By: Shannon Ralph
I just got out of the shower. This is not, in itself, a very blog-worthy event as I usually take a shower most days. As a matter of fact, today I took two. One before IT happened and one after IT happened.
For the third time in recent months, I accompanied my daughter to a roller skating rink. Today, it was for a friend’s birthday party. And for the third time in recent months, I put on skates and confidently rolled myself right out onto the wooden rink. Unlike the other two times, however, today I did a graceful nose-dive onto that same wooden rink.
Prior to the past few months, I had not been on roller skates since I was probably twelve years old. Back in the day, I considered myself somewhat of a roller skating phenom. I could skate fast. I could skate backwards. I could spin. I could jump. I could do the hokey pokey and turn myself around. Skating was what it was all about.
One would think that skating would be akin to riding a bike. Once you learn, you never forget how to do it. Right? One would think this, but one would be dead wrong. Believe it or not, thanks in no small part to my ginormous D cups, my center of gravity has shifted somewhat since I was a twelve year old twig who prayed nightly for God to make me gain weight so my cousin, Dennie, Jr., would stop calling me a beanpole. I had no clue what a beanpole was, but I was convinced enough that it was a “bad” thing to silently beg God for some extra poundage.
Who knew God had such a fucking wicked sense of humor?
He answered my plea for pounds with wanton abandon while simultaneously ignoring my prayers for Farrah Fawcett’s hair and Daisy Duke’s legs. Real funny, God. You are one HI-LAR-IOUS dude.
But I digress.
Skating is exercise. It certainly didn’t seem like it when I was cruising around the rink at twelve years old in between stuffing nachos in my face. But at forty? It is a freaking workout. Like doing Pilates while on a Stairmaster. Or lifting weights while on a treadmill. It’s a ridiculous workout for a forty year old body.
And it was hot at the skating rink today. Quite humid. My cute little twig of a daughter developed adorable little beads of sweat on her nose as cute little skinny kids often do when it is hot. Not me though. No, I had stinky rivers of sweat careening down my face. My hair was dripping wet. My glasses were fogged up. I looked a mess. (Hence, the second shower today.) Honestly, I am surprised paramedics didn’t come rushing in the room to try to resuscitate me.
But the way I looked was far from my biggest concern. Falling on my ass was much more humiliating.
Truth be told, I didn’t actually fall on my ass. I fell more on those lovely D cups. It all played out in slow motion, as the cringe-worthy events of my life all seem to do. One minute I was trying to catch up to my daughter—she wouldn’t skate unless I went out there with her, but then she skated so far ahead of me that there was really no point—and the next minute, I could feel my torso move considerably too far in front of my skates. I was getting way ahead of myself. My brain was twelve years old again, but my legs were forty year old Jell-O.
I tried to catch myself. I swung my arms in the air rapidly like a baboon on crack, attempting to regain my balance. My left leg went right and my right leg went left. No amount of wing flapping would save me. I was going down.
I didn’t feel the fall so much as I heard it. Slap! One thigh hit the ground, reverberating as each molecule of cellulite bounced up and down against the hardwood floor. Slap! The other hit the ground. Splat! My stomach. Ka-boom! One boob. Then the other. And finally—Smack! Both hands. I was laid out flat—little girls careening around me to avoid a pile-on.
When was the last time you fell? Maybe on ice in the winter? Maybe you twisted your ankle and went down? Maybe you tripped over your dog? All of these are unfortunate incidences, but in most cases, the fall in the most humiliating part and it is all over quickly.
When you are wearing roller skates, the fall is only half the fun. Getting up is as bad—if not worse—than the fall itself. Getting up is U-G-L-Y. See…the thing is, well…wheels roll. It’s what they’re made to do. You put a little pressure on them, and the move. At one point in the rather lengthy getting-up process, my ass was sticking straight up in the air while both hands were on the ground and only one foot was on wheels. I can only imagine the horrified little faces behind me in direct view of my granny panties.
Somehow—and I still haven’t quite figured that one out yet—I finally managed to finagle myself into an upright position again and limped off the rink in shame. Of course, it was not before the “rink monitor” executed an effortless figure 8 around me to ask if I was okay. I wanted to shout, “I am forty year old woman with wheels attached to my feet! Do you honestly THINK I am okay?” Instead, I averted my eyes and mumbled something along the line of, “Umm…yea…sure…ummm…I’m fine.”
So here I sit. Freshly showered, nursing a glass of wine, and struggling somewhat with the fact that I will never again be the skating phenom I once was. Never again will I be that agile girl with the concave chest and the mad hokey pokey skills. That torch is being passed to the next generation. My beautiful little girl will take up the mantle and hokey pokey her little ass off.
Next time, I may just cheer her on from the sidelines.
By: Shannon Ralph
I have come to the conclusion in recent weeks that my youngest son may just be gay. Or not. One or the other. The important thing, of course, is that I love him regardless. But I am beginning to wonder.
Why do I think my son might be gay?
Well, there are several reasons and every single one of them is a broad, sweeping generalization about gay men. Of course, all stereotypes have to have an infinitesimal grain of truth to them, right? Or else, how would they ever come to be broadly (and unfairly) accepted to apply to an entire group of people? So while the below list may be ripe with stereotypes, they do have me wondering about where my young son will eventually fall on the gay/straight spectrum.
1. All of his friends at school are girls. He gets along better with girls, as he seems to have little in common with rough and tumble seven-year-old boys. “Rough” and “tumble” are words that would never be used to describe Nicholas. As a matter of fact, the vision of Nicholas “tumbling” with anyone makes me smile. His twin sister could totally kick his ass.
2. He told me recently that there is a “boys” table and a “girls” table at lunchtime. He is the only boy who regularly sits at the girls table because, frankly, he says the boys’ table smells. The heady testosterone-infused aroma offends his delicate sensibilities (that is not a direct quote), so he prefers to sit with the girls.
3. He wanted, and of course received, a yoga mat for is birthday. In what was, by far, the strangest conversation I have had in a good long while, the gay boy stocking shelves in the yoga aisle at Target gave us a knowing look, a wink and a nod as he told us, “You two look like you would be the accepting parents I always wished I had should your yoga-loving (wink, wink) son one day tell you he is gay.”
4. He effusively tells his sister how beautiful she is. Often. As a matter of fact, I have a picture of Sophie as the wallpaper on my phone, and just yesterday Nicholas was waving the phone around to anyone and everyone who would look saying, “Now this is what true beauty looks like!”
5. He is overly effusive about everything. Seriously. Everything. Every tree is the most beautiful tree he has ever seen in his life. His blanket is the warmest blanket he has ever felt in his life. Every grilled cheese sandwich I make his is the best grilled cheese he has ever eaten in his life. Every puppy is the cutest puppy he has ever seen in his life. I want to say, “Dude. Everything can’t be THE BEST.”
6. He is incredibly orderly. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. Though his bedside nightstand may look like something from a particularly horrifying episode of “Hoarders,” he knows every single thing that is stored there. God help the poor soul who makes the egregious mistake of thinking his Dum-Dum wrapper collection is trash!
7. He is particular about his clothes. Whereas I believe his older brother, Lucas, doesn’t even see the clothes we hand him to put on each morning, Nicholas is quite selective about his clothing. And he has a style that only be described as Nouveau Nicholas. Though it has been known to occasionally involve tube socks and crocs, I see a possible designing career in his future.
8. He helps his sister pick out her clothes. And of course, everything she puts on is “fabulous.”
9. He is the biggest cuddler we have and constantly tells us how much he loves us.
10. I come from Kentucky where every young boy gets sheered like a sheep come summertime. My hometown is rampant with skinny little knobby-kneed boys running around with buzz cuts this time of the year. Nicholas, however, is quite fond of his hair. Whereas his older brother cares not at all about the shape of the hair on his head, Nicholas likes his long. He likes to be able to brush his bangs from his eyes with a mere whip of his head. He likes it hanging over his ears. He does NOT, however, appreciate being called a hippie—a fact I earned the hard way.
11. He gets his feelings hurt easily. Every perceived wrong is met, not with loud arguments, but with quiet tears that he tries his best to blink away before they are noticed. But I notice them. His other mom notices them. And they worry us.
How will our sweet, gentle, effusive, beauty-loving, oddly particular, someone rigid little style maven be accepted by the world? Will he be considered “weird?” The world is changing, but Nicholas is growing older every day. Is it changing fast enough for him? Wherever he ends up falling on the sexual identity spectrum, I will always and forever adore him. And like every mom who ever wondered “maybe…?” I will pray every night for a more accepting, tolerant world.
By: Shannon Ralph
So, I’ve been
obsessing thinking a lot lately about my eldest son’s all-too-near-future foray into middle school. I’m worried about him. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Lucas, let me take a moment to describe my dear son.
Lucas is, well…he’s very much a product of his environment. Take one high-strung, work-her-ass-off, the-sky-is-always-falling lesbian, add a terminally laid-back, slacker, isn’t-that-falling-sky-a-gorgeous-shade-of-blue lesbian, throw in a couple of dysfunctional extended family members with addictive personalities, add a chubby blonde baby to the mix, and you get…Lucas!
Lucas is awesome. Really, he is an amazing kid and I adore him. But he is an enigma, of sorts. He is a math whiz, but struggles with reading and writing. He can remember the (every language BUT English) words to his entire choir repertoire, but can’t seem to remember to flush the toilet. Or change his underwear. Or bring home his homework. He gets nervous. Often. But not over the things you and I might get nervous about.
He is a sociable kid. He can stand up in front of a crowd of hundreds and sing beautifully without so much as hint of nervousness. But he freaks out if the bathroom sink drips. He struggles with anxiety. He doesn’t handle the unknown very well. He has to know what he should be doing at all times. He has to know how things will turn out. He has to know how every story ends. He has attention issues at times. He’s never been diagnosed with attention problems, but he tends to escape to his own thoughts a lot. He’s a thinker. He’s what used to be called a daydreamer. He’s not worldly like other boys his age. He’s a true innocent. Obnoxious, but innocent.
Come September, he will be thrown into a completely different world and I am worried. He has a good group of friends, so I am not so much worried about him being lonely. Or bullied. Or called names. That may happen, of course, but he has a core group of four good boys that he hangs out with. He’s not a loner.
No, I don’t harbor the “normal” parent middle school worries. My worries are irrational. Ridiculous, even.
• I worry that he will be unable to remember his locker combination and will start crying in the hallway—a turn of events that would mortify him.
• I worry that he won’t remember how to get from one classroom to the next without a kindergarten-style walk-with-your-finger-on-the-wall line of classmates.
• I am afraid that the clothes I pick out for him (because he does not care in the least about clothes and will put on whatever I hand him) will be a little too lesbian chic for 5th grade.
• I am afraid he will start speaking in lingo I don’t know and that I won’t be able to find an appropriate translator.
• I am afraid he will begin cursing and, being a less than stellar parent, I will laugh rather than react appropriately, thereby reinforcing a sailor’s mouth in my innocent little boy. And we all know that “shit” and “damn” are gateway words. Before long, my baby boy will be casually spouting the BIG ONES, and it’ll all be my fault because I reacted poorly in middle school.
• I am afraid he will not fit into any of the typical middle school cliques. He’s not truly a “geek/nerd” because he is a pretty dang social kid. He’s not really a “brainiac” because, while he is amazing at math, he can’t write a coherent sentence to save his life. He is in no way whatsoever a “jock.” He has neither the interest nor the ability to be athletic. He’s not really “preppy,” as he does not own a single piece of clothing manufactured by Hollister or Abercrombie (we are Target and Old Navy people up in here). He’s never been your typical rough-and-tumble boy. He’s just a regular kid. A good kid. I am hoping there is a group for that.
• His friends will find out that 1.) He cannot tie his shoes (seriously…he wears slip-on shoes all the time and has refused to learn to tie his shoes—though his six-year-old sister can tie hers), 2.) He still cannot ride a bike (and has no desire to learn, in part due to his anxiety), and 3.) He still sleeps with the stuffed “doggie” he’s had since birth.
• I worry that his homework is going to be beyond me. Fourth grade math is already pretty damn advanced for my tastes.
• I worry that he will stop climbing in bed with his mommas on the weekends. I love that time with him.
• I worry that girls will like him. He’s a handsome boy with gorgeous blue eyes and big dimples. He’s smart. Sociable. Kind. Gentle. He’s everything an eleven-year-old girl wants in a steady “boyfriend,” right? I am SO not ready for unworthy little hair-flipping, giggling, make-up-wearing wenches hanging on my son. See…there you go. I am not going to be good at this.
• I’m afraid he’ll get lost in the shuffle. An average kid amongst average kids. How will anyone know what an extraordinary child he is?
In the end, isn’t that what we all worry about as parents? Will the world be able to recognize the amazing potential that exists behind those radiant blue eyes? Will the world understand what a beautifully crafted, brilliantly original child we created? Will the world treat him as such?
I hope and pray.
Yesterday, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved gay marriage in the State of Minnesota. It’s not officially legal yet, as the Senate still has to vote on the measure on Monday. However, the Senate is considered a slam dunk. The House was the real obstacle. So…as of August 1st, Ruanita and I are able to get married.
It all happened rather quickly and quite unexpectedly. I supposed when a wall crumbles, it does so in one fell swoop and not one brick at a time. So right now, in this moment, we are seeing history unfolding. And what is a woman to do in the face of unyielding historical freedoms?
Well, plan a wedding, of course!
At least, that’s my thought on the matter. I immediately began trolling Pinterest for wedding ideas. I immediately began googling venues in Minneapolis. I immediately envisioned my two young sons in suspenders and coral bowties. I immediately planned a shopping trip with my daughter to pick out her “fancy” Disney-worthy flower girl dress. I wanted to cheer. And cry. And shout.
Ruanita, however, had a different response to the vote to legalize gay marriage. It went a little something like this:
“Oh, that’s nice.”
Seriously. That’s nice?
Within an hour of gaining (not technically until Monday, but pretty much decided yesterday) the right to marry the woman I love, I found myself incredibly pissed off at her. Like grit my teeth, mumble under my breath, give her the cold shoulder, totally passive aggressive, leave-her-sitting-alone-in-the-living-room-while-I-went-up-to-bed PISSED!
I was irrational. Borderline full-blown bitchy. In other words, I was a Bridezilla in the making.
The truth is that Ruanita’s reaction to the vote is just as valid as mine. We’ve been together for 15 1/2 years. In all that time, we’ve considered ourselves married in every sense of the word. We have a mortgage, two cars, three children, and a dog. We had a small, low-key commitment ceremony fifteen years ago. As far as we’ve been concerned—primarily, I think, because we didn’t see another option anytime in the near future—that was our wedding and we are a married couple. An old married couple with fifteen years of wrenching marital experience under our belts. We are far from blushing brides.
It’s a totally valid and reasonable way to look at this historic vote. We will no doubt get married, but Ruanita doesn’t see a reason to make a big deal out of it. I mean, we just bought a new car. Why put money into a wedding that will change absolutely nothing? Ruanita would be thrilled to get married in our back yard with only our three children and our dog in attendance. And we would be legally married. That’s the ultimate goal, right? Who needs all the hype and hoopla?
But the thing is—and I am a little embarrassed to admit this—I kind of need it. At least, I kind of want it. I come from a large family, as many of you know. I have 11 aunts and uncles and 25 first cousins on my mom’s side. I was also in a sorority in college, so I have more “sisters” than I can count on all of the fingers and toes in my family. I have sat through wedding after wedding after wedding. I have bought gifts galore. I have thrown rice and danced the funky chicken and drank more champagne than I care to admit toasting happy couples. And all the while, I wondered, Why not me? When will it be my turn? When will everyone toast to my happiness?
That day has come. Or at least it seemed so yesterday when the vote was announced. I know that I may have gone overboard pushing my sudden “wedding agenda” on Ruanita. I am sure it seemed come completely out of left field. And really, who can afford a wedding? Certainly not us. And certainly not when the argument could be made that we had our day in the sun fifteen years ago.
But legal matters. As much as we’ve said for fifteen years that it doesn’t matter and that we are just as married as everyone else, we’re not. Not a single one of my twenty-five cousins danced at my wedding. One aunt and two uncles were there, and that was it. I am not faulting them. I am just saying that fifteen years ago, a commitment ceremony was mostly unheard of. No one knew what it meant. No one understood what it was.
But a marriage? A wedding? We all know what those words mean. We all know what it means to be a wife. To be a married couple. I want to celebrate with my family and friends.
I want to be Ruanita’s wife.
So I guess we have some negotiating to do. I have no idea what our eventual wedding will look like. Perhaps it will be a Justice of the Peace in our back yard. I don’t know. I just know that I want what all the rest of you take for granted. I want to marry the woman I love.
And I want to dance at my wedding.
By: Shannon Ralph
Shannon climbed under the covers next to her eldest son and smiled at him. “I think we need to talk.”
Lucas was ten years old and had long ago adopted the habit of slipping upstairs with his mama after his younger siblings were sound asleep in their own beds.
It was their time. It was time Shannon looked forward to every night. Often, Lucas did nothing more than lie on her shoulder and watch her play Sudoku on the iPad, occasionally offering advice on where she could place her next 4. Other times, they snuggled and talked about their day.
Lucas’ other mom, Ruanita, worked evenings. She got the kids when they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. Shannon got them after a long day of school and work when all four of them—mama included—were exhausted and crabby and whiny and hungry. She got her three children when homework needed to be completed and bodies needed to scrubbed of the day’s dust and muck and arguments over “gross” dinners needed to play out in their entireties. Bedtime stories had to be read. Goodnight kisses had be doled out. And then given again. And one more time, just for good measure.
When all the work of the day was complete and Shannon finally dragged herself upstairs to climb into the memory-foam-covered bed she so adored, her quiet time with her oldest child was a welcome respite. A bright point of calm in an otherwise harried day.
On this particular evening, Shannon decided the time had come to have the talk she had been putting off for weeks. The talk. Tonight would be the night.
Everyone had been telling her for months she needed to have the talk with Lucas. “He’s ten years old. He’s talking about these things.” “Do you want him to get his information about sex from his buddies?” “You need to talk about sex before he’s having sex.”
Shannon could not even fathom her ten-year-old child thinking about—must less having—sex. He still slept with a stuffed “doggie” every night, for God’s sake!
Shannon and her partner, Ruanita, had decided some time ago that Shannon was better equipped to have the talk with their children. Ruanita was a mental health therapist. A professional psychoanalyst—a vocation that came in handy as she navigated the day-to-day trials and tribulations of marriage and parenthood. Though she had the very best of intentions, however, conversations of the kind that was about to unfold were not exactly her forte. She examined things in minute detail. She tended to lecture rather than discuss. And she talked a lot. Much more than was necessary. Much more than a ten-year-old could comprehend. After sitting through some lengthy and rather uncomfortable conversations in the past, Shannon and Ruanita came to the mutually agreed upon decision that Shannon alone would handle the talk.
“Well, um,” Shannon began. “I want to talk to you about something. Something you are old enough to learn about.”
Lucas’ face lit up with a dimpled smile. He liked being told he was old enough for anything and everything. “What?” he asked.
“Well, um, let me ask you a question first.”
“Well, um, have you ever heard of the word sperm donor before?”
Lucas fiddled with the blanket lying on his chest. “Umm…not really.”
“Well, um.” Jesus Christ, do I have to start every sentence with ‘well, um’? “Let’s back up. Have you ever had anyone tell you that you can’t have two moms? That it doesn’t work that way?”
He shook his head. Shannon saw a flash of fear in his brilliant blue eyes as he appeared to comprehend the direction their discussion was headed.
“Well, um.” Shit, there I go again. “You know that it takes a man and a woman to have a baby, right?”
Lucas nodded mutely, his mouth hanging open in thinly-veiled terror.
“So maybe you’ve wondered how it is that your mom and I were able to have you and your brother and sister?”
Lucas shook his dishwater-blonde head. “Not really.”
“Well, it takes a male part—the sperm—and a female part—the egg—to have a baby. When those two come together, they make a baby. Well, um… (I’m a writer, for God’s sake! When did I become so freaking illiterate?) When your mom and I decided we wanted to have you, we didn’t have any sperm, obviously, so we went to something called a sperm bank. Have you ever heard of that?”
“Umm…no.” Lucas smiled. He always smiled when he was nervous. “Do we have to talk about this?”
“I just think you’re old enough to know some things. Do your friends ever talk about where babies come from?”
Shannon envisioned Lucas’ bespectacled group of 4th grade cronies. Geeks. Nerds. Whatever noun you chose, they were your typical science-loving, Star Wars-quoting, video-game-adoring, fart-joke-rendering, girl-repelling, lactose-intolerant, asthmatic group of highly intellectual, socially inadequate boys. Three of the four, Lucas included, sang in the Metropolitan Boys Choir. Four of the four were competing in their school’s completely optional, non-obligatory, doesn’t-affect-your-grade Science Fair.
“Do your friends ever talk about…well, you know….sex?”
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“I think we should.”
“No, mom, we don’t talk about sex or babies.”
Shannon believed him. This was the child who, just the day before, had said to her, “Hey mom, Sully and I have a theory about how water molecules are held together…” These were the things he and his buddies discussed on the playground at recess.
“Okay. Well, when two women want to have a baby, they go to a sperm bank and borrow sperm from a man who donated it. That man is a donor. You have a donor out there and your brother and sister both have donors. It’s all anonymous, so we know very little about your donor aside from medical history and some basic description.”
“Okay,” Lucas responded anxiously. “Are we done?”
“Do you want to be done?”
“Okay, we don’t have to talk about this now.” Perhaps having your first conversation about sex while lying in bed with your mother is not ideal. Perhaps, just maybe, Shannon was scarring him for life; essentially dooming all his future sexual encounters to miserable, soul-crushing failure. As she considered the bill for her son’s lengthy and expensive future psychoanalysis—she wondered briefly if Ruanita’s connections in the mental health field could secure them a good deal—Shannon said, “I just want to say one more thing and then we can be done.”
Lucas groaned. He rolled over on his side and pulled the cover up to his chin, bracing himself for whatever verbal vomitus his mother intended to inflict on him this time. “Okay,” he muttered. “What?”
“I just want you to know that you can always come to your mom and me with questions.”
He nodded vigorously, obviously hoping that the harder he nodded, the quicker the conversation would come to an end.
“If you ever have questions about sex or babies or donors or…anything…I want you to come to us. You know you can talk to us, right?”
Lucas nodded again, much more earnestly than before. Shannon was concerned he would dislocate something that would prove vital to his future as a Pulitzer prize-winning physicist living in his parents’ basement, so she decided to put him out of his misery and end the conversation there.
She grabbed the iPad from her nightstand and turned it on. “So,” she said. “Should I play sudoku or mahjong tonight?”
“Sudoku.” Lucas smiled, relief evident in his blue eyes. “Definitely Sudoku.” He laid his head on Shannon’s shoulder. “Mom, can we never talk about that again?”
Shannon breathed a sigh of relief. She had done it. She had broached the topic with her eldest son; had introduced the word “sperm donor” despite his mortification. It was not done perfectly–or perhaps even remotely adequately–but she had done it. Shannon had done the bare minimum required of any responsible parent. And she found herself oddly content with the bare minimum. Like parents the world over, it was now time to sit back and observe the fall-out from her less than stellar parenting.
“Sure, honey,” she relied. “We’re done.”
By: Shannon Ralph
Was that a siren?
I’m hiding from the police. I expect them to knock on my door any minute now. See, I kind of did something bad this morning. I am not entirely sure it was illegal, but it was at least immoral and likely illegal. It could probably have been considered terroristic threatening without much stretching of the imagination. And that’s illegal, right?
Hence, my fear of sirens.
I threatened my son this morning. I did not threaten him with a loss of privileges like most parents do. I did not threaten to tell his other mom on him like many parents do. I did not threaten to send him to bed without dinner like some parents do. I think my exact words were…
Don’t make me throw you down these stairs, Nicholas.
Yes, I threatened to fling my youngest son down a flight of stairs this morning. Would I have actually done it? Unlikely. But did I seriously consider it in the heat of the moment? Absolutely.
Allow me to explain.
Nicholas slept upstairs in my bedroom last night, as usual. When the alarm went off this morning, I got up. Ruanita got up. Sophie and Lucas reluctantly got up. And Nicholas refused.
We went downstairs. The kids ate breakfast. I washed my hair. Ruanita fed the dog. Nicholas remained asleep upstairs.
I stood at the foot of the stairs yelling for him to come down, to no avail. Ruanita stood at the foot of stairs yelling louder than I did for him to come down, and he still did not come down.
I had taken the day off work to go car shopping with Ruanita. I was practically dragging her there kicking and screaming. It had taken every coercive drop of energy I could muster to convince her to go get a new car today. The kids had to go school. Today was my only shot at a new car. (And if the lousy $400 we got for our barely limping minivan on trade-in was any indication, we desperately needed a new car.) Unless he was missing a limb or there was blood seeping from a life-threatening head or trunk injury (extremity wounds would not have been serious enough), Nicholas had to go to school. It was not a day for pussy-footing around.
So I trudged upstairs with dripping hair to rouse my youngest son. I found him lying in the oversized chair in my bedroom, hiding under the covers. I pulled the covers off and asked him to kindly remove himself from the chair. He refused to open his eyes and did not budge.
I lifted him from the chair and stood him on the floor. His body went completely limp. When I tried to stand him again, he wiggled out of my grip and climbed back into the chair. We repeated this process three times until I finally realized (she can be taught!) that is was an exercise in futility.
Grumbling under my breath, I lifted Nicholas from the chair again, and this time carried him to the landing at the top of the stairs. Again, he went limp. Yet again he nimbly scrambled back to the chair.
Now, had I been a stronger person, I would have simply carried him down the stairs. I could not, however, because 1.) I have an extremely irrational but irrefutable fear of stairs, because 2.) I have bad knees and have convinced myself that they will certainly give out on me one day while walking down a giant flight of stairs and I will plummet to an untimely and ungraceful death. So carrying Nicholas down the stairs was out of the question.
I, however, like to consider myself smarter than the average first grader, so I once again carried him to the landing at the top of the steps. This time, however, I spread my arms and legs wide, blocking the doorway to the bedroom so Nicholas could not flee to the chair.
Realizing that he had been outsmarted by a greater intellect than his own, Nicholas wrapped his skinny arms around the stairway handrail and began to cry. Strangely, there were no actual tears involved in his cry. It merely included a rather odd-looking facial contortion and an ear-splitting wail.
It was at that moment—spread eagle in the doorway to my bedroom facing imminent defeat—that I made the barely conscious decision to resort to terroristic threatening.
Don’t make me throw you down these stairs, Nicholas.
Am I proud? No. Was it one of my finest mommy moments? No. Am I the owner of a shiny new Honda Pilot? Yes.
Was that a siren?
Today was going to be the day. After a dry spell lasting longer than she cared to think about, Shannon was finally going to get her some. It had been so long since she had seen the shape of her partner’s figure—unless one counted the body-hugging long underwear Ruanita often slept in on cold winter nights—that she could only vaguely recall the placement of all of the organs necessary for their morning plans. She would muddle through though.
Their love life had taken a turn for the worse in recent years as Shannon’s and Ruanita’s three children became fonder and fonder of sleeping in their moms’ bedroom. The well-meaning moms kicked the children out of their bed a year prior and forced them into sleeping bags on the bedroom floor. Try as they might, however, they could not get the children to vacate the room completely. Lovemaking in between the kids’ deviously spaced nighttime arrival in their bedroom was too stressful to be enjoyable. They stopped trying altogether.
Shannon and Ruanita worked somewhat opposite schedules. Shannon worked a normal Monday through Friday daytime schedule. Ruanita worked ten hours a day on Saturday, Sunday, Monday evening, and Tuesday evening. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Shannon was snoring soundly by the time Ruanita snuck into bed after midnight.
The previous Monday, Shannon and Ruanita had made optimistic plans to meet upstairs after Ruanita dropped the kids off as school. However, as is their usual luck, their daughter started throwing up Sunday evening and couldn’t go to school on Monday. Their efforts at intimacy were always being thwarted by some communicable disease or another.
Today, however, was going to be the day. THE day. Shannon was sure of it. No one was puking. No one was snotting or sneezing. No one was running a temperature above 100 degrees. All was well in the world and Shannon and Ruanita were finally going to get some alone time.
While Ruanita took the kids to school, Shannon showered. While Ruanita volunteered in their daughter’s 1st grade classroom as she did every Thursday morning, Shannon shaved the Yeti-like pelt that had grown on her legs during the long, cold Minnesota winter. As Ruanita stopped at Bruegger’s on the way home to pick up bagels—sustenance was of vital import in the long-awaited lovemaking session they had planned—Shannon spread copious amounts of lotion on her flaky elbows and crusty heels. Dry skin was yet another unwanted byproduct of turning 40.
As Shannon contemplated the other unfortunate changes turning 40 had brought about, there was a knock at the door.
Don’t open it, Shannon thought. Don’t do it. Ignore it. Whoever it is, they can come another day.
Shannon contemplated crawling behind the sofa to hide from the world until Ruanita got home, but her dog, Stella, had other plans. Stella was simply incapable of ignoring the knock at the door. She barked. She yelped. She growled. She jumped up on the blinds hanging from the widow beside the door. Shannon was certain Stella would pull them down.
I’ll just take a little peek, Shannon thought as she straightened the disorderly blinds. It’s probably just a solicitor looking for a donation for some noble cause or another. People were always knocking on Shannon’s door asking for donations.
Her elderly neighbor, Betty, stood on her front porch.
Betty was bent over in an osteoporotic slump on the front porch. It was cold outside. The porch was icy. Betty wrapped her coat around herself and knocked again, her purse dangling from her wool-clad elbow.
Against her will, Shannon opened the door. She had a thing about leaving poor old women out in the cold, unfortunate as it would prove to be.
“Hello, Betty,” she said.
“Oh. Hi, Shannon. I thought maybe you weren’t home.”
“No, I am here. What can I do for you?”
“I have a huge favor to ask you.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“My car won’t start and I have a doctor appointment in twenty minutes in Richfield. My son’s out on the road and can’t take me. Is there any chance you can drive me?”
Damn. Damn. Dammit.
“It shouldn’t take long.” Betty flashed her most saccharine old-lady grin. “The doctor just needs to re-check a mole.”
Damn old lady moles. Damn.
“Umm…well, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“Is there any chance you can do what you are doing this afternoon instead?”
“Well, I don’t know. I suppose I could…”
“Oh, that’s good. So you can take me then?”
“Okay, sure. Let me run upstairs and get dressed.” Shannon gestured for Betty to sit on the couch and handed her the television remote. “Here, you can watch the Today show while I throw on some jeans.”
Shannon walked upstairs, closely followed by the dog. “This is all your fault.” She pointed at Stella, who wagged her tail in typically bewildered canine fashion.
As Shannon buttoned her blue jeans, she heard voices coming from downstairs. She walked out of the bedroom to find Ruanita standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“I can take her,” Ruanita said.
“Okay. I wasn’t sure when you were going to be home.”
“Not a problem. I’ll run her over there.” Ruanita smiled knowingly at Shannon. “I’ll be right back.”
Shannon watched as Ruanita helped Betty down the icy front steps. Certain Betty was going to fall and break a hip and, therefore, further thwart her efforts to get a little love in, Shannon reached out to help steady her neighbor on the steps. As she did so, Stella darted out the front door.
Ruanita looked up in confused agitation as a flash of brown fur ran past her and down the sidewalk. Shannon quickly slipped on a pair a boots and followed her outside—
—only to fall with a painful thud on her ass. The steps she had just warned Betty were too icy to navigate proved…well, too icy to navigate.
Ruanita was too busy chasing Stella down the street to notice Shannon’s fall. Shannon regained her composure and followed after Ruanita as Betty stood clutching her purse as if an escapee boxer was going to wrestle it from her wrinkled hands.
“Stella! Come back!” Stella was at the corner of the street when she turned and started racing toward Shannon at full speed.
“Grab her!” Ruanita yelled.
Stella ran toward Shannon, past Shannon, and across the street into Betty’s yard. That dog was stealthy.
As Ruanita helped Betty into her awaiting mini van—Betty was going to be late for her appointment, after all—Shannon chased the dog through Betty’s back yard, onto her ice-covered deck, off of her ice-covered deck, and into the alley behind the house. Her ass throbbed all the while from her fall on the steps. She saw a flash of brown scamper into the yard of the house behind Betty’s. Park Avenue sat beyond that, a busy street on a Thursday morning.
There was no use chasing a suddenly footloose and fancy free boxer on foot. Shannon wasn’t likely to outrun her geriatric neighbor, much less a happily scampering dog. She went home, waved goodbye to Ruanita and Betty, grabbed her car keys and set out in search of her dog.
How in the hell will I explain to the kids that Stella is gone? Shannon’s head was full of worries as she drove up and down the snowy streets of her neighborhood. What if I find she’s been hit by a car? What if I never get to snuggle her bristly fur or kiss her wrinkly little face again?
Shannon was almost in tears as she drove around for half an hour without so much as a glimpse of her dog. Finally, she gave up. Maybe some kind stranger would find Stella and call. Shannon’s phone number was on her collar, after all. And she was micro-chipped. Short of being struck by a car, she would find her way home. Wouldn’t she? Shannon wasn’t so sure.
All thoughts of the sexy morning she had planned dissipated. Instead, Shannon’s brain teemed with visions of a sad, dogless future.
As Shannon’s Toyota turned the corner onto the street she had lived on for seven relatively sexless years, she immediately saw a brown blur standing on the icy front steps of her house. As she approached the house, the blur bounded toward the car, bouncing happily. When she opened the car door, Stella jumped in her lap. The stupidest doggie grin Shannon had ever seen was plastered on her face. She cocked her furry head to the side and looked at Shannon as if to say, “Where in the hell have you been? It’s cold. Let’s go inside.”
Shannon went inside, put her exceedingly unattractive sweat pants back on over her freshly shaved legs and commenced to eat a bagel. Then another. She might as well drown her sorrows in asiago parmesan-crusted goodness, after all.
Betty’s “short” mole check ended up taking most of the morning. The compact window of opportunity had passed by the time Ruanita arrived home again. Shannon was on conference call, so Ruanita ate bagels and watched trash television until time to pick the kids up from school.
The second opportunity of the week came and went in mundane glory.
Like married couples the world over, Shannon and Ruanita were destined to live a sexless life–invariably thwarted by the very young, the very old, and the very hairy.
Moral of the story: Never, EVER, open the door.
By Shannon Ralph
I am a nag. I don’t want to be a nag, but I can’t seem to help myself. When Lucas was younger, I thought he could do no wrong. Of course, he had his naughty moments like all children. But for the most part, I thought everything he did and said was perfection incarnate right here on Earth. Right here in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
But now he is a tween. I mean, I didn’t google it or anything but I think four weeks shy of ten years old qualifies as a tween. And I find myself nagging him. Constantly. I ride him like a mechanical bull. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be one of those moms. I really don’t like it when I nag him. I don’t like the message it sends him. But…Jesus freaking Christ, son. How do you manage to function in this world? How do you breathe and walk at the same time?
Case in point:
Recently, Lucas had a busy day. He performed a Christmas show at the Mall of America with the Metropolitan Boys Choir, followed by a second performance the same day at the Holidazzle Parade downtown. He was with the choir for eight hours straight. So it was certainly a busy day.
I dropped him off at 12:30. He had lost the buttons to his tuxedo jacket, so rather than just dropping him off, I went in with him so I could try to locate some buttons I could quickly sew on for him. The harried choir director waived me toward the wardrobe closet and said, “Just try to find him another jacket in the same size.” The tuxedo jackets did not appear to have sizes on them, so I shuffled through a sea of red jackets until I found one that looked relatively close in size to the jacket with the missing buttons. The other boys were dressing, so I asked Lucas to put on his tuxedo shirt so we could try on the jacket. I walked away for a moment to fill out Lucas’s wardrobe card showing that we had exchanged jackets.
When I turned back toward Lucas, I saw him struggling to get his tuxedo shirt on. He was trying to insert his enormous noggin into the neck of the tuxedo shirt while it remained fully buttoned. Fully. Buttoned. And he was still wearing the sweatshirt he walked in wearing. Not to mention a t-shirt underneath the sweatshirt (he had dressed in layers for the cold parade later that evening). I stood for a moment just watching him struggle. Studying him. Like one would study an endangered species in the wild. How could he possibly have thought that was going to work? Eventually I said, “Lucas…what in the world are you doing??” He responded with a confused, “Huh?”
That pretty much sums up Lucas these days.
Today, he came home from school and announced that his teacher said he has to bring his tennis shoes to school tomorrow. (For those of you from climates somewhat milder than the frozen tundra I live in, kids wear snow boots to school and change into their tennis shoes when they arrive. Every hallway in the school is lined with snow boots from November through April most years.) “Lucas,” I responded. “Your tennis shoes were in your backpack the entire day. You watched Mom put them in there this morning.”
And by the way, who in their right mind puts an opened and mostly full pudding cup back into their lunch box?? Every square inch of the inside of his lunch box was coated with vanilla pudding this evening. Seriously, Lucas?
He puts on clean underwear on top of his dirty underwear because he forgets to take them off. He puts school clothes on over his pajamas if we are not watching him. He throws our silverware in the garbage can when he cleans his plate. We own a whopping three butter knives now. He brings his homework home a crumpled mess shoved into the bottom of his backpack. That is, when he remembers to bring his homework home. His snow boots are never laced up. When he eats, he leaves a circle of crumbs on the floor. Everything I ask him to do must be repeated multiple times. And then again.
Maybe it’s just a tween thing. Maybe his little body is changing so rapidly that his intellect cannot keep up. His mind cannot focus. It brings me a tiny bit of comfort to tell myself that it is a phase and my son is not doomed to idiocy.
And I try not to nag him. I really do. I try to pick my battles. I try to let things slide. I swallow my sarcasm when I see him wandering around in a fog of confusion when he is supposed to be brushing his teeth. I literally bite my tongue when I see his crumpled school work. Ever fiber of my being wants to scream, “Do you have no pride in your work?!” I have made a conscious effort to stop counting how many times in a single day the monosyllabic “Huh?” comes out of his mouth.
I am really trying not to be a nagging mother. Honestly. I am trying hard.
But come on…the boy is killing me here.
By Shannon Ralph
Kids listen. Even when you don’t think they listen. Even when you are discussing things you’d rather them not hear. They appear to be focused on their video game. Or up to their elbows in Crayola crafts. Or books. Or toys. But they hear you.
All three of my kids were crammed into the back seat of our Toyota Camry. The Christmas carols were blaring on the radio. Sophie was singing along. Lucas and Nicholas were fully invested in a game of “I punch you. You punch me.” All was well in the world.
Then Lucas asked me a question.
Out of the blue, Lucas asked, “Mom, I’ve heard you talking about someone losing their mom. What is that about?”
I turned the radio down. I had just told Ruanita the evening before that we would have to tell the kids what was going on. As usual, they caught on. And in their typical modus operandi, they asked about it when Ruanita was nowhere in sight.
I paused for a moment to choose my words carefully.
“You know your friends Rex and Rory?” I asked.
“Yes,” all three kids replied in unison.
“Well, you know their mom, Lisa, too. You know she is sick, right?”
“Yea,” Lucas replied. “She has cancer.”
“That’s why she doesn’t have any hair,” Sophie chimed in.
“Right, she has cancer.” I went on to explain, “She’s really sick and her cancer has spread. She’s in the hospital right now.”
“The doctors have done everything they can to help her, but there is nothing else they can do. Her doctors say that she is going to die.”
“When?” Nicholas asked.
“Well,” I responded. “No one knows for sure, but the doctors think she only has one or two more days.”
“Before Christmas?” Lucas asked.
“Yea, honey. Before Christmas. Probably very soon.”
Ever the first-born, Lucas immediately began trying to figure out how the situation could be “fixed.” He launched into a diatribe about how cancer could be eliminated if scientists would simply employ the use of nanobots to attack the cancer cells. Yea…nanobots. He’s nine years old. He thinks science can fix everything.
Sophie was quiet for a moment. Then—in the tiniest voice I have ever heard come from her sassy little mouth—she said, “So Rex and Rory are losing their momma?” I assured her that she had nothing to worry about. I explained that neither of her mommies is sick. We are both healthy and plan on being here with her for many, many years to come. That seemed to appease her a bit, but I could see her little brain working. I could tell she was processing the fact that little kids can actually lose their mommies, a thought I am sure had not entered her mind until that day.
Nicholas said nothing. He was completely silent. Being the baby of the family—both in actual age and assigned family position—I don’t know if it was more than he could understand. Or that he didn’t know how to respond. Or perhaps, he was was just deferring to Sophie and Lucas, as is his usual custom. He’s only six years old. A friend losing his mommy is a pretty large concept for such a little boy.
My kids have known Rex and Rory for what seems like years and years. We’ve been to their birthday parties. They come to my kids’ parties. My sister, Jennifer, nannies for the boys. Their mom is one of her best friends.
And Lisa is dying. Right now. As I write this. The breast cancer she thought she had beaten came back with a vengeance and spread throughout her body.
We saw Lisa just a couple weeks ago at my nephew’s birthday party. She looked sick. She was hurting. Sophie stared at her bald head. She had probably become accustomed to the stares of little kids.
But she was still the same sassy Lisa. A smartass. With a wicked sense of humor. She curses like a sailor. The queen of the F-bomb. Even at a 10-year-old’s birthday party. And had she not been undergoing chemo, I have no doubt she would have had a cocktail in her hand. Lisa says what she thinks and is unapologetic about it. In my mind, she is the epitome of the badass momma. And I adore her.
Rex is eight years old. Rory is five. And they are losing their mom. The world is losing a phenomenal woman. Probably this week. Right before Christmas.
I am not sure I explained everything to my kids in the best possible way. The words just escaped me. I don’t want them to be scared. I don’t want them to be sad. But I am scared. And I am sad. And all I want in the world is to hold on to my babies and never let go.
I don’t have to leave my babies. At least not today. Or tomorrow.
Not all mommies are so lucky.
By Shannon Ralph
Yesterday, I experienced a great parenting “epic fail” moment. You know what I am talking about. You think you’re doing a good job. You think you are being a stellar parent. Your children are doing well in school. They are well-spoken. They are well-behaved (at least in public). They are well-educated on the ways of the world. All is well. Or so it seems. Then one of your darling children says something or does something that brings the entire house of “wellness” down on your head. Yesterday, the culprit was Lucas, my soon-to-be ten-year-old son.
We do not take our children to church. Part of it is that I was raised Catholic and Ruanita was raised Southern Baptist (more or less). As a same-sex couple with children, we’re not exactly thrilled by the stance of either of these churches on gay people and, more importantly, gay people raising children. So we made a decision long ago that our children would not be raised Catholic or Baptist. That leaves us numerous other choices, of course, but we’ve had difficulty finding a church with which we really “click.” I like the pageantry and ritual of the Catholic Church. It’s hard to find that same sense of tradition in the Protestant world. We have tried a couple of churches, but they didn’t have enough ritual for me and they weren’t Jesus-y enough to satisfy Ruanita’s Baptist leanings. So we do not currently take our kids to church.
That is not to say that we do not talk about God and Jesus. We try. We talk about how God made the entire world and how Jesus is his son. And that both love us and take care of us. We may not be religious, but we try to be spiritual. And we try to instill in our kids a strong sense of morality and compassion and respect for others.
Lucas has always been a science freak. He has loved science pretty much since birth. He has watched hundreds upon hundreds of hours of science documentaries in his short life. He checks out science-related books from the library. He gets science-y toys for Christmas every year. We have encouraged his love of science because 1.) It’s nice to see him so excited about something; 2.) I love science, too, and enjoy the discussions we have about it; and 3.) He has exactly zero athletic ability, he is not particularly artistic, and he can barely write a legible sentence…so science may just be his nitch in life.
So last night, I picked him up from a choir performance at 7:00 p.m. He had not eaten dinner yet, so we were in the car headed to McDonalds to get him something to eat when—somehow that I can’t really remember—our conversation turned to God. I should not have been surprised, but I was still taken aback when my son told me that he doesn’t believe in God. He went on to say that he “greatly respects people who do believe in God.” But he is not one of them. I asked him why, of course. He said that he doesn’t believe in God because there is no proof that God exists. He said that he believes in science and that science has produced no proof that God exists.
I was a bit flabbergasted and wasn’t sure what to say. I told him that I believe in God and that I think God made the entire universe. He replied, “No, the Big Bang made the universe.” I said that I believed God created each and every one of us. He replied, “No, our parents made us.” I asked him if he had considered that perhaps God created science. That God created all the atoms and molecules and elements that make up everything in the world and that God put them in motion and created all the rules and laws that are the fundamentals of science? That he created everything science has ever discovered and has yet to discover? I told him that he could believe in science and still believe in God. He, however, was not buying that argument. He said that could very well be, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that God had a hand in making anything or that God exists. So until science proved otherwise, he was sticking with his belief that God isn’t real. And again, he reiterated that he respects people who do believe in God. I just sat there, unable to form an argument in my head that might sway my science-loving son. I heard Lucas ask shyly from the back seat, “Mom, are you mad at me?” Of course not. Of course I was not mad at him. I was actually rather impressed with him, if the truth be told.
So…I am raising a nine-year-old atheist. Nice, huh? I must admit that part of me is a little proud of him. He is a free thinker. A rational person. A kid who marches to his own drum. He doesn’t just accept the information he is fed. He thinks about things and comes to his own conclusion. He’s not just another lemming. He’s an individual. That’s the type of person we want our children to grow up to be, right?
At the same time, however, I worry about him. I believe in God. I believe in a higher power. I grew up saying prayers at bedtime. To this day, when I am scared or lonely or anxious or simply having trouble falling asleep, I will recite old Catholic prayers in my head. I don’t know that I am necessarily “praying,” but it calms me. Helps me feel a sense of peace. A sense of control when everything is out of control.
How scary a place will the world be for a little boy who doesn’t believe in a high power? How will he deal with all the ugliness in this world if he does not believe that there is a source of eternal good? What does he think about in bed when he is scared or lonely or anxious or can’t sleep?
I realize that he isn’t even ten yet and his belief in—or relationship with—God will change throughout his lifetime. But I had truly hoped I was doing a better job of instilling my beliefs in my children. But maybe that’s not what parenting is supposed to be about, after all. Maybe I shouldn’t want a son who just regurgitates the beliefs I’ve expressed. Maybe he’ll be better off if he comes to those beliefs on his own. Or doesn’t. As long as he is a compassionate, moral, kind person, I guess that’s all that really matters to me. And I believe he is. So maybe last night wasn’t an “epic fail” so much as just another curve in the parenting road.
Either way, I think Mommy needs a glass of wine.