99 Problems

Published on June 7th, 2018 | by Thea Hillman

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Relying on a Kind of Strangeness

When people find out that I’m a single mom they ask if the dad is in the picture. I tell them I got Abel from a sperm bank. They say, “Oh, then you don’t know who the father is.” And I say, “Sure I do, it’s donor #3445.”

The next thing they ask is if I have family in the area or if my mom helps out. The answer is yes, but not really. And that’s its own story, for another time. This story is about who does help out.

I don’t have much of a spiritual practice or code that I live by, but if I did, it would be: natures abhors a vacuum. Or, in other people’s spirituality: when God closes a door she opens a window. My mom spends the majority of her time in Nepal, creating family-style orphanages for abandoned children there. As a single parent without other family in the area, the irony of this situation is not lost on me, nor is the remarkable similarity of my mother’s actual character to Angelica Houston’s fictional character in “Darjeeling Limited.”

But the vacuum part of nature abhors a vacuum is that when she’s in the U.S., my mom lives in a hippy lady commune in the Berkeley Hills. These ladies are they real deal: they talk about their CR groups without irony. They were smoking marijuana out of a volcano thing way before it was cool, and they still do. So, one of these ladies that owns the property (my mom rents a room) is Miklane. And she is the answer that nature provided in my mom’s absence.

Taking over for my mom’s once-a-week two-hour time with Abel that she couldn’t keep while she was in Nepal, Miklane slowly but surely became this amazing, unconditional, no-strings-attached support to me and Abel. She did it simply because she wanted more young people in her life. She’s kind of like an angel, if I believed in that kind of thing. Berkeley-style: she wears loose, flowy, earth-colored clothes, Birkenstocks, and drives a Prius covered in anti-war stickers and magnetic peace symbols.

My mom met Susan, Miklane’s significant other, 20 years ago, in a book group that still meets monthly.

Susan and Miklane from 20-30 years ago. They dressed up as twins for a costume party and played this game they called, “Guess which one is fat?”

So that you can truly understand the wonder that is Miklane I should explain that Miklane and Susan call each other NRSOs. Non-romantic significant others. They own that house together, run a business together (a resale, plus-size clothing shop called “Says Who”), are married, and basically do everything a couple does except have sex. They do that with other people. Miklane is bi and has an on-again, off-again boyfriend. Susan has had a 20-year relationship with a married man, who she sees once a week for dinner, movie, and…And yes, the wife knows.

Miklane has filled the grandma space, gloriously, in a gorgeously flawed, somewhat imperfect, always loving, sometimes unsafe way. Miklane brings Abel to the recycling center, lets him use garden clippers. She has taught Abel to mistrust advertising, she yells at drivers using cell phones, parks in the bus zone, and leaves him in the car when she goes to the natural grocery store to buy raw coconut butter. And then there was that one time with the sleeping pills.

Abel was three and I had to leave town for four days for work, so Abel stayed with Miklane. The day after I come home, as I’m putting Abel down for a nap, he tells me: “Miklane gave me sleeping pills. She took five and she gave me three.” My heart stops for a second. I don’t have to ask anything more to know it’s true. I simply tell Abel, “Never ever take pills or medicine from an adult unless you heard me tell them to give it to you.”

The next chance I get, which happens to be while I’m at work, I call Miklane from the stairwell, because there’s no privacy anywhere in the office. I’m calling to ask about the sleeping pills.

“Yes,” she says, “that’s true.”

“What did you give him?” I ask her. She says, “Not pills pills, it was something natural.”

“What?” I ask her. “I don’t know, but was homeopathic. St. John’s wort or something or other. I take it to help me sleep and wanted to nap so I gave him some too.” Which, in Miklane’s world, makes complete sense and was a completely reasonable thing to do.

I’m speechless, for so many reasons. All I tell her is that in the future she has to ask me first before anything like that. I realize I’m not sure what would spark her to ask me, so I rephrase and ask her if she has any thoughts or question at all about how I might feel about something.

She says, “Okay, well, if that bothers you, maybe there’s something else I should ask you about. You know I drink my urine,” she says, “and there are jars of it around the house.” I do sort of know this, though I usually try not to think about it. She continues: “If Abel got hurt, that would be my first inclination, to pour urine on it. Is that okay with you?”

“Well, whose urine?” I ask. Crouched in the hallway of my office building, aware of the echo off the marble stairs, aware of how bizarre this conversation sounds, aware that my employer already has issues with how much time I take off as a single parent, aware that I’m desperate for support, aware that Miklane would never hurt Abel. Before she can say anything, I answer my own question, with as much kindness, patience, respect, and gratitude as I can muster. I say, very quietly: “Sure, Miklane, you can use his urine, but not yours.” Because I’m aware that even angels come at a price.

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About the Author

Thea Hillman

Thea Hillman is a mama, activist, and senior writer at Tipping Point Community. She is the author of two books: Depending on the Light and the Lambda Award-winning Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word. Find her at theahillman.com@theadhillman.



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