Tag Archives: pariah

Free Birth Control on the Subway

Remember that made for TV movie, the Boy in the Plastic Bubble? If I could commute in such a contraption I would. Instead, I create my own protective bubble: listening to music and playing a game on my iPod or reading prevents me from inadvertently encouraging conversation. Talking on my commute makes my brain hurt.

Having spent most of my day watching the spinning blue circle on my computer go round and round, during my commute tonight, I transformed into “Captain Introvert” on the train platform and used the “you are invisible to me” cloak to pretend I didn’t notice “talkopotamus” next to me. Entering the train, I turned the opposite way and plopped into the last available seat. Crisis averted…until!

One stop later, the man sitting next to me got up to offer his seat to someone. He stood in front of the seat, blocking my view, and then two small children squeezed past him and climbed into the seat next to me.


I wanted to get up, but there was nowhere to go on the packed train and the man blocked my view of whoever accompanied the kids. I leaned over until I could see around the man. I caught the attention of a young woman clutching a large stuffed penguin and offered her my seat. She smiled and shrugged and said a little too brightly, “Oh no, that’s OK!”

So I would be sitting with Taylor and Tristan.

Like Bill Cosby’s comedy bit about the annoying 4-year old boy “Jeffrey,” I remember their names, because the woman they were with used them incessantly in a futile attempt to get them to behave.

Taylor and Tristan jostled for position in the seat they were supposed to share. While they encroached on my personal space, that wasn’t the worst thing. You see, children don’t respect the protective commuting bubble.

They peppered the air with very loud questions. Then they started directing their questions at me, interrogation style.

T&T: “Why did the train get broken? Why did the train get broken? Why did the train get broken?”

Their decibel level combined with their awkward grammar made me cringe. I had no idea what they were asking.

Then Taylor screamed: “Tristan bit me!” She turned on the annoying fake cry kids like to perform.

Woman: “Tristan, don’t bite.”

I shot a sidelong glance at Tristan. I wondered if he was up to date with his rabies shots.

Tentatively, I leaned over Tristan the biter and asked the woman again, “Are you sure you don’t want to sit down?” OMG, let’s please figure out how we can both climb over this man and trade positions. Of all the people on this train, I had to be the least well-equipped to interact with Tristan and Taylor.

Tristan: “What’s your name?”

Ugh. I didn’t answer. Just didn’t seem like a good idea to give Tristan my name. But they would not stop asking me questions. I started to feel the eyes of dozens of adults on me. They wanted Taylor and Tristan entertained. I pushed my headphones back so I could hear.

Taylor (pointing to my headphones): “Why do you have those music things?”

Me: “To drown out the sound of your piercing voice. Uh, because I like music.” Duh! Kids ask dumb questions.

Taylor reached her little germ-infested hand for my iPod, “What’s that game?”

Me: “Collapse.” How jerky will it look if I snatch my iPod away from her hand?

Then she pointed at the post-it note on the back of my iPod. “What’s that?”

Me: “My list of things to do tonight.” Get the hell out of this seat needs to be added. 

Taylor: “Oh yeah? What did you do today?”

Some of the other passengers snickered.

Me: “Not a whole lot, actually.” I started to feel self-conscious about how deep and flat my voice sounded. Aren’t you supposed to speak in a higher pitch and add fake excitement when speaking to children?

Then Tristan rejoined the conversation: “What’s your name?”

Feeling ever so slightly more comfortable, I answered this time: “Tracy.”

Tristan (smiling): “afdl5$%k!”

Woman: “Tristan! That’s not nice!”

Wait, what? I needn’t have worried about not understanding what he said, because the admonishment egged him on.

Tristan: “Yucky! That’s yucky! Yucky!”

What’s yucky? My name? Me? Being such an annoying kid? I started to fantasize about elbowing Tristan hard enough to show him who was boss.

Tristan edged a little closer. “I want to sit there. Can I sit there?”

Hell to the no. 

Me: “I think you’re good right there.”

Tristan: “No, I’m not good.”

This brought more snickering from the crowd. No disagreement from me, kid.

During a break in the action, I tried to go back to playing Collapse. That lasted about two seconds before their hands were all up in my iPod’s business. So I let them play Collapse. My iPod has some sanitizing wipes in its future. Both Taylor and Tristan were sniffling, so I’m certain to have small pox tomorrow.

After a few more minutes, their mother/nanny/zookeeper told them to get ready, they had just one more stop.

And finally I found my excited voice: “One more stop!”

Melon, Other Fruitlessness (or Why A Childfree Person Thinks About Having Kids)

Coming Out

I haven’t explicitly written about not having kids. I’ve been hesitant for two reasons:

1.) I don’t want to alienate anybody. I think some parents get uncomfortable around me once they know I’m purposely childfree (it’s hard to avoid the conversation now that I’m of an age when “do you have kids?” is the first thing new people ask me) because they think I’m judging their choice. But no. Really. As someone whose preferred number of children is an uncommon zero, I’m very sensitive to reproductive rights. Want 20 kids? Go for it, Duggar, just don’t judge my number.

2.) I get a “she doth protest too much” vibe, even from Dave sometimes, if I bring up this topic. Talking about not wanting children must mean I’m delusional, that I really want kids, but am just afraid to admit it.

Why Analyze Something You’ve Decided Not To Do?

I analyze everything—it’s just my way.

So few people choose this route, I want to reach out for support. While the proportion of women my age who have never had children has increased since 1976 according to the Current Population Survey, it’s still small. About 20 percent of women my age have never had a child (only 13 percent of women my age who have ever been married). It can get pretty lonely up in here.

Perhaps most importantly, I analyze it because I still can. I read somewhere that childfree people think about whether or not to have kids more than parents and it makes sense because we generally have a longer period of time over which to consider it. Parents kind of have to stop considering this question once they have kids. I can still change my mind.

I don’t think I’ll ever change my mind. But the biggest difference between myself as a 25-year-old and now is I’m no longer naïve enough to think it’s impossible. There’s no reason not to touch base on it periodically.

An Analogy

My Mom can’t understand why I don’t like melon. I’ve watched her cut cantaloupe for herself hundreds of times. Every so often she would encourage me to try a bite. “Oh, this is a good one, so sweet. Come on…”

Once I got past the age at which it was my job to stubbornly refuse all her food advances, I would occasionally give it a try. But I hate melon. All kinds. Even watermelon. I realize this is un-American.

1.) The smell: skunky, like it’s already gone bad.

2.) The texture: some might call it juicy, but it’s really just watery. It’s like eating a saturated yet solid sponge.

3.) The taste: it tastes sort of like it smells—off. Dirty dishwatery? Skunky.

But I can understand melon’s appeal. It’s brightly colored and its high water content can be refreshing on a hot summer day. Melon provides an economical fruit salad filler.

So because of Mom’s peer pressure and the ubiquitous overabundance of it in fruit salads, and my own desire not to miss out (if I had never tried new things I’d still be stuck eating a diet of Spaghetti-os, hot dogs, and sweets), I continue to try melon occasionally.

Like yesterday, for example.


In short, still no.

And Now I Go There—Comparing Children with Melon

I don’t want kids. None. Ever. I realize this is un-American. I have all kinds of reasons.

1.) The physical pain: I’m certain the pain of childbirth would kill me. When I spoke to the first of my friends to give birth after it was over, she said “there’s no way you could do that.”

2.) The emotional pain: I shudder over the idea of having to watch, helpless, as your children exhibit some of the same characteristics you hate most in yourself.

3.) The loss of freedom: I like my life the way it is and the things I’d most like to change are incompatible with parenting. I want to get more sleep. I’m trying to wrestle more control over how I spend my time.

This might ring hollow to parents, just as parents’ reasons can often sound vague to me. I’ve heard parents say it was just a feeling they always had, they just knew they wanted to have children. It’s the same for me really, just in the reverse. I’ve never had that feeling.

But I can understand the appeal. Creating a new life, having more people with whom you can share love. Giving my Mom more grandchildren, building a relationship with my child like the one I have with my Mom (hopefully). Parenting is an excuse to relive your childhood without seeming childish. And parents have at least one thing in common with most people they meet.

Unlike melon, I can’t simply try it out, decide I still don’t like it, and get left with only a temporary bad taste in my mouth. But like melon, it seems worth investigating, just in case. Even though it’s unlikely I’ll change my mind. So I do what I can do, which is touch base with myself, imagine it, make sure it isn’t just fear making me say no.

I’ve heard the argument that you can’t treat whether to have children as a rational decision because there’s no way to know for sure how you’ll react to it. That even if you don’t like kids, you’ll love your own. While I agree there’s no way to know exactly what it will be like before doing it, the idea this decision shouldn’t be considered rationally is just crazy talk. I have no doubt I’d love my own children. I think I could be a good parent (well, if I managed to survive childbirth that is), I just don’t want to.

Of all the decisions I’ll ever make in my life, this has to be the foremost on my list of things I’d rather regret not doing than doing. Will I ever change my mind? I can’t even imagine it. But occasionally I try. Because I can.

People Watching

Sinking down into the comfortable reclining chair, I slide my feet into warm, bubbling water. Knowing the aesthetician and I will fall into silence after a couple of awkward questions and answers, I brought various forms of entertainment with me.

The busy salon door keeps opening, bringing more customers. They all arrive in pairs or groups. Finally, a lone woman enters. The receptionist motions for her to take a seat for her service. But she replies, “I’m meeting a friend, I’ll wait.” Huh, her too.

Filling the seats around me, these women chat about wedding plans, their children, vacations. Their conversations flow easily and pull my attention away from the magazine I’m halfheartedly flipping through and the Facebook statuses I’m absentmindedly checking.

The Facebook statuses! Facebook documents parties, potlucks, hometown reunions at holidays. Picture after picture shows smiling faces, arms comfortably draped around shoulders and waists.

At home, a recent warm day allows me to sit on the front porch. My next door neighbors walk past. We exchange smiles, waves, hellos. Some of our other neighbors run into them, each holding one of their new puppies. They laugh with the realization they independently decided to visit each other. As they walk past again, we exchange smiles, waves, and inquiries about our dogs. I sort through my mail, hearing their giggles and cooing over the puppies playing in the yard next door.

While responding to email at work, the voice of my newest coworker drifts down the hallway. She and another coworker are finalizing weekend plans. Other coworkers are calling in a lunch order, which reminds me it’s time to eat. On my way to the microwave, my coworkers and I exchange smiles and hellos.

At my previous job, I get an office mate after a year. Each time one of her visitors knocks, it takes me by surprise. I look up and exchange smiles and hellos. Within a few weeks of sharing an office, I catch up on a year’s worth of office gossip.

My graduate school has an office space just for students in my small program. When someone walks in, people smile and call out greetings. We help each other finalize homework between classes at the large wooden table in the common area. We snack on candy bars and complain about the volume of work and the early morning classes. My fellow students plan evening study sessions, dinners, and Melrose Place-watching parties.

During grade school, predicting when girls who had previously talked to me would decide to exclude me again is impossible, better to watch and wait for an affirmative sign before assuming anything.

Shortly after my fourth birthday, my mother takes me to preschool. We have driven by the building many times and I’m obsessed with the indoor slide I can see through a front window. My first day, I’m taken to a large room in the back of the building. The back door to the room leads to an outdoor playground. Sunbeams enter through the partially open door and the sounds of other children playing outside pour into the room. My teacher greets me and suggests I go play, waving her arm away from her desk. I look around carefully and it is not clear where to turn or what to do. All of the other children appear to be engrossed in activities already. The loud noises of their talking and laughter assault my ears.

Squinting to hold back tears, I wonder how everyone else knows each other already.


This post is in response to this week’s Red Writing Hood prompt at the Red Dress Club. The prompt: “We’d like you to write about what your character wants most.”

The Bad Side

Imagine a classroom of first graders, a group of six-year-olds in their first formal school experience.

Now imagine the teacher openly labeling some of these children as “good” and the others as “bad.”

Sounds ridiculous, right?

My Mom did her best to prepare me for the start of first grade since past experience indicated I would need some encouragement, perhaps even a shove. Mom took me to the school for a visit before the first day. We got to see my classroom and meet my teacher, Miss Griswold. I was still very nervous, but I hoped it would be OK, just like Mom said.

Unfortunately, Miss Griswold had other plans.

One day, Miss Griswold announced she would rearrange the room. She wanted to split the class into the “good side” and the “bad side” of the room. I felt panicked. I didn’t yet know what it meant to be on the bad side, but it couldn’t be good. I didn’t think I was bad, but I couldn’t know for sure I was safe until she finished calling out the assignments. I held my breath. She assigned me to the bad side of the room. My heart sank. I felt very confused. What could I have done? I never got into any trouble.

She drew very clear distinctions between the good side and the bad side. She reorganized our desks and created a boundary between the desks on the good side of the room and the bad side.

When she crossed the boundary, she changed her tone of voice. She spoke in a cheerful sing-song while on the good side. She switched to a threatening tone whenever she moved over to the bad side. While the bad side of the room worked on extra math problems at our desks, the good side of the room moved to the back of the room to lounge on pillows and listen to extra stories.

I was painfully shy, but I had to know why she thought I was bad. I could not think of anything I had done. Asking her why she assigned me to the bad side of the room provoked enormous anxiety. But I could not think of anything else. I worked up my courage, walked over to her, got her attention, and managed to ask her why.

She said I forgot to hand in a permission slip for a field trip before she had to ask me for it. She actually said this in more condescending a manner than that, as if it should have been obvious. “Remember the other day, when you forgot to hand in the permission slip…” After I nodded, she said “Well, that’s why.”

If there was a way out of the bad side of the room, she didn’t offer any tips. I felt sick to my stomach. Going to school everyday made me miserable.

I have no idea how long this went on before my Mom’s complaints eventually put an end to it, but long enough for my panic and embarrassment to turn into dread. I stayed home “sick” a lot. I couldn’t even relax at home, because I worried about what would happen the next day if I couldn’t convince Mom to let me stay home again. Finally, Mom said if I missed one more day, they would hold me back. I stopped staying home.

Eventually Miss Griswold introduced a new system to reinforce good behavior, a token-earning system. The tokens were small chips, round and Crayola red. I don’t remember earning any. I absolutely did not want to call any attention to myself, good or bad. I didn’t need any tokens or prizes, I just needed to be safe.

While I don’t remember how long I sat on the bad side of the room, I do remember why, and I do remember coming to understand that no mistake would go unpunished.


This week’s RemembeRED prompt was to “mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall.” I’m really hoping that someday one of these prompts will elicit an unambiguously happy memory because I swear I do have some!

For those of you who might wonder, Miss Griswold was my teacher’s real name. I suppose it’s possible that someone could identify her based on this post, and I have three things to say to that:  1.) Fuck her, 2.) She got married and changed her name, and 3.) Fuck her.


My childhood best friend lived next door to us. She was three years older than me, three years more creative and more fun. Playing with her was much more fun than playing by myself and those were usually my only options. We were inseparable, especially during the summer. She would come over and make up impossibly sophisticated stories for us to act out with my dolls.

During middle school, she started to tire of having a younger shadow. She and some other girls her age would gang up to play tricks on me and laugh at my confusion. I would blink back tears and go home, only to go back for more at the first invitation. Over time, she stopped being my friend altogether. The next summer extended before me like an eternity of empty time.

The couple who rented her family’s upstairs apartment got a puppy. I discovered the puppy once when I headed out to sit in the backyard to pretend I had something to do and I was overjoyed. I realized I was considerably more excited about this puppy than his owners were because they left him out there alone a lot. I think I learned his name from the yelling his owners’ provided from the back door.

Bear was adorable and sweet and very aptly named. He looked like a little teddy bear and he was desperate for attention. I started engaging him through the chain link fence that separated our backyard from his. I felt sorry for him and I fell in love with him. One day he started digging under the fence. Though I sensed there would be trouble, I encouraged this behavior. I wanted to hold him and pet him and love him without that stupid fence in the way. When he finally squeezed over to my side, being with him was as wonderful as I had imagined. I picked him up and brought him to my face and talked to him and felt his warm puppy tongue on my cheek. I plopped him down on my lap and stroked his soft puppy fur and felt such joy and love.

I wanted to keep him.

The neighbors were paying more attention than I thought and it wasn’t long before I started hearing them calling for Bear. I hid behind out house for awhile in a futile attempt to keep him longer. The longer the search went on when Bear was right next door, the more trouble for me. Eventually I decided to go sit with Bear on our front porch and let his owners find us.

I held Bear on my lap and tried to make peace with giving him back. I watched with dread as Bear’s owners turned the corner and finally noticed us sitting together.

“Didn’t you hear us calling him?” They looked pissed.

I ended up saying I’d found him, that he must’ve dug under the fence and gotten free. I could tell they didn’t believe me. But there was no harm done, so they just took him back from me without another word.

When I went to the backyard after that, Bear would run over and immediately go to the hole he had dug. The owners tried to fill the hole with soil, but that was no match for Bear, so they eventually secured that area of the fence with plywood. I couldn’t go out there anymore because he would still try to dig and it was heartbreaking and I was afraid he’d hurt himself. I also didn’t want to have to see the day that he stopped trying.


The prompt this week was to write about a scene from your life that best illustrates your true self.

A Great Big Bundle of Joy

Holy shit, it’s December.

This turn of events is horrifying–where did 2010 go exactly? On the other hand, yesterday I got to open door number one on my Neuhaus advent calendar. Beyond all reason is a good way to describe the way I love Neuhaus chocolate. Look at how adorable this year’s advent calendar is…

So this means it’s Christmas time, and there’s no need to be afraid.  But I am a little afraid of my to do list.

Christmas was magical for me as a child. What’s not to love about Christmas as a kid, with the special events, vacation from school, the cookies, and the much-anticipated presents. Some of my childhood home life was, shall we say, unsatisfying, but at Christmas things seemed different. Christmas somehow lightened my father’s mood and the tension in the house that often permeated our day-to-day existence dissipated during the holidays. The front two rooms of our house were transformed by the tree and the beautiful soft glow of Christmas lights and our ridiculous, but awesome life-size light-up Santa. I can still feel the warmth and coziness of our house at Christmas and remember fondly all the traditions we religiously upheld (cutouts frosted in pink, orange-flavored drop cookies frosted in green, driving around the neighborhood to see light displays–the house with lights that blinked in different colors blew my mind, and even where we all sat to open gifts on Christmas morning). Christmas was like cuddling under a favorite blanket.

I started counting down the days more than a month out and created elaborate color-coded countdown calendars (now I have an electronic countdown timer because I am more mature and sophisticated).

I’m not sure when I turned this corner exactly, but lately I’ve started to see Christmas more as something to get through than something to look forward to and that depresses the crap out of me. Now if I want cookies, guess who’s baking them? Right, that would be me. (Shout out to my Mom for still making the traditional green-frosted orange cookies I loved as a child). Even if I don’t want something, I just might be making it.  Also, as a child, your Mom wraps up shaving soap for your Dad for you and your gift-giving is complete. As an adult, you are expected to put more effort into the giving. When I have a great gift idea for a loved one, usually my Mom or Dave, I get pretty jazzed about the giving. When I don’t have great ideas, or even OK ideas, which seems to happen more and more frequently, I feel gift-giving performance anxiety.

A couple of years ago, I found myself lingering in a surprisingly wistful way on a catalog page depicting a mother and daughter in matching flannel nightgowns sitting by their Christmas tree. Panic-stricken, I thought “am I changing my mind about having children?!?” I started to imagine myself in this catalog scenario and realized that I didn’t see myself as the mother in that picture. Imagining myself as the mother did not replicate the warm and fuzzy feeling. No, I was wistful about being the kid.

As I was writing this post, one that was originally intended to be about my Christmas to do list and trying to rekindle the joy, a possible explanation hit me for the dampening of my enthusiasm (I mean, in addition to having to create the magic myself now rather than my parents being responsible). Christmas used to be more interactive, a shared experience among family and friends. My immediate family was never large,  but through the early years of high school, my Gram was around to celebrate with and now she’s gone. In high school, my music class practiced Christmas songs for weeks and it was so engaging and special. We sang this absolutely hideous yet wonderful song called “Jazzy Jinglin’ Bells” (go ‘head, baby) which I will never forget even though it’s been 23 years (gulp). Our foreign language teachers taught us “Silent Night” and we sang the song in English, French, and Spanish at the Christmas assembly.

Making many different kinds of cookies has felt like such drudgery during recent Christmases. I was in high school when I first started this tradition. My friends used to come over and keep me company while I baked. In fact, there’s a cookie I can’t make without them. Napoleon Hats are almond-flavored cutouts filled with a ball made of almond paste and shaped to look like a tri-cornered hat. I’m too spatially challenged to shape these cookies myself. I get the dough made, rolled out, cut into circles, the almond paste balls placed in the middle and then… Yeah, try as I might to make three equally sized folds on a circular-piece of dough, I cannot do it so that it stays or looks like a Napoleon Hat. Miss you Erin and Sarah and Kristen, come help me make cookies!

In college, the University Choir hosted an annual “Boar’s Head” dinner. As a member of the choir, I helped serve the dinner to my fellow students and prior to each course we sang a festive holiday song. Wassail! In college and the years immediately after, visiting home at Christmas was a chance to catch up with everyone. In more recent years, I’ve lost touch with some friends and others have since moved away from my hometown.

One of my favorite Christmas-related memories is from a visit to Dave’s hometown when we were still dating. I can still make myself crack up thinking about the time we went shopping with Dave’s friend Jim on this visit. Dave and I were looking to spice up our Christmas music collection and Jim offered to buy him a CD for Christmas. Dave selected Acid X-mas. We popped the CD into the car’s player and cranked it up for the drive home. I will NEVER forget the look on Jim’s face as the first strains of “Carol of the Bells (A Demonic Christmas)” washed over us. We laughed so hard I thought I’d be sick. I can’t even remember how long it’s been since we’ve seen Jim.

So adulthood might take some of the shine off Christmas for more than one reason. At this point, I no longer want to provide a boring list of my Christmas to dos. Suffice it to say that it’s long, and that in my new time management spirit, I have created a spreadsheet (I know!) to ensure that completing it all is actually a do-able feat. I’ll probably share the fruits of some of the tasks here, but as for the list, who gives a shit. I’ve thought about cutting back, but I realize there’s a reason I do all this stuff. The tree is pretty. The gifts give people pleasure or at least let people know you care about them. The photo calendars let me use the photographs I’ve taken over the year in a creative way rather than just staying trapped on my computer. People enjoy the cookies and the buckeyes I make. And I’m GLAD that people enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Happy Advent!