The Work of Woman

The world is forever ending,

every generation chasing the same

catastrophes and atrocities their parents

learned before them. Migrating in search

of herds of hatred, anger, and fear to feed upon.


But for each inky night that swallows up hope,

there is a woman who stands up,

though her soul is broken,

and crosses the room to light a fire

and places a potato in a pot

or the very last grains of rice,

because stomachs must be fed

and laundry doesn’t care for cataclysm.


A woman who, in her grandad’s pickup truck,

her forehead resting against one chapped hand

as she mouths the music on the radio,

drives to the bank for the loan,

because the chemo won’t pay for itself.


A woman who rises early for work at the factory

and pins a yellow Star of David on her coat,

because the rent is due, and it’s been almost a month now

since they took father and Misha away.


A woman who has watched a thousand men

ascend the ladder ahead of her, but who shows up,

measures her smiles and speaks calmly, firmly,

because her message is important and must not be dismissed.


A woman who weeps and arranges the shattered

pieces of her heart into the shape of a poem

to send out into the crumbling world,

because somewhere in the desolation

are the ears of others listening for signs they’re not alone.


A woman who leans over the cradle of an infant

she did not birth and will not raise,

but who she will pick up and comfort and feed,

becoming for only a moment a mother

in place of the mother who didn’t make it through the night.


A birthright, this numb inertia

that keeps life slowly wading forward

through the scalding lava of destruction

as the world ends

and ends

and ends


The Work of Woman

Birthday Anxiety and the Modern Mom

Confession: I hate my kids’ birthdays.

Not because of any trauma associated with the experience of birth (though goodness knows there was plenty of that). But because of residual anxiety I have regarding a long history of my own sucky childhood birthdays.

It’s tragic, really.

On my 8th birthday, my gift was a promised trip to the dinosaur museum in Vernal, Utah. I was nurturing the flames of a nascent love for paleontology, only to be shattered by the slow, 6-month-long realization that my mother’s promise was never to come to fruition.

Like so many wizened and embittered by life, I took up writing instead.

A friend of mine remembers her mother losing it at a party and throwing all the birthday presents out the window. I had to talk this friend down on her own child’s 8th-birthday by reminding her that there is NO way we’re screwing this up as badly.

The standard I inherited from my mother was this: I’m out of bed and dressed. In my childhood, that was functional motherhood. Anything past that was gravy, including birthdays.

So it is with a great-deal of “I’m gonna fuck this up” that I approach my kids’ birthdays. I’ve lived through 12 of these so far, and I think I’m getting better about it. I no longer hit the panic button at the last minute. Or every week for 4 months prior.

But it was with some trepidation I asked my soon-to-be 5-year old what she wants for her birthday party.

As one often inadvertently and tangentially does with a almost-5-year-old, we discussed every possibility in depth. She settled on a yogurt place. One of those with bright colors and a full bar of sugar-derived toppings. Relieved to pawn the fiasco onto someone else, I called the shop.

The person I spoke to was the most spectacularly competent 15 year old on the planet. I said COMPETENT. She was a joy. Her name was Taylor and she was WAY excited about my daughter’s birthday. Part of the reason she was so excited was because my daughter’s birthday happens to be her birthday too. I wanted to adopt Taylor on the spot.

A lot of people complain about teenagers. I love them. I used to have a job where I went to high schools and taught teens about blood. I always got little grimaces of pain when I told people I was guest-lecturing in a high school. But the students were invariably enthusiastic, energetic, and inquisitive. Maybe there is some gray, Alcatraz HS somewhere where they stick all the dimwits and jerks. But every teen I encountered was pure sugar. Once I was in restaurant near a high school that had just let out on a bright spring day. The server apologized to me for the rambunctious clientele. But I was loving being awash in their joy and excitement. I said, “No need to apologize. They’re just excited to be out of school on a beautiful day.” It roused a chorus of cheers from the table behind me. They wanted to throw me a tickertape parade, but I declined, having already paid my bill.

So Taylor impressed me. She was re-working schedules, presenting options, crunching numbers all to give me and my kid a good birthday at their yogurt place. While discussing how many invitations I needed, I asked her, “How many people can I fit into the room?”

Her response was perfect. “She’s turning five? Well… they’re pretty small people.”

It was a challenge.

It conjured images of those 1920s contests to cram people in a phone booth. I pictured various members of my daughter’s preschool class pressed up against the glass Gary Larson-style, sticky with yogurt and cooing softly from a sugar-induced stupor.

“Give me a whole stack,” I said. “We’re inviting EVERYone!”

It was a lovely moment. A far cry from the anxiety I’ve often felt the last 12 times I’ve gone through this birthday thing.

Perhaps I’ll take Taylor a gift, so she can celebrate her birthday too. It’s nice to get to look forward to enjoying the day my little one and I first encountered each other. Moreover, it’s lovely to let go of worrying about getting it wrong. Because, stress and anxiety is for grown ups. The young have things figured out. You live out your enthusiasm. You throw sprinkles and fudge on your fro-yo. You enjoy every day. Promises may or may not pan out, but a birthday is still a birthday. And you only get one a year.

Birthday Anxiety and the Modern Mom

True confessions of a chalupa addict

Every now and then I realize that I am a grown up. I have a car and a decent amount of change lying around the house.

I can buy and eat a chalupa.

I gave up fast food years ago. Although, as a mother of two small children in a tiny city that is dark and below freezing 9 months out of the year, I will occasionally cave on the no fast-food policy and take the kids to the play area of a fast food establishment that shall here go unnamed.

These trips are: 1. rare, 2. part of a comprehensive strategic effort to preserve the sanity of all parties involved, and 3. loathsome on every level. I’ve given up on trying to find anything edible there. Everything tastes like deep-fried, heavily-salted ear wax.

But the chalupa is another matter.

What is it about Taco Bell that holds such irrational sway over the hearts and minds of America?

About 6 to 8 times per year, chalupas become my obsession and everything else I eat becomes not-a-chalupa. It cannot be willed or reasoned away.

When I was pregnant with my eldest, I was practically a vegetarian. Still, the chalupa demanded it’s due. My husband eventually took to just stopping at Taco Bell before he came home. Every. Single. Day. I’m certain half my amniotic fluid was Baja sauce.

Remember Baja sauce?

Around the time they discontinued it, I was at a Taco Bell getting lunch.

My office was actually three blocks north of this particular Taco Bell. But it lie across a six-lane road with a hard to get-in-and-out-of parking lot that required an illegal U-turn and a shortcut across the lawn of an apartment complex. So I rarely visited it, let alone mapping the daily traffic pattern and police frequency for the route.

But on this particular day I NEEDED A CHALUPA.

A beef, Baja chalupa. Or two.

I’m not entirely sure how the junk-food innovation known as the chalupa came to be. Perhaps they use only stoners in their test demographics. But I do know, it is the one fast food I cannot eradicate from my life. Nor do I wish to.

The drive-thru line was 64-cars-deep, so I went in.

Although I avoid fast food in general, I love the employees who work in fast food. Many are teenagers. They’re still in the throes of pubescent social awkwardness. I can relate to that. They haven’t yet had their quirks and idiosyncrasies corporate desk-jobbed out of them. They’re odd. They’re okay with odd people. They deal with odd people all day.

I once told a friend about visiting a proctologist, “He looks at assholes all day. Yours is not going to be the worst he’s ever seen.”

The same can be said for fast food workers. They accept you for who you are.

Furthermore the employees of Taco Bell get me. The really, really understand the need Taco Bell junkies have.

I walked up to the counter. The cashier was a young man of not more than 19-years.

“Two beef Baja supreme chalupas,” I said.

The young man frowned.

“They’re not doing Baja anymore,” he said. He had the serious and studied air of a man who’s been giving terrible news to strangers all day. Like the head vet of a canine oncology center.

“What?” I said. This was the only possible response. Not just because I was shocked, but because he had triggered a mexi-nugget flashback.

Remember mexi-nuggets?

They were basically tiny tator-tots slathered in taco seasoning.

In other words, manna.

I don’t remember when exactly they discontinued mexi-nuggets. I must have blocked that particular memory as part of my PMNSD (post mexi-nugget stress disorder) healing process. But I do remember I cried.

For years.

In fact, I still wake up weeping sometimes.

But this kid, like I said, he GOT me.

He leaned across the counter with a look that could only mean, I’m free-basing the hot-sauce and said, “But I think I can hook you up.”

He had me against the wall and he knew it.

I won’t admit I ever paid $30 dollars for a tiny tub of Baja sauce. But I’m not saying I didn’t either.

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t try to tell me how terrible this food is for me. It doesn’t matter.

You could say to me, “You know, that’s made out of babies.”

And I’d say, “Oh my god, that’s awful! Nom nom nom nom nom…”

They’ve made a lot of menu changes lately. I hear breakfast is on offer now.

All I can do is thank my lucky stars that didn’t happen while I was in college.

I’d be roughly 7,000 lbs by now.

True confessions of a chalupa addict

Even before Monday’s heart-wrenching news, depression’s been much on my mind of late for a few reasons.

I’ve been thinking and writing about the tendency creative people have to self destruct. I had recently learned that my favorite childhood author, LM Montgomery, died in a manner that some members of her family believe was a hushed-up suicide. As a writer, the suicide rate among writers is upsetting.

Also, I watched as the 3rd of my brother’s post-suicide birthdays slipped past in the beginning of this month. He would have been 46.

Monday’s news made me grieve for my brother all over again.

My brother was an astonishingly intelligent person. He was generous, hilariously funny, and musically gifted. I cannot hear Pink Floyd or see macaroni and cheese without thinking of him.

Sometimes the guilt that we could not keep him here, is overwhelming.

When I look back at the last time I saw him, so many red flags appear in hindsight. He made gifts to my children of things that were precious to him. He stayed the night, sleeping on the living room couch and staying up late to talk with me about politics and life. We had very opposite  political viewpoints, but he listened to me that night and shared his thoughts. A final act of  love from someone on his way out the door. I’m not a touchy-feely person. I don’t remember whether or not I hugged him goodbye the next morning as I headed to work, but I hope I did.

So I am grieving again for my brother. I don’t know if this hole can ever heal. Just when I think it’s starting to, it opens again.

Since his death, I hug everyone goodbye, every time, no matter what. Some people think it’s silly, but I don’t ever again want to let death make me wonder if someone knew that I loved them.

So I  hug goodbye now. I let go last. Sometimes I hug them twice.