My dad bought a cool Panasonic stereo in 1972 in Vietnam.
It has a turntable, a radio with a bunch of giant knobs, and two enormous wood speakers.
My dad served in the Army during the conflict in Vietnam. He was not rich and he didn’t get out of it. He became a sergeant and learned to speak the language and served as an interpreter.
When his tour of duty was over, he somehow got this stereo home to Texas where my mom waited for him. I was born shortly after in 1973.
The stereo sat in my living room. The giant speakers are as much a part of my childhood as the rust colored carpet. As technology advancements encroached, it moved into a dusty forgotten part of the attic.
When my oldest daughter turned 14 (she’s 16 now), my dad offered to send the stereo to her, even though it had not been played in years. Of course we said yes. Our family loves music and I loved the idea of having a precious artifact from my childhood.
My husband’s friend (who is an old-timey stereo geek) restored it for the low price of a bottle of nice whiskey, and we set it up in my daughter’s bedroom.
The grandparents on both sides started sending us their LPs: Peter Frampton, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, The Oak Ridge Boys, Sesame Street, KISS.
We started visiting record shops like West Portal Records and Tunnel Records as a family. My husband began collecting albums at shows like The Beths and The Lemon Twigs. We ordered Beyonce’s Lemonade on LP.
One good thing about small houses in San Francisco: cool old stereos in your kid’s room can be heard all over the house. We love it.
I told my daughter that she can’t take the stereo to college with her. She can get a small turntable if she wants but the oldie has to stay here.
It’s a small thing that brings our family together. It’s vintage and hip. We get to pretend to be cool. We can argue about what to play. And I think of my mom and dad as young parents every time I look at it.
Real talk: I have no trophies to report at this time. No achievements. No certificates. No awards. No humblebrags on social media. No real brags on social media.
I am limping to the end of the school year with my tail between my legs like a tired old dog. This year has got me beat down and I’m just going to own it. I can’t pretend like I have it all figured out. Because I sure don’t.
Let’s start with the baby. The baby is almost 6. He’s sensitive and funny and weird and he struggles like a newborn in a swaddle at transitions.
I have cried every night for the past two weeks as I have watched him feel so much and how he is unable to make sense of all of his big feelings.
My 11 year old has survived her first middle school year. Survived mean girls and bullying and the sadness of saying good bye to her elementary school. She cut her hair super short (adorable btw) and had shitty kids make disparaging comments about her style. She comes home and yells at all of us after holding it all in at school.
But I see her resilience shine through. She wears her cool hair with joy. She loves art and her cats and Hamilton and her quiet, bookish friends.
Big Teen Girl is having Big Teen Fun Times and that’s all I will say about that out of respect for her privacy. But I’m working through my parenting in a whole new way with that one too.
I got a new job this year. And I’ve been adjusting to life in the tech lane, learning a new language around working with startups and engineers. My brain has ballooned with knowledge and it has been good and healthy for me. But damn that mental load is heavy.
In 2018 I read 24 books. This means that I finished reading them. I started even more, but life is too short to keep falling asleep on the same paragraph for 8 days straight.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was a heck of a commitment alongside work, family, and a deep love of falling asleep in front of the TV.
In 2019 I resolved to read 24 more books. I figured that if I track them then perhaps I will meet my goal. Here is what I have read so far. By accident they are all books that are by and about strong, feminist women.
Insights as the 3rd baby is almost 5 and graduates from preschool and the middle child graduates from elementary school and the teen continues to teach me new things every day.
I have three kids. They are spaced out in a manner that makes rude people ask inappropriate questions about birth control.
The past 5 years, since my third baby has been born, have felt like 100 years.
Since the third baby has been born time has moved through honey. I mentally review and catalog these recent years through that same sticky haze. It is sweet, thick, sometimes with a surprise stinger embedded.
Adding one more kid to the equation multiplied the logistics of everything. Exponentially. I gained one extra person but dove into a Rubix cube of pull-ups, puberty, Snapchat, preschool, public transportation without adult supervision, adult career dramas, and 4th grade girl navigation.
I work harder than I have ever worked yet I desire less affirmation. I no longer need to be the manic pixie dreamgirl. I demand my own muse. She lives in the mirror.
I have refined my style. Refined my expectations for me time. I am more efficient. I move faster, take less shit, offer more polite no’s to people and situations that drain me or my family.
I still have much work to do here, but I’m pointed in the right direction.
I am more liberal. More compassionate. Less judgmental of other families and parents and ways of doing things because we all need to give each other a break and I know that shit is HARD. Again, I still have much work to do here.
I write less for me and more for money. I’m pragmatic, confident, and I improvise well. I like the word nimble. Metaphorically, that is.
My waist is thicker and I’m ten pounds heavier but whatever. I can still do crow pose and a headstand. I can’t do a backbend or a full wheel anymore. (These are yoga things that make me sound fit and bendy on the outside, but I’m really just thinking hard about being fit and bendy on the inside.)
I no longer care to do the presentation of “good’ parenting at the playground. All you parents with older kids know exactly what I mean:
“Share, Tanner! You need to put that down and SHARE!”
“Mackenzie, you are not using that slide right! Do it the RIGHT way!”
I know that sometimes I am an above-average parent. Sometimes I’m outstanding. Sometimes I’m shitty. I don’t need to demonstrate all sides of it to strangers like I did back in the day.
I’ve learned to course-correct mid-stream because I don’t have a second to spare. (I write this while eating a salad during a 15 minute lunch break.)
I reset often. New rules, new goals, new plans. I thought my days were busy before. I had no idea.
My rituals have become sacrosanct. Untouchable. I run to the beach at low tide, stuff my pockets with sea glass and call my sister while I walk home. My sweet husband and I watch shows like Westworld and AP Bio nightly at 9pm. We sip bourbon and I eat dark chocolate. I am sad when I miss these nights because every other moment is blocked off and I know to appreciate what I’ve got.
I love my big(ish) family. I love your big family. I love small families. I love all families. I love my children. I love your children.
I do that sentimental thing at the end of each school year when my babies reach milestones and I walk that precious line between wanting to swaddle them like newborns and swelling with joy at the end of an era.
He is Elmer Fudd in a Viking hat at the top of the mountain summoning the elements. (And they better damn well listen.)
He is the Tasmanian Devil, a whirling dervish, Animal from the Muppets.
My baby boy strokes my hair and tells me he wants to marry me.
He sits on the bench on our deck with binoculars and quietly waits for the birds.
When we stop at Carl’s Jr on a road trip he says that he can’t eat his chicken because “it’s defensive.”
He calls Cheetos “Cheeto Bison” and begs to have them every day. Sometimes I say yes because he is so small and he is my third baby and I see his sisters who are all elbows and attitude just grab the Cheetos without asking me.
He says that when he grows up he wants to be a daddy and have three children and live near me and come over every day.
When I kiss him goodnight he says, “thank you.” Then pauses and says, “Do you know why I say thank you? It’s for the kiss. And that is a kind choice.”
He types his name on my old typewriter like this: lamu8
I wrote the essay below 13 years ago in 2004. It was orginally published in the print version of Hip Mama magazine. Ever since this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, I can’t stop re-reading it.
Was my voice naive? Yes.
Was I trying to stand up for justice? Yes.
Will I keep standing up? Yes.
Below is an excerpt from the original essay, in all of its poorly written, but well-intentioned glory. The president’s son I mention in the story is George W. Bush. We used to see him at our church when I was a kid and his father was in the White House. I didn’t agree with many of his choices as president, but I certainly now see him as a beacon of decency, class, respect, and family love.
Anyhoo, here it is:
I attended Robert E. Lee High School, home of the Rebel football team. The book, Friday Night Lights, which documents the football-worshipping culture of West Texas, came out my junior year. Billy Bob Thornton plays the coach of my school’s rival team, Odessa Permian High School, in the upcoming film version. Rebel football games were massive community events, and fans waved Confederate flags in support of our team.
During my senior year in high school, the African American student organization decided that they were fed up with seeing a symbol of hatred and oppression masquerading as school spirit. Although these students may have been a minority of the student body, they were very well represented on the football team, and a movement to ditch the Dixie flag began. The issue soon became an adult conflict, with many parents making asses of themselves defending “tradition” in highly charged public forums.
In the end, our principal decided to let the student body vote on whether or not to keep the flag. My own friends, mostly white, lacked consensus on the issue, and I struggled to find an answer that felt right to me. After much pondering, I came up with a rationale that empathized with the no-flag side.
I decided that if our school constantly waved a flag that symbolized violence and hatred toward any group, then I would want that flag gone, and that I should vote NO. This naive logic made perfect sense at the time.
The day of the vote coincided with a pep rally, or some other such nonsense that provided an opportunity for cheerleading costumes that broke all the rules of our school’s strict dress code. A last bastion of Rebel tradition, the cheerleaders flaunted their school spirit by showing up at school that day wearing Confederate flag printed bandanas wrapped around their heads.
All of the cheerleaders except one.
The solitary Black cheerleader, whose name I no longer remember, didn’t know me from Adam, but I knew her in the way that high school kids seem to know the identity of highly visible insiders. She quietly sat in my Vocabulary Development class in her tiny maroon and white skirt and vest, sans bandana.
I obsessed over what she was going through, my overdeveloped sense of empathy in full mode. Of course, I never actually said anything to her about it.
The student body voted to get rid of the Confederate flag by a narrow margin, but that didn’t stop many teenagers and adults from exercising their Constitutional right to hang Rebel flags in their yards or smack flag stickers onto the bumpers of their trucks. I quietly celebrated my idealistic belief that we youth could truly overthrow the racial division of our parents and ignored the dissenters.
I attended church the following Sunday, smug that my side won the flag war. Even though I had nowhere near the experience of being an African American kid, I knew how it felt to be marginalized, like an outsider. On the surface, I blended into the sea of white faces at church, but inside I couldn’t sit quietly with the status quo of my hometown.
As we stood up to sing the opening hymn, my mom nudged me, “Look, there’s the President’s son!” She nodded her head toward the rear of the church, gesturing me to take a peek at the man who is now our President. I craned my neck back one hundred and eighty degrees to see the guy who stood with the secret service and the little blond twins, before pretending that I didn’t care and crossing my arms in defiance.
The essay goes on and on a bit, but you get the idea. I don’t have anything original to add, other than to say I’m thankful I had the sense to vote against the flag and that with hindsight I wish I had done even more. I wish I had been brave enough to reach out to the quiet cheerleader or to stand up to racist remarks in the hallways.
Now, as an adult white woman I cannot be silent, lest it be interpreted as complicity. I have no choice but to stand up.
When I was a little girl I used to beg my dad to tell me the “worst word in the world.” I was hoping he would tell me a really rude curse word. He always answered that the worst word was “hate.” He was right.
There are not “many sides.” There are sad, cruel, nasty, hateful people who hurt others. There are white supremacists and nazis and that is it. Period.
I cast my vote always and forever against hate, with no exceptions.
It was such an off-kilter day that I didn’t even get a chance to update things around here with the 7 Days of YES Challenge before I fell asleep with the kids.
I made a rookie mistake the night before and took some prescription meds on an empty stomach before bed. Ouch! Up all night with stomach pains and nausea.
The next morning did not go well. I had said YES to the 9-year-old sleeping in bed with me every night. Then YES to the preschooler crawling in with us at 3:00am. The stomach pains plus the crowd-sourced bedsharing, plus YES to lots of wine at Stern Grove the day before made for a NO sort of morning.
I hurtled through the day on autopilot, exhausted. One of those kinds of days where you do the bare essentials to keep the house from falling apart then put the entire crew to bed by 9:00pm.
Redeeming YES moments from Day 4.
I took the preschooler for a sweet walk on the beach. We saw crabs, threw sticks into the ocean, collected treasures, and talked about jellyfish.
The teen girl likes her rowing camp.
The 9-year-old likes her skateboard camp.
I got 9.5 hours of sleep that night. Ahhhhhhh…
Day 5 was much better.
I left the house at 8:15am and didn’t get to work until 9:45am, after dropping off my 10,000 (or 3) kids at their various destinations. I said YES to letting everyone sleep later and I said YES to giving the teen a ride to rowing camp.
After work I said YES to Trader Joe’s Mac & Cheese Balls for dinner, Mochi ice cream thingies for dessert, and 1,300 episodes of Bob’s Burgers.
I said YES to the 9-year-old painting her skateboard helmet with nailpolish because it has embarrassing Barbie logos on it. Then I said YES to making her take the whole project out to to the deck because we were all getting high on the fumes.
I said YES to the preschooler eating dinner on the floor in front of the TV.
YESes: Quite a few, within reason.
NOs: Not too many.
Cuts on the face for the preschooler that were dangerously close to his eye: 1