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Grown-Up Words

By Bethany Cox

Essay

blackboard-thinking-of-love

His name was Jeremiah and he was in my preschool class. He was five years old, tall for his age. His parents were divorced and he had an older brother, which meant he knew words like ass and hell. Once he accused me of saying the f word during story time.

“I said fox, Jeremiah.”

“It sure sounded like fuck,” he countered.

Listen, I have blonde hair (when it isn’t gray), blue eyes, and a fair face. I know darn well that my 8 month-old son, with his cappuccino-colored skin, almost-black eyes, and chocolate hair was not created in the spitting image of me. Yes, if you look really close there are resemblances. He nabbed my chin divot. He possibly has my cheeks. And some people say he has my smile. That one makes me happy.

I knew we weren’t going to get good news, so I turned away. Technically, we hadn’t received any news at all—the ultrasound technician had said perhaps ten words the whole time—but that was its own evidence.

When previous scans had been normal, it had been apparent fairly quickly. Because of liability issues, technicians aren’t supposed to say much, but body language and demeanor say enough. When the technician cheerily points out the baby’s head, its chin, its heartbeat, fears are quickly alleviated.

Our technician didn’t speak and hardly looked at us. She stared straight ahead at the monitor. One hand operated the machine’s controls, and with her other arm, she somehow manipulated the ultrasound’s transducer without looking, almost as if she were an extension of the machine.

Dear Mr. Brown,

First of all, congratulations. Your discovery of Eris in 2005 led directly to the reclassification of Pluto, profoundly altering our conception of the solar system. More importantly, in the process, you simultaneously broke the hearts of sentimental saps and/or third graders everywhere.

I should know: I used to be one of those saps. I have to admit, when Pluto was demoted in 2006, I was pretty depressed. Let me explain: I’ve always felt a certain kinship with Pluto. Like Pluto, I live in a far-flung, cold area that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. It is called Minnesota. At 5’6” and one-hundred-and-something pounds, I am also pretty small. You could say that I was the Pluto of my high school football team. Everyone publicly admired me for my pluck, but in private, my teammates rolled their eyes at my feeble attempts to fit in where I so obviously did not belong.

I stood on the side of a suburban swimming pool in a sweltering Texas backyard in a crowd of other parents, hefted my three-year-old daughter up on to my hip as she begged and wept, pried her tiny pleading fingers from my neck, and then threw her, forcefully, in a high, athletic arc, into the water.

Some of the other parents smiled approvingly, others clapped and cheered, and a few looked away with the strained-neutral expressions of people consciously deciding to ignore a present tragedy.

Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, At-risk (University of Georgia Press) by Amina Gautier is a heartbreaking, eye opening, and endearing collection of stories that focus on African-American children in turmoil. Fathers leave, or if they stay, fall apart—addictions and failure all around them. Mothers ignore, or distance themselves, pushing their own agendas. Brothers and sisters either die in the street or get out by whatever means is necessary. And somewhere in the shadows of these events sit the boys and girls who try to make sense of it all—and try to survive it, unscarred.

My finger pushes into the number two hole of the round dial on the wall telephone that hangs in the kitchen. I have to stand on this chair to reach it. Sometimes when I pick up the receiver I hear my neighbor talking. My mom says I have to hang up when that happens, but I don’t always do that. I listen because I hope I will hear a secret.

 

My dog’s ashes are currently in a small silver gift box on my bookshelf. I loved my dog, but I hate that ugly box and its stupid tassel.

When my husband and I decided to cremate Bernie, we thought we would scatter his ashes along one of his favorite hiking trails, but doing so is illegal where we live. I hated the idea of us furtively dumping a baggy of remains in the always-crowded park. It didn’t feel like an appropriately jubilant celebration of his life.

Congratulations on your purchase of our revolutionary new product, Wresting Infants Without Injury (WIWI™)! If you have recently acquired a human infant, you may be experiencing the usual joyous spasms of parental sentiment. Do not let a warm emotional glow blind you to the dangers you face. In subsequent chapters, such as “Strollers: The Menace in the Trunk,” we will explain these in more detail. But for your protection, please read this introduction as soon as possible:

Waiting

By Marissa Landrigan

Essay

Over the course of the past year, the final year of my twenties, many of my closest friends have become mothers. Which is to say, they have come to understand the design of their bodies as evolutionary miracles, capable of withstanding great pressure, change, eruption. The body as engine.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1. To see all 30 stories, start here.

For anyone who hasn’t figured it out yet, today’s the last day of this story-a-day challenge (MATH!). As I have done every day of this challenge, I woke up this morning without any clue as to what story I would tell.

Before I begin, I just wanted to say thanks to those of you who have followed along, cheering and commenting–some of you even participated! And extra thanks to Brad Listi, for putting up with my daily emails and for posting a couple stories that were less than awesome on your awesome site–all for the sake of my personal writing challenge.

See you guys in 2012!

 

Day of the Donkey Punch

I made it all the way to the end before I had to explain the donkey punch.

Puberty: The Movie was as juvenile a script as its title suggests. It was chock full of funny, grown up, dirty words said by children (which made them even funnier). In one scene, an 11-year-old actor was asked to say the line, “Donkey punch that bitch.” Out of context that seems uncalled for, but I can assure you, it was almost completely called for.

Parents were informed during casting that the movie would require some potty-mouthing from their children. Only a few objected and passed on the project. The rest gave the material a thumbs up and issued their sons and daughters a license to swear.

A few weeks before shooting began, we gathered all the child actors together in a small theater space to read through the script together. The moms watched as their future superstars pretended their little hearts out for us. When our lil’ guy got to the “donkey punch” line, the directors and I held our breath and waited for them to continue.

“What does donkey punch mean?” he asked, nervously. He knew that whatever it was, it was dirty.

We looked back into the expectant faces of six teens and tweens, staring at us, waiting for an explanation. One of the moms chimed in from the sidelines: “Yeah, I’d like to hear what it means, too.”

As producer, one of my jobs was to keep the talent happy, and in the case of child actors, that means keeping the parents happy. There was no way I was about to explain the mythical donkey punch to a room full of children and their parents.

“It’s probably best that you don’t know.” I said, and we moved on.

I continued to dodge that bullet over the next few weeks. But as the fun of filming wore off, the moms in the green room became less accepting of the “best that you don’t know” line. When I was in the room and I heard someone–anyone–mention the dreaded donkey punch, I found somewhere else to be, quick.

I can’t say it was best for them not to know what it meant, but I am certain it was best for me.

My last day on the set was maybe my least favorite. The small Massachusetts town in which we were filming had been hit by a record-breaking blizzard. All weekend long the entire crew both began and ended our 15-hour shooting days by digging our cars and trucks out of snowbanks. When half the city lost power and parents wanted to take their kids home to safety, we said, “No,” which I’m pretty sure was illegal. And the built-up stress on set led to a pretty ugly blow-up between one of the directors and me.

Well, he blew up. I walked outside, lit a cigarette and prayed that he would get hit by a bus.

I did not wish hard enough, so we made amends and wrapped up all the producery business I had stuck around for. Then I said my goodbyes and headed to the green room to grab my coat and my keys. No amount of icy highways had kept me from the set, and none were going to keep me from getting back home to New York, either.

Our costume designer was leaving the green room as I approached it and she laughed a little when she saw me. “Have fun!” she teased.

I stopped her. “What did you do?”

“I just explained donkey punch to all the moms,” she said, smiling, and left me to manage the fallout.

So close! I almost made it! I suddenly knew exactly how those buddy cop characters felt when–just two days before retirement–they got handed some dangerous murder case! I took a deep breath and entered the room.

The moms saw me and began to circle. I was very quickly surrounded by stage moms who all of a sudden cared what garbage we had been making their kids say on camera.

“Is that a real thing that people really do?” one Mom began. She didn’t even bother saying “donkey punch”–one look at my face and she knew that I knew that they knew.

“No. It’s not a real thing,” I assured them. It’s a silly made-up expression that seventeen-year-old boys think is funny to talk about. But no one really does it.”

“Is that your target audience? Seventeen-year old boys?!” another mom asked, accusingly.

“Kind of?” I answered. “You’ve read the script, right?” (HAD SHE READ THE SCRIPT? My guess is no.) “Besides, I think it’s funny, too. I mean, your son is eleven, and his character is so sweet and innocent. And then he says something so shockingly inappropriate. That’s the joke.”

She thought about this for a second, but was still concerned. “I’m just not sure I want my son to think that this is an okay thing for a person to do to someone.”

“Right.” I said. “That’s called parenting. That’s your job. My job is to get a pre-teen to say ‘donkey punch’ on camera.”

And with that, I left the room, the set, the state of Massachusetts and the stage mothers of Puberty: The Movie speechless.

 

I’ve Been Busy

By Erika Rae

Memoir

The other day as I was standing in front of the mirror plucking my eyebrows, I was hit hard with a thought: I don’t have time for this.

I leaned back and stared hard at my twin in the mirror.

“I see you, Gemini,” I told her. “But you’re not on the schedule. Sorry.”

I put down the tweezers and walked away.

Now, before you judge me, ladies, I do realize that I need to make time for myself. As the end of my thirties approaches faster than a train filled with Gideon Bibles on the way to the Branson hotel circuit, I acknowledge that if I want to look presentable, I have to make an effort. I must wash and dry my hair. I must change my jeans every so often. I must wax certain places. I must not make a habit of replacing sex with homemade baked goods. If you’re a guy reading this, I can liken it to the necessity of brushing your teeth before you go on a date and thank you so much for reading a full five paragraphs of this post.

The thing is, I don’t have any time. I know a lot of people complain about this. As far as I can tell, this characteristic appears to have been carried on by natural selection, and particularly by those who carry large amounts of German and Scotch-Irish stock, plus the DNA from one illusive yet profoundly legendary Cherokee. That is to say, “lack of time for anything” appears to be one hell of a dominant trait. And lest you think I’m writing this to complain, let me stop you right there. I love it. I love being busy and having something to work toward.

Here is a snippet from my daily schedule, which I write religiously at the dawn of each day:

12:50-1:00 – Clean lunch dishes.
1:00-1:05 – Change “Ashtray Babyhead’s”* diaper. (Multitask challenge: count his toes – he’s falling behind in math)
1:05-1:10 – Make soy latte
1:10-1:15 – Put Ashtray to bed for nap (Multitask challenge: Set 4-year old to work writing the letter “H”)
1:15-1:25 – catch up on essential emails
1:25-1:45 – ISP/Billing
1:45-2:15 – Write 500+ words on memoir
2:15-2:45 – Edits to resume for client
2:45-3:00 – Edits to one Scree article
3:00-3:15 – Check in with publishers for TNB features
3:15-3:30 – Fold laundry
3:30-3:35 – Scrub bathroom sinks (Multitask challenge: come up with topic for next chapter)
3:35-4:05 – Work on book trailer for Devangelical
4:05-4:10 – Refill latte

I would have started the schedule earlier in the day, but it basically can be reduced to teaching my second grader history, language arts and science (we do online charter school), making breakfast and showering. Sometimes in between those things, I get crazy assignments that I have to tuck in here and there. A few weeks ago, I had set up the TNB feature for Oriana Small, author of the porn memoir, Girlvert. Perhaps you saw a picture of a girl with her fist stuck in her mouth on the TNB Headline banner. Yeah, so she was my feature. You’ve always wondered what we TNB editors actually do around here, haven’t you?

Problem was, her excerpt didn’t come in a format that I could just paste into the highly sophisticated TNB interface we TNBers have come to know and love, so I had to type it in word for word. So there I am, in between feeding Goldfish to my two youngest while frantically tapping in eight glorious pages of:

I took the piss into my open mouth with a smile. It was totally ridiculous. I was thinking, Okay, done. Now I’ve tried piss and I can say with truth and conviction whenever someone asks me about it: It’s not that big of a deal.

Then to the kids who are now pulling on my sleeve: What’s that sweetie? You need some more orange juice? OK, here you go. Now where’s your Cookie Monster dolly? Mommy needs to get back to work.

It’s a crazy life. And no, I don’t always finish the task I set out to do in a set time frame – the point is that I pay SOME attention to it during that time period, and then revisit later. After the children go to bed. After the husband gets attention and the dog gets fed. Maybe I’ve plucked my eyebrows by then. Hard to say.

But the MAIN reason for my conspicuous absence as of late (other than the fact that I’m ghostwriting a memoir for somebody…oh, that) is that I’m starting a magazine.

SCREE!

I’m really excited about it, in case you couldn’t tell. I have two partners: the lovely and talented graphic artiste, Carissa Carter, and my tech guru of a husband, Scott. We’ve been working hard at it for months now. The concept is the celebration of the scramble on the way to summiting your venture. Scree is the name climbers use for the loose rocks and boulders you have to cross before you reach the top of a high peak. It’s immense and it’s challenging. Just like my magazine. Just like my life.

We’ve got some incredible features lined up, including some of TNB’s own.

Slade Ham talks about what it’s like to be pushing toward his goals as a professional comic.

Joe Daly spotlights the next big front man in rock n’ roll in the band Dom.

Brin-Jonathan Butler discusses his push uphill as he creates a documentary about world champion Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux.

Kimberly Wetherell talks about being on the brink of successfully producing her first feature film, Lullaby.

Rich Ferguson writes about what it’s like to push toward that ever-illusive goal of actually becoming an urban legend (as well as his poem under the same name).

Nick Belardes even makes a brief appearance dressed like a Russian cosmonaut, excuse me, Commanaut.

There are many others, too. We’ve got an interview with a trending robotics company. A steam-punk electric tandem bicycle inventor. A fashion designer. An award winning photographer. And more. All people working toward the common goal of hitting the top of whatever it is they’re aiming for.  In a way, it’s like reading about next year’s super heroes before they hit it huge and are on the front page of Wired or Rolling Stone.

But it’s not about fame. It’s about the struggle. The push to be the best. The things that drive a person to keep going and make it all the way to their dream. It’s epic. And it’s just a little bit in all of us.

The really cool part is that we’ve finished design on the hard copy and have held the first proof in our hands. It’s a magazine. It’s real. It’s a real magazine. We’ve been working on this for so long now and we’re finally on the brink of letting it go. The web site is close behind the scenes, but to the public it currently looks like this:

http://scree.co

So, yeah. I’ve been busy.

But man, it feels good.

 

 

* And, no. My toddler is not actually named Ashtray Babyhead, thank you very much, Rich Ferguson, for naming him to the TNB community. (Sweet Wittle Ashtway.)

 

Shut up our mother said we couldn’t say,
so behind her back we said it all the time
risking her witch’s look, the hairbrush,
or a talk from our father whose sadness
we exacerbated with our acting up, not that
he much cared what we said to each other
but punishing his sons wasn’t what he wanted
after working all day and so it was a failure
of strategy on our part to provoke our mother
to have to ask him to talk to us about shut up
or the picture I drew of turds dropping
from a stick man’s butt or Bill’s tantrum
in front of Miss Ossie Price, but I still can’t
get the words out, something shuts me down
when I’m around somebody who needs to hear it–
yesterday morning I saw this girl get right
in a guy’s face in the City Market parking lot,
they were smoking and kind of stepping around,
when she shouted, “Shut up!” leaning into him,
grinning and red-faced as if what he’d said
was so damn scandalous but perfectly delicious
like I know you’re not wearing underwear today
or blankety blank blank, and god did it hit me hard,
sixty-five years old, both parents long dead,
and whatever that girl was feeling right then–
which had to be some fantastic amalgam of arousal,
embarrassment, shame, and joy–wasn’t anything
I’m ever going to feel, even if I get another
sixty-five, even if I ever do break through
and finally ask some jackass to please be quiet.

A Poem

By Ewa Chrusciel

Poem

Children swing on a rope down to a river. Water is shocked by this splutter. We stay
on shore, even though we know the water is master of gravitation and will save us
from flight. Unlike Mary’s Yes, a swing into hearts ajar.

I dream of the day when my syllables will hold rough wood, my letters will be sewn in a stove or
fireplace. It’s not the sacrifice we resist, but the beauty. The intensity of the instance burns. For it
has to turn into another instance. There is nobility in asking the same thing over and over.

Children swing on a rope down to a river. Water is shocked by this splutter. The truth burns us
before it falls away. We remain on shore.

When did she start to witness evanescence? The animals saw her suffering in light
and saw that it was good and took her light in suffering. A dog started to bleed.
A cat died after she left. Life was not enough. The occasional splutter of light.
The simplicity of smile. There is nobility in asking.

Children swing on a rope down to a river.

Nico’s Aya speaks of light and evanescence. The blessing of his Grandmother. Woven DNA
patterns. Now it has holes and no warmth, but the child holds onto it and repeats: “AYA’s
church.” Not knowing that Aya, his grandmother, wove him into Being.
There were many blankets. The plants saw and knew it was good. There is nobility
in weaving the same blanket over and over. We are impatient to rid ourselves of time.
It takes centuries for Arctic plants to spread and form a quaking mat, a circumference
of clarities.

Tante Nan made ragdolls by hand. She lived on a family farm in the country, near sugar cane fields. She once had been busy outdoors, a self-sufficient wife and mother with eggs to gather, animals to slaughter, and crops to tend. My great-great aunt was elderly when she sat down with fabric and thread to create the toys.