The Nitty Gritty: The Yellow House

The pull to a specific place has occupied my thoughts for the better part of 5 years now. This idea of place as a piece of who we are is what drew me to Atlanta. This city called me until I could no longer ignore it. I had to be here, in a way that I couldn’t describe to most people.

Atlanta resonates through me–my whole being–even though I didn’t grow up here. It is home in a visceral sense. I am happy here because I belong in the very deepest sense of that word.

So, I’ve often wondered if other folks feel the same way about place–that it takes on a life of its own, shares space in our psyches. Consequently, this wondering brought me to both Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (by choice) and The Yellow House (completely unwittingly).

I knew 3 things about The Yellow House before I read it: it was a memoir; it won the National Book Award; and it centered on a family that lost their home in Hurricane Katrina.

I’ll tell you up front that I’ll try to avoid spoilers–and also that I’m not sure there are spoilers for this book. Because it isn’t so much what happens in Sarah M. Broom’s family or to the house they inhabit, but the lens through which she views it that makes the book.

The Yellow House both is and is not a Katrina book. For instance, if you read the fiction work Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward–THAT is a Katrina book. The whole narrative centers around the storm & its impacts. While the yellow house meets its ultimate demise in Katrina, the story begins decades before the storm… and continues afterward, because families and people continue on with or without the structures they’ve called home.

The book is more broadly about New Orleans. About what it’s like to grow up black and poor in a city that holds an almost magical sway over most of America. Broom weaves New Orleans history–including an analysis of the pervasive colorism in New Orleans–throughout her narrative. All while exploring the pull of this place that she grew up in. She leaves and returns to New Orleans, looking for something. But she’s never quite sure what. She’s pulled in particular back to New Orleans East, where she grew up–which has long been neglected by the city and devolves completely after Katrina decimates the infrastructure in a part of town even more flood prone than the rest of the city. The fate of New Orleans East is tragic and infuriating. But it’s fascinating and instructive to watch Broom navigate these complex emotional spaces. For me, there was something simultaneously intimately familiar and ultimately unknowable about her quest.

This book is going to leave you with more questions than you had when you started. Broom will wrap nothing up tidily for you. And, if you’re an introspective sort, she’ll have you picking at your own family history, your sense of place.

Ultimately, The Yellow House begs the question: What constructs us? Is it family? Place? Home? Ourselves?

I turned 45 this week. And I wonder if that has anything to do with the pull of this book for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about family and roles we play in our family of origin versus the self the we construct outside those bounds. And, for me, that also calls up the places I grew up (all over Florida with parents born in the Deep South) and the places I remained connected to throughout my childhood and now choose to claim (the South, Atlanta, and South Georgia). The Yellow House gave me footing to think about these things & introspect in a way that felt important and a little esoteric.

This book laid out for me issues of family, place, and self I’ve been pondering–and allowed me to see that there are no easy answers. That there are always more questions. And that they are worth asking.

The Nitty Gritty: Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

I’ve been thinking a lot about place lately: how where we are from constructs who we are. And I’ve been drawn to books that explore place as internal landscape.

My mother’s family is from South Georgia. Although I grew up in Florida, I always considered myself a dis-placed Southerner. According to my Northern oriented friends, my dad talks like a banjo. Growing up, my mother insisted we say “sir” and “ma’am” to adults, which most adults in South Florida found wildly unnecessary and sometimes offensive.

We didn’t fit there. And I knew it.

I moved up to North Florida as soon as I was free to do so (four days after high school graduation). If you’ve never been to North Florida, it’s really just an extension of South Georgia.

And there, I felt at home.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is an in-depth exploration of the South Georgia landscape of my mother’s people. A place I visited multiple times as a child. The place we buried my grandfather not too long ago.

Author Janisse Ray explores not only what it was to grow up poor and deeply religious in the rural South, but she also details–with shockingly clear imagery–the landscape and wildlife that exists in South Georgia. Her description of deforestation, what we’ve lost that it will take a Herculean effort to reclaim, almost brought me to tears.

She pulls no punches about the South. But she also explores the “why” of the place. Her depth of understanding of both people & nature makes her a tremendous ecology writer.

If books about place speak to you, this is a fine one. As a Southern nature lover, it’s an imperative read.

Being a Girl in the World…

When I was a kid, being a woman seemed like some sort of secret, mystical state that one entered into when they were, say, 16 or 17. Like maybe I’d go to sleep an awkward adolescent kid and wake up graceful, beautiful, and smelling like Estee Lauder Youth Dew. Who really knew how it would happen? The whole process was shrouded in mystery. Women had secret rites round make-up and feminine hygiene products (seriously, worst phrase ever) and no one seemed willing to explain these things to me.

Maybe I was just supposed to intuit them.

I did not intuit much of anything.

The 1980s/1990s hyper-conservative world I grew up in was full of god-awful gender stereotypes and a stony silence around sex. There was only one way to be a woman in the world: pretty, made-up, and ultimately submissive (men were the head of the household. They always had to make more money and, ultimately, made all the decisions. Which was some bullshit and I knew it, even then). Oh, and I needed to be a virgin. For sure. Because why buy the cow, if you could get the milk for free? (Just typing that out makes me cringe. But it was gospel truth in my world)

Two things really crystalize who I was when I went away to college:

  1. I had no idea how to use a tampon at 18 years old. This became problematic when I got my period just as my best friend & I were about to head out to the beach. I told her I couldn’t go. She rolled her eyes so hard, she’s lucky they aren’t still stuck in the back of her head. She proceeded to stand outside the stall door and coach me through inserting a tampon, so we could go to the beach. How did that go? Well… I hemmed and hawed until she threatened to come into the stall and insert the damn thing herself. I figured it out real quick after that.
  2. When I was at Florida State, a young woman who’d been class president (or vice president or something of that sort) in high school came to me in all earnestness and asked how she was supposed to reconcile holding a leadership position with the call for women to be submissive. She’d gotten mixed up in our youth group right before she left for college. Obviously, we were a persuasive bunch. The most persuasive? The boys who had something to gain from all this submission bullshit. I don’t even remember what I said to her. But I knew, at that moment, that everything I’d been taught about women was a lie.

Three things happened around that time that further unveiled the mystery of womanhood, gender stereotypes, and my own body:

  1. I took a college class on Christianity. I thought it would be an easy A. I’d grown up in the church, after all. I knew things. Instead, that class upended everything I’d been taught in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, youth group, in sermons, on retreats… I’d been raised on a legalistic, self-righteous brand of conservative Christianity. And, for me, this class exposed everything I’d believed as a lie hellbent on manipulating me into fear and submission. And I was pissed. For years afterward, I wouldn’t even spell out Christmas (Xmas all the way, baby. I tend to be pretty hot or cold. So, when I was done with Christianity–for that go-round at least–I was aggressively done).
  2. I took a Women’s Studies class. Mystery = unveiled. Goddess religions? Yes, please. History that included women’s contributions as something other than a footnote? Hell, yes. Women as equal and powerful? I could not get enough. Truly. I realized I could be a woman in whatever way suited me. First decision: no more make-up. I’d been one of those girls who never left the house without at least eyeliner and mascara–but usually a “natural-looking” version of the whole shebang. The first time my father saw me without makeup, he inquired as to what in the holy hell could be wrong? Upon discovering that I was currently in a makeup eschewing stage, he informed me that women wear makeup. I didn’t put on a lick of makeup again for at least 3 more years. It was my own daily protest against the tiny, proscribed life that I’d been raised to lead.
  3. I started dating women. Here’s the thing: I’d always been completely awestruck by women. I just didn’t know there was anything I could do about that (no one said I wasn’t a little slow on the uptake sometimes). But when I realized that I could be in a relationship with another woman–honest to God, it was like heaven broke open. Everything in the world made sense. Angels sang. I wasn’t broken, I was a lesbian. This truth set me free in ways I didn’t know possible.

When, at age 34, I discovered I was pregnant with a baby girl–I had to start unpacking some of the complexities of being a woman real quick-like. I remember standing in front of the mirror, naked, right after I brought home this beautiful baby that looked so much like me. And I knew, right then, that whatever negativity I leveled at myself she’d hear as judgement about her own body. That was it: that was my moment of total release. I let it all go. All the body image bullshit I’d carried around, all the times I’d been nudged to be quiet, to not take up space, to just get along–I let all that shit go. And I finally set about becoming the woman I really wanted to be.

That’s what my baby girl gave me: the gift of being totally and fully myself.

While I know that the journey is just as important as the destination and all that jazz, I’d like my daughter to grow up with actual knowledge of her own body and an understanding that there are so many ways to live into being a woman.

There’s power and beauty in it. And there’s struggle, too.

I want her to proudly wear the Feminist badge (and to understand and live out a feminism that is truly intersectional). I want her to love, cherish, and understand her body–because it’s beautiful, and powerful, and worthy just the way it is. And I want her to know that she can love whoever she chooses.

But most of all, I just want her to be a open to the big, beautiful possibilities that her life holds.

No submission necessary.

Ground Control…

In the evolution of parenting, we’ve recently entered the tween zone.

It’s a strange land, filled with Caboodles, lip gloss, ill-applied blush, and an obsession with all things unicorn and glitter.

It’s a liminal stage. For us and our 9 (and a half) year old.

There are things to be celebrated, for sure: a newfound love of organization, a stab at cleanliness, and an intrigue with the persona she’s carefully formulating.

And then there are things that break my heart a bit: worry that playing with her best friends (both boys, both a tiny bit younger) doesn’t jibe with who she’s trying to be; a letting go of the most obvious vestiges of her childhood: her beloved doll clothes (those dolls were everything for several years. They even had their own bathroom set-up–with a toilet that made flushing noises!); a studied pain-in-the-assness that she believes is a hallmark of the preteen years.

It’s a little confusing for all of us.

But it’s a stage.

The persona she adopts right now is just as apt to change as the socks she put on this morning. It’s a performance. She’s trying to settle on what feels good. And right. For her.

Now, I can tell her what feels right for me. But that’s not going to do her any good. So, I just circle about her orbit, doing my thing: yoga & meditation & truth-telling & book-selling. I am so much a part of her world. But at the same time, vastly separate… something to be observed.

Until she wants to cuddle. Then she wants me to absorb her completely. She cannot get close enough. There is no beginning and end to us. I can feel us breathe together. And it’s never been any other way.

And then I realize that I can’t breathe, because the kid is almost as big as I am (at 9! … okay… I’m not a very big human. But still!), and she’s crushing the breath right out of me.

It’s a push and pull of nostalgia and realism. It’s creating and re-creating. Starting again. Pressing forward.

The thing that bothers me most isn’t Jane’s efforts at self discovery (even if they do mean she constantly tries to filch my mascara). It’s other people’s reactions to it. And those, well, they piss me off.

I can hear the flinch in people’s voices when I tell them I have a tweenish girl.

“That must be so hard,” they murmur. “Girls can be so mean,” they say outright. Or my favorite: the “Oh” laden with what I think I’m supposed to understand as sympathy for my plight.

It’s bullshit.

Girls are humans. They have joys and fears. They try things out. They can be mean. They can be kind. But you know who decides that? Them. Each one of them.

It’s my job to guide this sweet, insightful 9.5 year old toward an adolescence and adulthood filled with meaning and purpose–and hopefully lots of joy. That can, in fact, be done wearing lip gloss and sparkly nail polish. Or she might decide to ditch all that and shave her head and wear Doc Martens.

Cool.

Her form of self expression is just that: hers.

As the ad-hoc navigator of this journey, I get to serve as her touchstone. I remind her that she can be grown (see: lip gloss & blush) and still have fun (see: playing with light sabers in her besties’ backyard). I tell her about what I missed out on because I tried so hard to be someone I wasn’t & took myself way too seriously. I laugh with her when she tries something that she ultimately decides is ridiculous. And, sometimes, I buy her unicorn tank tops just because (so she knows I really see her). When all else fails, I call in my glamorous, childhood-beauty-pageant-winning friend to teach Jane how to apply blush correctly. Because God knows I have no idea.

I want Jane to know that she is loved and accepted, always. I value her for who she is. And she is worthy just as she is. Worthy of love. And acceptance. And all the glitter her heart desires.

Dance, I Said

If I were to run smack into my sixth grade self right now, my first thought would be, “Oh, honey.” And then I’d get straight to work helping me be slightly less of a dork.

The problem was that I just had no clue. Other kids were a little like aliens to me. I didn’t understand how they knew what was cool. I definitely didn’t know how to be cool. And that cluelessness led me to walk into the sixth grade dance believing I was actually there to have fun.

My sixth grade misconception is difficult to square with my beliefs as a parent. Because the parent in me believes things should be fun. That you should do whatever you want & be proud of who you are. That you should 100% let your freak flag fly.

But the realist in me knows that you have to understand the rules to break the rules.

I did not.

And that you have to be hella confident to break from the deeply entrenched social norms of middle school.

I was not.

So, basically, I had no chance of making it out of that dance unscathed.

I feel pretty confident I had on a jean skirt (too long, wrong denim wash). And some shirt that likely looked either too grade school or too much like I’d reached a tragically early middle age (likely my mom would have said it was “pretty.” Which was apparently code for: you are moving at warp speed from anything that resembles popularity). And I had barrettes pulling back the bangs I was growing out. To be clear: I parted said bangs down the middle and pulled them back with barrettes. Tiny barrettes. Very close to the part, because my bangs weren’t any longer than regular bangs. But I was growing them out. So, of course they couldn’t just hang down, or swoop over, or get moodily in my eyes.

Nope.

Barrettes.

So, there I am, in this fashion travesty. And I start dancing.

Like, I’m totally dancing like no one is watching. Except it’s middle school, and EVERYONE is watching. And I’m dancing like one of the nerds at the end of a John Hughes movie, who finally gets accepted for who they are… and all is right with the world.

Which is so lovely. But not particularly realistic.

And so…

I’m dancing (badly). With wild abandon. And this girl approaches me.

I can’t remember exactly what she said. I think it was something to the effect of “What the hell is that you are doing?” I remember her looking at me like she hated me. Really hated me. And I was confused. And scared. Because she shoved me like she wanted to fight.

When I think about it, I can still feel the adrenaline shoot through me. I was shaking. And I remember telling her that I wasn’t going to fight her. Because I had more respect than that for myself & her. Because I was a Christian. (I like that I could throw in self-righteousness even in the face of a beat down. Because let me tell you, that “I am a Christian” business wasn’t about mercy or empathy. It was me telling her that I was better than she was.)

I don’t remember how the whole mess of a situation got diffused. I think I threatened to tell on her.

No one said I excelled in sticking up for myself.

What I do remember is feeling a deep sense of shame that someone hated me that much, thought I was that gross that they’d want to fight me just for being myself. It was one of many messages I got in sixth grade that who I was was, in fact, nothing.

On the ride home (and for weeks afterward) I tried to combat that shame with that tried-and-true parental adage that she was just jealous of me.

I knew it was bullshit then. And it certainly did nothing to ease my shame.

I think about that often: how I internalized that shame, how I believed there was something deeply wrong with me, how I so quickly believed I was nothing.

And I wonder how to do better by Jane.

Fortunately, we’ve got a lot going for us: Jane was born with more fashion sense than I’ll ever have. And she’s developed a self confidence at 9 (and a half) that I sincerely admire.

And, on my end, well I just try to be honest with her. About people. About life (which is both pain & joy). And about working through her own response to other people’s shit.

Here are some things we live by in this house: When people are mean, it’s about them. Not you. It’s not that they’re jealous (because EW. That makes it sound like you believe you are better than they are). It’s that they are in pain. And if you can find compassion for that pain, you can release yourself from their judgement. Because, again, it isn’t about you.

But you also have to give yourself space to work though your own pain, when people spew their internal garbage on you. And to make a choice about how you respond. Because you can’t control what other people do, you can only control your response to it.

And we work on really knowing who we are. So that we can be proud of that. And so we can be people who put more good than bad into the world. And to try to love folks as they come.

Also noteworthy: Jane flips out if I dance in public. So maybe my dancing really IS that bad. Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I don’t do it anyway.

Figuring It Out

Simon would probably tell you that I’m rarely quiet.

We’ve been together for not-quite-but-almost 17 years… so he’s a pretty good authority on all things me.

It is true… I’ll happily chatter on about country music, or any injustice I spot from a million miles away, or about whatever I happen to be pondering that day.

It also may be true that I debrief him on my latest thoughts, feelings, and internal dilemmas first thing in the morning (before he’s even had his coffee. He’s a better listener that way).

And I regale him with stories about my day, my friends, and other randomness when we sit down to watch TV. Which sometimes annoys him. But mostly he’s used to it.

For all that talking, though, I talk at least 50% less than I used to. I’ve learned to think before I speak. To make sure I really think/believe things before they come flying out of my mouth. Trust me, this is a VAST improvement over the stream-of-consciousness he was living with 17 years ago.

It’s also true that some of my friends tease me about being a completely open book. Probably because I wrote about getting sober, my struggles with anxiety, Simon’s transition, my difficulty squaring a lesbian identity with my (super cute, newly minted) husband, miscarriage, and the almost-dissolution of my marriage… all without hesitation.

That’s a lot of sharing. And a lot of vulnerability. But that’s what I value. I tell my story so someone else will realize they aren’t alone. And maybe they’ll want to share their story, too. I believe we all need more connection, not less. We need to be vulnerable with each other and kind as we watch people navigate their own journeys.

But… and this is a real weird one for me… lately I don’t know what to write, because the things I’m sorting out feel both deeply interior and… quiet.

There are good things that happen every day over here. But quarantine has a cadence that is so familiar that it doesn’t lend itself to new revelations like being out in the world. There are lovely things about this quiet, s-l-o-w time. But not much that’s lending itself to good storytelling.

I feel like the Universe is nudging me gently to look at some old patterns that have resurfaced recently. There’s nothing mysterious about them… sometimes my thoughts get stuck in a loop. And, like listening to as song on repeat with your toddler, the first few times aren’t bad. Time number twenty-five can make you a little bit bananas.

It hasn’t happened to me in a long time, this endless loop. I think, deep down, I thought I had evolved past it. Obviously, the Universe thought I need some humility. So, I’m looking deeper than I usually have to to figure out why Loopfest 2020 happened (instead of trying to just abruptly shove it aside, as is usually my way). This is a level of introspection I haven’t had to hone in on in a while.

This mining process, turning my thoughts, patterns, and feelings over and over… it must use the very same creative/introspective energy I tap into to write.

Because, lately, I feel like I’ve got nothing in the way of stories to tell.

Not because things are bad. But because I’ve been presented an opportunity–the kind that doesn’t show itself every day–to really understand myself. And that’s where my energy is going.

And since I learned to shut-it (at least 50% of the time), and to only put things out into the world that I’ve thought through and believe, well it’s been like a game of Quiet Mouths over here.

Well, for everyone except Simon. Who still gets front row as I process in real-time.

The moral of the story?

Marry well, friends. (Also, probably keep Simon in your thoughts & prayers)

Busy, busy, busy

I’m not a huge fan of being told what to do (that’s a tremendous understatement).

This is a for real problem.

The books we pick for book club at the bookstore that I own? I procrastinate reading them until the absolute last minute. Why? Because someone told me I had to read them.

Yep, even the ones I pick myself.

Told you it was a problem.

I mightily resist to-do lists. Calendars? Nope. Not gonna happen.

But my kid?

She loves a damn list. Grocery list. To-do list. School supply list.

All the lists all the time.

And she loves to be told what to do. Or–more accurately–she feels confident and secure when her entire day is scheduled out.

I would die, y’all.

But not Janiepants.

In fact, she flounders without a schedule. And it had been like hard-core, old-school summer vacation up in here since mid-April. Truth be told, even when she was still technically “in school” at the end of last school year, she’d get up, finish her homework by 6:30am, and have a whole day unfurling before her.

Which she always thinks she wants. But she doesn’t. Like, really, really doesn’t.

I mean, sure we had stuff that she was supposed to get done every day. It wasn’t total anarchy. She had an online checklist (I cringe at the thought). But somehow–magically–things would get checked off without actually getting done. Or she wouldn’t even bother to check them off–perhaps her dad & I weren’t super great at keeping track (we sucked at it).

But after months of lolling about aimlessly, this past weekend baby girl crossed a line.

I asked her to tidy, dust, and sweep her room.

And then the gates of hell opened.

There was screaming, and stomping, and throwing herself on her loft so hard it looked like the whole damn thing was going to fall down. It was such an epic fit that I kept getting the giggles. Because what the actual fuck, kid?!?

They are chores.

They will not hurt you.

She, obviously, felt otherwise.

Later, when her father and I were recounting the absolute burst of insanity that had unfolded in our otherwise relatively harmonious home, I had a stroke of brilliance: the kid needed to be busy. Like really, really busy. Zen monastery busy. Focused. Productive. Contributing to the greater good. And that need to work & have a purpose could be channeled into a much cleaner house.

Look, it’s not selfish. It’s just practical. Everyone’s a winner!

Now, literally every moment of Jane’s day from 8am to 5pm is scheduled out. She gets an hour and a half free time during the day. The remainder of the time is researching (we’re going to plant a garden), or playing guitar, learning Spanish, reading, doing yoga, creating a video for a Warrior Cats Club (it’s a thing), and–yep–cleaning.

Honestly, I was a little worried I had her over-scheduled. But yesterday, I came home at 5:30 to a happy kid, not that moody, aggravating, stompy human that had been holding us hostage with her increasingly simmering rage.

The kid just needed a purpose. Work that really meant something.

Don’t we all, really?

She’s just real, real lucky we live in the city. Otherwise, she would have found herself with a pet cow to milk every morning at 5am. It would’ve been the first thing on her list.

Now, What Happened Again?

Sometime around 6th grade or so, I got ahold of The Diary of Anne Frank. And suddenly, my world was awash in both the goodness and insight of a 13 year old European Jewish girl from forty years ago and the abject horror that human nature can unleash.

Both. At the very same time.

I, a WASPy eleven year-old living in the Florida suburbs, was completely enchanted by Anne’s urbaneness (she was a German girl living in Amsterdam–I couldn’t fathom that I’d ever visit either place) and her energetic and observant nature. I desperately wanted to be her friend. Or to be like her. Eleven is a hard, confusing age and reading Anne’s diary let me feel close to someone–another kid–that I admired and looked up to.

And then they killed her.

I was bereft.

Of course I knew what would happen when I picked up the book. I knew, intellectually, about the Holocaust. We’d covered the facts and figures–the loss of life, the utter devastation, the depravity of human nature–which are simply staggering. But numbers don’t speak to me like they speak to some people.

I didn’t understand what happened until I picked up The Diary of Anne Frank. And once you know–on a deep, soul level–the beauty and horror that occupy this life side by side, you can’t unknow.

I was obsessed.

I read and read and read. Every time I went to the library, I grabbed a book about the Holocaust. My mother tittered about my obsession. But I had so many questions. How could this have happened? I felt such loss. I loved Anne. And that love for her pushed me to examine the very hardest truths about life.

Stories change everything.

Anne Frank has been the gateway for reaching and teaching children about hope, strength of character, the destruction wrought by hatred, and the horror of war since the late 1940s. She made me better because she made me curious.

Stories make my daughter, Jane, curious, too. Some stories I wish I didn’t have to tell her, though. Like the story of what happened to George Floyd.

She listened quietly. I think she thought I was making it up at first. Because who puts their knee on someone’s neck and leaves it there as they scream “I can’t breathe!”? In Jane’s consciousness as a 9 year old, that doesn’t seem possible. It seems so absurd. Why would he do that?! she asked. I’ve never seen that look on her face before. That disbelief.

Because George Floyd was black.

That’s the answer I gave my 9 year old for why George Floyd died. Because that’s the truth.

We live in Southeast Atlanta. Jane is constantly surrounded by black excellence, black joy, black friends, black teachers and leaders all the time. That is a gift we gave her by moving here. She hears and sees the stories of black kids all the time–living, dreaming, laughing, just being. So when we talk with her about racism, she has an emotional understanding that I couldn’t have fathomed at her age–because she has something to connect with.

She can extrapolate. She knows her friends’ stories. And she knows the story of George Floyd. And that look of utter disbelief I got from her–it was about knowing how quickly that could become the story of someone she knows, someone she loves. It was the horror of knowing that, in this country, we allow people to die with someone’s knee on their neck for nothing more that being black.

She asks about George Floyd’s story. And Ahmaud Arbery’s. And Breonna Taylor’s. Over and over again.

So I tell her. Again.

She’s trying to make sense of something utterly senseless. She’s a bit obsessed. She’s been confronted with the horror of the war against blackness in this country.

And now that she knows their stories, she can never unknow them. Because stories change everything.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Flashlights & Love

Our first Valentine’s Day together, Simon got me a flashlight.

Oh, he got me some red roses, too. But the flashlight was the main present. He wanted me to be prepared, just in case. This is his way, laying a path and making way for my independence, nurturing my strength. But I didn’t know that then. How odd, I thought. Then I promptly commenced to lamenting that he wasn’t more romantic.

I grew up on a steady diet of rom-coms. Still love them. But the way of the men in these movies is to completely miss the fact that they have a good thing going. To dismiss or overlook all that is good, strong, quirky about the women who love them–then to come careening back into their lives, when it’s a breath away from being too late–with some grand gesture to prove their love, to acknowledge the worth and value of the woman who has loved them all along.

I mean, when it’s put that way it kind of sounds like some bullshit, right?!

So, no, I didn’t understand the way of a man who would give me a flashlight.

I have, in fact, gotten a few big, romantic gestures over the years. Some of them not necessarily because they are what he would’ve chosen, left to his own druthers.

The proposal, for instance.

He got down on one knee in the middle of a bar on a weekend night to ask me to marry him (yes, we got engaged in a bar. We were 100% always in a bar at that point in our lives. But also, the music festival we’d planned to spend the weekend at had devolved into a mud bath of sorts, so–in his defense–the bar was Plan B.)

That may not seem like much. But it was pre-transition. He spent so much time trying not to be seen–at all–that the idea that he’d drop to one knee in the middle of a crowd of people, that he’d consciously draw attention to himself in order to bring me joy, well that’s quite a gift.

Now, I know how to appreciate those gifts, to savor them, to realize the sacrifice they take on his part. The love is in the sacrifice, not in the gesture, it turns out.

In addition to my rom-com, big gesture version of love, I also came equipped with the idea that people who love each other never fight.

Goodgodamighty.

I’ve been disabused of this idea about a thousand times over. Simon and I are as different as they come–I’m pineapple on pizza. He’s pepperoni. We see the world from such vastly different persepectives that, if we argree on something immediately–without discussion and endless cycles of negotiation–we know that that thing is foretold by the Universe. Plain and simple.

That’s how we picked up and moved from one side of southeast Atlanta to the other after two years and one day. I came to him with this crazy idea that I tried to pass off as a whim, so I could start softly and build a case later after the initial no.

And he said yes. Right away. Which is how I knew, for certain, that a move to East Atlanta was right and good and ordained by the Universe. When we both want something at the exact same time, it becomes magical, driven, possible.

Because somehow he sees through my restlessness, my (slight) tendencies to want things my way (because isn’t that really the only way?!), down deeper into what I really need. And those are the things he jumps behind. The ideas that will help me, and ultimately our whole little family, flourish.

So, yeah, he’s flashlights instead of grand gestures. But flashlights, they light your way. They give you confidence to explore. They make you feel, simultaneously, safe and strong.

But his biggest gift to me–his grandest gesture to date–is that little bookstore that I own, the one that brings me such unabashed joy. I brought the idea to him, just sure he was going to tell me I was off my rocker. We’d just moved (again). I’d finally started making some real money with a writing business I’d spent several years building up. And yet, here was this little idea that had taken hold…

And he saw it, right away. He saw that this was it for me. This was what lit me up. He asked questions that helped me sort out my vision for the store. He cheerleaded. He designed logos and websites. He carried boxes. And he told me he was proud of me, that he believed in this. That he believed in me.

That is the person I married, although I there was no way to know all this at the time. But 14 years later, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t trade that flashlight for all the romantic gestures in the world.

How Does She Manage This Stuff?

When I arrive back home from my daily sojourn to deliver books, Jane meets me in the kitchen to regale me with tales from her day. Or to stand there repeatedly asking what we’re having for dinner. Either way.

Earlier this week, she proudly announced that she’d struck a deal with her father wherein he was renting a twin mattress for the office from her.

If you don’t live in this family, I’m sure that could be confusing as hell, so I’ll break it down real quick: Simon snores. Like a chainsaw. We’ve tried various remedies and fixes. And still. Because I am not some sort of demigod, I cannot sleep through that blessed racket. We finally landed on a compromise in which we go to bed together and then, when it’s all Chainsaw City up in here, I wake him and he migrates to a lovely little set-up in the office.

It took me years to admit to myself that our marriage would not dissolve like Kool-aid powder in water if we slept in separate spaces. And that I have to have good sleep to function. And that the desire to smother him with a pillow would be a hell of a lot less if it didn’t sound like I was sleeping in a construction zone.

He ordered a new mattress for the office. He deserves optimal sleep, too. But shipping was going to take a few days, so he asked Jane if he could borrow the twin mattress on her loft (where she isn’t even sleeping right now). For a couple days until his nifty new hybrid spring/memory foam mattress arrived.

Earlier during this endless quarantine, Jane discovered the joy in rearranging her room on the daily. She also likes to ask if she can have pretty much anything her father or I could actually lay claim to in this house. What do I mean? Well. she asked me if she could have the master bedroom the other day. I kid you not.

A few weeks ago, she asked if she could move Couch Bed from the office into her room. Couch Bed is precisely what it sounds like: a squishy & utilitarian little Transformer that flips up to be a couch during the day & a bed at night. Nifty.

Obviously, we aren’t using it for guests right now (hello, pandemic), so sure. Why not?

Now Jane’s got her own pseudo-apartment in our house. A couch during the day. A loft with a desk for reading and “working.” A flipped down queen-size bed at night. She even has a waiting area, where she suggested I could sit on a bean bad, read a magazine, and wait to speak to her.

Good Lord.

Back to the mattress…

When Simon asked her to borrow it, she hemmed and hawed. I rolled my eyes so far back in my head they almost got stuck there. Because (FOR REAL, GIRL) share. But I let it be.

And I come home and now she’s a mattress landlord.

To be fair, Simon offered to pay her to borrow said mattress. And Jane is a shrewd money manager. She’s always saving to buy something. I don’t doubt that, if she’d had access to the stock market, she would’ve had an impressive portfolio to concern herself with when the pandemic hit. But, alas, she’s NINE, so her chief concern is how to squeeze her parents for more cash.

When Simon asked her what a fair price would be, she suggested $10 a day.

He countered with a much more reasonable $3 per day rate.

She deliberated for a while. Until he reminded her that, if she waited too long, Mommy would come home and just take the mattress and move it to the office. And she’d get nothing.

It’s so good to be really seen by your people, you know? Because hell yes, that’s what I would’ve done.

So, Jane’s relaying this tale rather nonchalantly, and she says, “So, I get 8 dollars for lending him the mattress until Friday. It was supposed to by $9.” Here she shrugs, wrinkles up her little nose, and says, “I don’t know what happened there.”

Oh, girl, I don’t know what happened there, either.