How to Cut the Cord?

My mom is beyond excited to be a grandmother. “Mother” has been her main identity in life, and she never quite transitioned back to regular “woman” after my sister and I left the nest. Maybe nobody ever does; that’s what she tells me anyway. She held tight to the label of “mother,” even when both her daughters were grown and out trying to make the mistakes that could never have been made under her close watch.

Needless to say, it was very difficult news when I, at 24, decided to move 2,296 miles away from the rural town where I grew up, where Mom has lived her entire life. I remember the months up until I left, and how she fell to pieces. I still feel the guilt as if her feelings are my sole responsibility, even as I try to understand her feelings from worlds away. How it must hurt when the person you love most in the world wants to be on the opposite side of the country from you. I’m sure that to her, my moving away from Kentucky felt like a personal affront, since it’s rare that anyone in my tiny hometown ever does such a thing. But I simply moved where I felt moved to be, and over eight years ago, I found that Southern California was the first place I had room to grow into the woman I was destined to become.

I needed the thousands of miles to escape the expectations that weigh heavy over southern girls: do your learning in church, don’t ask questions, start a family young or else you’re selfish, get a sensible job and keep your creativity separate if you have any. I needed to completely blow my life to smithereens to find out what I was made of—to understand for the first time ever I didn’t need anyone but me to thrive. And then to find my tribe: the people who really understand this “me” that was underneath the constructs of that southern girl, trying to emerge but not knowing how until I got away.

And now that I am who I am, I get to add the word “mother” to my identity, too. But for me, it’s an addition, not a trade-off for all I’ve become.

My mom also gets a new identity. She can finally put this ill-fitting “mother” label in the back of the closet and don the new moniker “Granny.” I am almost as excited for her as she is, and she can barely think of anything else besides her three grandchildren who are all going to arrive around the same time this summer. She told me that my sister’s and my pregnancies were quite literally the answer to her prayers. (No pressure.)

You see, I want my children to be close to their grandparents. But where I’m from, the gold standard is for up to five generations to live within a couple miles of each other, and for baby and mom and grandmother to see each other nearly every day. My mom sees our relatives living that way and it looks so perfect to her.

I talk to her on the phone almost every day. And almost every day she “subtly” suggests that we move from the beloved city Kai and I call home, and return to the state I escaped almost a decade ago. She suggests this not for her sake, she says, but for ours. We wouldn’t have to stay forever; just long enough to save some money! Then we could move back out here! But I’m no dummy. I’ve never seen anyone move back out here after going back to their hometown. It’s not that I don’t love Kentucky. I do. But the prospect of leaving all I’ve found where my soul is truly happy, and going back to a rural place where I feel like a kid again, where only a few people “get” me, where my children would be indoctrinated with philosophies Kai and I loathe—well, that is what I call a last resort.

And I feel selfish. I feel guilty and selfish for wanting to live where I have made a home, even though I know that living one’s life out of guilty obligation to someone else is always a mistake. So my choices are: give up my entire identity just to be “mother,” too, so my mom can have the identity she wants, or I can stay here, deprive my parents of their grandchildren, and feel like a bad person. But at least I’d be a bad person who is living as me. There is a lot more to question and a lot more to say about this topic, but I will save it for therapy.

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Dark with the Light

Today I’ve been having another of my existential crises. It came after a week of mostly good feelings, a week without facing the harsher parts of reality. And of course, it is a law that carefree times must necessarily be followed by a cold slap to remind us of the contrast that makes life interesting.

The easy week went thus: First, my mom and sister (who is, remember, two weeks ahead of me in pregnancy) came to Cali to visit. Mom is a fluffy ball of pure love, and my sister is a blessing, as she is a cohort in this strange, uncomfortable rite of passage. We didn’t do much when they were here: just ate at different restaurants and walked around Venice, binged all seven hours of Big Little Lies, and went shopping for maternity clothes. But it was effortless. No dwelling on impending futures and their scary prospects: just strolling along, enjoying each other’s company.

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My sister and me + 3 inside

When they left, Kai and I had a couple days of downtime, and then hopped a boat for Catalina Island, to spend a weekend honeymooning. Again, we didn’t do much; just what we felt like. We went snorkeling and hiking, we ate key lime pie and talked, and heck, one day we slept for five hours and then grilled hot dogs and watched a documentary about the Unabomber. It was as smooth and clear as the teal water by the docks, no agenda.

But then we got home.
Today was such a Monday. My stupid to-do list waited for me. There’s baby stuff to worry about, like scheduling all these birthing and breastfeeding classes, there’s writing and moviemaking assignments I took on for the love. I’ve still got to sleep, eat, and exercise so I can adjust gracefully to the feeling that, as my sister put it today, “my belly is falling out of my body.” But sitting heavily on top of all that, I HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO MAKE MONEY.

All my income-generating gigs are just too hard to do right now. I can’t go bartend when I’d pop the buttons off my black button-down shirt and can’t stay up past 8pm without slurring my words. I can’t chase toddlers around babysitting for more than a couple of hours, and a couple of hours isn’t really worth my time since what I’m looking for is MONEY. I do personal assistant things for a few hours a week, but I have a freaking master’s degree and I should be able to find a PAYING JOB I can do from home! So I spend hours on top of my to-dos, applying for all these stay-at-home jobs that may or may not be legit: writing, editing, grading tests, answering customer service queries, I DON’T FUCKING CARE, I JUST NEED MONEY.

We’ve gotten married, we’ve got two kids on the way, we’ve been on the honeymoon, we got a joint checking account. He’s working like always. I’m struggling, dying, begging the Universe to please guide me toward a not-awful job I can do from home that employs MY BRAIN to GENERATE INCOME. It’s something I’ve waited for patiently since I graduated from all that schooling, through the eleven years of doing creative gigs for free for the love of art, meanwhile making sheckles by serving hors d’oeuvres or schlepping kids around…BUT THE DEADLINE IS APPROACHING. IT’S TIME THIS SHIT PAID OFF. Yes, I am freaking out. Yes I am rethinking my entire existence. Yes I still would rather have this kind of freak-out than work in an office 9-5. But up until now I had the luxury of time because it was just me. Now it is me + 3. And I am a puddle of self-doubt and guilt and exhaustion.

Serves me right for having a low-stress week, I guess.

 

Thank God for Wedding Day

Ten Reasons I was in Hell for Two Weeks Prior to the Wedding

I had a really hard couple of weeks leading up until St. Patrick’s Day, which was also our wedding day. I will elucidate the reasons. (1) I began working over an hour’s drive away for a lady who, to put it bluntly, made me feel like I was having a nervous breakdown every time I was around her, such was her anxiety and need for control. Why did I start such a job at 18 weeks pregnant with twins, you ask? Well, because (2) I was broke as ever, freaking out about barely having enough money for my own half of the rent, let alone twins on their way in four months. In addition to that stressful job, I had (Reason 3) about five other odd jobs I had agreed to take on weeks ago when I couldn’t find any work at all. So (4) I was spending every second of every day in my car driving around to these jobs, which meant (5) I had no time for exercise or relaxation or taking care of myself. Thus (6) my body felt like it had been in a trash compactor and all the food I ate was what I packed in lunchboxes for myself through the day or what I bought cheaply from some crappy fast food place along the way. I was changing clothes in my car up to three times a day, depending on auditions or gigs I had. I was meditating in my car, crying in my car, aching in my car. On top of that, I have a writing job (not paying yet, but we have a company interested in funding us) that I actually do want to do. Besides spending time with my man, nesting, doing yoga, eating, and sleeping, this is the only thing I actually give a crap about, and (7) because of all this other shit, I was having to wait til the last possible minute to actually get my writing done, constantly feeling like a mess of a human who was letting my writing partners down. So with all of that, in addition to the (8) standard pregnancy symptoms of exhaustion, brain fog ,and hormonal anger/sadness, it’s not surprising that (9) Kai and I were not getting along. I was a total mess, and I wasn’t ever home, but when I was, he was also exhausted from working so much and just couldn’t be there for me like I needed. It was a lot of struggle. I called every therapist, friend, and family member I could for help. Oh and to put the icing on the cake, I had gotten a callback for a very prestigious national commercial a few days before the wedding. Guess when it was shooting? On our wedding day. So in addition to all the aforementioned stress,  (10) I was terrified I might get the job and have no choice, being so poor, but to take it, and have to reschedule our wedding.

 

…Then the Day Came to Save Us

Needless to say, as stressed and hormonal as I was, my expectations weren’t too high for our wedding day. I was glad to be marrying this wonderful man, the father of my children, but I was sure the day itself would be as stressful as every other day I’d been growing accustomed to lately. By the night before, there was no word from the commercial, so I had dodged that bullet. Our wedding would happen as planned. I had also informed Stressful Lady and all my other gigs that Friday I was not available for anything. Also, Kai and I worked out our arguments, understanding that both of us were going through a lot. The night before, I looked back on all my journals since I’d met him and made him a little book of all the entries where I had said I knew he was the one, or dreamed of marrying him. They dated back to four years ago, after we’d been dating only two months.

When the morning came, instead of waking up at 7, I I left my phone on silent and didn’t check any texts (and, yes, there were some asking “Ginger, can you be here at ___ time to do ___ thing for me?” NO.) I woke up beside the love of my life and the sun was shining in the windows. I made us pancakes and he made coffee, and we played acoustic love songs and enjoyed a lazy morning. His parents arrived as we were getting ready. In our finery, we got our things together and left for the courthouse. On the way I pulled some jasmine off one of the vines on 16th Street and fixed my hair in the car. Kai looked so handsome, and I felt as pretty as I ever have, as if my growing excitement was shining from within. I couldn’t believe how smoothly and stress-free this all was going.

We could only invite twenty people, and those were all family members or our oldest and closest L.A. friends–the ones we’ve shared the good and bad with over the years–and it began to dawn on us how special this getting married thing actually was. Where before, we knew our level of commitment, now, all these people we cared about were so excited for us. Now they knew, too. Even strangers on the street would clap and congratulate us as we passed. It felt like the whole world was rooting for our love, and nothing has ever felt more right.

I was so glad we didn’t have some overblown, shallow wedding with music and bridesmaids’ dresses and a party with a DJ. I really just wanted him, and he wanted me, and it just so happened that there were a few other people who cared to share these moments with us. We ate at a Santa Monica restaurant afterward, and then walked down to Ocean Avenue to our little surf hotel, where the nice guy working there had upgraded us to their largest suite because he was also rooting for our love. Our friends and family drank a little, and I got to have a glass of champagne, and we talked for a couple hours, then they left us to slow dance alone in our room, husband and wife.

In my journal three years ago, I had said that our wedding day would be one of the happiest days of my life. I have never experienced anything like it before, but I was right. Neither of us could stop smiling, and it still feels beautifully surreal to be a “real” family.

Fear of Losing Myself

I grew up with a mom who loved me and my sister more than anyone could possibly love anyone. She would sacrifice anything for us, whether or not we asked for it. Even into our thirties we remain her reason for living, and she spends most of her mental energy worrying about us. I will never be able to repay her for her selflessness, and though I know I have done what is right for me and don’t regret it, I will always feel guilty that I left her and went to live my own life, thousands of miles away.

I hope that I can love my kids as unconditionally as my mother has done. But my greatest fear in having kids is losing myself in that version of love that dissolves my personhood.

The hormones have led to a lot of unnecessary worry about everything, and this has been one of the hot topics. My mom has told me over and over, “You’ll feel differently about your needs and wants after the baby comes.” And I know I will. But every time my mom asks if I need something, all I want to say is, “I need you to take care of yourself.” Seeing her excited about something, proud of herself, and healthy, would be the greatest gift she could give me.

Love manifests in so many different ways for different people. But for me, I don’t want it to manifest as protecting my child from every uncomfortable feeling. I want my version of love to be strong enough to watch them make painful mistakes and to be there when they need me.

My mom gave me every opportunity she could, from sports to art to music. She made sure I had more than what I needed. But I saw her deny herself so much. I want to give my kids those opportunities, too, but I also hope I can model self-love for my children, to show them what it looks like to be interested in life, what it looks like to grow and take risks. I want to continue doing what feeds my soul, and to encourage them to find their own passions, which may or may not be similar to mine.

I want to raise adults who feel empowered and ready to live their lives for themselves when it is time to leave me. I don’t want them to feel encumbered by me; I don’t want them to feel guilty for living their lives instead of mine. I want them to feel steady in themselves, to trust in what they learned because I trusted them to learn it.

I was so lucky to have the mom I had. I know I’ll make mistakes daily; I just hope I can strike a balance between being a mom and being me.

 

Miracle/Coincidence: How I Found Out

One sunny, clear day a couple of months ago, I was running errands, feeling energetic and cheerful.

I got a phone call from my little sister. (My sister is 29 and lives a couple thousand miles away from me, but we are very close.) She said she had something surprising to tell me. “How would you like…to be an aunt?” she said.

My eyes welled up at the stoplight. “Are you serious?” I asked. I was surprised because my sister was, at the time, training daily to get her black belt in Krav Maga. She hasn’t spent much time talking about a desire for children. Also, she’s in a relationship with a bloke she’s frequently been unsure about. Nonetheless, I felt a surge of happiness on her behalf when she confirmed it was true. “Are you happy about it?”

She told me she was. “You know what’s strange?” I said. “I am very attuned to my cycles and all that, and I’ve been waiting four days for my period.”

“Wouldn’t that be weird?” she said.

“Yeah. But it’s probably just stress or something.”

Inside the grocery store, I called my boyfriend and told him the news. He was also surprised, but seemed positive about it. I didn’t tell him that I myself was purchasing a two-pack of home pregnancy tests.

Back at home in our little one bedroom apartment, he was sitting at the desk doing some homework for a class he’s taking. I walked past him into the bathroom with the little box.

“Are you taking a pregnancy test?” He sounded shaky.

“Yeah. But don’t worry. It’s just to make sure.”

I peed on the little stick, whose tip reminded me of one of those invisible ink markers from elementary school. I put the cap on it and set it on the sink while I waited atop the closed toilet seat, watching it.

The first line appeared immediately. And in only a matter of seconds, a faint second line was starting to materialize. I thought it was my imagination. But a few seconds later, the second line was almost as dark as the first. I referred to the box as a guide. “Two lines = pregnant.”

My heart stopped. I didn’t know how to feel.

I walked outside the bathroom and set the positive test in front of my boyfriend at the computer. Then I began pacing. “Oh my God. What the heck? How?” I was bewildered. My sister had just told me about her pregnancy an hour ago, which was enough of a shock, and now this?

My boyfriend said, “Is this a joke?”

“No,” I said.

“How did it happen?”

“I don’t know!” I felt a spark of happiness but also a flood of terror. I didn’t want to appear too happy, in case he wasn’t happy. For some reason I worried he’d think that I planned this without him, since technically I’m the one who is supposed to be vigilant with charting my temperature and cervical fluid and making sure we use birth control accordingly. I flopped face down on the bed. Then I sat up again and looked at him.

His face looked disoriented for a second, but then a smile broke through. “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re doing this.”

I walked over and hugged him tightly. He hugged me back. Something in me felt like I should apologize, God knows why. I didn’t. I just looked at his gorgeous face and breathed it in, not knowing what to say. Then I got up and poured myself a glass of water.

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to finish this homework before I can really process this,” he said, turning back to his books.

I took a picture of the positive test and texted it to my sister with the message You’re never going to believe this.