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A few holiday ideas

Matthew Pflaum1. National break-up-with-your-shi**y-abusive boyfriend day!
A day encouraging women to finally end that terribly masochistic relationship that brings them nothing but pain. There are lots of guys out there — some won’t destroy your life.

2. National why don’t you just clean up after yourself a bit more day?
The gym? Your own kitchen? Your room? Your work space? Just spend a few minutes cleaning it up — you’ll feel better and so will everybody else. Who knows, could be the beginning of a new habit.

3. National think-for-yourself day.
I know, I know. How can I think for myself? There are tons of television programs, pop stars, celebrities, politicians, aggressive men, colleagues and friends to tell me what and how to think about everything from diets to television shows to political ideals. On this day, you get to tune out all the white noise and just think about something all on your own. Try to spend the day coming up with an idea all your own.

4. National pretend all celebrities and pop stars don’t exist day.
Pop stars. Celebrities. Can we go 15 minutes without some inane article about them? What are they wearing? With whom are they sleeping? Where are they vacationing? What are they eating? What is the point of it all? On this day, there is a total ban on all celebrity-related news. You get to be the celebrity for once.

5. National help somebody else day.
Charity. Good will. We hear about these vague concepts, but what are they? And why should we care? This is your day to find out. Everybody in the nation must help somebody with something. Assist an elderly neighbor with cleaning or carrying things. Tutor a deprived child. Help your mom with the gardening. Just do something for somebody else. It will feel good, we promise.

6. National trigger warnings day.
Basically nobody can say anything. A little peace and quiet, for once.

7. National stay at home day.
Nobody leaves their house. It is quiet for once. There are no crowds, or traffic jams, or fights, or yelling. In other words, it’s nice.

8. National read a book day.
Remember those little events when you were a child to encourage reading? Well, on this day, you are required to read an entire book. There will be a test at the end.

9. National say sorry day.
Say sorry for something. Make somebody feel better and get rid of your guilt.

10. National prejudice is punishable by death day.
You can be racist all year. You can talk to your friends in a sexist way, objectifying women any time. You can say you hate minorities every other day. But on this day, you can’t. You can’t say or do anything prejudiced. You have to treat people as…humans.

— Matthew Pflaum

Matthew Pflaum is 31 and hails from Florida. He worked abroad in health and development for a number of years and now studies Africa and international development at the University of Edinburgh.

My pop: a pretty extraordinary
ordinary guy

Allia Zobel NolanMy father used to irritate the heck out of me. He was the kind of guy who’d talk to a busy signal. It didn’t matter who you were — a secretary in a doctor’s office, the mail lady, an axe murderer — should he happen to be next to you in line in the drugstore.

Now, he’d be terrified to get up in front of a crowd and give a speech. Yet, if he bumped into you on the steps of town hall (he preferred to pay his taxes in person, so he could yakkity-yak with the clerk), he’d perform like Chris Rock on the Jimmy Fallon show. He was a great kidder, my dad, a guy who spoke to anyone and everyone — whether they liked it or not. Most people liked it, though that took me a while to figure out.

For a long time, because his eyes were bad, I went with him everywhere. And, of course, when he’d start telling his stories, I’d get embarrassed, (try to) get him to stop and rush him along.

Then I began to notice people’s reactions. Everyone my dad chatted up walked away from us sporting a smile. So far from bothering people, in his own way, he had done two things: made a connection, and given away a bit of good cheer. Indeed, this was how he let folks know Al Zobel was here, a little older perhaps, a little frailer definitely, but still with enough of what he called “his marbles” to make you laugh, or give you the scoop on a two-for-one sale of Turkey Hill ice cream.

This pattern of reaching out with good cheer wasn’t developed overnight. My dad had it his whole life. But as time took away many of his other pleasures — working, driving, bowling and walking three miles a day — he held on to this one joy tenaciously, perfecting it to almost an art form. I finally got smart, one day, and put two and two together. I can’t say as I never complained again when he’d tell the same story over and over. But, thank God, I developed tolerance. And as soon as I did, I began to enjoy the whole taking-dad-shopping experience.

I even went so far as to be Dad’s “straight man,” adding to the fun by moaning about being his patient, long-suffering daughter, out for another errand with her crazy Popo. This made folks howl.

I started creating my own set of stories. At the supermarket, I’d tell folks how Dad was “just visiting” the food — not buying it; how he’d pick up an item, compare ounces and pounds and prices and labels, checked and cross-checked ingredients, hold it up to the light, then put it back on the shelf.

And when I’d ask him, “Why?” He’d say, “We don’t need it.”

Or I’d whine about having to take him from bank to bank to bank in an effort to get the best deals on certificates of deposit or one-ninth of a point more interest on an account that would make him a dollar or two. “You’d think he was managing Warren Buffet’s portfolio,” I’d quip, rolling my eyes up to heaven.

The guys at his men’s club gave Dad some fake business cards once. On them they had printed his name and the title, “Free, Unsolicited Advice Consultant.” He loved handing them out on our excursions and watching perfect strangers crack up.

It’s been 20 years since my dad succumbed to pneumonia. But I remember, even in his last days in the hospital, uncomfortable as all hell, he was still communicating with good cheer, telling stories, trying to make doctors, nurses, blood technicians, even the cleaning lady a little brighter for having come in his room.

He was an extraordinary man who lived an ordinary life. Pre-Uber, he owned a cab and drove it through the streets of New York. And while he did, he listened to people, and then he talked to them. He shied away from negativity at all costs and touched as many people as he could with joy. He celebrated life by always being of good humor.

Now my Pop never made a million dollars. And there was no Ph.D. after his name. Yet he was as much a success as if he’d been first man on the moon. That’s because he excelled at one thing that made his life and the life of all who met him better: He was expert at connecting.

— Allia Zobel Nolan

Allia Zobel Nolan is the author of Women Who Still Love Cats Too Much and 200 other titles. Overachiever. Humorist.

Bumps in whose socks?

Kaye Curren Photo 6-11-16When my daughter Mary was five, she went to kindergarten. It was a big day for us all. Jenny, her sister in second grade, gave her tips about school.

“Kindergarten is really great, Mary, you’ll love it.”

Mary looked at Jenny. Should she trust her? Had her sister always told her the truth? Not always.

I bought Mary a new dress, socks and shoes, and a cute little jacket. She loved dresses so I could see she was excited — about the dress, anyway.

But Mary had had a recurring problem since she was three. She had bumps in her socks.

Today, there’s enough advice on what’s called sensory over-responsiveness, an anxiety condition in children, to bury a parent, but there was nothing when Mary was five. Many children had trouble with bumps in their socks, but parents understood little about them.

At first Jenny and I told Mary to get over the bumps. Not a good idea. Tears and stomping of feet. We would take the shoes off, smooth the socks, put the shoes back on — several times. We finally had to escort Mary out the door, whining and protesting. Apparently, once at school, she was either too shy or too occupied with survival to complain. I don’t recall hearing from the teachers about it. But each morning we went through the same thing. Again, not much help was available. Truth is, when you are going through these things, you don’t even know what to name it.

Mary’s father had left before she was born, and I was dealing with raising two children alone. We had little money, and I was an emotional wreck. Jenny and Mary were too young to understand their father leaving so we were in a situation, which I am sure, did not help our mental states.

The school psychologist, Mrs. Brown, called me in for a meeting about Mary.

“Ms. Curren, your daughter feels highly responsible for you.” I was embarrassed to hear that but, at the same time didn’t even know what that meant.

She called Mary into her office and I asked Mary, “Honey, do you feel responsible for me?”

“Oh yes, Mommy.” she said. I blanched. Mrs. Brown then sent Mary back to class so we could talk.

“Feeling responsibility for a parent can create anxiety in a child as young as Mary,” the counselor said.

“What should I do then?” I asked.

“You might share less of your pain with the kids.”

Uh-oh, I thought, I do that, don’t I?

“Find another adult to share your anxieties with. Talk to your children and give them assurance you will take care of them and not leave them.”

She went on. “It’s tough to be an abandoned parent and try to be adult when you just feel like pulling the covers over your head. I lived it myself so I know.”

I recall thinking at the time that I was not at all sure I could take care of me, let alone my children. The divorce had ripped my confidence from me. But I did my best from then on. I began to share my anxieties with a trustworthy counselor and sometimes with the bathroom mirror. And Mary began to get better.

“Mommy, I don’t think we can catch those bumps,” Mary said finally.  “I think they have little demons in them.”

“Well,” I said, “We will keep after them anyway. Maybe we can call ghost busters.”

“Yeah!” she said.

Only as I did some research for this story did I discover that many children have bumps in their socks. And their parents have just as much difficulty solving the problem as we did. Luckily, there are many more alternatives for parents and children today — such as therapy and socks with no bumps. Back when Mary was five, parents just got up in the morning and dealt with it. Luckily, as Mary did, many children grew out of the preoccupation with clothing issues.

Last year, I visited Mary and her husband in New York City where they live and work. I noticed on their feet were soft and smooth socks, a kind of madly current athletic sock. They seemed to be blessedly bump-free. As I watched them glide about the house in these socks, I asked, “Hey, where can I find some of those? I’m having a heck of time lately with bumps in my socks.”

— Kaye Curren

A retired event planner, Kaye Curren has returned to writing after 30 years of raising two husbands, two children, two teenage stepchildren, three horses, umpteen dogs and cats, and several non-speaking parakeets. She used to write computer manuals but now writes humor essays and memoir. Find her musings at her website and blog at www.writethatthang.com.

Par-ants

Heather NewmanYou shoo the bug with one swift swipe,

then spy another, what’s that type —

a carpenter ant, a termite, a bee?

The Winged Ant: it’s morphed all three.

This primeval creature bares its teeth

on your coveted floor of herringbone teak.

Once it spreads its wing-spanned frock

your subterranean world is rocked.

This show is not a solo act,

mighty offspring have got his back,

armies of aunts and uncles berserk,

that’s not dysfunction, it’s how ants work.

They outsmart Generation X and Y,

the hippies, yuppies, family guy,

like-minded carpenters foraging wood,

colonial loyalty for the greater good.

They build their commune on drops of dew,

a raisin, rice grain; their needs are few.

You must respect the ground ants seize,

they have no time for plasma TVs,

necessities trump a frivolous fate,

sons and daughters carry fifty times their weight.

Regarding invasions, it’s prudent to hone

the usage and damage that’s done to your home,

the years it took to build a foundation,

the four-year, full-funded, high education

that leads your charges toward unemployed quandary,

fraternity tattoos and take-home laundry,

loyalty that runs as far as the car

or at least the gasoline credit card.

Meanwhile you ponder the ramification

of leaving your pests for a weekend vacation,

invasions require extermination,

so what’s the solution: evacuation?

The spoils have gone to the victor askew

as your floorboards are tunneled away in the dew

by savvier parents who work through the night

to emerge for mating — a grand, nuptial flight.

Face it, tough-love’s not your parenting style,

your fate is to live and let live your ant pile.

— Heather Newman

Heather Newman is a member of the South Mountain Poets and has studied with Lisa Bellamy at The Writer’s Studio. Her work has been published in Two Hawks Quarterly and E-Chook.

Bed spray

Diane Dean-EppsOne of my bucket list items for our European jaunt was to purchase French perfume. I know this may seem like a trite aspiration much like, oh, I don’t know, seeing the Eiffel Tour in Paris, but trite is often where I dwell comfortably.

Therefore, I was dead set on visiting a parfumerie. If I wasn’t able to have a perfume exactly crafted for me, I was darned well going to pick myself out something pretty smelling that was perfect just for me and the other 30,000 female tourists who would also choose that scent in one day.

My husband was a good sport, even accompanying me into the store as I screeched, “If not now, when?!” as I dragged him into that adorably appointed, sweet-smelling shop for all I was worth. Coincidentally this is exactly how he ended up in Paris in the first place. (The general screeching and dragging.)

For a woman who looks as though she’s taking a “how to get over your olfactory fears” course every time I enter a Bath & Body Works store stateside, it was truly amazing how much unfettered fun I had.

In the City of Love I was in my fragrance element, I tell you, feeling my aroma mojo, and spraying for all I was worth. It looked as though we were shopping at Napalm Village I had such a ginormous cloud of spray hanging in the air of that tiny parfumerie.

Every fragrance I sampled was more lusciously scented than the one before it. I was Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream, gallivanting about gleefully, only in my production there was an atomizer prop, which is a new twist.

The shop owner humored me by ignoring me. My husband humored me by smiling and thinking of something else — anything else, a technique he has honed over the decades for maximal marital happiness.

I was willing to pay any amount for one of these eau de colognes, interestingly enough more than I was worth, but of course that’s a philosophical question for another day, e.g., one’s worth. What is worth? What is worthwhile? Why do I hear the clock on the wall ticking louder as I think these thoughts?

(You can see why it was I barely scraped by with a “C” in my college philosophy class as I had so many of my own essential questions I couldn’t even entertain the notion of addressing those my prof proffered. Plus, I had a penchant for parsing out the question itself. Ergo: I’m now an English teacher.)

Each time I picked up a tiny French-sized perfume — everything is smaller there, the women, the clothing sizes, the streets, the food portions — I said, “oui” and “wee” to each and every one of those darling little vials, but then the time came to choose one. “For the love of God, any one.” (This was what my husband finally said and I believe it is what the shop keeper was thinking, but in Frenchier language.)

As I made my way over to the clerk, I proudly and almost correctly pronounced the name of the perfume I wished to buy. What I thought was a look of pride from her that my accent was so good, upon closer examination was actually a look of amusement. She smiled not unkindly and said one of the two million and thirty-seven French words I do not know. It sounded like “leet.”

I looked at her and she looked at me. I smiled. She smiled back. Neither of us knew what to do next. Perhaps I could move us to the next level: Point of sale. I tried a combination throat clear and giggle, not quite pulling off whatever I thought that would do.

I repeated what I thought I heard. “Leet,” I chanted as I made the international index finger squirting motion known the world over for spraying perfume. She nodded vigorously. “Yes. Bed spray.” Oh, now there were two words I knew, though I had never used them together.

“Bed spray,” I stated. She again nodded. I walked back over to where the air had just begun to clear just as surely as my own thoughts were clearing.

It dawned on me that what the mademoiselle had been trying to tell me was I had been dousing myself with French air freshener. Bed spray. Eau de pulvérisation en lit.

I was soaked in French Glade.

Eau.

— Diane Dean-Epps

Subsequent to a diverse and rewarding career in television broadcasting, Diane Dean-Epps wended her way to a Master of Arts in English, earning several publishing credits in the process, including her master’s thesis highlighting the work of author Langston Hughes entitled, Changing the Exchange.  Dean-Epps lives and works in northern California, where she is currently at work on her latest book, in addition to amassing a catalog of pithy, funny and rousingly humorous essays. She has published several books — Maternal MeanderingsLast CallKill-TV and I’ll Always Be There for You…Unless I’m Somewhere Else?! — and her numerous writings have appeared in a variety of periodicals, including MORE magazine (online), NPR’s This I BelieveThe San Francisco ChronicleSacramento magazine, Sacramento Business Journal, Bigger Law Firm magazine and The Union newspaper.

A traffic ticket hits home

Jerry ZezimaToday’s Ridiculous Banking Question is: What’s the faster way to lose your house: don’t pay the mortgage or don’t pay a traffic ticket?

If you don’t know the answer, you are probably living in your car.

That’s the lesson my wife, Sue, and I learned during a home refinancing odyssey that took three attempts in as many years and was almost ruined by, of all things, a red-light camera.

The first attempt failed because my credit score was considered more important than my pulse, which before the housing bubble burst was pretty much all you needed to qualify for a loan.

The second attempt failed because Sue and I committed the unpardonable sin of actually paying both our mortgage and our line of credit on time each month. We would have been better off if we had fallen hopelessly behind and blown the money in Atlantic City.

Praying the third time would be the charm, I went back to the bank and spoke with Kim Delman, a senior mortgage loan officer who is so nice, so smart and so good that she ought to run the Federal Reserve System.

Kim, who worked diligently with us in our first two attempts, was determined to see us succeed this time.

In trying to combine our mortgage, which was at another bank, and our line of credit, which was at Kim’s bank, I went through the Process From Hell: countless phone calls in which I had to listen carefully because the menu options had changed (restaurants change their menu options less often than the average company); give the last four digits of my Social Security number and my date of birth, just to prove I’m a geezer; and come up with yet another seemingly irrelevant thing the underwriter wanted, which surprisingly did not include my high school transcript or my underwear receipts.

Then came the clincher: After we shelled out $455 for an appraisal, which valued our house at $315,000, Kim informed us that we were in danger of being rejected yet again, this time for a three-year-old unpaid traffic ticket worth a grand total of $75.

“There’s a lien on your house,” Kim said.

“Nothing’s leaning on my house,” I replied. “Not even a ladder, because I’m afraid of heights.”

“You have to get this cleared up,” Kim warned, “or the bank won’t let you close.”

I was put in touch with Leticia Glenn-Jones, a very pleasant home services specialist (“a fancy title for processor,” she explained), who said the underwriter did, indeed, want this black mark off my criminal record.

“Let me get this straight: $75 is worth more than $315,000,” I said. “Is this the new math?”

“I’m afraid so,” Leticia said sympathetically.

It turned out that a red-light camera caught Sue going through, yes, a red light. She received a notice in the mail in 2013 but forgot about it until the underwriter kindly noted that if we didn’t pay up, we couldn’t close. Sue sent a check for $75, plus late fees, which brought the total to $105 and, at long last, allowed us to refinance.

“It happens more often than you think,” Kim said afterward. “It’s those red-light cameras. Since they were installed, there have been tons of cases like this.”

In 21 years at the bank, she has seen just about everything.

“You and Sue may have set the record for the longest time it took to refinance,” said Kim, adding that her most unusual customer was a guy who applied for a mortgage  in 1995 and, under assets, listed a cow.

“He said it was worth $500,” Kim said.

“Was he trying to milk the bank for money?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Kim. “But believe it or not, he qualified.”

“I guess he didn’t have any traffic tickets,” I said.

I thanked Kim for all her hard work and promised that Sue and I would keep up on our payments.

“From now on,” I said, “we’ll pay the mortgage online. After all, we don’t want to drive to the bank and risk losing our house by getting another ticket.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Feeling sheepish at Hopi pottery day

Ernie WithamMy wife thinks I’m going deaf, but I think it’s just that I have so many incredible ideas bouncing around in my head — and I’m quite sure one of them is going to make me incredibly famous, wealthy beyond all imagination and beloved by the masses — that I’m constantly exploring my own brain.

Some people also call it spacing out.

But all it takes to bring me back to reality is a simple question like: “Do you know what is the most common item stolen from the Navajo reservation?”

“Turquois?”

“Nope.

“Pottery?”

“Nope.

“Navajo rugs?”

We were on Day Two of our “Pueblo Heritage: The Anasazi, Hopi, Navajo and Chaco Canyon” Road Scholars tour. Our guide, Stewart, adjusted the microphone on his headset and turned up the volume on the dashboard of the tour van. “Sheep dung,” he said.

I was thinking maybe people in Northern Arizona should go to thievery school or at least take a night (burglary) class. But Stewart told us we would soon understand.

That’s when we pulled into the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa for a pottery demonstration from esteemed Hopi artist, Dorothy Ami. She made a small perfectly round pot as she talked, using the traditional coil method — adding coils of clay to the base pot and working it into shape by hand, no potter’s wheel.

“I was a teacher, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make pots for a living. Then I began watching my cousin, Mark Tahbo, and he taught me many things. After several years we went to a show and as people bought pots, I just kept shoving the money into my pockets. When the show was over, I counted the money. There was $50,000. I decided then I did want to be a potter!”

Fifty grand! All the other great ideas swimming around in my brain fluids disappeared. Pots by Ernie. Yes!

“It takes nine days for clay preparation,” Dorothy continued. “Much of the clay I find is holding up a big rock, so I have to remove it carefully.”

Oops, that was going to be a problem. I just have to look at large rocks and they want to fall on my head.

Dorothy passed around samples of the clays she uses and the shaping tools, which were shards of other pots. And then she held up her brush. “I use my own hair as the brush,” she told us, as she carefully painted traditional designs on one of her nearly-finished pots.

Another thing that wouldn’t work well for me. I’d be out of hair after just a few weeks. Plus, I can’t even paint the living room without making a big old splattering mess. Fine lines might not be my forte.

“You may notice that the coloration on the finished pot is not even all around.”

Wow. Uneven I can do. I’m back.

“We fire our pots outdoors at temperatures of 1,400-1,600 degrees. It’s often windy, so the pot’s finish comes out uneven. That’s how you can tell a traditional Hopi pot. We use dried sheep dung for fuel because it’s dense and burns very hot. I get all my sheep dung from our neighbors, the Navajo.”

I wasn’t sure what the ‘neighbors’ were getting in return, but whatever it was it must have been seen as a good trade on their part.

“I pay cash,” Dorothy told us. “They bring a truckload and I check it to make sure it’s not too salty. I only pay for the best s**t!”

I watched as my entire pot-making idea for fame and fortune came crashing down. Not only would the condo association frown on my building a fire in the common area, but even if I could find someone with a truckload of dried sheep dung in Santa Barbara, I could think of only way way to tell if it was too salty.

We all thanked Dorothy for her demonstration, then my wife bought one of her beautiful, signed pots at the gift store.

Back in the van on the way to our next adventure, Stewart said: “Even though we are driving east, all of this land is actually gradually moving west, at the same speed as fingernails grow.”

My brain exploded.

— Ernie Witham

Award-winning humorist Ernie Witham has published three books including his latest, Where are Pat and Ernie Now? He writes a syndicated humor column, “Ernie’s World,” for the Montecito Journal that is syndicated through Senior Wire Service. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Barbara News-Press, various magazines and more than two dozen anthologies. He serves on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, where he has taught humor for more than 10 years.

Teaching the children well

Liz Petrone“Mommy! Look!” My daughter, 5 years old, is yelling at me from the backseat.

“Honey, I’m driving,” I tell her. “I will look in a sec.” I think about also explaining that she doesn’t need to yell — the space between her mouth and the back of my head is, at max, eight inches — but math isn’t her forte yet, and I haven’t had enough coffee to fully engage yet.

“MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY. LOOK.” All sorts of things that she could want me to see run through my head, a ticker tape of possible horrors. She’s puked. She’s peed. She’s pooped. She’s blown her nose down her shirt. She’s opened the window and threw her pants out of it. Or sh** — I think, remembering her little brother is next to her — she’s opened the window and thrown him out of it. Or worse , even, than all of that: she wants to show me that he’s fallen asleep, knowing the five-minute nap in baby-math in the car means he won’t fall asleep again for three full days. Maybe math is her forte after all.

We reach a stop sign, thank sweet Jesus, and I turn around in my seat to see her.

And it’s none of those things. It’s her belly. She’s holding up her shirt, pointing. “It’s my belly! Isn’t it great?”

I turn back around (shout out to yoga for making that 180 possible) and drive on, grinning. “It sure is, baby. It sure is. Don’t let your brother fall asleep.”

She loves her body. Like, really loves it, the kind of loving that all the self-help gurus and yoga teachers and body image experts try to teach us. She runs around, belly out, excited with the sheer joy of being able to move and dance and flop and jump. She even flops and rolls and kicks and dances in her sleep, next to me in my bed, errant fists and feet and belly landing in my face.

I don’t know where this came from, but I know enough to know it didn’t come from me. I’ve spent a decade now trying to walk the line between doing enough yoga to find enlightenment and doing enough stomach crunches to still be able to zip up my jeans.

Maybe she learned it from her older sister, whose confidence is less in-your-face and instead strong and silent, enough to be the only girl on her little league team who can hold court with boys twice her size. I couldn’t care any less about baseball — watching it is like watching paint dry but with more spitting and ball scratching — but I could watch that one on the field all day long, her curls hanging down her back, long enough now to cover half of the number five on her jersey. “Maybe we should braid your hair before the games,” I said to her one evening when she came home all sweaty and hat-headed.

“Eh. It’s not like anyone else on the team has braids,” she said, shrugging.

I couldn’t argue.

I’ve been thinking about these two ladies a lot lately, wondering if I’ve had it wrong all these years when I made proclamation after proclamation to my husband starting as soon as I found out I was going to have a girl. I’m going to teach them to be strong, I’d say. I’m going to teach them to love themselves. I’m going to teach them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full and learn to love to move in their bodies because it feels good and not because they want to target a trouble zone. I’m going to teach them to chant “fight the patriarchy!” while we burn our bras (that let’s face it, odds are they won’t need them anyway since they’re my daughters) and bust through the glass ceiling and demand equal pay for equal work and paid family leave and the rights to do whatever with these beautiful, loved bodies what they wish.

I’m going to teach them. 

Ha.

Having kids is funny, right? I haven’t had to teach them any of these things, not once, not yet. They came out and inherently loved their bodies and perhaps even more amazingly, they loved MINE, especially in the soft places that I still struggle to own. They instinctively wanted to move and fought to learn how and still haven’t stopped, and I know they’re not doing it so they can track the calories in their Fitbit later and justify that second scoop of ice cream. Also, to them, that ice cream is just that: ice cream. It isn’t love and naughtiness and wounds and numbness and something they will have Catholic guilt over eating long after the taste has faded from their mouths. They eat when they are hungry and they stop when they are full and if I told them what the patriarchy was and how hard they might have to work to achieve their dreams just because they have a uterus, they would look cross-eyed at me because WHY WOULD SUCH ABSURDITY BE ALLOWED TO EXIST ANYWAY?

So I’ve been trying to amend my best-laid raising-girl plans. Maybe my goal here isn’t to teach them those things at all, but rather to help them hold as tight as they can to what they came out naturally knowing. Maybe my job is to soften the blows of the universe and keep these girlies alive and eager and from closing up tight around their wounds like I did, like so many of us did, getting bitter and hard where we used to be wide-eyed and soft.

Maybe. I don’t really know yet.

But it was hot last night, the first truly steamy night of the year, and the older one let me braid her heavy hair so she could sleep without it on her neck. I brushed, and her shoulders shook, and I realized she was crying.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked her, wheeling her around on the bed to face me. Again, the ticker tape of tragedy flew through my head. She was teased, she was bullied, she hated her teacher, her friends, her hair. She was in love, or out of love, or God forbid: pre-menstrual.

But it wasn’t any of that,either. “It’s going so fast,” she said. “Fourth grade is almost over. Baseball is almost over. Being nine is almost over. Everything keeps changing.”

Ugh. She sounded like me. It was like being punched in the belly because I realized that THIS is what I have taught her.

“I know, baby,” I said, tucking an errant curl behind her ear. “I SO know. Everything is always changing. And it’s the most beautiful and most terrifying thing in the whole world.”

She nodded and sighed, looking three decades older. Looking like me.

Maybe there was still something to teach her. I got excited. I got preachy. “You know what I think, baby? I think there are really only two things. There is love, and there is fear. Everything else is just flavors of those.”

“Like ice cream?”

“Yes. Exactly like ice cream. And maybe change is both. Change is fear, because it’s new and unknown, but it’s also love. Because I don’t think change would be scary if we weren’t so in love with our lives.”

“Like we wouldn’t be sad if we weren’t happy?” she asked.

“YES. Exactly. Like that. ”

Clearly I didn’t have to teach her a damn thing.

She reached out. “Will you lay with me?”

“I’d love to,” I said, settling in next to her. When her breath stilled and I knew she was asleep, I tucked the sheets around her, tucked the curl back behind her ear, and leaned in close. “Goodnight, honey,” I whispered. Then quieter: “Fight the patriarchy.”

I swear I saw her raise her fist under the covers.

— Liz Petrone

Liz Petrone is unequal parts mama, yogi and writer. Also: warrior, wanderer, dreamer, doubter and hot mess. She shares her stories on her blog, http://www.lizpetrone.com, and is pretty sure that doing so has saved her life. Her work has been featured in Blogher, Mamapedia and Yummy Mummy, among others. She lives in a creaky old house in Central New York with her ever-patient husband, their four babies and an excitable dog named Boss. When she should be sleeping, she can often be found instead working on her first full-length project, a memoir. You can find her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

 

Reflections of Erma