The F-Word and Me: A Love Story

To my delight, the F-word seems to have made a full frontal comeback in the past couple years. Good thing I’ve been using it with abandon all these years.

I was a remarkably dutiful child, well-behaved and amiable as my loud-mouthed best friend did most of the trouble making. I relished my role as her foil, the long-suffering and studious protector, anxious to please and receive praise as “the good one.”

But when I was no older than seven, something came over me on the bus ride home from day camp. For reasons I’ve never been able to explain, and certainly could not articulate in that moment, I took a piece of chalk and wrote out F-U-C-K on the back of the vinyl seat.

Immediately, my counselors sprang into action: “Paige! What have you done!? Do you even know what that means?”

I shook my head, crying.

“Why did you do this? Someone must have told you to do this! Who told you to do this?”

“An older girl,” I lied. “Mandy Davis told me if I didn’t write it she would beat me up.”

I didn’t even know Mandy. I just heard she was a “bad girl” in the older bunk. The next day, she tried to confront me on the walk to the craft barn:

“Hey! Why did you lie! Tell them I didn’t do it!”

I ignored her and went on to knit my lanyard.

Thirty years later, I still feel guilty. I’ve even tried unsuccessfully to track her down on Facebook. I want to let her know I was, and still am, sorry. I don’t understand why seven-year-old me would do such a thing. I’ve even used that story as a teachable moment for my first-grade son.

After that, I would (pretty much) never tell another lie. But I was well on my way to a lifetime of giving out “fucks” like business cards at a networking conference. (Just the word, not the action. Those have an entirely different story to tell).

Despite being understandably verboten in my childhood home, the use of the F-word lived on and gloriously sprang from my lips at every opportunity.

While reading a film review aloud for a college journalism class, I boldly stated, “Courtney Love has never taken a movie role which doesn’t revolve around the word ‘fuck.’” The instructor handed the assignment back to me marked with red ink that scolded, “Crass and inappropriate.”

To my delight, the F-word seems to have made a full frontal comeback in the past couple years. Shouted loud and proud on the Facebook memes and the mom blogs, it’s all the rage to “give no fucks,” “run out of fucks,” and wonder “what the actual fuck?”

Studies claim that swearing is actually a sign of intelligence and broad vocabulary. Even the taboo of swearing in front of children is being brought to the “fuck that!” buffet.

We may live in turbulent and tumultuous times, but I am thankful for my hard-earned right to swear as freely as I please. I will never run out of fucks. I am resplendent with them. And I am not the only one. How else can we explain such fuckery run amok in our society?

The hills are alive with the sound of “Fuck This!” What better way to convey that feeling when I realize I’ve walked halfway to my doctor’s appointment without my insurance card? Oh fuck! What better way to describe a beautiful sunset? Really fucking beautiful – that’s how.

But these days, I don’t feel compelled to blame my F-words on some innocent third grader. These fucks are mine and yours and ours. And they are the one good thing that 20-fucking-16 didn’t manage to pry from our hands.

5 Things You Should Do When Raising Kids in Your Hometown

No matter where you go your hometown will always be your home. Whether you like it or not.

So, you’ve done it. The thing you always swore you’d never do: You moved back to your hometown to raise a family. That very place you never wanted to live, vowed to never be trapped, is now your chosen home. Go figure.

When I was a teenager I really didn’t have a lot of love for my hometown. I was often bored and didn’t always feel like I fit in. It seemed like everyone was always in everyone else’s business.

In my 20s, I moved to the neighboring city where I lived happily for quite a few years. Though it was right next door the atmosphere seemed to be worlds away; bigger space, more people, less drama, and more events to attend. 

When I was pregnant my husband suggested we move back and my first reaction was, “Oh, hell no. Never.” Soon enough he had us looking at houses, and pointing out all the charms I’d seriously blocked from my mind; that, and mentioning several times how nice it would be to have both our mothers literally five minutes away led to my finally losing the battle.

So we’ve moved back, and after two years I’m actually very happy we did. It’s a much different experience being a parent in one’s hometown than it was being the child. Honestly, the town I grew up in isn’t bad, and neither are the residents. In my teenage angst and insecurity I failed to see the charm and potential of my small, historical town. 

Here are five things that I realized can make the experience of moving back to your hometown as an adult with kids of your own that much sweeter.

1 | Support community events

That’s right. Get in there and start participating, that is, unless you want your town to feel as boring as you thought it was at age 14. Go to the sidewalk sales, concerts, bring your kid to the carnival, and try out all the rides. Buy a ticket for the waterslide where the proceeds go to a local cause, and put a big fat smile on your face as you splash down with your child. Attend movie night, sit on a picnic blanket, and meet other parents while enjoying the great things the town now offers.

Without support, these fun days and evenings will vanish, and that’s far from progressive. I’d rather my child look forward to town events versus staying hidden in a dark basement full of video games and Hot Pockets. If your hometown is finally making an effort to offer fun social events, be all in. Your kids will thank you for it.

2 | Forgive that a-hole from high school

We’ve all done and said things we aren’t proud of. It’s called being an idiot teenager. We did things because we were insecure, craved inclusivity, and were just plain immature. It was 20 years ago – time to get over it.

Everyone has been through their own crap, and now here we all are, right back where we started with little children of our own, so why not embrace the new life? The people you went to school with are probably the ones running the town events, involved in politics, on the PTA, teaching math or the local dance class, coaching some sport. Do we want our childhood prejudice to be the reason our child isn’t invited to a birthday party, or feels singled out from a group?

Personally, I don’t ever wish to be the reason my child is excluded from anything. Is it really wise to immediately hate on a person because of the kid they were two decades ago? Give them a chance. If they are still an a-hole, well, at least you tried, and they can go bite it.

While we’re on the subject, if necessary, forgive yourself for the kid you were. Whether you’re still embarrassed about being a geek, jerk, ruler of the hit list, stoner, wild partier, etc., just learn to laugh it off. So you were a silly, insecure teenager. The kid back then isn’t the adult bringing their child to the library today. Trust me, if you don’t make a big thing about how you passed out on some dudes kitchen floor in front of 20 people when you were 17, no one else will either. 

3 | Try not to be the political town crazy 

It’s fun to get up on a soapbox and yell about how things should be better: Our town isn’t doing enough of this or that; the taxes are high; and there are too many housing projects causing overpopulation, so soon the schools will be overflowing.

Let’s bitch about it on the town’s economic forum, and argue with the other residents who defend the budget and have their own list of far more unnecessary complaints! My husband loves to get into it with other blowhards as I sit next to him cringing, imagining the day our daughter wants to attend school with a bag over her head.

Yes, it’s great to fight for fair taxes, a better budget, more town events, etc. because everyone has ideas about making our environment a better place. Argue, but don’t get crazy. Don’t stalk the other townspeople’s personal lives, or tax and property records in an attempt to win debates. Making enemies, or becoming “that guy” isn’t necessarily paving a happy path for your increasingly aware child. Catch more flies with honey right? Do we really want to be the crazy political parents of that poor kid? I certainly do not.

4 | Support local vendors

Find any way you can to support the local retail shops, restaurants, and activity centers. I can remember a few times when the downtown area was filled with empty storefronts, which made for a rather depressing, ghostly drive down the main strip.

It’s pretty convenient having a sweet gift shop when in need of a last-minute present, a crafting space to bring the children, a grocery store five minutes away, and in my case, a plethora of pizza shops scattered everywhere in a two-mile radius. Want your kid to experience the same delicious slice you grew up eating? Hoping your teenager will find an after-school job close to home? The owners rely on your patronage to keep them afloat. These shop owners are our friends, neighbors, retired parents, and perhaps new residents. Give them a chance, and keep the town from becoming a dull ghost town your kid will run screaming from.

5 | Know that your kid is going to go through a phase when they will hate this town

It’s inevitable. There will come a time when my daughter is going to despise the town she’s growing up in. She’s going to look at us and say, “Why the hell did you move back here?” It’s going to happen.

Don’t regret moving back. The things that your kid hates are just things that every kid hates. They will deal with insecurity, acceptance, bullying, boredom, and “the grass is always greener” syndrome. They will, for a while, take everything for granted. I think everyone does. They would experience these feelings anywhere, but conveniently blame the place in which they are living. I did.

Eventually they will again learn to appreciate the town where they went from infancy to adulthood and perhaps even decide to stay to raise their own family; maybe even follow your lead in helping build the town’s spirit and economy even more. They will remember a fondness for the local pizza parlor, the yearly carnival on the green, and the tree-lighting ceremony. With any luck, eventually they will be grateful for the childhood you shaped for them, and look back on many memories fondly, much like I find myself doing today. No matter where they go, their hometown will always be their home, and that’s a beautiful thing.

How Star Wars Became The New Family Tradition

The torch passes to another generation.

“Hey! Do you mind taking a picture with me and my son?” I’m wearing a Stormtrooper costume at a local comic convention: this isn’t an uncommon question.

The man waved me over; both he and his 10-year-old-looking son were both wearing Star Wars t-shirts. Both look equally excited for the photo op. They’re surrounded by a squad of Stormtroopers, who pose around them. After a second, they reclaim their camera and stand back to marvel at what’s before them.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens storms into theaters on December 18th, a new group of fans will join the Star Wars family, changed for the experience of watching the film on the big screen for the first time. Unlike in 1977, however, some families will be passing down the tradition for the first time.

Families have their media traditions, whether it’s gathering around the television to watch a particular TV show, or to go to the movies every Christmas Day to take in the latest major flick. Whenever I go to a convention, I see parents decked out in Star Wars garb with their children. In the internet age, Star Wars has become a tradition that’s being passed down from parent to child.

This has happened in my own household. I’ve been captivated by the series since my father and I watched the film for the first time in 1997. In the intervening years, I devoured the books, watched the films countless times, and joined the 501st Legion with my own set of Stormtrooper armor. Now with a two-year-old son, we’ve begun introducing the Star Wars universe to him in small ways: with random toys, various children’s books, and the occasional snippet of some of the cartoons.

501 Troopers

Whether it was intentional or otherwise, Lucasfilm has introduced Star Wars to distinct generations of moviegoers with each release, and bringing in new fans each time. The 1977 film electrified a generation of youths, and the subsequent sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi only continued that trend.

Those same 10-year-old fans would have been at the right age to begin starting families of their own when Lucasfilm re-released the films as special editions in 1997, setting the stage for the first installment of the prequel trilogy in 1999, The Phantom Menace.

The first new Star Wars film widely disappointed long-time fans, but something interesting happened: a new generation of fans watched for the first time, and they enjoyed the film, as they did for the second and third films, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The prequels became ‘their’ films, the ones that they started with. The prequel trilogy, despite its flaws, was enormously popular.

Two generations of family members take part in their enjoyment of the series.

Some just wear t-shirts emblazoned with the Star Wars logo. In the costuming world, I’ve seen father/mother/daughter/son pairings marching around conventions in outfits they’ve put together. Parents pick up Star Wars books and read them alongside their children; movie nights include re-watching the series for the uncounted time.

When asked about the prequels at Vermont Comic Con, Episode 9 director Colin Trevarrow had a curious thing to say about the prequels: while he agreed that there were problems with characters like Jar Jar Binks and the stories at large, it’s not the place of an older generation of fans to dictate to a younger generation what they should and shouldn’t like.

The franchise has continued to grow: more recently, The Clone Wars television series has brought in new groups of fans that hadn’t quite been old enough for the Prequel Trilogy, and the Rebels TV series has continued to add to the story. With the new films coming, parents who saw originally saw the films when they were 10 or 11 are getting ready to go out and see the new films with their own children and their families. This new trilogy and additional films will welcome an entirely new generation into the Star Wars family.

After the picture, father and son step back and look at our armor, and at the booth that we’ve set up, showcasing helmets, patches and pictures. The father signs his name to our sign-up list, saying that building a costume is something that he’s wanted to do since he was a kid, and now, he wanted to do it along with his son.
The torch passes to another generation.

Rediscovering Lost Stories from Childhood

I found the book at a firefighter-themed restaurant. It was sitting on a coffee table in the waiting area for children. Recognition struck me like a bolt of lightning: I had read it as a child. I only remembered glimpses of the art and story but had been searching for it for years.

fire-fireSeeing”Fire! Fire! in the waiting area was like seeing an old friend who hadn’t changed. (Or feeling like an amnesiac having memories flood back in a rush.)

Since my son was born, I’ve realized that I have an incredible excuse to rediscover the long-lost books of my childhood. Part of this was to satisfy my curiosity: will some of these older books hold up to my memories? Another part is just the sheer joy of rediscovery.

In the lead up to my son’s birth, I went through old books that my parents had saved from my childhood: torn and tattered from the abuse my siblings put on them. I hadn’t seen them for years when I pulled them out. Memories came flooding back.

Some books have maintained a high level of visibility even for adults, and as a result, that nostalgia has since weathered: “Goodnight Moon,” “Where The Wild Things Are,” and “Curious George” are a couple of examples. Familiar, but staples: shared by the public at large.

There were others that I remembered vividly: “The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear” which my father can quote from memory, even three decades after he first read it. There’s “Blueberries for Sal,” a picture book whose elegant illustrations brought memories flooding back from when I was a child, listening to my mother read it aloud to me and my siblings.

little-mouse-red-ripe-strawberry-big-hungry-bear-audrey-wood-hardcover-cover-artThen, there were the half-remembered stories that you encountered maybe once on a trip to the library or which was read to you at a story time in the library, so many years ago. This is where the thrill of discovery reared its head.

“Fire! Fire!” by Gail Gibbons was one of these books. For years, I remembered fragments of the book: a panel of artwork and parts of the story, but never the title, or the author. It’s clever: part story, but part explanation for young children about the different types of fire departments and how they work, not to mention, how and when you should call them.

Katy and the Big Snow” by Virginia Lee Burton is another. Burton’s probably best known for her books “The Little House or Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel,” but this delightful story about a tractor named Katy digging out the city of Geopolis was one that I hadn’t remembered until I caught sight of it in a local bookstore. The story and artwork flooded back, and it’s an enormously relevant story for a place that receives a lot of snow annually.

Finally, there was Jane Yolan’s take on the Arthurian legend, “Merlin and the Dragons,” a book that I was first introduced to not as a picture book, but as a cassette audiobook.

merlin_and_the_dragonsIt was a story that we listened to on the drive to school every day: half in the morning on the ride in, and the other half on the ride back. The story about Merlin dreaming about hidden and symbolic dragons charged my imagination as a child, and the excellent narration of the story stuck with me for years, certainly predisposing me towards other fantasy stories later in life.

After recalling the story, I discovered that it was also a book, with fantastic illustrations of knights and dragons. Onto the bookshelf it went, once it arrived from Amazon.

Not all of these stories hold up as classics. There’s “Iglook’s Seal by Bernard Wiseman, which I discovered in a box of old children’s books stored in our attic. The core of the story is a sweet story about a boy saving a beloved pet, but the execution is extremely problematic, racially and it’s something that I’m sure I’ll toss into my nightly reading rotation.

The internet makes it easy to rediscover these old titles: searching ‘Merlin’ + ‘Dragons’ + ‘Children’s Book’ certainly helped, but it was chance encounters in bookstores and other places that jogged my memory and helped me remember a long-forgotten story.

I wonder how many more of these books are locked away in my brain, and where I might rediscover them. Fortunately, I have a good excuse to go looking.

Baby Blank: a story of adoption / not adoption

My son and I have very different origin stories, very different story stories. My parents are strangers. Real ones. I was adopted in 1982.

I don’t know why I thought this winter was long. Last year’s was just as endless. It wasn’t until May, right before my son, Robin, was born, that anything green appeared. I remember laying on our lawn, nine-month belly up, smelling shoots we didn’t plant. I packed sandals in the hospital bag even though we cut frost from the windshield the morning Robin came.

My son and I have very different origin stories, very different story stories. He arrived one May day after a tense, high-risk pregnancy (placenta previa) and a c-section, scheduled months before. He saw me, briefly, after his silent debut in the operating room, but it was my husband, Stewart, who sat with him while he mastered breathing. Stewart, who sang to him while nursery lights tried to mimic my heart.

A week later, we took Robin home, to our house, and opened the window onto the maple outside. He slept, all day and all night, in the center of a rumpled bed messed by sunlight. I recorded the first night it rained around us, Stewart and he deep in some open-mouthed sleep. We fumbled with syringes and tubes and shields while Robin ate, then, didn’t eat. Those weeks, long, short, gone; Stewart and I watching him like a stranger we had studied in advance.

My parents are strangers. Real ones. I was born in January on the Jersey coast just minutes from casinos. My parents, too young to gamble, got pulled over by a cop on the way to the hospital. Months back, they had left college and moved east, working odd jobs while they waited for me to come, then go. They didn’t know when I was due, or how I would arrive, or what an epidural was. They didn’t know who I was, or where I’d go, or what day I might come back.

When I arrived, blue from the start, I left just as fast. I’d meet my birth mother thirty-two years later, over wine in New York, but I’d meet him, the father, that day, in a nursery I imagine smelled like sea salt. Barely twenty, he wrote me a poem. It said (in part): “Love is felt through all time and space / though there is no hand to feel, / what makes love seen and felt and heard / is knowing love is real.”

I was adopted through Catholic Social Services in 1982. For the first nine weeks of life, I stayed with a foster family somewhere, I think, in southern New Jersey. I think because I don’t know. I don’t know the house, or the street, or the zip. I don’t know the crib, or the stairs, or the mother.

Apparently there were other children—three—and they doted on me. Apparently I slept through the night, and I chewed my fists. I liked TV. Factoids of infant me are transcribed on a questionnaire my temporary mother filled out—rife with exclamation points and ellipses. The only field she didn’t complete, the one marked “Name,” all caps right at the start.

Not knowing the name dogs me, like some other unshakable winter. I asked my adopted parents once what I was called then, during the missing months, watching TV and playing with ghosts. Nonplussed, they searched each other, then shrugged. “Baby Girl?” they wondered. When I found my birth parents, years later, they didn’t know either. They didn’t even know I entered foster care for those short, long weeks, never really gone.

I shade the gaps. I imagine the birthing room, blue. I consider the carpet in the nursery, yellow. And I build the scenes, elaborate and detailed and wrong. What did my mother do when she got in her car in the hospital lot? What did she do, the foster mother, when it rained at night, some open-mouthed sleeper mute beside her? And what was the baby called then, by the kids, in the dark? There are no hands in my story.

Robin and I stand on the lawn as the frost burns off. Big gaps appear in the green as I wonder what his blanks will be. The maple from his first days still stands in our yard. Bark falls off. The stairs in the hall make the same predictable music as the father comes and goes, singing the same tunes. And right now, while he’s speechless, I answer every question for him. After every blank I write ROBIN in all caps, wishing his name was the answer to everything. Every long winter, every lost parent, every page missing from the story. All of his, and all of mine.

Kerin is a writer/poet living and working in Burlington, Vermont. Wife to Stewart and mother to Robin, Kerin is pregnant with baby two due in the fall of 2015. Free Thaw is about the experience of new motherhood, high-risk pregnancy, loss and love. Follow her on Instagram

Baby_Blank_2

6 Tips for Capturing Childhood With Your iPhone

At last count, my iPhone contained 8,755 photos. If I ever used Siri, I assume she’d insist, speech slurred, that I whittle that down to give her room to breathe before she could provide me with any assistance whatsoever. Sometimes I think the whole thing just might spontaneously burst into flames.

I am not a photographer. I am a mom with an iPhone. Obviously, the main subjects of my thousands of photos are my kids. A lot of them are total crap. Kids move fast, refuse to cooperate, and sometimes I just miss. But over the last several years I’ve honed my skills and the misses are fewer and far between. I’ve amassed a serious collection of images that I’m truly proud of using only my iPhone and this set of guidelines:

Be Quick!

Full disclosure: I am that mom who (provided the risk level is relatively low) snaps a photo before rescuing precariously perched toddlers. Many photo worthy moments happen in the blink of an eye. For that reason, I often open my camera from the lock screen, swiping up from the bottom right corner. Ain’t nobody got time for passcodes when babies start hugging each other and butterflies land on sticks and stuff.

image.jpg

 

Light! Make it natural.

Good lighting is the difference between a photo that’s meh and totally stunning. The morning as light streams through windows and the last hour or so before the sun goes down are my favorite times of day to capture. Experiment with sun rays and silhouettes. Set the flash to off and keep it natural.

image.jpg

Don’t zoom. Move closer.

Like with your actual body. The iphone is powerful, but not enough to take photos without degrading them when using the zoom feature.  Get in close and take shots that isolate something you want to remember; a grubby little hand full of freshly picked berries, baby toes peeking out under covers, portraits of sleeping faces.

image.jpg

Speaking of moving, get low.

Kids are short. Generally, anyway. Get down on their level. Capturing them while in the space they occupy strengthens the image.

image.jpg

Make it interesting. 

Sure, centered photos of your child smiling at the camera are great, but can become tiresome. I use the grid feature (you can enable it on the native camera by going into settings–>photos and camera then scrolling down and toggling it on) to follow the rule of thirds. Placing points of interest in the areas where the lines intersect draw the eye into the photo and make for an overall more appealing result. Shooting from unexpected angles is another way to enhance visual interest. Explore top down shots of lego building and lounging in the grass, or focus on wrinkly toes perched on the edge of the tub as the smiles blur in the background.

image.jpg
image.jpg

Don’t over filter.

Filters are like the Jnco jeans of the photo world. They seemed fashionable enough then, but eventually become a foolish representation of their moment in time. Honestly, how you can hold in your hand this incredible tool that your ancestors could not even fathom, yet choose to manipulate an image until it looks like something your backed over with your car is baffling to me. I am in no way ANTI filter, but I know the photos which most closely resemble what the eye sees are the ones that will stand the test of time. When I first became an iphone owner, I was very heavy handed with the editing. Looking back, those photos haven’t kept my interest. Go easy. Stay authentic as a rule and break it occasionally.

image.jpg
This post originally appeared on the blog at NotabliParent Company’s first product.