Due to Extenuating Circumstances

Adventures in Unplanned Parenthood

Archive for the tag “#family”

The Something About Mary

In Defense of the School Bully

If you have kids you may know Mary. Your preschool age daughter came home crying because she got bitten, or kicked. Maybe she was screamed at or at recess Mary struck her in the face. You get a call that your 5 year old son isn’t seriously injured, but you should know today a girl flew into a rage and throttled your son. The student involved will (of course) be dealt with but you think to yourself “how?!” This isn’t the first time Mary has done this and every parent in the class knows Mary will be there again tomorrow. It beggars belief, but not only is Mary there the next day…she does it again. She tries to choke your son again. Nobody is dealing with this. How do we have the teacher, the para, the principal and half the parents in the class complaining AND NOBODY IS DEALING WITH THIS?

You wonder what in God’s name the parents are doing. Or not doing. It’s practically impossible to run out of theories: dad is abusive, mom is helpless, Mary is severely mentally ill, Mary might be the victim of molestation, they’re too strict, not strict enough, her pediatrician is clearly incompetent and on and on and on. Mary must be in distress and no one is helping her, is she neglected, do older kids beat her up? Can they afford a child psychologist? Finally, what in the hell do you tell your own kids? Stand up for yourself (yes, but how and what does that mean?), we all face bullies in life (but when you’re old enough to deal with it?), turn the other cheek (and get throttled?), all kids go through bad phases (like this?), she’s sick and needs help so run to an adult, run away, hit her back harder WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

Every Mary is different. Please let me tell you about my Mary. I’ve known her since she was born. I fed Mary her first bottle after tying her exhausted, breastfeeding mother down and insisting she take a nap or I would taser her. Mary has a toy zebra I gave her that she gets out when I come to visit. Her fashion sense is miraculous, she puts on 9 random items of clothing in no particular order and looks like an ad for a children’s boutique in Manhattan. She is small for her age but strong. She had a serious speech delay because she required a procedure to fix something with her ears. When you can’t hear what’s being said, how can you repeat it? She loves singing and will dance to the movie Annie using a broom as a prop. Mary will do anything for the chance to play with makeup brushes or splash in water. Mary understands she had a baby brother but he died when she was 4. She remembers him. I remember the pain of her whole family, everyone understanding what it meant to them but nobody understanding how much a 4 year old truly gets about the baby who came to the house but then went away forever.

Mary is very careful with my tummy because she knows it has bad ouchies. She delights in bringing me my cane. She has also purposefully hurt me. She once slammed my hand with a hair dryer and after I told her it hurt she looked me right in the eye and did it harder. Mary has physically hurt other children I know and it hurt to hear the other child say he doesn’t want to be friends with a bad girl.

She has been moved to her new “big girl” school, because the local public school couldn’t handle her outbursts even after an IEP had been established. I sent her stickers to congratulate her on going to the new Big Girl school. In addition to the specialized school she has two therapists, an army of devoted family friends, a nanny she adores and two parents who know exactly what the other parents think. What they say. What they would say, if the tables were turned and Mary had been the victim, not the bully.

Do you know what it’s like to be Mary’s parents? I have seen Tina freeze and go pale because the school’s caller ID appeared on her ringing cellphone. Heard the panic and defeat in her voice when she learns Mary is no longer allowed in this school, this day camp, that dance class. She wonders how she could have been so (anything) to have made a daughter that behaves like this. Was it the speech delay? Was it her brother’s death? Would every other mother have noticed The Thing that predicted violent outbursts? I’ve watched her dad painstakingly reinforce every gentle touch, every kind word, constantly trying to give her positive attention for following rules. Mary gets stars, stickers, dessert, special bath toys, anything he can devise to find the way to get Mary to realize that good behavior will be celebrated.

I think most of us know Marys aren’t inherently bad kids, if there are such a thing. The thing is, some Marys come from great homes that have endured horrible misfortunes. How can you guess your child isn’t communicating well with others because she can’t hear? She looks like she can hear. She responds to every sound. She simply hears it differently than you do. How can anybody possibly know what death means to a four year old? Think about how much it tears us apart from the inside, the howling scream of pain that some people never fully let out. Be honest: if you could, wouldn’t you like to scream, bite, kick and punch your way out of the worst pain of your life? I sure as hell would. There are a hundred horrible things that adults can barely survive that children absorb in subtle, unpredictable ways.

Your child will meet a Mary. Nobody is suggesting your child must be put up with abuse or threatening behavior. When you have a second, think about the hurricane that must be happening inside the other child’s mind, body and soul. Think about the hours her parents may have spent praying to God, Allah, Dr. Spock, anybody that would soothe the hurricane inside her. In Mary’s quietest, most secure moments she is loving, gentle, funny and kind. Imagine how she might feel that your child doesn’t know that. The Something About Mary is part of her. I hope you get to meet the rest of her. She’s especially poignant singing It’s a Hard Knock Life.

 

 

One batch, one family

There are many, many reasons to celebrate Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season is a popular refrain and I like how that encapsulates a religious meaning for Christians in the story of  Joseph and Mary desperate for a place to give birth to Jesus. Christmas is a cornerstone of faith for 1/3 of the world’s populace, give or take a few. If Jesus is the main person in your religion, having a birthday party for him seems solid to me.

The old standard songs have some pretty great holiday justifications; getting home for Christmas even if it’s only your dreams, asking Santa for nothing but the company of a loved one, laughing at the mean old Grinch. Some are funny out of context, and laughing is a good reason to celebrate. It can be meteorological (Let it Snow!), audiological (sleighbells ring, can you listen?), psychological (Do You Hear what I Hear?), pathological (baby, it’s cold outside and you seem like a suave creep), even zoological (STOP with the turtle doves. She’s just not that into you and you need to walk away).

For others, Christmas time is about gifts. The act of giving, receiving, surprise, generosity, ingenuity…all good reasons to celebrate.

For me, Christmas is about sugar cookies. It’s my mom and dad’s main holiday tradition. There is no Christmas without sugar cookies. More specifically, there is no Christmas without everyone getting together and frosting them. For our mixed bunch (believers and non-believers alike) sugar cookie time is the essence of the church we go to to find our Christmas meaning. It’s our ancestry (we are many things, ALL of them cookie-centric cultures at the holidays). It’s also our culinary history. In her iconic “Cooky Book” Betty Crocker gives two versions of sugar cookies: Mary and Ethel. We bake the Ethel version. We have more ideology in common with Muslims fasting for Ramadan than we do with “Mary” recipe sugar cookie bakers. We take the Ethel recipe very seriously.

Cookie decorating is our artistic release. In years past Dad has given his cookie men plaid pants, mom has given her cookie ladies curly hair, Robin made an Elmo cookie, I turned a tree-shaped cookie into a KC Chiefs arrow.

We did our cookies later than usual this year, December 23rd. Robin and her family were there, I was there with Baby and Mac came from work to my parent’s house an hour later. This year saw several singular creations. The Dude experimented with Pollack-esque sprinkles while his dad made a cookie man wearing an ugly Christmas sweater vest of M&Ms. I swirled two runny frostings in a cool pattern I saw in some magazine named ‘Taste for People Classier Than You.” Robin even removed the head of one sugar cookie man and stuck it up the backend with some frosting. She then gave the head an orange combover and we celebrated eating one of this year’s brand name head-in-ass presidential candidates.

We listened to Christmas CDs, decided “Is it a Red Hot or is it a red M&M?” is a good game for people you don’t like very much, fed the baby a few cereal puffs. I fondly remembered when dad ate so many cookies we required a quadruple batch to be stocked up for the Christmas season. I especially remembered trying to sneak dough while they were in the fridge overnight and then attempting to cover the telltale spoon divots. I thought about the countless sugar cookie people that have paraded across our plates.

Sugar cookies are white. They are frosted with white, light green, or light pink frosting. The Imes family does not DO loud colors, colored gel, anything piped. Mom makes the cookies and frosting from scratch and everyone sits around one table for the games to begin. You get three frostings, a knife, and maybe a toothpick for detail work. You may have sprinkles or candies but you may NOT have these:

sprinkles

as Robin dumped an entire jar on the floor in our old house in 1989 and we were still pulling them out of kitchen baseboards when my parents moved 11 years later. This is true.

But this year, this year was different. The set-up was the same, the obnoxious jokes were hilarious, the contest to see who has the best cookie was highly competitive, mom fussed to get the curly hair just right, people surreptitiously ate their “mistakes.” It was the clone of Christmases past in all the best ways. As I watched everyone reaching for the green frosting and asking where the mini-chips went I absorbed the scene. I mean I really saw us. Then I knew: if everybody makes the cookies, everybody frosts the cookies, everybody eats the cookies, then these cookies are the Christmas tradition that define our family. One batch, one family. It’s the thing we can’t buy, won’t outsource and wouldn’t ever trade.

That’s when it hit me. In the most important way imaginable my sugar cookie family has changed. There is a new cookie on the table. Expansion was required for the familial rite of passage. So in 2015, for the first time ever, the ritual was amended.  I made a batch of chocolate frosting.

One batch, one family.

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Guest Artist Series: Becky Boesen

Becky, a playwright, director, actress and producer from Lincoln, NE is our final guest artist. You can see her next work, Puddin and the Grumble, at the Lied Center this spring.

On behalf of the entire DtEC family, we wish you a very merry Christmas, however you have time to celebrate it.

These Are the Things I have No Frickin’ Time For

Written by Sarah Imes Borden

Performed by Becky Boesen

These Are the Things I Have No Frickin’ Time For

Raindrops on roses are useless at Christmas

When you have kids it’s a serious business

Buying the right toys is my only chore

Everything else I don’t have frickin’ time for

 

Beautiful presents in artisan papers

Bold centerpieces with elegant tapers

Handcrafted pine wreaths to hang on my door,

Cause those are the things I will have fricken’ time for?

 

We won’t send portraits of us looking happy

Or cheerful notecards where I’m warm and sappy

Pictures with Santa result in a war

These are more things I have no frickin’ time for

 

Our tree is plastic, we don’t own a manger

My famous fruitcake is made by a stranger

You’ll all get giftcards from some random store

Anything else I have no frickin time for

 

As my kid yaks in a giftsack

That was for his dad

I simply remember life sucks in December and then I don’t feel so bad!

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Artist Series: Stacie Blair

Stacie is a New York City based performer and music teacher for children. She’s a trained opera singer who also enjoys playing the ukelele and doing day work on films. We both want to wish a very Happy Hanukkah to everyone who celebrates!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for Jews)

Written by Sarah Imes Borden and performed by Stacie Blair

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids dreidel spinning

And betting who’s winning

While everyone cheers!

It’s the most wonderful time, of the year!

 

It’s the hap-happiest season of all

We light the menorah

And think of the torah

And eat doughnut balls!

It’s the hap-happiest season of all

 

We put on our yarmulkes

Celebrate Hanukkah

Laugh at your Christmas gift stress,

There’s no war on Christmas

We’re so glad we miss this

So Fox news just give it a rest!

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the night

Open some tchotchkes

And fry up our latkes

Then have a quick bite

For the eight days that we pause, not attack your Santa Claus

For our year-ly fest-i-val of light!!!

The Paper Chase

We were told after we had custody of baby for EXACTLY six months his adoption file was going to be submitted to the Lancaster County courts, our lawyers would have us sign a lot of papers, the judge would do gavel-related things and the baby would be ours for all eternity.

na·ive·té
ˌnīˌēv(ə)ˈtā,nīˈēv(ə)ˌtā/
noun
  1. lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment.

We thought six months meant six months, 180 days, half a year, all those things you tend to believe when someone says a concrete amount of time that equals 24 hours multiplied 180 times. This, of course, was stupid. The same way that we thought 12 bibs was a reasonable number of bibs, this is the level of delusion I’m describing. Here is what 6 months means in the adoption world:

Obtain baby. Unbelievably difficult but necessary step.

Select family lawyer. One with a law degree is best.

Wait until the baby has been in your physical custody for 4,320 hours.

Go to your lawyer.

Prepare the paperwork. Learn that there has been a dispute over what Iowa paperwork and Nebraska paperwork need to include. Wonder why this was never addressed the entire time you have been twiddling your thumbs waiting for the day the paperwork could be handled.

Meet again to have papers reviewed and signed. Notice minor errors in the paperwork that are mildly concerning, like the fact there is no legal record of how the birth mother spells her name. It’s three different ways on three separate documents. Have a panic attack wondering if someone can be un-adopted if the birthmom shows up and it turns out adding a “y” to her name makes her a totally different legal entity with rights over your beloved son.

Take a sedative.

Go back to paperwork and notice that you have all be signing copies showing today’s date as 2012. Wait for everyone to get updated copies.

Wait for a second round of updated copies while everyone tries to remember if the baby needs to be Imes Borden or Borden, middle name Imes. Realize you don’t HAVE to remember, he’s YOUR FUCKING KID AND YOU ALREADY NAMED HIM SO JUST DO IT RIGHT AND WHY HAVEN’T WE BEEN HAVING THIS DISCUSSION BEFORE NOW

Take another sedative.

Be told, for the first time, that after the paperwork is filed (already one month late) the state must hold it between 4 and 12 weeks.

Realize that the tickets you just got to visit the baby’s grandparents in Canada are now $2,300 (CAD) bookmarks. Because baby cannot get a passport without a birth certificate, and he cannot get that without the adoption papers, and those just got pushed back at least another month.

Remove sedatives from bottle and repackage them into Pez dispenser for convenience.

Wait.

Wait.

Wait.

Realize the court date will run into the school year, wonder how we’ll schedule it all.

Pez dispenser.

Ask mother to find outfit for baby to wear to court. Consider the virtues of bowties, tiny seersucker suits and similar.

Get notice to appear in court. Invite family to be there.

Get everyone to court. See another family with a toddler they are about to adopt. Realize we’re about to do something profound and special. Give them the “us, too” nod that only the others of our vast and wonderful tribe get to share.

Explain to squirming nephew what adoption is. Realize the entire concept of “the baby grew in another lady’s tummy but she gave him to us to love forever because he’s our family”, while beautiful and awe-inspiring, sounds a little suspect when you say it out loud.

Go in front of the judge. Remember almost none of it because IT’S HAPPENING.

Tear up when she asks why we want to adopt him. Mac answers “because we love him.” I answer “because he’s our son.”

Put away the Pez dispenser.

Live happily ever after as the Imes Bordens.

Or whatever name they put on his papers.

 

 

 

 

Sliding into Home

For generations, the Imes family has passed down a particular genetic anomaly that, while not fatal, causes a great deal of pain and anxiety to most of us. We find we fare best in the coldest months, when snow is falling and everything is ice cold. We generally begin to feel either benignly asymptomatic or slightly nauseated in the spring. During the summer bouts are frequent and we can feel the impact in our everyday lives. The condition rarely extends into late fall, but when it does it is, unquestionably, the most painful and distressing time of year. By the time October has ended we’re often hardly a shadow of our healthy, happier selves.

The Imeses are Cubs fans.

Being a Cubs fan is the arguably the best metaphor for life. It has certainly made me a better parent. Anyone who follows the Cubs is at least rounding third when it comes to vital life lessons regarding raising children. Watch:

  1. In your rookie year everyone will fall all over themselves the second your baby does anything interesting, adorable, picturesque or funny. After that first season, someone else’s baby gets to be the rookie sensation. You had your time, let someone else bask.
  2. Of COURSE your team is special to you, they’re YOURS. The truth is, to most everyone else they’re not that distinguishable from all the other goobers running around on the field. Seriously. Do you think your friends go home at night and talk about how great your kid did at the thing? No. They go home and talk about how everyone else should be watching their kid do the thing.
  3. It’s good to have ground rules and expectations, but if you ask for perfection you’re almost always going to be disappointed.
  4. Factor in errors. Nobody means to drop the ball, that’s why they’re called errors. If they weren’t so common they wouldn’t be a stat.
  5. Sometimes you do your very best and still lose. The proper way to handle this is to put your glove over your mouth, shout “DAMMIT!” and then get on with it. There’s no point in denying you’re disappointed, but you still have to get off the field and come back with a better plan.
  6. If you’ve given it all you’ve got and you’re failing, that’s why we have assistant coaches, bullpens, pinch hitters. Find what you need and call in reinforcements. A babysitter? A housecleaner? A therapist? A pot dealer? Why be miserable doing it alone when there are whole professions dedicated to helping make success easier?
  7. No matter how shitty this year is going, call it a building year and promise yourself next year your kid will be saner/smarter/less weird/smell nicer/not torch the cat. If last year was a building year and this year sucks too, say it’s a coaching problem and blame it on your spouse.
  8. Remember you have fans. Sometimes you screw up so badly you can’t even remember why somebody let you be in charge of a tiny person. Remember– your fans won’t give up on you. They have faith.
  9. If your fans are true Wrigley fans, they also have hot dogs and beer. You should get in on that action.
  10. This isn’t for dilettantes. It’s a true way of life so dress it, sleep it, talk it, walk it, be it.
  11. It might feel like decades, or even over a century, since your last big victory. Perhaps the string of small victories and joys is the way to get through parenting. It’s possible you won’t be there for the biggest victories but that doesn’t mean you didn’t help create them.
  12. When it all gets to be Too Much, blame a goat then get drunk.
  13. After you do that, bear in mind: there is always, always, always, always, always Next Year.
  14. Next Year, re-read number 13.

Oscar: Wild

As you may have noticed, the Extenuating Circumstances often end on a lighthearted note concerning Oscar, our much beloved cat. I adopted Oscar in a fit of total, total insanity.

There was a week about three years ago where SEVEN of my friends on Facebook messaged me to tell me they were going public with the news of their pregnancies. I dutifully answered each message with a “thanks for the heads up, I appreciate it, we’re fine, congrats, blah blah blah.” The truth was more like “thanks for the heads up, I appreciate the warning so I can comment on one picture of you glowing with your newborn, I need to block you so I don’t end up in a pool of tears every single time one of your posts crosses my feed, we’re not fine but we act like we are because we’re the real-life equivalent of the Harry Potter Dementors if we’re honest, I need to block you so my neurosis doesn’t get me hospitalized or fired. Congrats. Now hand me some tissues and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked.”

The night of the seventh message, I calmly collected my materials, calmly drove to class, calmly delivered material on the role Michael Collins played in the Irish bid for Independence, then calmly walked to my car and had a complete nervous breakdown. I would have driven to the hospital or my house but I couldn’t remember where either one was located. My car drove itself to Pet Smart, which was a neat trick because at the time I drove a car so shitty that lemons were offended by the comparison.

The fact remains that I went to Pet Smart and picked out a small, cute orange cat. He was perfect. Then he ran away from me. So I picked up an old soggy thing that was shedding like it was his damn job. But he purred a little and was too lazy to run, so I adopted him instead.

That’s a lie. I forgot I had no money so my husband gave his credit card number over the phone. Mac had adopted and paid for a cat and didn’t even know it.

This is a testimony to the strength of my marriage. I brought this home:

340976_10150405000274544_1760985492_o

and all Mac asked was “should I buy a litter box? Thus began life with Oscar the Grouch, famous for being found in a trash can.

As you are now well aware, in the wee hours of December 2014 we did add the baby to our family. We didn’t consult Oscar, it just happened. I have to give Oscar credit. He tolerates the new obnoxious kitten better than I had feared. The new kitten tries to eat his fur, grab his face, squeeze his tail, poke his eyes, and run sticky fat fingers over his belly. Oscar treats the kitten like an adorable little peasant that is amusing for a time. Oscar also walks away rather than retaliating, most of the time. One swipe at the baby’s face concerned me but it turned out Oscar chose to not use his claws. That’s pretty good restraint for a cat that had mom and dad to himself for three years.

Oscar and baby were both brought in to complete a puzzle that was missing some pieces. I like to think Oscar knows that. I like to think Oscar gets that we need the baby, just like we needed him, to avoid meltdowns in my car at 9:00 at night. But mostly, I think of Oscar as a testament to the strength of a family that isn’t born together, it’s brought together. The Borden household is a place where we find our family, and then put that family on a credit card. But that’s a tale for the next installment.

The Curious Incident of the Blog in the Nighttime

I often find myself staring at this screen, typing into the DtEC blog editing tool, late at night. On some level that doesn’t surprise me because I have always, always been a night owl. Whether I want it or not my brain likes to energize itself after dark. Consequently, getting up early is hell. I can *do* it when required in order to project a facade of adultness, but I really suck at it. What’s funny is that location, schedule, enjoyment of activity or even money make no difference. I spent a summer being paid to work in a theatre, live in the mountains and do nothing but act and live the good life. And I STILL hated dragging my ass out of bed for an 8 AM start. Lest you think this is a product of a permissive or neglectful upbringing, let me set the record straight.

My mom is very, very big into sleeping at night and being a productive member of society from 8 AM onward. Morning is morning. I rather thought my dad had the right idea; be a cop, work crappy hours, then sleep in the basement with tinfoil over the windows. Of course I can see now working third shift and raising kids at the same time probably sucked, not the least of which was that we turned his basement window well into a soccer goal and I was a shit goalie. The man didn’t sleep more than four hours at a time from 1984-1987. Still, working at night and sleeping in the day just looks right to me. It’s no different than clothes or music. Everyone has their taste and everyone secretly hates everyone else’s taste.

My husband, bless him, embraces my night owlish lifestyle. He also aids and abets me in hiding it from my mom. If I nap, sleep late, get out of bed at 4 for a piddling reason like a housefire, my mother can be counted on to utter The Prophecy. The Prophecy is always delivered in a tone of warning and fear, with a dash of menace:

“Sarah, you’re getting your days and nights switched around!”

The Prophecy never varies in word choice or tone. It is delivered with an intensity hitherto reserved for sentences like “no, this IS the last plane out of Saigon.”

So you can understand how adopting the baby was the first time in my whole life my mother ever gave permission to sleep and work these weird hours. She even said to me “you sleep when the baby sleeps.” Holy cow! My mom just gave me carte blanche! I can be up til 3! I can nap at 6 pm! This is going to be the only time in my life I don’t harbor a secret disquietude my schedule shames my entire family!

This should have been a relief. Hell, it should have been a cakewalk. In my stunning naiveté I thought the baby would sleep. This is a LIE. It’s a lie sold to the American consumer by cradle companies and mobile manufacturers. I blame Hollywood. All these ads of little swaddled bundles, with eyes closed and adorable nostrils gently fluttering. Bullshit. Utter bullshit. I lived in the same room as Baby for 3 weeks and I can tell you he never did anything that resembled substantive sleep.

What did he do? He waited until Mac and I had a loose schedule so we could attempt to even think about sleeping. Then the baby would close his eyes and snuggle into his little sleepsack, looking adorable. He’d make a tiny cooing sound. A few minutes later, a squeak. “Oh!” we’d say. “He’s so precious!” we’d say. Then little bubbles. And another coo. I’d close my eyes. All is well.

Wait– was that the baby? Did he squirm? Was that the sleepsack? Then a slight shift of Baby’s head and I’d immediately run over to the crib, desperately trying to remember the 5 Warning Signs of SIDS, Proper Swaddling 101, the number to 911 (answer: 911) and wishing the Bat Signal was a real thing.

I’d finally feel reassured Baby was OK, these were all normal sounds, and then phbbt. Well now, what the hell was that? A burp? A fart? Is he gassy? Does he need drops? Can we even give him drops? Robin’s a nurse, I should text her about those drops. Crap, my phone is where Mac is trying to sleep.

Phbbbbbbt.

Now I’m definitely not going to sleep. Yes, technically I should be, since Baby is sleeping, but what was the phbbbbbbt? Is he hungry? Angry? Snotty? I give up. I have to go look again. And there I am, trying hard to find the source of this stupid noise, when it occurs to me AJ said moms can hear their babies even when the babies aren’t really making any noise at all. Oh GREAT. The ink isn’t even dry on the adoption papers and I’ll be carted off to a rubber room because I hear phantom phbbbbbbts at…midnight? 3 pm? The year 2017? Time and space have no meaning now. I have been awake since the dawn of man.

Which is why it gives me such infinite, sublime pleasure to have my mother babysit for us overnight. Sure, it means eating my dinner at the temperature God intended and the possibility of sex with my husband (don’t be daft. This is a family blog. We don’t actually have sex, we talk about it then fall asleep while trying to grade assignments handed in last fall that we never got to). And of course, the baby is a little prince most of the time for his beloved grandma. But there is a palpable satisfaction to showing up the next day knowing that no matter how fussy, how colicky, how cranky our bundle of joy was ALL NIGHT LONG, I always have the option of saying

“well sorry, Mom. Just sleep when he sleeps.”

Elegy for an Unknown Uncle

After a few posts on infertility, drooling, TV, what have you, the next post was supposed to be funny. It really was funny, too, there’s a good bit where Baby poops on me in terror while Mac looks on helplessly as I’m surrounded by poo-water. I wish that was this entry.

The reality is, that entry would be dishonest. I have pledged nothing to you on this blog if not honesty. The honest, biting, horrible truth is that there is so little humor in the day, the week, this writing because my husband was contacted by police last Wednesday and told that his older brother had died of a drug overdose. Carl lived in Asia and the Middle East teaching ESL, but had been deported. He died in Canada after spending most of his adult life trying to leave it, and whatever was inside himself that followed him around the world.

Mac then had to call his parents. I have not heard anything quite so sad as two parents who are in shock but not surprised. This was the phone call they have thought about for 20 years. Mac and his parents are not a family of three. They will forever be four minus one. But the interest paid over and over on that one comes back in this moment as a certainty and peace they haven’t known since Carl picked up that first dose of heroin. At the end of this long and agonizing wait for Mac’s call there is, at last, security.

I cry for them. I cry for Mac. I cry for myself; Carl was my brother in law and I wanted–needed– to believe one day we could have something approaching a friendship. I’m not naive enough to expect an addict to change his stripes. My hope was that he might see me as the new one. I was the person he hadn’t lied to, stolen from, disappointed. Maybe he could talk to me. He did. Not much, but we emailed. It was something; an open line of communication when others were shut down.

I cry for my son. If there is anything I wanted FOR Carl in this year, it was to know his nephew. When I emailed pictures from the adoption I asked him how it felt to be an uncle. He told me he still hadn’t wrapped his head around his brother having a kid. Being an uncle didn’t occur to him! He had a new place. A new piece in his family. This, above all, is what I wish he might have known:

Carl

You never disappointed me

You didn’t need to be here for me to think you were cool

You had the really good dirt on daddy and I know someday I would have wanted that

I would have been able to love you and not your decision making

I wanted to hear the stories about traveling a couple of years before mom thought I was “ready”

Someday I’ll know the truth, the entire truth, about your death

And I’ll still be your family and love you.

Your nephew

You Can’t Do That on Television

I’d like to take a minute out of our ongoing Baby narrative to jump ahead again to real time. You’ll remember we did this once before, when I helped the Dude defeat Sprinkler Spiderman while wearing my sister’s sport’s bra. And if that’s not a sentence you encounter everyday, you probably get out more than this particular writer does.

I’m watching “Cold Feet,” the popular British series that ran in the early 2000s. It was “Thirtysomething” for our friends across the pond. Anyhow, just as soon as Adam (played by James Nesbitt) and Rachel (Helen Baxendale) had a big storyline about needing to stockpile sperm before his treatment for testicular cancer, I knew It was coming. To be fair they waited half a season, nonetheless they were about as subtle with It as a Trump stump speech. The It, of course, is the Infertility Storyline.

Mac and I can spot the Infertility storyline coming from 1,000 paces. One show we watched all they had to do was mention the drugstore before we both blurted “to buy a pregnancy test!” The Infertility Storyline is always, always about the couple that seems happy on the outside but they know, deep down, something isn’t right. The first episode you’ll have the joke (“one of us is shooting blanks!”) then the second episode they’ll think she’s pregnant, the third episode she got her period (or the test was negative) and now they Really Are Worried, and by mid-season they’re at the doctor’s office, feeling Insecure but Hopeful. This then rides Sweeps Week into the serious talk they have about loving each other no matter what, the wistfully looking at babies montage, the tearful We’re Going to be OK heartfelt bedroom scene (tender lovemaking optional) and finally they either do IVF or get pregnant naturally. That usually depends on if they have a sassy black grandmotherly character that needs to say something like “see, if you had just quit worrying that baby would have come in God’s own time!” before the credits roll. The ratings hinge on the Maternity Special where everybody races to the hospital just in time for the birth and Happily Ever After for the Couple-Formerly-Known-as-Infertile.

Mac and I do a lot, and I mean really a LOT, of laughing at these asinine Infertility Storylines.

Why do we laugh? Not so much for what they include, as they do include things that most other infertile couples we know went through. Sure, at first you may not know and then you go to the doctor, or you do have the “it’s you I want not the baby” conversation. But the list of things missing from these TV shows is almost biblical in both scope and length. Here is a list of Infertility Storyline plot points I want to see. Not referred to, not glossed over, I want to truly see them played out in all their ugliness, pain, sweetness and heartbreak.

  1. In real life, you can tell your partner “I want you, not the baby” and chances are you both believe that and want it to be true. But it won’t always be true, not every second of every day. You will look at each other and wonder if you should let the other one go. You will wonder if the other person is scared they signed the wrong contract. You wonder if using donor sperm or eggs is the solution, when the world is walking around full of fertile people that would likely not require an army of technicians to make a baby. You’ll wonder what trade you made, a spouse for a child? This spouse for another spouse that could have children? The present for the future? If it’s you that’s infertile, you’ll wonder if the other one will walk and if you should let them. If it’s not you, you’ll wonder if your spouse knows you really did mean “til death do us part.” You’ll both think of what would have happened if you had tried when you were younger, or healthier, or if you had met earlier. Just once, I want to see a character have these conversations and know you don’t have them only once. They happen frequently; short ones, long ones, sad ones, all-nighters, brief e-mails… these questions will follow you and you have no choice but to deal with them.
  2. Hormone treatments hurt. No, TV, it’s not just a shot you can summarize with “ooh, my breats are tender!” Cut that shit out. You’re bloated, sore, trying like hell to make your body work and everything feels weird. Would YOU like to relive the most painful parts of puberty again? That’s partly what it feels like, and TV should show that.
  3. Money. I want to watch a couple break down, over and over and over again, because they cannot afford to have a child. Their insurance doesn’t cover the hormones, or IVF, or egg harvesting, or using a surrogate. Calculating time and again what you cut out from the budget to pay for all the extras that come with trying: fertility predictors, pregnancy tests, time off to go to the doctor.
  4. I want to see sex that looks like WORK. Not lovemaking, not fucking, not even wham, bam, thank you ma’am. I’m talking sex that you want to be sexy but instead is mechanical, horribly timed, inconvenient, stressed out WORK. You think making babies is fun? Sure it is. You think trying over and over again to “optimize ejaculation inside the vagina during peak fertility” sounds fun? The men who landed on Normandy beach could have only wished for an operation as planned, precise, passionless and efficient as the sex had by two people who have been given medical instructions on how to make a baby.
  5. The decision to adopt is easy for some, unbearably hard for others. Not once on TV, in any show I have ever seen, was it treated as a series of agonizing steps that require endless time, commitment, willingness to be vulnerable and risk of horrendous, literally life-altering rejection. But it is. In an open adoption system, the birth parent chooses the adoptive family, and there isn’t a guarantee of a happy ending for families who fail to meet certain benchmarks. You can be too old, or too sick, or too poor to adopt. Yes, some states have low-cost options, but this doesn’t take into account that there are many things adoptive families need to be able to provide that a biological family never has to account for.
  6. I have never seen anybody throw anything. By the 13th month of our adoption process I was so angry I repeatedly bashed a wall with a metal trashcan until there was a hole into the next room. I didn’t want to make a hole, per se, I just wanted something–anything– to look as ugly and angry as I felt.
  7. Finally, nobody on TV talks about grieving infertility. It’s not seen as something to grieve. It certainly doesn’t make sexy TV, to watch characters mourn a future that so many have provided naturally and was denied to you. You grieve the unfairness, the decisions you made, paths not taken, children never met. You can also celebrate the children you do have, through adoption or fostering. I have seen lots of people on TV get sad, but I have never seen anybody fully grieve because that’s time consuming, and ugly, and it lasts a long time. Nobody wants to live it, I imagine it wouldn’t be great laughs to watch either. It’d be nice though, to see it anyway. Don’t give me the It Storyline standard six episode arc. Give me the larger truths and the sense that at least one person in all of the televised world can represent more than the Sweeps Week Big Maternity Special.
  8. If you do need the Sweeps Week Maternity Special, let’s have a few more through adoption. Sex and the City touched on it with Charlotte, the movie Juno went there, hell, even Downton Abbey took a horrifying stab at the adoptive motherhood storyline. Let the birth family AND the adoptive family have their moment in the sun, where this was done in a loving and compassionate way. We make good TV, too.

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