imposter

I spent much of the holidays ghost-writing a memoir in a mad, mad rush to meet an unreasonable deadline. Three weeks was all I had to produce a book proposal with three finished chapters. It was totally crazy, but I did it. After the new year, we sent out queries (wrote those, too) and within a week, we had no fewer than nine literary agents request the book proposal. Four of those then requested the full manuscript. Days later, three were vying for exclusives.

One agent, in particular, lathered on the praise. Part of me couldn’t help but question not only the sincerity but the sustainability of her enthusiasm. But the praise wasn’t for me, of course. It was for the author because, don’t forget, I was only a ghost. The agent predicted cash advances far beyond the modest amounts other had told him to expect, and with a first-choice publisher. But—there was a catch—he had to get rid of me. No publisher was going to advance $100,000 to an unknown writer using an unknown and unproven ghostwriter. After months of promising he’d fight for me (this was as much for my career as it was for him, he said), in the end, all it took was someone talking sweet to him and offering shiny, pretty promises. He couldn’t even pretend to be burdened by the decision. It was his only choice! I mean, except for the other agents willing to give it a go with no strings attached.

It’s fucking eating at me. Not so much his lack of loyalty—I can’t be surprised by that, not really. Disappointed, angry, and betrayed, yes, but not surprised. When you write someone’s life story, you can see them far, far more clearly than you even see yourself. What kills me is that fifteen years ago, I had agents inviting me to lunches or coffee, sending me pretty little promises of my own, and for no particular project at all. My name was what they wanted. My audience. My voice. This Fish. I was the opposite of unknown and unproven.

And now I’m an imposter.

I want to scream until I am hoarse. The amount of time and emotion I invested in writing, mentoring, and managing (for the love of god, no, you cannot TEXT a literary agent) also came with a fulfillment absent from my duties as a stay-at-home parent. And now that’s gone, too. And its absence feels so heavy, I just want to crawl back into bed and stay there. But up I stay because there are noses, bottoms, and countertops to wipe. And that, I’m qualified to do.

hold, please

Yikes. I haven’t updated WordPress in about a hundred years so it’s being glitchy.

helping hands

UntitledToday, Charlie and I spent an inordinately long time (he’s helping, see? Such a helper) converting his crib into a toddler bed.

About five hours too late.

Aside from trying to chew his cast off like a wild animal, he’s acting like nothing happened. Pretty sure I’m more traumatized than he is about the whole thing (though, I thought we were gonna need a tranq gun in the ER. He was not pleased about being there). And from what I’ve seen of my fearless little boy, this is just the first of many visits to the ER. Okay, second. We’ve been there before so he could get a feeding tube. Same room. Lots of crying. Only this time, his mom held it together.

a mom by any other name

“I’ve come to understand that a mother is not a person, but a service,” I said.

Her eyebrows raised slightly, but she said nothing, so I continued to explain how in all of my encounters since Charlie’s birth, I have been stripped of my personhood and re-summed up in a single syllable: Mom. At the store. Our pediatrician’s office. Even my husband now calls me “Mom” in Charlie’s company. In the months since my since my son came into this world, I’ve felt like I was slowly disappearing from it – dissolving day by day, partly because of the isolation of the stay-at-home role and partly from the very real truth that I am no longer the person I used to be.

I spilled my guts, all the while fearing that I was alienating a new friend I’d made at library story hour. Our children were playing together in the backyard splash pad while we gnawed at pretzels under the patio umbrella. My friend was quiet for a moment and I knew I’d done it. We were so different already (she, a pastor’s wife and me, a… well, whatever I am), I feared I’d driven a giant, neurotic wedge between us.

But then she said, “I never thought of it that way. I guess it’s easier sometimes to socialize through our kids – less chance of rejection, maybe. But I am going to try to be better about that.”

There’s this feeling of relief at being understood suddenly, after ages of shouting into the darkness, that’s so overwhelming it actually feels like grief. I do so much of that – screaming inside my own head – and all that ever comes out is a sigh, to which my husband will say, “What can I do for you?” He means well. He loves me. But he doesn’t understand because he can’t. Everything he had before Charlie was born, he has now. The same social structure. The same career. The same face, hair and pelvic floor. He gets to sneeze without peeing and when he leaves for the day, everyone he meets will assume he has a name. And they’ll call him by it.

But she understood, even if only a little. And I wanted to cry when she closed that gap between us.

I wonder sometimes if my expectations are off. I mean, I know our postal carrier’s name. It’s Paul. It has never seemed extraordinary to know that. To say, “Thanks, Paul!” when I see him on the porch. Yet, my own name gets lost so easily in the parental shuffle. I know it’s there on the chart at the pediatrician’s office, right next to Charlie’s name. No one has to memorize my face and put it together with my name in order to make me feel like a human. They just have to read it. And still, every visit begins, “Mom, can you get him undressed to a diaper?” Even when we lived in the hospital for a month, Charlie and I, the nurses, the doctors, the techs, the therapists – they all had names. I knew them. I used them. But I was always Mom.

When Charlie was born, I was so enamored of him and so thrilled to be a mother – his mother – that naturally I didn’t fight it. Instead, I basked in it. Mom. Mom. Mommy. Twenty months later, I feel completely lost in it, struggling for reasons to *not* wipe banana on my pant leg (who’s gonna see? or care?) or even to brush my teeth some days (what’s the point?).

When I finally told my husband I no longer felt like a person anymore, he seemed angry at first, but I think that’s the initial response to anything he can’t fix. We decided that it was time to end my stint as a stay-at-home mom – something I hadn’t felt like I could give myself permission to do. I was miserable. Dying one small death after another. But my son was so happy and clever and thriving that putting him in day care had always seemed unnecessarily punitive. After all, it’s not his fault that it’s not enough for me. That I don’t love this the way so many other women I know seem to. My sisters. The countless mothers on my Facebook feed, who caption photos of their days at home with, “I love my job!” I love my son in such a deep, wonderful, frustrating and all-consuming way. But I do not love being at home. Admitting that last bit has been enormously difficult. But there it is. Out there.

So a few days ago, Charlie and I took a tour of an early education center we’re considering with the end goal that I can re-enter the workforce, and perhaps, reclaim a little of myself before it’s too late. It’s a nice enough place, if perhaps, a little too structured for my liking. We arrived a few minutes late and made our cheerful introductions with the center’s associate director. I was Heather. This was Charlie. She cooed over him appropriately and then we got down to business. Before we began the tour, she offered to put my belongings behind the counter.

“Here, Mom. Let me take your bag for you.”

“My name is Heather.”

She smiled and blinked. Did I make her uncomfortable? If I did, it didn’t register. And I didn’t care. I was taking back my name and I had to start somewhere.

in loving memory: sir halitosis maximus

Kitty Smirk

Dear Hal,

I spent the last hour or so carefully cleaning your spot in the laundry room. I threw away your blanket and that heated bed I bought for your old man cat bones, swept up the telltale black hair you’d left behind. Mopped. Not to erase you, but to remove the evidence of the suffering you went through at the end. Two cancers are really more than any one furry little guy should handle. But still, I thought we had more time. When you wouldn’t lift your head for a dish of cream, I knew it was time. I hated that knowledge. It hurt so much.

I tried to stay with you, in that spot where you spent your last night, curled up beneath the cabinet. I stayed as long as I could, but my body is not young anymore. I feel like you’d understand that. I couldn’t stay for the whole procedure at the animal hospital, either, because my heart doesn’t feel as young and strong as it used to. But that, you wouldn’t know much about. You stayed you until the end, until they gave you a shot and let me hold you until you fell into a deep sleep, your pink little tongue poking out between your front teeth and your breathing slow and steady, finally done with the pain. They took you away and I sat in the car and cried until I felt like I would be sick.

My grief at losing you is compounded by guilt, but I think that’s the way with humans. I’m so terribly sorry for being impatient with you. It’s a character flaw that runs pretty deep. You drove me nuts, you know, refusing to drink out of anything but the dripping sink. I’m sorry, too, for that last litter of kittens that caused you so much stress. Like I said, I thought we had more time.

Thank you for being a good friend. You healed a very deep hurt the minute Elana and I brought you home from that shelter in New York. I remember you slept next to me under the covers that night. What a weirdo! You stayed a weirdo, in the very best ways. Thank you for purring this morning when I petted you for one of the last times. It’s such a little thing, but I couldn’t bear the idea that you’d go out remembering only pain.

Telling my son stories about you will be so bitter sweet. I’ll always remember you.

I miss you. I love you. Thank you. And I’m sorry.

Love,

Me