for health and food, for love and friends

sacrifice, verb:
TO OFFER UP: immolate, slaughter.
TO GIVE UP: abandon, surrender, forgo, renounce, forfeit, relinquish, resign, abdicate; betray.

I think our vehicle is just about the spookiest car ever during the cold and wet weather we have to come – weather like we had tonight. There is about a half inch of standing water on the inside (in the soggy months we grow mushrooms and once, quinoa, in the back footwells) which means the window interiors are completely fogged up when you enter. A handful of stuff doesn’t work right: example, the dashboard lights, leaving it dark and inhospitable as a little waterlogged crypt. Tonight upon leaving my date with J. I peek in the back to affirm no one is lurking there and waiting to strangle me (DAMN YOU violent/scary television shows – I only have watched one of such in the last several months and it has me half-terrorized!). Then I’m driving home and it’s dripping and dank like a WWII U-Boat but without any sweaty German sailors to keep me company.

I’m a little blue, probably because I had to throw out my last pair of pajama bottoms and my second-to-last pair of jeans a few days ago, they finally fell apart. Last night I slept in a too-small t-shirt and tiny shabby men’s boxer briefs. There’s some kind of place on my little Comfort Gauge that gets tripped now and then when the variety of Needs becomes too much to navigate; I don’t mind juggling but I hate feeling overwhelmed and sad (things used to be a lot harder; I’m grateful today we can pay our bills). Like when I don’t have a single dress for winter and I’m carefully washing my four pair of socks and a friend online posts pictures of their entire closet piled with of shoes and I go count and I have six pair, including one pair of Old Navy flipflops (Doesn’t Work For Winter) and a pair of Danskos I bought long ago and don’t wear (anyone want ’em? size 39), or when Phoenix’s child friend comes over and looks in my closet and says, “These are ALL of your clothes? I have four times this many!” or when I can’t really figure out what to scrape a few bucks off to buy (because Ralph will bend as far as he can to help me be happy and would not begrudge me anything) simply because I don’t quite know where to start.

I’ve written about these feelings before, borrrring. I inwardly grown at the thought of hearing postulated “solutions” because what I mostly want to do is write about it, the writing itself moves me to clarity. Regarding less personalized dictums, hearing the frequent admonitions to mothers to “not put themselves last” and to make sure to get themselves a pedicure and have a cup of tea by themselves in the morning, it chaps my ass. First off it’s typical condescending be-ladying (Right. TEA will solve our problems! and P.S. large edifices in our entire culture flourish by mothers Putting Themselves Last, and most people don’t seem to mind). And the fact is some things have to go last, for a time at least, and sometimes they’re my things, and I have the right to talk about my feelings now and then without being told How I Could Do It Better as Wife/Mother/Laydee.

I rarely, ever, think about what life might have been like without children. I remember when I was just about to come off maternity leave after Phoenix was born and my husband, slated to return home to raise our child, received a rather generous employment offer from the mill where we were employed. Our combined salary would have been over six figures and that seemed like a lot to me then (it seems like a lot now!). I was sitting in my parents’ living room when the phone call came in, nursing our firstborn. Ralph and I looked at one another and my mom excitedly asked us what we’d do. It felt momentous to have to choose but at the same time as familiar and simple and fierce as who was lying in my arms.

Of course even if we’d dual-incomed this whole family business we would have still had kids and the work and commitment children require for those who take responsibility, well, I could never have imagined beforehand. Today I can’t craft a picture of my life without them and I don’t get up to much guessing or claims about it either (just like I didn’t predict the structure of life-with-kids before I had mine, either). One thing that irritates me when talking about starting a family is people act like you could have it all figured out or planned or all Awesome ahead of time. Maybe some people can, I dunno. In my experiences my kids changed my life (absolutely and finally, and for the better) and since I went down that road I’ve had to make choices I never thought I’d imagine and I’ve been challenged and surprised just about every damn day. It’s like going through some kind of Hell that is better than anything I’ve ever experienced. Even my trip through postpartum despair and mania (after Nels) helped me dig deep and now I have the gift of being able to remember myself with Awe. Events have been as formative as my DNA and no longer can be separated from my personhood.

So why should I feel silly about our car, or my steadfast and day-to-day choice to ignore the cultural messages a woman who really cared about herself would dress up, would not “let herself go”, or would perform some other task of Ornamental Femininity that involved something other than used men’s Levi’s hacked off at the ankle, and old Doc Martens carefully tended, and coconut oil as moisturizer, and a careful plate on my secondhand dresser with a collection of $3 earrings. Someday my children will be out of my home and feeding and caring for themselves (likely) and I’ll have a little more for myself (maybe) and maybe I can have some of those many Nice Things I see so many others enjoying or maybe I’ll be smart and blessed enough to have learned to not think about it all too much.

That said, the concept of “sacrifice” in order to raise children has always irritated me. Partially because it frames childraising in, surprise surprise, a negative light (and frames child as “choice” instead of part of human life). Something that once you pick means you can’t have a lot of other really awesome shit like The Cool Kids do. Like there was all this other, better stuff out there and you’re scratching it off the list with gritted teeth, to later tell your kids how you did so. (That sounds like a great way to make my kids feel pretty shitty, then they can grow up and make their own kids feel shitty.) I have no problem if other people want to frame it that way, sacrifice. For me being pissed about it or wistful or using it as an excuse to live a less-full life, it would be like having a private mental life fantasizing about other people besides my partner (or having an active physical one screwing around, behind his back). If I don’t want to be here, don’t want to do it, I don’t have to. And I know it.

Today we went to a friend’s birthday party and I got to meet some lovely new grownups. My children played and raced around and ate and picked apples and delighted me entirely. Phoenix was complimented on her name and she said Thank You. And after a beat I told the group, “She chose it herself.” (She’s never bragged on this and I think she should!) The party attendees were a little confused as it obviously did not occur to them how this could be, that a small child could have chosen their own name. I told them about the change and the adults responsed favorably, one woman saying, “That is so cool you let her do it!” And I thought to myself yeah, it really is. The thing is I didn’t learn how to be a better person on my own nor improve much upon my nature unaided. I have the kids’ help, for which I’ll always feel a deep, bottomless gratitude.

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