Published on November 11th, 2015 | by Kristen Stone2
All of A Sudden We Were Mothers: KRISTEN STONE on Friendship and Change
Last night I talked to an old friend. She has four stepchildren now; I have a six-year-old son. These children, for us, are recent developments.
I’ve been going to church, she says. Kids will do that to you.
Do you love them? I ask.
It doesn’t matter, she says. I will.
It’s hard to be present, to show love when you do not feel it. But, she said, god is love and it doesn’t matter if you believe because you act as if you do and that’s what matters.
We messaged rotten fish and farting unicorns back and forth. We said we’d pray for each other.
We were in our mid20s when I met her, on tumblr. We each had a small press book just out. We went on a book tour together. Her parents dropped her off on my street in a red rental car after a family vacation to Epcot. It was hot. We found a wounded bird in the carport, put it in a box. Some people I knew came over. We were too self-conscious to read from our books but eventually we did. It wasn’t an act but I don’t know if either of us has the luxury of self-consciousness now. The luxury of telling people, and having them listen, look away.
(The state of parenting young children is one of being constantly seen. And needed.)
We left the next night. We drove to North Carolina in the dark. She drove a little but mostly I drove. She wanted to pay for gas so I keyed in her symmetrical zip code at mechanized pumps throughout the South. I don’t remember what we listened to but we talked about our families and memories and Christianity and about growing up with normal girls for friends but not being normal girls ourselves. Romantic love, or being queer in ugly and inconsequential ways.
It was my last experience of making a summer camp friend, when you meet someone and become close within hours, close out of necessity. Because you are in the cabin. On the field trip. In the car in the dark.
In the morning we arrived at the home of another small-press author, this one a big deal, much bigger than us. She had a beautiful dog and these giant windows. We laid down and slept on her futon. We had to borrow some bedding, or maybe an inflatable mattress, from the neighbor, who seemed like a normal girl, all grown up.
We slept and the dog jumped on us and the big-deal small-press author tried to get the dog off and we said, it’s okay, it’s okay, and the trees outside the giant windows were green and it was the delicious, fog-headed sleep after the night shift.
She made us juice after the reading and we sat in her kitchen and she talked about how she would never, ever have children. The cutting board was wet with beet juice and chopped bits of parsley, the water puddling on the wood like something you could, like a dog, lap up.
I crouched on the cold tile and drank the thick, unsweet juice and felt unsettled.
Two nights later we read at a punk warehouse in Nashville. There were sex toys for sale, gelatinous and shaking, improbable colors, hilarious. We stayed with my best friend from college, and they talked about immigrant parents and tarot cards all night and I dozed perpendicular across the bed, thirsty and happy, thinking these are my people, my family that I went out in the world and found. And it stormed but was clear by morning, and we all said goodbye.
Now we both have children. Children that happened without our knowing, somewhere else, to other mothers first. And now they are ours.
I want a language for talking about how radically this last year has changed me, undone and remade me. I feel like a bad feminist saying it: but motherhood has made me, at least temporarily, stupid. Before this child—my son—came to me, I wrote a novel about foster care and adoption, about young women longing to be mothers, about families who give up their girls and where the girls go. Or rather: I wrote most of this book, two thirds of it perhaps, and then my heart was torn open and my nervous system re-arranged by the reality of an actual, specific child, and it’s a cliché to say that parenting changes your priorities, and I don’t think it’s accurate exactly because my desire to write, sometimes, makes me sick, but so does my longing for this child—my son—when he is at school and I am at work, a job where I also do something other than writing, mostly. Parenting re-makes your entire relationship to the world, so I have not finished writing this book, as much as I would like to, the thought of re-writing the dream-mother as an actual mother, or of writing the dream children as actual children—makes me feel—weary.
Maybe, like Bhanu Kapil in Schizophrene, I need to throw the book into the garden, into the snow, and dig it back up to see what remains. I don’t know that the metaphor holds in Florida, where things rot so quickly.
I used to laugh at easy platitudes like, just be present, or: don’t forget to breathe. Now, I need these reminders. When I take a deep breath now it is the sweetest thing. (Love is sometimes a tightness in my chest.) When I play baby dinosaurs and mommy dinosaurs. When I set my manuscript aside. Draw tiny cartoons instead, my loping, insecure hand around the pencil like my kindergartner’s. Write the things I am feeling in skinny letters with lots of space around them. Live in the moment. It is okay to start in the middle. It is okay to struggle. It’s not about you. I take a breath. When I believe I am really, really a mother.