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This past October 9, the world celebrated what would have been John Lennon’s 74th birthday. On that day, the Internet buzzed with its usual indefatigable hum of remembrances, best-of-lists, think pieces and social media posts in memoriam. We don’t need to discuss the importance of John Lennon or his impact on the collective cultural consciousness—it is there everyday. As I can attest, even three-year-olds know how to sing the tune to “Imagine.”

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One of the things my little brother does at work is take a kidney out of one person and insert that kidney into another person all while keeping both people alive. This is not something I could do if you paid me, as my great aunt used to say, “all the money,” nor could I tell a patient the cancer has spread, or the liver no longer functions, or that the end is, in all likelihood, near. My brother tells people these sorts of things regularly, and then, instead of weeping, he goes on with his workday. He can write prescriptions; he can diagnose exotic diseases. He is handsome and admirable, and people tell me he’s one hell of a surgeon.

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I am filled with a rage fueled by sadness. Rage like a sourdough mother, a lump of material from which my outbursts grow. I cannot adequately express my emotions. My spectrum is happy to angry. The points between, obscured. This sourdough mother journeyed with me from my Irish childhood and has accompanied me across two continents and through several long-term relationships and two marriages. Its raw materials are to be unearthed in the fights and arguments of my childhood, long forgotten, but somehow embedded in my subconscious, dormant but alive.

Grown-Up Words

By Bethany Cox

Essay

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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.

Adulthood

By Summer Block

Humor

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Extended adolescence is all the rage these days. Or extended childhood, or extended young adulthood, depending on whether your particular clock stopped during Star Wars: Episode III or Star Wars: Episode I.

My daughter is two.  Already sounding out letters, she’s learning the concept of reading, taking pleasure in memorizing  shapes and sounds, proudly scrawling the first few letters of her name.  On the night before “take-a-book-to-school” day a few weeks ago at her daycare, she had difficulty choosing from her favorites. Three feet tall, chubby-faced, she towered over the picture books she’d spread on the living room floor like a colorful hopscotch grid, her dirty blonde hair frizzing around her head in wild curls, her glasses cockeyed. “This one,” she kept saying. “No, this one!”

When do we begin to decide what books we love? At what point do we start choosing to read books about one subject, but not another?

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.

Martyrdom and motherhood are basically the same thing, sometimes. When I had surgery just four months after my daughter was born, I refused painkillers because I didn’t want Maddie’s breastfeeding to be disrupted. (Okay, this would be more impressive if it hadn’t been a laparoscopic surgery. I was sore, sure, but it wasn’t torture or anything.) When I need to finish writing a piece for my critique group, and Maddie is being particularly screamy, I let out this long, exaggerated sigh, and I say, “Well, I guess I’ll just put this aside until you’re in bed, and I’ll stay up until midnight finishing it.” Then there’s the very true cliché about making myself a warm lunch and getting to eat it around dinnertime when it’s stone cold. I’m a martyr sometimes, and I get a really annoying motherly pleasure from it. Then I ran over my toenail with the metal bottom of Maddie’s highchair, and I stopped being a martyr for a while.

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Being a parent is hard. We all know that. Sleepless nights, hours spent elbow-deep in vomit, pressure to do the right thing by your kids every waking hour of the day. You love them unconditionally, but you’re never off the clock. Most days you’re lucky if you find a minute to sit down and breathe.

But if you think you’ve got it hard, spare a thought for the characters in AMC’s hit TV show The Walking Dead. Scheduling nap times can be a bitch, but it’s a virtual impossibility when you’re dragging your kids through a violent post-apocalyptic hell, populated by looters, homegrown gun-toting militia, and flesh-eating corpses. You may fret over how much TV your kid should watch, but trust me – you’ve never encountered a true parenting dilemma until your son has helped deliver his baby sister in a prison block, then shot and killed his mother to keep her from turning into a slavering people-eater. Suddenly an extra hour of Sesame Street doesn’t seem so terrible.

For the last few years I’ve scratched a meager living as a travel writer. If that conjures images of five-star luxury and all expenses paid cruises around the Baltic, then I apologize. The reality was more like a cut-price buffet at a roach-infested diner, squatting in the ass-end of nowhere. While there have been perks – lots of travel, a few unexpected adventures, some truly global friendships – there were plenty of bad times too. It turns out that travel writers dress like bums for a reason. Those guys you see scrawling on scraps of card at the side of the road aren’t begging for small change – they’re on assignment for National Geographic.

I used to have a infant who slept through the night. We’d put her down at 9:00pm or so, she’d sleep until 6:00am, and then I’d pull her into bed with me, feed her lying down, and we’d nap on and off until 10:00am. It was phenomenal. When other mothers told me that I looked/sounded/seemed great, I didn’t reveal my secret, because a.) I am always a little worried that someone is going to kidnap my baby, and this would only make her more attractive to potential kidnappers, and b.) it seemed a little naughty. No one else got to sleep in with a newborn, so it must be some form of illegal. In response to these women, I shrugged my well-rested shoulders and said, “Well, I really love being a mom.” Now, that part is still true, but the rest is not. Madeline doesn’t sleep anymore. She goes down at 9:00pm, and screams and screams. Then she falls asleep, and wakes up anywhere between two and eight times throughout the night. Last night was one of the really, really bad ones.

I received an email this morning from a current student at my alma mater. She was putting together a Where Are They Now? newsletter piece about some of the graduates who are continuing to work in their fields of study. Mine was creative writing. I wrote out the blurb she asked for, but I was pretty loose with the details. And with the definition of the word “working.” I write and edit, but I don’t actually get paid for most of it. And when I do, I take a picture of the check for posterity, which tells you exactly how rare those checks are. I told her about grad school and some of my publications, and that I’m juggling my writing life with my stay-at-home-mommy life, because writing with a five-month-old daughter in the picture is hard McFricken work. I didn’t actually use the word McFricken in my blurb. There are many things I didn’t tell her.

1. You are not, and will never be, a mother.

In this age of growing equality – sexual, racial, interspecies – men are still second class citizens when it comes to parenthood. Never mind that your sperm helped make the whole kid and caboodle: your lack of breasts and a vagina will forever be held against you. In fact, if you do grow breasts – or a vagina – it will only make matters worse. Men are still portrayed in the media as cartoonish fools, incompetent diaper-illiterate Stooges who are about as capable of looking after a baby as they are of making a casserole. Women, we are told, have an innate ability to nurture, which includes a genetic predisposition for cleaning up poop with moistened wipes, and a built-in Spidey-sense that detects squalling infants at a range of up to five miles. Men, meanwhile, are quite good at playing games. Or pulling faces. Or, in the case of the truly talented, both at once.

I sit with my two-month old son on my lap, surrounded by the detritus of parenthood – burp cloths, bottles encrusted with the grainy residue of infant formula, drool-glistening pacifiers, neglected toys – and try to dredge a diversion from my battered and sleep-deprived brain. Most days something rises to the surface. A silly rhyme, a Stewie-inspired internal monologue, a popular rock song with the lyrics changed to include the infant triumvirate of milk, pee and poop. But today, nothing comes. I’m an empty vessel, a vacant-eyed zombie casualty of the babyocalypse.

In the beginning of You Can Make Him Like You, the new novel by Ben Tanzer, the narrator introduces himself: “Hello, my name is Keith, and I am a selfish cocksucker.” From that point forward, hearing Keith’s voice was just like hearing my own voice, but the version of me I don’t have to live with. Which makes it that much more entertaining.