If I didn’t have kids

15 Jun

“Mami, what would you do if you didn’t have me?” my daughter asked the other day, as she put toothpaste on her toothbrush.  Why do we have our most intimate conversations in the bathroom?

“Why are you asking me that?”

“Because you’re YOU.  What would you do?”

I can tell you what I used to do, before my girls, before my partner.  I used to perform spoken word poetry at Northalsted Market Days, dance sometimes at the local boy bar during Wednesday “Women’s Obssession Night”, dress up fancy for the annual Lesbian Community Care Project benefit at South Shore Cultural Center.  I used to host meetings for LGBT affinity groups and solidarity organizations.  I dated.   I rehearsed comedies and children’s shows, co-facilitated coming-out groups, performed for open mic nights and fundraisers.

I used to wear a thick silver chain necklace to parties sometimes, with a three-inch license plate dangling down to say “Butch,” but I never was. I never was Femme either, but my hair flowed past my waist.  A friend and I once made a plan to print T-shirts proclaiming, “I survived the AIDS Treatment Activism Conference without cutting my hair!”  It was something. 

Then nine years ago, I was staffing a table for Lambda Legal at Chicago’s Midsommarfest in Andersonville, when I met Kelly and her 11-year-old daughter. I came out from behind the table, she gave her daughter and friend a few bucks for face-painting, and we all walked around in the hot sun.   I began introducing her to my friends that afternoon – on curbs, on steps, in all manner of street festival dress. In the days that followed, I remember a luscious lava cake, emails, hurried phone calls, a few squeezed-in dinner dates. My friends called her my Motorcycle Mama.

Less than a year passes and I am moving into their new house in Oak Park and arguing with her about the color to paint the guest room. We had reached the point, sooner than we might have because her kid was involved, when I needed to jump in now or step out.  I chose to jump in, for better or worse.

And slowly, I began to understand that being out every night wasn’t helping us to bond as a family.  So I prioritized family TV nights, spent evenings coaching her daughter with math homework, and spent ten minutes on the phone with friends instead of forty – most of the time – although I imagine her daughter doesn’t see it that way.  Pre-teens at the time rarely had their own cell phones, so we shared the family land line. 

One afternoon in a friend’s sunroom, we wrote a long poem together.  Each of us contributed.

 

Things That Happen in a House

Stirring

Kibitzing

Kvetching

Whining

Ranting

Panting

Slamming

Dancing

Drinking

Boiling

Wining

Dining

Reading

 

Plant watering

Shoveling

Gardening

Painting

Washing

Fainting

Singing

Clanging

 

Dropping

Blaming

Breaking

Wailing

Screeching

Spaghetti dangling

 

Spitting

Knitting

Spinning

Winning

Playing

Claying

Sighing

Saying

Tying

 

Waiting

Or reading

 

Lighting

Sighting

Opining

Living

Listing

Rambling

 

Scrambling

Growing

Growling

Going

Throwing

Sitting

Crowing

Petting

Caring

Sharing

Daring

Tearing

Wearing

Pairing

Parenting

 

Filling

Spilling

Thrilling

Teasing

Cheesing

Pleasing

Sneezing

Wheezing

Freezing

Seizing

 

Seasoning

Reasoning

Tilling

 

Filling

 

Willing

Coming

Groaning

Dreaming

Shouting

Leaning

Pouting

Feeling

 

Outing

Scouting

Routing

Shouting

Doubting

Skipping

Tipping

Flipping out

Dripping

Learning to pout

 

Nudging

Budging

Budgeting

Curmudgeoning

Crooning

Droning

Honing

 

Fighting

Biting

Spanking

Thanking

Cranking up the volume

 

Stair stepping

And beeping

Young sneaking

Or creeping

Seeking

And creaking

Late-night critiquing

 

Exercising

Excusing

Using

 

And farting

Darting

Parting

Tooting

Pooping

Partying

Peeing

Being

Seeing

Inspiring

Desiring

 

Laying

Saying

Just saying

Just laying

 

Burping

Chirping

Working

Waking

 

Selecting

Requesting

Bequesting

Nesting

Resting

 

Baking

Friend-making

Applying

Dialing

Smiling

Beguiling

Riling

Filing

Blaming

Claiming

Losing

Choosing

Misplacing

Replacing

Tracing

 

Facing

 

Crocheting

Debating

Biting

Bathing

 

And surging

And sleeping

And leaping

And waking

And dreaming

And screaming

 

Holding

Folding

Wiling

Beguiling

Sneezing

Pleasing

Living

 

Things that happen in a house.

 

My stepdaughter and I edited this poem the following day, and we had a lot of fun.  It was years before she asked me to look at her writing again.

So what do I tell my seven-year-old in the moment?  “I don’t know, Sweetheart.  More writing maybe?  Going out with friends?”  Her sister’s now a spoken word poet in her own right.  And I, at least, am writing again, re-discovering my own voice.  Or honing it, this time.

I step out of the shower.  My youngest brushes her teeth.  And we begin the new day.

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4 Responses to “If I didn’t have kids”

  1. Anonymous June 15, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    OK, this made me a little teary….

  2. rrp69 June 15, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Wow… thank you.

  3. studiodeb333 June 15, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    I love this. But I checked the list twice and I think you left off “loving.” I bet a lot of that happens in the house too 🙂

  4. RoiAnn June 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    Yowzer. You’re GOOD. We did, indeed – and yes, a lot of that happens in the house, too – though never purposely, I think. OOPS.

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