family that could have your back if you really needed it.

So as a society, we’re more comfortable talking about what most of us would see as “justifiable debt” – debt that can’t be helped, like to go to school or from medical bills even when we have insurance – than debt that came about from what we might consider bad decisions, like from buying unnecessary items on credit cards. It’s the same way we embrace a biological explanation of homosexuality (they were literally born that way!) but feel uneasier explaining women who have simply decided that they’re only going to be romantically involved with other women now to the religious right. Nuance has never been our specialty.

When it comes to consumer debt, our moral twisting gets uncomfortable. As a species, we don’t collectively appreciate difficult, multi-layered explanations, and the purpose of those exercises anyway is usually to arrive at a moral judgment.

But there’s a long list of ways, if you look closely, that this system of debt is here very much on purpose. If we must blame someone, I think our cameras are aimed at the wrong subjects.

Personal finance courses, for example, have never formed part of public school programs in a way that would make us believe the “powers that be” don’t actually want us to be falling into these traps. That’s because ensuring that people fall into them is by design: debt is what keeps this economy going, and what keeps a specific set of pockets filling each month while most others are quickly emptied.

That might be a cynical view, but far more cynical, I think, is setting up traps for people to fall into and then wagging fingers at them for having fallen in.

I have more to say on this subject on a personal level, but will be saving it for my next blog; I have no illusions about our collective attention spans for writing over 250 words in length. For those of you who’ve stuck to the end, thank you! More to come.

My Gross Angel

I have a dog named Lola. The name doesn’t suit her; she’s not coy or mysterious. She’s cute, but she’s the opposite of fancy, and I think we can all agree that Lola is a name for someone fancy. She’s scraggly, anxious, and needy. Like all dogs, she wears her heart on her…paw.

When I brought her to live with me, they’d been calling her “Bola” because of how she’d roll herself up into a little ball to rest. “Bola” can also mean “boil,” as in, on the skin, the idea of which grossed me out so much that I had to change it. “Cola” would have been cute, but in addition to soda (as in, Coca-Cola), it means “tail” or “ass,” neither of which seemed like a polite name to give a companion.

So Lola it was.

We don’t know a lot about Lola’s past, but we do know that she must have been abused by some pretty scary and mean people, and we know that they must have been men. Years later, it still takes at least three or four visits of consistently displayed calm, positivity, and earnest desire before she’ll let a man go anywhere near her. She won’t bite, she’ll just run away in panic, looking to me for protection.

Lola follows me everywhere. I am her goddess, her queen. If I leave, I’m told she spends a few minutes whining about it. She’ll settle for my partner and my daughter if I’m not around, and she seems to like our housekeeper almost as much as she does me; the days that Ana comes are the only ones that Lola’s not glued to my side. When I come home, she celebrates as if I’ve just returned from the dead, even if I’d only stepped out for five minutes.

Sometimes, this annoys me. I like being accompanied, but I’m one of those “introverted extrovert” types that enjoys a bit of space from time to time. When I try to be an absent millennial zombie, scrolling through my phone or even reading on my computer on the couch, Lola comes and pushes my hand with her little nose. “It seems you’re in the mood for petting something. I would like to remind you that unlike the phone and the computer, I love you. Your gadgets won’t snuggle you back or adore you. Choose me.”

Often this happens when I’m quite busy – I’m usually quite busy – and it exasperates me. Having dependents means that you are always needed; it means that your time is never exclusively your time. This is simultaneously exhausting and magical, a dynamic that can draw out your humanity while also making you feel resentful.

But when I feel like shoving Lola to the other side of the couch, I remember the child version of myself. My sister and I were obsessed with dogs. We’d had dogs at different points in our childhood, but neither we nor anyone in our family knew how to train them, so we never felt we had the “right” dog.

We’d often find strays on out-of-town visits somewhere that would follow us around and beg our parents to take the dog home with us. The answer was always no – they had plenty of other things to take care of – but we dreamed of a dog who would adore us, who would not only not run off as soon as the door was opened in search of adventure, but who would always come when called, who’d be by our sides constantly, who’d bow to us as royalty, gaze up at us with affection, spend every waking moment looking for a way to express to us its love.

So when Lola annoys me…when she won’t leave me alone, when I’ve discovered that in her anxiety or because it was raining in an extra terrifying and wet way outside she’s once again peed on the sofa or a pillow or the carpet – hey, I’m not perfect, either – I try to remember that she’s literally a dream come true: my very own adoring, disgusting angel who would move heaven and earth just to sit at my side.

Is THIS Manifesting?

A couple of months ago, we moved to a new house.

And not just any house; really, it’s a palace. Look!

There are few material things as important to me as the place I live. I will spend countless hours and dollars to make sure that the physical space I call my own is as beautiful, functional, and organized as it possibly can be. I simply cannot feel at peace or even focus on anything else until I do this; for me trying to do go about my business before it’s happened is like trying to go back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning when you really, really have to pee.

Part of this, I know, is because of my own background and childhood. I grew up in a house that was always messy, perhaps two levels below hoarder status. The floors were always covered with layers of read newspapers and dirty dishes that took forever to get to the sink and dishwasher, and every surface seemed to always be covered by geological layers of papers, plastic bags, clothing items, more dishes, and random items that had been brought in and not found a place to live.

I don’t blame my parents, least of all my mother. My mom, who all that constant cleaning work unofficially fell to (even now, few people say, “how can he allow his house to even get to that state?” while most would ask that exact question of a woman) was often depressed and overwhelmed after a tragically traumatic childhood. She literally did not have it in her to do more than she was doing, which was already a lot with two kids and a job.

My father seemed to simply not notice if things were clean or not; if he did, he certainly never thought that straightening up was a good use of his time. Like many men of his generation, he was simply used to his environment being taken care of by (female) others.

So for a while, I thought a messy house was normal, and that my grandmother, who we spent a lot of time with, was exceptionally, perhaps obsessively, clean.

But once I got to an age where I started spending time at friends’ houses, I realized that we were the abnormal ones. I would marvel at their neat living rooms and the way that dishes were immediately cleared off the table and washed, the couch clear of loads of laundry, the clothing neatly put away in the closets.

It still took me several years to realize that I could personally be the one to make this happen in my home – you’ve got to teach kids these things by showing them and then making them – but once I saw how a house (with kids, even!) could be, I was obsessed with making sure I’d live in such a place someday.

When we moved to Fort Worth suddenly for my mom’s job (I was 14), I made it happen for the first time, and it was like magic. What a difference having a clean, decorated space made! Everyone felt happier, especially my mom, and I was no longer embarrassed to have people over to visit; now I was proud.

I’ve been obsessed with making the various places I’ve lived in just so ever since; it is the first thing I do anywhere. A place that’s already beautiful helps, but even a windowless basement apartment can be made suitable and even charming. Because as far as I’m concerned, getting one’s physical space in an ideal state is basically witchcraft. What a difference it makes, what a cleansing of the spirit!

I have the confidence – I know – that I will always live in beautiful places the way I’m supposed to know and feel other things I want, “believing with the deepest part of my being” (a la The Secret) in things I want to bring about in my life.

I’ve talked about my worries around the concept of manifesting before, and about how I’m skeptical of the whole thing. The completely rational part of me dismisses it outright as bullshit. But the part of me (in everyone as part of the human condition, I’m convinced) that yearns to believe in magic and gods keeps popping up and saying, “Could it be? This looks like evidence, after all…”

And if it is, how can apply the kind of “knowing” I have around my living space to the kind of “knowing” I’d need for other things? I’m not good at believing things that I don’t already believe, after all, before there’s any evidence for it.

But I wonder. What if I worked on other parts of my life with the same confidence and sense of “this will get done, there is no question” that I did on this part? And how might I go about that before I really truly believe in the same way?

All questions to ponder…while I finish this rainbow mural in my kid’s room.

We’re All Mad Here

Sometimes, I feel downright crazy. I’m pretty sure we all do, right?

I’ve been thinking about our whole concept of mental health and illness lately, especially after a recent trip home where I was able to have all kinds of interesting conversations around the issue.

As I’ve written before, I truly believe that the “ill” part is mostly around us, which is what causes the problems within us, and not the other way around (exceptions, I think, might be true psychosis, a total disconnect with the reality that most of us consider to be true).

There’s a lot of human variety, but there are also a lot of fundamental similarities.

We’re all pretty interested, to varying degrees, in food. With a few exceptions, we’re pretty interested in sex. And somehow we’re pretty interested in violence, too, something that both attracts and repels us (I just watched the first episode of House of the Dragon last night…yikes).

The biological and the social swim around together, and trying to separate them can get pretty sticky. In many ways, impulses we consider to be “in our heads” are there on purpose to keep our biological selves alive.

One of my strongest beliefs is that humans were never meant to live the way we’re living; we certainly weren’t meant to raise children this way, with only 1-2 frazzled adults available to get done everything that needs to get done.

Anthropologically, humans are made to live in groups, in communities. It’s how we evolved and advanced as a species: helping each other.

So is it any wonder that living in such small households, barely getting by while taking care of an ever-increasing and increasingly complex set of needs is making us feel not okay about everything? It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

A friend this summer was telling me that she was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in middle school. Many friends have told me that they’ve received this diagnosis, many in adulthood. I’m pretty sure if I went looking for it, I could get that diagnosis, too.

In our conversation, she talked about an article she read with an interesting thesis: ADHD is only a problem to be solved within a capitalist system where everyone needs to support themselves individually and be constantly productive; it’s also a system in which children need to behave in very specific ways in large groups. The boxes we must fit in are smallish and particularly shaped, and not fitting into them can have dire consequences for the life and prospects of us all. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Because really, this world is clearly crazy.

We have so much stimulation and so few layers of care from others beyond childhood (and some people don’t even get the childhood part). So many little evolutionary buttons to be pressed that nature never imagined we’d have access to.

We’re programmed to look for fat and sugar, which is rare in nature. So what happens when we’re able to eat exclusively what we’re programmed to seek out?

We’re programmed to notice sexual cues and become aroused. So what do we do when suddenly we have access to porn, sexual cues galore that we’re, again, programmed to seek out?

We’re programmed to seek out what ups our endorphins. Guess what? We can now ingest them! Opioids feel like love during a time when we’re so unconnected to each other – those relationships are where we’d normally get those endorphins – that many people would literally rather risk dying than not feeling them.

Our brains evolved for a simpler, more close-knit world. The world is now incredibly complex, and individuals are suddenly incredibly isolated, even when they’re physically surrounded by others.

And all the while, we’re counting ourselves as “disordered” for normal human behavior when what’s really disordered is our way of life.

No wonder we all feel so unhinged.

A person close to me is what most psychologists would classify as “on the autism spectrum.” Of an older generation, he’s never been diagnosed for (probably very justifiable) fear of job discrimination. But he’s definitely not “neurotypical” in the way we describe it now.

Someone like this person is not meant to live on his own. None of us were, but especially not him. Community would make this a non-issue, and we’d all be able to focus on his unique and myriad gifts more than his inability to perform basic tasks.

I don’t know the solution. I don’t know the path out of this. But I do want to take the pressure off of our brains a little bit; so many are being considered “faulty” because they’re not behaving in very narrow ways that support a sick society. Society will never be perfect, of course. But we could at least make a bigger effort not to let our fellow humans drift in the wind.

Mother’s Day, Again

On Mother’s Day two years ago, my daughter sobbed.

We had just moved to a new house after my separation from my husband a month or so before. Lock-down had begun a mere two weeks after we moved in (remember when we thought it would last for, at most, a month?). I’d worked hard to get us settled in and ready for a housewarming party, but we were destined for isolation.

We both desperately needed the support of our village, and we’d just recently been isolated from everyone.

I tried to keep her busy and excited about our new life by painting murals outside, picking blackberries to eat outside, turning our new stove box into a little house, going on walks. But she wasn’t having it.

“I hate coronavirus!” she sobbed. “I want my daddy to be here!”

I cried with her.

This is the event that I think of when I think of Mother’s Day: my daughter’s raw pain, my guilt at not being able to give her what she wanted nor at having anything she’d consider a reasonable explanation for why we were suddenly very, very on our own. I don’t want to think about it, because it makes me sad. But if there are tricks for tuning out painful memories or reframing them, I sure haven’t figured them out yet.

Since I became a mother myself, Mother’s Day has been fraught for me. I have loved my daughter more than any other being since the day I found out she was growing inside of me, but motherhood has been anything but a smooth ride.

As a baby, she was almost never happy. We’ll never know why (doctors diagnose “colic” when babies cry all the time for not apparent reason), but it certainly felt as if it must have been all my fault. How was it possible that I couldn’t comfort her? Getting her to stop crying was a Herculean task, as was eliciting a smile. She’d try to Shamu-flip out of my arms. How could it be that my baby, who I loved more than anything, seemed to be repelled by me? And why did I seem to be the only mother around with that problem? We’re hardest on ourselves, I know, but even if I’d been on the outside, I’d have concluded that the problem had to have been the mother.

Mothers, of course, are the ones who get side-eyed when something’s not right. The buck doesn’t stop with anyone else but her.

And when you’re raising a baby in a different culture from you own and away from your own family, things get extra complicated, the explanations mostly being that a foreign mother is just not doing things the right way. It’s also possible that absolutely no one was judging my mothering skills badly, and that I was simply projecting my own insecurities about my abilities onto them.

Now, thing are better. She can talk, which was pretty much the only thing that replaced all that crying (thankfully, she began talking much earlier than I’d expected; all the books say bilingual kids stay silent for much longer, but she just had too much to say to keep observing, I guess). Once we’d finally exhausted all other possibilities and went to the dreaded sleep-training at 8 months, she finally slept through the night, which helped (it worked — within 3 days, she was sleeping 12-hour stretches). My woo-woo explanation of her unhappy infanthood is that she’s an old soul, sure that she was at the doors of Nirvana. She was born as a human again instead, and it pissed her off a lot.

Or maybe it really was just painful gas.

Having a kid, for me, has been way better than having a baby. She can talk, and argue cleverly, and show affection, and express herself in ways that are a mystery to me but that I nevertheless find fascinating. She loves little kids smaller than her. She wishes she had a twin sister. She likes to draw, and simultaneously perform her favorite musical scenes in movies, and challenge herself to do things that scare her like standing on a high ledge. I often do not understand her — she is so different than I was as a child, so much less concerned about gaining the approval of the adults around her. She likes to be in charge and feels no need to make it seem as if she doesn’t. She’s not a people-pleaser, something that makes me practically weep with gratitude since I know how much pain and wasted time it will save her.

Last Mother’s Day was better. She met my current partner for the first time and we had dinner at our house. He brought me flowers and her a chocolate egg with a toy inside, sugar being a direct line to her heart.

This Mother’s Day, we’ll have a meal together as well, out this time. I sheepishly admit that being celebrated when it’s time to be celebrated is important to me; I want attention, recognition, and maybe a present, even if it’s homemade. Really, I want to be told by the only person whose opinion on the topic matters, “Don’t worry, you are a good mom.”

So every year on this day, I’m weepy. It’s the day I most worry whether or not I’m doing it right. I still don’t always feel confident in my mothering skills, but I’m trying (both to be a good mother and be more confident). I miss my own mom, and the reassurances she would surely give me.

Star trek

Where are all the grown-ups?

On the Starship Enterprise, apparently.

I’ve recently found myself watching a bunch of random Star Trek episodes of most of the versions that exist (there are a lot) and thinking about those stories even more.

I’ve resisted Star Trek for many years. Perhaps it stemmed from feeling bored as a 4-year-old when my bestie was obsessed with Star Wars and I just sat through the movies because the alternative was not hanging out with him, which says more about me than I’d like it to.

As far back as I can remember, any story that takes place in space has been an automatic turn-off for me. I’ve resisted them even as most everyone around me raves.

In junior high and high school, my group of friends were basically made of up the smartest, geekiest kids in my grade. They were all in honors classes and band. I was not in honors classes or band, but there was no other group I loved hanging out with so much. They tolerated me despite my lack of knowledge regarding their greatest passions.

They would do things like print out 50 pages of chat room conversation to read over at the lunch table (this was the mid-90s, when AOL was king!), and write stories in which people they knew where characters in fan fiction.

Star Trek loomed large in their lives. “It’s not about space, it’s about people; it’s about human nature” they’d tell me emphatically, and I’d roll my eyes. “Anything on TV without sunshine in it is just too depressing for me,” I’d respond, something that makes me roll my eyes now. (I’m automatically turned off by soap operas and courtroom dramas for the same reason).

Now I know that they’re right. In some ways, it’s a 101 social sciences overview course disguised as a techie action show.

So here I am at the age of 40, finally fairly familiar with and appreciative of the show in its various iterations. Finally able to feel interested in a story that’s not about a cool girl with various love interests that I can project myself onto. I’m growing up!

My friends were right. It’s about people (well, humanoids). It’s about human nature. It’s also, at least from what I can tell so far, about what our societies would look like if we always let our higher selves be in charge, or at least people whose higher selves are always surface-level present, be in charge of things.

It’s forward-thinking plausible utopia…if we humans can ever get our shit together, that is.

Recent history has shown that collectively, we seem to be okay with leaders who are positively id-led, and the consequences are taking us to hell in a handbasket. The idea that someday we’ll escape from that, that we’ll rise above (literally, in the case of Star Trek), is such a balm, especially now. It’s fairy tales for grown-ups, and we’re all the princesses. Star Trek fans: I get it now.

As you’d probably expect from an American show, the humans are always the heroes. Vulcans are cool and all, but they can’t match our feelings. Other aliens they come across have obvious flaws that prevent them from being able to take on wise and god-like peacekeeper roles.

But humans in Star Trek are Baby Bear, the perfect balance of everything. They regularly face the real possibility of death in the show, and never seem fazed. Cool, collected, and even thoughtful, as if they’d just awoken from a really, really good LSD trip and knew in their hearts that no matter what, everything would be alright.

Star Trek is potent fantasy in these troubled times. We’re going through a pandemic; they can resolve nearly any illness at Sickbay. We’re collectively prevented from doing much anything of value at all because the people in charge can’t agree on what the right direction is, some because they’re only considering the right direction for themselves and are blocking everyone else’s efforts. Up in space, only those less-evolved aliens do that kind of thing. We cry out in fear and anguish; they are 100% at peace with every choice they make, each having been arrived at through a series of always logical processes. Something bad, usually existence-threatening happens: “What are our options?” and everyone jumps into action as quick-thinking scientists rather than mortally afraid humans.

It’s fantasy, but I’m an optimist. I like people. I believe in redemption. I believe in our potential to truly be god-like beings. In Star Trek, that’s a reality…at least for the humans in charge.

P.S. I wrote my own fantasy, by the way, way shorter than Star Trek.