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My mother's birthday was Saturday. Wait - maybe it was Wednesday. If it was Wednesday, then my little brother whom I don't talk to anymore had a birthday on Saturday, but I kind of feel like his was Wednesday. He'll be thir...*I'm39minusthreeyear*...tysix. He'll be thirty-six now. My mother? Christ. She was either 23 or 25 she had me and her mother was 18 when she had her and she married my dad when one of them was 18 and my dad was born in 49 so I think maybe she's 63ish? 

This one time I tried to do Ancestry.com and I got stuck at "grandmothers' middle names." My family is *amazing* at secrets. 

I used to get so mad at people when I was in school and they would, in all sincerity, ask me questions like, "If you don't celebrate your birthday, how do you know how old you are?" Because math, maybe? I couldn't understand how they couldn't understand that not having a party didn't equate not counting years. Of course, they had never not celebrated a birthday and I never had, so neither of us were going to understand. They never woke up on their 10th birthday to Tuesday.  I'd never woken up on the day of my birth to anything other than whatever the hell day it was that day.

Until I turned 19.

On my 19th birthday, my father threw me a party. He threw me a first birthday party, because he'd waited 19 years to do it and he wasn't about to let either one of us miss out on the Pooh decorations or the 101 Dalmatians cake or the Perma Frost shots until I couldn't walk a straight line. What? Everyone gets their minor child completely shit-faced at her first birthday party, shut up. (If you don't know what Perma Frost is, I envy you your childhood.)

After that, I kind of got what those kids couldn't understand. I got how a birthday meant something completely different when someone else, anyone else, acknowledged it.  39 years into being my mother's daughter I have no idea what her birthday is, and only a vague guess as to her birth year. I don't know any of my siblings birthdays (except the one I still talk to, and I get his wrong by a day on either side every damn year) and I won't because they don't celebrate them so there's no reason for them to tell anyone, and less reason for anyone to remember. 

I've been alive for 39 years, but I just had my 20th* birthday** a few weeks ago. That means next year? 40/21. Everything bad happens for a good reason, people. #vegas

My friend Ben the Blue Lobster tagged me in this Facebook meme where he picks an age and you talk about where you are now vs where you were then. Perfectly, albeit unwittingly, he picked 20 for me. I'm supposed to do this on Facebook but this is 20. We do what we want.  

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Where I lived then: I started my 20s living in Denver (well, in Arvada, which is just northwest of Denver and just southeast of Boulder and hasn't made pot legal yet, in case you were wondering) with my dad and step-mother. This was the year I moved into the one and only apartment I'd ever live in as a single woman. I loved that apartment. I loved the autonomy, the silence, the power that comes from being completely unhinged to any one or thing. I lived in the apartment on top of the office of a storage facility in Golden, CO, and every evening, so long as I looked up and out, and not down, I watched the Rocky Mountains devour every delicious ray of sunlight. I learned more about myself in those months than I think I have in all the years since. Aside: If you've never seen a sunset in Colorado, you've simply never lived.

What I drove: I'd just traded in the car my dad gave me when in my senior year, his 1983 Datsun Nissan Stanza red stick shift that I rode in with all six of my immediate brothers and sisters as a child, and all of my high school friends as a senior. We drove up to Boulder every Friday night - moonroof open wide, BADII blaring from the cassette player, our ironic berets nearly blowing away in the gusts of cold mountain night air, the car barely making it up the incline from Louisville to Boulder on I-36. My two little brothers vanished with their mother (for good reason) in the mid-eighties, and didn't resurface again until the mid 2000's (thank you MySpace) and that car was the last physical tie I had to them. When I traded it in for my Mitsubishi Eclipse in burgundy with a turbo-charged engine and an adaptor port for one of those compact disk players that year, I found one of my little brothers' army toys buried beneath the seats of the car and had one of the best cries of my life right there in front of the car dealer.

Who had my heart: I was right in the beginning of the end of a relationship with the one guy who'd ever been genuinely nice to me in my entire life. Even when we were in high school and I was fixated on the idea that he was the one, the answer, the beginning and the end - and he couldn't get far enough away from me fast enough - he had still been nice to me. We dated for years after high school and I pushed him away every way I could during that time. When I was 20, I met some guy at work. He wasn't nice to me. He pushed me away. Obviously, I had to have him. I didn't even try to get him for a long time after, and didn't success for even longer, but at 20 I knew he had me, and I think he knew it, too. 

Where I live now: I grew up in the actual 'hood, and the road I've traveled so far has taken me from So. Philly/Northern Delaware way up & over to Colorado, then all the way up to Canada and all the way down to Texas and across to Arizona. All long, I've dreamed of living on a farm. If i had my way, I would own some land, grow my own food, keep a few animals. Nothing major, nothing profitable, just a life that includes simple, quiet contact with the earth. I didn't quite get my way, but I came pretty close. I ending up settling down for the long haul way in the very suburbanized end of a cozy little farming community on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area.

Yes, there is a farming community in the bay area. No, not even the people in the bay area know where it is. (It's that impossibly far away place where you have to drive your kids to play soccer in the summer.)

I don't live anywhere near the cable cars San Francisco is famous for, and there are no fog-lined bridges near my house. My neighbor lives in an old cottage and keeps goats, and the biggest town event of the year is the local corn festival (NorCal Corn Capital, representin'). You have to drive through either an enormous wind farm or 11,000 acres of active farmland to get to my house. It takes me as long to drive to the city in traffic as it would to drive to Lake Tahoe. We can pick our own fruit; hell, we could grow it if we weren't so lazy. I pretty much got exactly what I dreamed of and I have a nice basil and mint plant-thing growing in in my kitchen windowsill for happy hour to show for it. 

What I drive: I had a five-passenger Jeep, and Jim has a five-very-skinny-passenger Volvo. We have five kids between us, so we needed something bigger, and there was no way we were going to live in the one place in Northern California where you can get away with owning a truck and not own one. So we bought this.

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I'd like to tell you we bought it so that we could get everyone around town one car, but I'm really pretty sure that one of us bought it to play Toby Keith real loud and also this.

Who has my heart: This is the year that I legally ended my relationship with that guy I met when I was 20 who wasn't very nice to me most of the time, but did end up giving me the three greatest gifts I ever could have asked for. He didn't have my heart for very long, mostly because once I realized what my heart was in for with him, I took it back and hid it in a deep, dark box inside of myself where no one would ever find it and fuck with it again. Except I underestimated this guy. He saw right through my heartless facade and over time, over years, he helped me remember what corner I tucked my heart away into. He helped me find the courage to go into that deep, dark place and re-examine what I'd hidden away. His faith in me was constant and pure, without condition or pretense. He offered me nothing but support, and he asked for nothing in return. He taught me to trust again, to open up to the possibility that my life could be different, even good. He showed me what I looked like through a lens not warped by co-dependence, but one bent for potential.

This thing that I have become, it is all because of him.

Who has my heart now? I do. I have it and I feel it and I follow it and I trust it and I'm grateful for every hole poked in it, because they are the spaces he was born to fill. Who guards it and nourishes it and heals it and drives the very beating of it? This amazing, wonderful, funny, beautiful, intelligent, creative, ridiculous, driven, inspiring, loving, passionate, protective, nurturing man. This guy that makes every single thing I had to get through to get to this point in time with him worth it. This guy that brings order to my chaos and reason to my insanity. This guy that is my perfect complement, and my exact counterbalance. This guy that takes my breath away every moment he is alive, either in awe or laughter. He also has my tackle box.

This is a pretty big deal.

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*I also recently had a 22nd birthday. I have 19 years of missed birthdays to catch up on. Judge not, friends.)

**HTML is fun

Scarring Your Children - the Wax Edition

My mother is Irish and Ukrainian by decent, and has gorgeously deep olive skin, huge hazel eyes, and shockingly jet black hair that doesn't grow back after it falls out, which has most likely rendered her bald in the 21 years since I last saw her.  

My father is Scotch-Irish by decent, and has skin the color of fluorescent lighting, salt-water blue eyes, and red hair (now white with age) that covers his entire body, and I do mean entire, excepting three spots: One club-shaped spot on his lower back, one circular area in the middle of his right forearm, and the entirely of his head. Every other spot on his body is a plush matte of man-fur. I learned to french braid down my father's back, not kidding.  

Ask me how happy I am that I took after my father when it comes to my coloring and body-to-hair ratio. ASK ME.  I'm really not sure what's worse: having to tell me kids I'm going to get my beard waxed off, or having their reply be simply, "oh, okay."

My 13 year old used to be my Official Waxer because he's better at it than anyone I've ever met because (I'm guessing) I went and had that other kid and bumped him out of the baby-spot in the family and ripping hot wax and tiny hairs off my eyelids apparently gives him a nice, sanctioned opportunity to pay me back for ruining his life. 

But then I found a woman who was just as good at shaping my eyebrows but wasn't so hell-bent on making me paypaypay and I started sneaking out to her table in the middle of the afternoon when 2of3 was at a friend's house, or in school, or at his dad's for the weekend. When he found out what was going on, I watched the therapy bills piling up behind his big, doey, puppy dog eyes.

I'm not really sure what's worse: needing therapy because you used to wax your mother's jawline for her, or needing therapy because she found someone else to do it. 

Mmm Mmm Mmm, For the Smell of It

Way back in the 1900's, my family had splurged on a pizza. (This was a re-heally big deal for us.) The pizza came, a big, greasy, Philly- which- is- close- to- New- York style beast, and in the middle of it was that dollhouse table thing they started using in the 80s' (which are only 67 years away, have fun with that one tonight) that keeps the cardboard box from sinking into the middle of the pizza. This was in no way remarkable except that instead of calling it a dollhouse table thing, they called it a pietrod. 

I fell in love with that pietrod right there on the spot, partly because I am dyslexic but no one knew it and that word felt right in my head the way no other word ever had before, but mostly because it introduced me to the radical notion that the words I was so reliant on for stability and sanity were simply a bi-product of complacency, that language itself was being created as it dripped from our lips and fingertips - and that I could, if I really thought hard about everything I knew about words without breathing or blinking or anything, break almost any rule and do anything I wanted it to.

Pretty powerful stuff for a kid growing up at the bottom of a patriarchal cult. That was my Frankenstein moment, the moment we all have that pivots us and changes everything to come after it. I think it may have been a Domino's pizza.  I also think this guy totally gets what I'm talking about. 

Photo and epic level of obsession credit: http://brndnwdy.wordpress.com

Photo and epic level of obsession credit: http://brndnwdy.wordpress.com

[Domino's isn't paying me to write this, but Clorox is. Beating Jim at disclosure statements is hard, but I'm giving it my best shot. ] 

I just like to make up words, making up words is my favorite. In fact, I think my last site had a category called Is Too a Word.  However, aside from the few cute kid-words my then-babies made up, I have been hard-pressed to find new word as witty, necessary, and just plain perfect as pietrod.   

Until this.  

I know, right?  I have a few words in the Clorox Icktionary, and I was going to add some more, but really, I think it's over. Shoop just dropped the mic and gangsta-stomped offstage. Next time your kids come in from playing outside, you can do a Shoop-check. If you smell something at a restaurant, you can check the carpet around you for Shoop stains. If you go on a horrible date, you can tell them they make you wanna shoop, shoop ba-doop, shoop ba-doop, shoop ba-doop ba-doop ba-doop at the end of the date and mean it.

Shoop is the perfect word, and it gives me the same tingle in my both my Broca and Wernicke that I did when I was a kid getting my mind blown by some marketing copy taped to a cardboard box surrounding an extra-large heart attack with pepperoni.  It makes me want to play with words again, to see what I have missed because I've been too lazy to look for it.  

It also reminds me that I need to mop my floors in the worst kind of way. Bygones.

What's your favorite not-word-but-should-be? Tell me in the comments, and if it has something to do with ickiness (most of the best ones do, really) you should totally submit it to Clorox's Icktionary at www.icktionary.com

This Week in Gratitude

The first time I saw my kids' father, he was sitting in the solarium at a Bennigan's in suburban Denver, where I worked and he was about to. I will never forget that moment - the clothes he was wearing, the jewelry around his neck, the angle at which he leaned in his seat, and the way my ovaries lept out of my abdomen and tried to drag him back inside with them. It wasn't attraction, it wasn't nerves, it was my 20 year old body saying MAKE BABIES WITH THAT NOW. 

It took him a really long time to acknowelge my existence, and a longer time to tolerate my presence, but something deep inside of me, something I was wha-hay too young to understand at the time, knew from the first moment I saw him that I was going to have a lot of children with him one day.  

Seventeen years worth of moments later, he and I are teetering somewhere between not acknowleging each others' existence and barely tolerating one another's presence again, but what we have that we didn't have then is three perfectly amazing children between us, and while maybe I don't actually like him anymore, and he doesn't actually like me anymore, I really am glad that my ovaries got what they asked for, and we - he and I - made these extraordinar(il)y (ridiculous) people together.

I watch him with our children in his new-found sobriety and as much as I wish they'd had more of this, more of him, when they were younger, I am so happy they get him now. I am so glad he didn't manage to drink himself to death, I am so glad that they get to know the father I chose for them to have, the man underneath those demons he had to battle his way out from under, and maybe still is. 

I am grateful for the way he loves his children, for the silly things they share even though I am no longer a part of them. I am grateful that he is working so hard to be present for them, to be an emotional support for them, to be a healthy and productive man so that they will have a father in their lives for as long as a normal child should, until he grows to a ripe old age surrounded by grandchildren and/or grandpuppies, depending on who's future plans you're working off of. 

Almost every alanon person I've ever met had also at some point wished their qualifier dead, and I am so grateful that those late-night wishes made over my tears and his gugrling, gasping, nearly-asphyxiating body were not granted. I am so glad that that I was so very wrong about so very many things, and my children, his children, our children get to know that their father is wonderful, good, and so very madly in love with them. I am so glad that they will come to think of his stuggles with alcoholism as an inconvenient bump in the road of their lives, because they will love him, and be loved in return by him, on the other side of this journey. 

I see glimpses of him in their faces all the time - mostly when they are annoyed as all hell with me, but also when they are completely captivated by some new thing they are learning, and when they read or hear something so funny they laugh until it hurts. I hear him coming out of their mouths, in bursts of intellectual snobbery and cuttingly-sharp sarcasm. They are as smart as he is, as hilarous as he is, and at least one of them is as tall as he his, plus a hellofalot.  

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The easy thing, in the throes of this divorce stuff, is just to hate him. Mostly what I hate is what I let myself become with him, and that oh right, a lot of that was your bad pill is an awful one to swallow. I don't know that I would bother to swallow it, were it not for these kids. Hating him is easy. Remembering the shit is simple. I'm a professional people hater, born without a forgiveness gene. Our kids, however, force me to be gentle and kind when I am talking about him, and that forces me to remember the good while I tally up the bad.

I'm not saying I have this all right - I was nothing shy of a flamming bag of shit to him today when we switched kids for his visit, and I probably will be about the same to his face into the indefinite future. And in a lot of ways, it's desevered. But when I look at these three children whom I love more than any one single thing on this earth, and I see him bursting out of their hair and their eyes and their fingernails and their voices, I remember that once upon a time, I loved him that much, too. And in a lot of ways, it was desereved. I am reminded of everything lovely and captivating and and endearing about him, and I am grateful that it was him, they they are of him, and that my children get to have him as their father. 

This Week In Gratitude

Only a minute ago she was walking into her first day of first grade, and now this.

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She came home from her last day of school today and I squeeled OOOOH! A SECOND GRADER IN MY HOUSE! and she rolled her eyes at me in that way children do when they are faking annoyance at your utter uncoolness because they can't let you know how much it means to them that you're still so into them that you can't help but squee all over them.

Pro tip: I dont actually think that particular eyeroll ever goes away, so long as you keep unreasonably and insufferably loving the goddamn shit out of them.

Anyway, once she was done NOT SMILING AT YOU MOM and rolling her eyes, she came up to me, climbed in my lap, and once she was all snuggled in tight she asked, "Mom, what did you learn in 2nd grade?"

I thought. I really thought. I can still remember what that room looked like, the way the hazy east coast sunlight shone through the aluminum blinds and on to the wood grain desktops. I can still smell every smell in that room; dust, humidity, sweat, cocoa butter, rubber cement and chalk. I *cannot* remember any one thing that I learned inside of that classroom, however, save one thing: Adults can be very, very cruel to children.

It's weird that it took my grade two teacher to open my eyes to this. I lived with two of the cruelest, most sadistic adult human beings I will ever encounter in my life, but that is what is amazing about children - their infinite ability to love unconditionally and forgive repeatedly, and also to buy into your shit about "religion" and "discipline".

But my grade two teacher was not my mother. She was not anyone's mother, so far as I knew. She was the teacher-stereotype they make movies about, Ms Agatha Trunchbull in the flesh. She was a small woman, and grey all over - from her hair to her heart.

She particularly hated children in my cult sect of Judean-Christianity, as if we had some choice in the matter. I can't remember her name, and I don't remember the sound of her voice, but I remember the way her dingy blouse hung away from her flabby arms as she, every morning, would pull my friend's uncombed, unwashed red air up into tight ponytail with rubbber bands, and the way it hung stained with sweat every afternoon when she would rip those rubber bands out of her hair, not caring how much gorgeous read strands of hair she took with them.

I think that she hated poor people, that she was digusted by dirty children, that she dreamed of teaching at the school down the road from us full of middle-class white children whos parents packed them sack lunches and made sure their hair was combed and clothes were cleaned every day, not just on the first day.

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We were not middle-class white children. We were children that they all wrote off, the ones they tucked away inside a high-security Section 8 neighborhood and left to play in dumpsters or the woods or the basketball court until we all got good and hooked on our parents drugs or vodka or hopelessness and rendered ourselves obsolete.

Almost no one cared about us, but few dared to show it the way my 2nd grade teacher did. She actively despised us, even the few of us that showed the promise of some potential. We were lost children, lost causes, social waste - and she made damn sure we knew it.  

I read somewhere that a child's perception of themselves is defined by the time they reach ages seven or eight. That gives us a very narrow window of time to instill a healthy perception of self. I can't remember if grade two was the year that I learned cursive, or the year I started to multiple large numbers, but I do remember that grade two was the year I realized someone thought I was worthless.

And I'm glad for it. 

I'm glad for it because it reminds me every day to tell *my* second grader how much I value her, respect her, adore her, love her. It reminds me to be kind to every second grader, every third grader, every eighth grader I come in contact with, because maybe they just need one person to counter some really horrible message someone else is trying with all their might to instill in them.

In second grade I learned that adults can be very cruel, and I am grateful for that, and for her, because in so many ways she taught me exactly would grow up not to be.