The Scatological Opportunist

Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it. —Proverbs 22:6

During our first year of marriage, Becki and I babysat to prepare ourselves for the perils of parenthood. Nothing could have prepared us, however, for teaching someone else’s children the meaning of the word “turd.”

When we chose to screen Richard Donner’s 1985 film, Goonies, for ten-year-old Emily and her six-year-old brother, Trevor, we thought we were standing on solid ground. It was rated PG, after all. Most of the Goonies were children, Emily and Trevor were children, and Becki and I first saw the film as children. How could we go wrong? [Read more...]

Mending Our Mother-Daughter Story

I finally saw Brave this past weekend, and I can definitely say that I had the reaction I imagined I would: weepy and joyful, my mind filled with the film’s images long after my husband and dog fell asleep.

I had deliberately avoided seeing the film because I knew that its plot would strike my heart deeply: a young girl struggles against her mother’s difficult love to discover both who she is and who she isn’t, and in the movie’s words, looks to “mend the bond torn by pride.”

In my life, my bond with my mother hasn’t been torn by pride, but by misguided love. And if Merida, the film’s fire-haired heroine, had been around when I was a girl, I might have had a way to scaffold what my mother and I went through, a plotline that could have anchored us.

I have been trying to discern a plotline for my mother’s and my story since I was in high school, where I wrote sparse, angry poems about her affair, her quick temper, her long binges at the bar. [Read more...]

Blessed Are the Tentmakers

For my daughter, Evangeline Sofia, who celebrated her first birthday on the second day of October.

“Can you build me a tent in the living room when you get home, Chad?” My wife Becki made this request via Google chat.

“A tent?” I replied, laughing. “In the living room? What?”

When we were children, my sister Alyssa and I built tents in our living room, draping sheets over strategically positioned chairs. But it had been years since I had roughed it indoors.

Becki had always nested, so it occurred to me that her request for a tent might not be so strange after all. When she craves comfort, she surrounds herself with pillows, blankets, boxes of Kleenexes, teacups filled with cherished Chinese teas, and copies of Vogue magazine.

She had never enlisted my help in building a nest before though. I knew male birds sometimes helped females build their nests, but—

Could she be pregnant? [Read more...]

My Mother’s Lullabies

My mother used to sing us to sleep. Her lullabies weren’t choruses of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” repeated just until she could tell we were out. No, she brought her guitar into the room my sister and I shared, sat close in the dark, and as far as we knew, had nowhere else to go and nothing more important to do. In those moments, she was all ours.

Our favorite songs were the sad ones. Like “Summertime,” that great ode to longing for what never was. We also loved “All the Pretty Horses,” and others I’ve struggled to remember. Even a nonsense song like “B-A-Bay” could sound melancholy in her lovely alto, sung at a volume meant to lull.

Her lullabies were a gift, one way that she could comfort us during a time when our father’s drinking and all that came with it caused so many things in our life to go wrong. [Read more...]

A Story About Beauty

I have my father’s hands
I have my mother’s tongue
I look for redemption in everyone

—Over the Rhine

This is a story about beauty, about living in the ruins of something you could never name, but which came to you like an inheritance, like skin or hair or freckles, unbidden, immovable. My hair was a tangle of red from the moment I was born, and with that came everything else.

I was born into a circuit, into a grid of roads that stretched from eastern Indiana to western Illinois. You could live anywhere in the square of Route 30, Sauk Trail, Harlem and 394 and not realize how fenced in you were. The south suburbs of Chicago were a fence, a locked door, a vast overhang of muddled ambitions that fooled me, my siblings, and my parents to think that we could leave whenever we wanted.

My father served drinks and sold weed to keep occupied, to blur the sharp edges of boredom and restlessness that had followed him his whole life. And my mother just tried to move along, tried to do what she could with what lingered in the back of her mind—a dead father, a mother who disappeared when she was ten, her first husband’s thick red fists. [Read more...]