Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone

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Zack Morris had my phone a decade before I did.

As the proud owner of a flip phone, a relative dinosaur of a device with—gasp—no Internet access, apps or media players, I’m often asked when I’m getting a smartphone. 

And as I look up at these curious souls, whose faces are already buried in their own phones, I want to counter by asking, “When are you finally going to get a life?”

Instead, I laugh and make a well-placed Zack Morris joke.

You see, most of us have adopted the belief that “smart” is “better,” and “better” is “better life.” If you have the option to buy a smartphone, why pick anything less?

Again, I ask, why not pick something more?

****

At what point in your life did you feel the most free?

For me, it was the college semester I spent studying abroad in England without a phone. I was never on the cutting edge of technology—my parents had dial-up until my senior year of high school (2004); I bought my first CD player the year prior—but I had spent the past three years texting my friends and calling my mom on a daily basis. I could reach and be reached at any moment.

When I landed in Bath, I deboarded and disconnected. I used Skype to check in with my parents and sent emails to friends, but I couldn’t call them overseas without racking up an outrageous bill. So, I left my LG in the States and explored the United Kingdom without a technological lifeline. Just me, myself and I.

The initial freedom was frightening. What if there was an emergency, what if my housemates wanted to meet me at a pub, what if I met a guy who asked for my number?

Or, what if lifted my head and actually looked around?

For the next four months, I did just that. And I could tell you how (literally) eye-opening it was, how that trip sparked my soul, but it’s not something that can be communicated via text or email or tweet. It’s something you have to feel for yourself, though not with your fingertips.

I’d like to say I came home that summer and tossed my phone out the window, but of course not. To pretend I no longer love—and often rely on—many forms of technology would be hypocritical and untrue. I check Facebook obsessively at work; I met my boyfriend through a dating site; I spent one thrilling summer rising to the top of the leader board in online Family Feud.

Which is to say that I’m already overly connected, overly stimulated. I will no doubt own a smartphone at some point in my life, but right now I have a computer at work and a laptop at home. The rest of my life—the best of my life—doesn’t require Wi-Fi.

****

As Apple so famously put it, “there’s an app for that.”

If I had a smartphone in Paris, I would have Yelped the restaurant we went to on our final night. I would have known what chitterling was (pig intestines—in this case, spoiled). I would have saved myself from the most foul-tasting meal of my entire life.

I wouldn’t have watched my friends’ faces as they tasted a bite, laughing until our own intestines hurt.

If I had a smartphone in Arizona, I would have Google mapped directions to the top of Sedona’s Cathedral Rock. I wouldn’t have gotten lost on the hike; I would have made it to the top.

I wouldn’t have stumbled upon a mysterious set of hieroglyphics on the “wrong” side of the mountain—carvings you’ll never find in any guidebook.

If I had a smartphone on a bike ride last summer, I would have checked the weather when I saw that first storm cloud. I would have seen a massive thunderstorm brewing. I wouldn’t have gotten soaked 10 miles from home as sheets of water made it impossible to see. I would have turned around.

I wouldn’t have started laughing—then started crying—during a seemingly insignificant moment in which I suddenly felt so inexplicably happy to be alive, wet underwear and all.

So please, stop asking when I’m going to get a smartphone. You may have high-def videos, hundreds of pictures and hours of entertainment stored on your iPhones, but I have a lot more stored in my soul.

And there will never be an app for that.

Old Faithful

We stood in the gas station in Wyoming, weighing our options.

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Sophie’s Choice: Pepto vs. Gas-X

“I vote for Pepto,” I said, Steph nodding in agreement.

“I don’t know,” Joe countered, “I think the Gas-X might be better. I’m having serious gas issues.”

“Well I’m having serious bathroom issues. Suppressing gas is going to make it worse.”

“This is all very upsetting!” Bridget announced.

Of the four of us, she was the only one who still had control of her bowels. We had been in Wyoming for just two days—part of an 8-day hiking trip through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks—and something was seriously amiss.

Joe and Steph were no doubt having gastrointestinal troubles of their own, but I was more concerned with the inhuman sounds and substances being produced inside of my own body.

“I really think it’s the water,” I said. “I felt fine the first day until we got to the diner and then I had tap water and started feeling sick.”

“But this is the cleanest water in the country!” Bridget said.

“Maybe that’s the problem. I’m used to drinking dirty D.C. water. My body can’t handle all of these extra minerals.”

“I think this is in your head.”

“This is not in my head! I’m on the verge of shitting myself as we speak.”

“Well I feel fine and I’ve been drinking the water for two days.”

“Bridge, you ate a piece of wood once.”

“That was an accident! I thought it was a cookie crumb on the table.”

“The point is you have a steel stomach—you never get sick.”

“Can you please just buy one of them so we can get out of here?” Bridget pleaded, walking to the back of the store to focus on her snack options.

We eventually settled on the Pepto and returned to the car to quickly dole out the tablets. Tomorrow we were going to see Old Faithful. There was no time—or underwear—to waste.

***

I woke up the following morning, afraid to stand up and start the day. God only knew what would happen once I was vertical.

Slowly, I got to my feet and began getting ready. Five minutes passed—then 10, then 20. As we hopped in the car, all was well.

“Guys, I feel really good!”

“Thank God!” Bridget said. “I was getting really concerned.”

“So far, so good. The Pepto must have done the trick. Can someone hand me a piece of licorice?”

“Lauren! This is why you’re getting sick—you’re eating Twizzlers at 7 a.m.”

“Bridget, I always eat Twizzlers in the morning,” I said, grabbing two vanilla Oreos from the bag of snacks. “I was very sick yesterday—now can I please enjoy my breakfast?”

“I think the Activia is the real problem,” Steph said, buckling up in the back seat. “You go off of that stuff for a day or two and your digestive system gets completely messed up.”

“I don’t understand what’s so special about Activia,” Joe chimed in. “How is it different than all the other kinds of yogurt?”

“It contains bifidus regularis,” I explained, alternating bites of licorice and cookies. “It focuses on improving intestinal motility.”

“I don’t understand what that means. And why do you know this?” Bridget asked.

“From those Jamie Lee Curtis commercials. I think it means it has these probiotic, digestive enzymes. It makes you regular. Regularis.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“I don’t want to overshare, but I go to the bathroom at 8:30 on the dot every day,” I overshared.

“I don’t believe Activia does anything for you,” Bridget said.

“Jamie Lee Curtis annoys the hell out of me, but she speaks the truth—you do not play around with Activia,” I said.

“You’re probably also ill from all that fiber you eat,” Steph offered.

“It’s good for you—I learned that on Weight Watchers. Although I did once make the mistake of eating two bowls of Fiber One cereal for breakfast. Immediately had to run to the bathroom and missed the bus to work.”

“Can we please STOP talking about this,” Bridget pleaded. “Enough is enough.”

“Fine, but I can’t make any promises as to what the rest of the day will hold.”

For the remainder of the drive we focused on more pleasant topics—such as the probability of being gored to death by a bison. By the time we arrived at the visitor’s center and surrounding geothermal attractions, my water-borne illness was but a distant memory.

Such bliss lasted for several hours, during which time I forgot about my troubles and focused on photographing all of the warning signs scattered throughout the park, complete with cartoon sketches depicting children getting burned to death in the hot springs.

“So what exactly is a geyser?” I asked, after examining the twentieth of the day. “Obviously Old Faithful is one, but what does that mean? I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

“According to the sign,” Joe said, “it’s a spring characterized by the intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by a vapor phase.”

“Interesting.”

“Yeah, it also says that the hot springs are…”

“I hate to interrupt,” I suddenly interjected, “but I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“Let’s just say I have approximately 17 seconds to find a bathroom.”

The beehive geyser is very unpredictable and may erupt at any time. I understand.

The beehive geyser is very unpredictable and may erupt at any time. I understand.

“Are you serious?” Bridget asked. “Old Faithful is going off in a few minutes!”

“I’ll be back in time, but right now, it’s back,” I whispered, power-walking back to the visitor’s center. “Excuse, excuse me,” I shouted, pushing my way past several Asian tourists who were dangling various limbs over the boiling mud pots while simultaneously making the peace sign—no doubt a perfect, if not deadly, photo opp for this year’s holiday card.

Spotting the closest port-a-potty, I arrived to find a large line. The woman in front of me explained that the public restrooms across the street were out of order, thus the wait.

Leaving human scat in a non-functional toilet for months on end certainly wasn’t ideal, but I could no longer adhere to “leave no trace.” I abandoned the port-a-potty line to relieve myself across the street.

As I got closer to the bathrooms, I realized they were not only out of order, but completely boarded up. I contemplated kicking the door in, but my family already had a sordid history of that. When I was 8 years old, my pottery-collecting, book-reading, HGTV-watching father was accused of kicking down the bathroom door in a fit of rage at a gas station in Amish Country before speeding away in our family’s grey Oldsmobile. He had to go to court, where it became clear that the police officer was an idiot, saw the decimated door frame and picked a random license plate number to copy down. It also became clear that any man who regularly wears a sweater vest does not have the brute strength to kick a door down. The case—on pace to overshadow the O.J. trial that summer of 1995—was dismissed.

Still, I didn’t want to open up old wounds.

Returning to the line for the port-a-potty, I finally made my way inside. A little girl and her mother were next in line and within earshot, but I couldn’t hold back. Once I was in, I was all in.

For the next fifteen minutes, my body emitted noises one would only expect to hear during the birth of an oversized hyena. But eventually, by the grace of God, I re-emerged.

“Is that the same girl who was ahead of us in line?” the little girl whispered to her mother.

Refusing to make eye contact, I ran past the frightened child and found my friends back at the geysers.

“Are you alright?” Steph asked. “You missed Old Faithful.”

“You know when you’ve thrown up so much that there’s really nothing left and it’s just kind of like…watery bile?”

“Yeah?”

“That’s…that’s what’s happening.”

“Oh my GOD.”

“Let’s just see some more geysers!”

***

After taking pictures of countless mud pots, eating a cheeseburger to settle my stomach and chewing several Pepto tablets, everyone agreed it would be best to do a short hike nearby. Afterward, we would return to Old Faithful to watch it erupt one more time—or, in my case, for the first time.

We drove out of the main parking lot to a trailhead a few miles away—an area of the park one would classify as “bear country.” I had studied charts for weeks leading up to the trip, trying to learn the differences between black bears and grizzlies, but found most of the information to be useless. If I suddenly came upon a bear, I really didn’t foresee the opportunity to pause and study his coloring, size and snout before determining whether I should play dead, make loud noises or just soil myself and beg for mercy when he began clawing at my face.

“This is some Twilight shit up in here,” I said, getting out of the car and throwing a pack of fruit snacks in my backpack. “I feel like I’m going to be simultaneously attacked by a wolf and a bear.”

“Why are you so afraid of bears?” asked Joe—the same person, it should be said, who also didn’t understand why he couldn’t carry beef jerky on his person.

“How many times do I have to tell you about that YouTube video I saw?! A grizzly bear picked up an elk carcass and carried it into the woods on its hind legs.”

“I feel nauseous,” Steph said.

“Seriously, you need to get your bear spray out. If you’re suddenly attacked by a grizzly, you’re not going to have time to reach back into your bag and pull it out. And I’m not sharing.”

“We’re not going to see any bears!” Joe exclaimed. “And besides, my biggest concern right now is whether or not you’re going to crap yourself out on the trail.”

“I will admit that is a pressing concern. I’m not feeling 100 percent right now, and my digestive predicament combined with the fear of being mauled to death by a bear is adding up to an accident waiting to happen.”

“There aren’t any bathrooms out here, so you need to get it in check.”

“Between the animals and the bowels, this is too much to handle,” I moaned.

“Can we please stop talking about being mauled to death and pooping?” Bridget said. “Honestly!”

So as to not upset her any further, I shut my mouth, clutched my spray (among other things), and off we went.

***

Back at the visitor’s center that evening—my undergarments miraculously untainted—we mulled around the gift shop, waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. After selecting a postcard to send to my Nana, I focused my energy on finding a passport book with stamps to commemorate each public restroom in the National Park system. I had visited approximately 15 in the past three days and decided it was a very realistic goal to add to my bucket list.

And then, mid-search, the opportunity to visit bathroom number 16 presented itself.

“Guys, how much time do we have before Old Faithful erupts again?”

“Um, like eight minutes,” Joe said. Why?”

“Because I’m erupting in like two minutes. I need to go to the bathroom ASAP.”

“Again?! That’s like the 12th time today!”

I couldn’t understand what was happening or what I had done to deserve these machine-gun bursts that were ravaging my body—but I didn’t have time for explanations.

Excusing myself from the group, I ran to the nearest exit, locating a public restroom adjacent to the gift shop. Fortunately no one was inside.

Just as I was about to blow, another mother-daughter duo came in and took up residence in the handicap stall directly to the left of mine. I was immediately annoyed. Anyone raised in modern society understands that when you go into a public bathroom that isn’t full, you leave at least one stall between you and the other person in there. It’s bad enough taking a shit with someone else in the same room; I sure as hell didn’t want to do it while close enough to tie their shoelaces.

Well, I would just have to wait it out. After the incident earlier that morning, I wasn’t going to subject another innocent child to the science experiment taking shape inside of me.

Unfortunately, her mother was unaware of my situation and saw this as the perfect opportunity to potty-train her daughter for the first time.

“Come on honey, pull down your pants,” she cooed. “Sasha, you need to go to the bathroom. Pull down your pants.”

I tried to wait patiently for Sasha to use her opposable thumbs and remove her jorts, but time was running out.

“Honey, pull down your pants. Pull them down.”

Sasha remained clothed.

“Honey, pull them down.”

“Jesus God Al-mighty,” I screamed, “would you just pull down your pants?!!”

Actually, I just sat there, my right thigh beginning to twitch. But that’s what I was thinking.

Seventy-two hours and one drenched upper-lip later, Sasha peed like a big girl and I desecrated another restroom. All was right with the world.

“Alrightttt,” I said, bouncing out of the bathroom with a new hop in my step and rejoining my friends, “what’s next?”

“Lauren, you were in there forever. You missed Old Faithful—again.”

I looked at the schedule taped to the front desk. Sure enough, I had missed it.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I finally said, mopping my brow. “There will be other eruptions.”

I Only Have Eyes For You

It’s hard to pick your favorite child.

Ugly dolls, such as these, give my pretty ones a bad name.

Ugly dolls, such as these, give my pretty ones a bad name.

As any mother will attest, each of your offspring has qualities that make him or her unique. You see pieces of yourself reflected in their eyes. You love them each differently—but equally.

And now here I was, forced to choose.

“I really don’t know if I can pick a favorite,” I said, anxiously scanning each of my babies’ faces. I had just reunited with them after a four-month stint in England and was far too emotional to make such a decision.

“But if you had to pick one, who would it be?”

After agonizing over the question for 15 minutes, Mom was getting impatient. I took final stock of my progeny.

Isabel had beautiful, golden hair—the kind that was made for a French braid—but Leslie had kind eyes. Melissa was the sharpest dresser—but Julie made me laugh.

Climbing to the top of Arthur's Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a challenge on its own. Doing so while holding a bag containing a porcelain doll you just purchased is harder.

Climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a challenge on its own. Doing so while holding a bag containing a porcelain doll you just purchased is harder.

“I don’t knowwww. It’s too hard!”

“Fine, you can pick three.”

Three was better, but a betrayal all the same.

“I guess…if I had to pick one…I’d pick…the black one.”

“You have two black girls. Which one?”

“Her,” I said, pointing to the girl closest to me, “the one with the three braids and the beige dress.”

Although Sarah was, in my heart of hearts, always my favorite, verbalizing it was excruciating.

“And then Jennifer and Lucy,” I whispered, too ashamed to look any of them in the eye.

No one said anything for awhile; the girls motionless. The words were out there and there was no taking them back.

“You should probably get rid of some of them,” Mom finally said. “We don’t have the space anymore.”

“Get rid of them? Dear God!”

“Maybe it’s time to…box some of them up.”

I stared at my mother, searching her eyes for what little remained of her soul. I had cared for these little miracles for two decades and all of sudden I was supposed to just toss their bodies in a communal coffin, shove it under the house next to the mouse traps and Christmas lights, and move on with my life.

These were porcelain dolls for God’s sake, not toys.

*****

Mindy was my oldest. I was six or seven at the time—still a child myself—and I propped her up on my dresser with a gentleness I didn’t know I possessed. She was fragile and had to be treated with care—unlike my cousin Jill’s porcelain dolls, whose faces were defiled with a permanent marker the day she got them.

Unless you were a fan of Mike Tyson, it wasn’t a good look.

With skin as creamy as margarine, hair tied neatly in purple ribbons and a dress to die for, Mindy wasn’t your average dime store doll. She was beautiful—and she set the bar high.

The collection started slowly—one new doll each Christmas, occasionally a second for my birthday. By the time I turned 10 and saved enough money to buy my own, the brood grew exponentially.

Soon, I opened my bedroom to all ethnicities, taking in girls from Scotland to Canada to some place in Asia—poor Usagi’s country of origin still unclear. Just short of tattooing the latitude and longitude coordinates of their birthplaces on my bicep, I was the Angelina Jolie of the porcelain doll world.

I loved them all equally.

As I got older, the dolls began taking over the top of my dresser. With the exception of a towering redhead—presumably of Nordic-Irish descent—the girls were all relatively equal in height, those in the back rows barely visible.

It was a good way to hide the less attractive, less expensive dolls I occasionally received—most of which were missing full sets of eyelashes and appeared to have rosacea on one cheek—but they were the minority. Most were beautiful and blemish-free and deserved to be showcased.

To address the issue, Mom and I stacked books of varying thicknesses, creating standing-room only stadium seating for the dolls in the second, third and fourth rows.

With the girls in the very back balancing on four books apiece, friends would come into my room for the first time to an onslaught of eager, staggered doll faces beaming their way.

“Oh my God!” they would exclaim, in what I thought at the time was admiration and only later realized was pure horror. “You have…so many.”

Thirty-six, to be exact, by the time I was 20.

“I know!” I said proudly, moving to the side so they could get the complete picture. “Can you even imagine how much money I could make if I sold them all?”

I’d never sell any of them, of course, but the notion seemed appealing when it was time to clean my room. Mom insisted I dust each and every porcelain doll with a damp rag when guests came over, an undertaking as overwhelming in my twenties as it was when I was eight. Those velvet hats were a bitch to clean at any age.

Although Mom frequently expressed concern that my dolls were collecting dust and taking up too much space, she had no additional gripes. My friends didn’t seem to mind, either. Much like their polite silence in seventh grade when our 68-year-old gym teacher and I accidentally wore identical nylon windbreaker suits, they kept their mouths shut about the collection.

So I kept the dolls on display.

By the time freshman year of college arrived, I hadn’t purchased a new one in years—Mom had officially declared them contraband around 2003—but it was still hard to say goodbye. There obviously wasn’t room for all 36 in a college dorm room, and I knew I had no right to uproot them from their normal routine. They needed stability.

Running my fingers down Sarah’s third braid—the rest of the Windstar already packed up—I remembered reading an interview with Teri Hatcher, who said her job as a mother was to raise children who could live without her. With Lois Lane’s words ringing in my ears, I grabbed one miniature porcelain doll, wrapped her up safely in a Clay Aiken t-shirt, and left the others behind.

It was time to be a grown-up.

Still, that initial semester away from home was tough. I spent the first week sobbing openly on my twin bed, watching “The Babysitter’s Club” and spooning a stuffed animal. The second week, I hid behind some bushes and made a desperate and inaudible call to my mother, begging her to come visit—also while sobbing.

But then it got easier. I survived my first year and thrived my second. Except for Eloise, whose petite porcelain frame was nestled in a hand-painted wooden cart that sat on my printer, my college life became separate from my home life—and most notably, my dolls.

I was just a normal 20-year-old with a Clay Aiken t-shirt.

So normal, in fact, that by the time I studied abroad in England junior year, none of my new friends were aware of the collection. They knew I had a weird obsession with prairie dogs and ate sour cream and onion Pringles in bed and liked to reenact the scene from “Steel Magnolias” when Julia Roberts’ character is going into diabetic shock and refuses to drink her juice, but not about the dolls.

And then one day during a weekend trip to Edinburgh, I found myself standing in a gift shop, face-to-face with the most adorable Scottish boy I had ever seen. With high cheekbones, jet-black hair and lips the shade of a pink Starburst, he was a real heart-breaker. After years of successfully managing my addiction, I was going to relapse.

I returned to my flat in England the following day, eager to show my housemates what I bought. My friends back home weren’t freaked out by the dolls—why should these new people be any different? This was the real me and I wasn’t going to hide it any longer.

After everyone had gathered downstairs around the kitchen table, I opened my duffel bag and pulled out a variety of Loch Ness Monster-themed items.

After the polite “oos” and “ahhs” dissipated, I reached for the tall box. Slowly, I pulled my little boy out.

“That is the creepiest shit I’ve ever seen!” Caitlyn exclaimed, throwing her hand over her mouth.

“What?”

“I’m serious—don’t get that thing near me!”

I looked around the room, waiting for one of my friends to jump to my defense, to explain to Caitlyn that this little porcelain boy, complete with a kilt and bagpipes, was adorable. Instead, everyone appeared horrified.

“You realize I have 36 of these at home.”

“I refuse to visit your house if those things are in your room,” Kara chimed in.

“But they’re not creepy, they’re pretty!”

“Lauren, they’re…scary.”

I couldn’t believe it. Ian was not scary! Attempting to cut my best friend’s bangs with poultry shears was scary. Blowing an undigested corn kernel out of my nose was scary. The varicose vein already bulging out of my left calf was scary. A young boy with the face of a cherub certainly was not.

Stunned by their reaction, I retreated to my room to reevaluate my life. What else did people find unsettling? The plastic container of Barbie dolls I collected from McDonald’s Happy Meals? My binder of magazine clippings featuring Julia Roberts? The dead sea horse I kept in an old film canister?

After sulking for a few minutes, I decided Caitlyn deserved to pay for her hurtful comments. How dare she attack my way of life.

Grabbing Ian, I tip-toed up to her room on the third floor. I opened her top dresser drawer as quietly as possible, gently laying Ian down in a bed of underwear. Closing the drawer, I tip-toed back to my room, closed my eyes and waited.

Half an hour later, I heard the girls coming up the steps.

“What the HELLLL,” Caitlyn suddenly screamed, her girlish yelps making their way down to the second floor. She appeared in my room seconds later, thrusting the doll toward me.

“I swear to God I will take a baseball bat and smash that doll’s face to pieces.”

“That was uncalled for!”

“So was that purchase. Get it out of my face.”

I started to laugh—and Caitlyn started to reach for the doll.

“I’m serious—I don’t want that spawn of Satan in my room.”

Starting to seriously fear for Ian’s safety, I respected her wishes and placed him on the desk next to me. I would keep him out of Caitlyn’s underwear drawer if she promised to keep his face in one piece.

With that verbal contract in place, I kept Ian hidden in my room for the remainder of my stay, away from the monsters I was living with. He certainly wasn’t appreciated in England, but he would be fawned over back home, with dozens of attention-starved girls vying for his affection.

He’d simply have to wait.

*****

“Maybe it’s time to…box some of them up.”

I had just brought Ian home, swaddled in Loch Ness Monster tea towels, and my mother had the audacity to talk about giving him up for adoption.

“You can’t be serious,” I said, brushing back one of his curls.

“Of course I’m serious. Why did you buy another doll?”

“Because he’s a boy! And Scottish!”

“Where are you even going to put him? This room is starting to look like crap.”

“I’ll make room,” I snapped, still tense from the Sophie’s Choice that had unfolded moments prior with Black Sarah and Black Jennifer. If I wanted to welcome an orphaned immigrant into my heart and home, that was my business.

I was jet-lagged and in no mood for an argument. Jasmine and Monique would have to move to the back, whether they liked it or not.

“This is the last one.”

Ignoring her, I combed through his matted fur hat and straightened his kilt, spending the rest of the afternoon shifting the kids around.

Climbing into bed later that night—Ian front row center—my finger lingered on the lamp switch.

Isabel’s golden hair still looked beautiful, albeit a bit dusty. Melissa still rocked a pea coat and muff like no one’s business. And Julie, well, she was as comical as ever.

I had grown so much since I left for school—exponentially since I studied abroad. But the dolls never changed, never moved from their perch on my dresser unless I rearranged them myself.

Exhausted from a transcontinental flight, I finally turned off the lights and fell into a deep sleep.

In the dark, 74 glass eyes kept watch. They didn’t even blink.

Crazy In Love

The cast of Listen To Your Mother, where I read this essay.

The cast of Listen To Your Mother, where I read this essay.

If you’re not willing to look crazy, you don’t deserve to be a mom. My own mother taught me this by example.

*****

When I was nine, my younger brother, Chris, and I were taking a walk around the neighborhood with our mom. A car pulled up next to us and the driver began to roll down his window.

“RUN KIDS!” Mom suddenly screamed. “RUN!”

“What’s going on?” I cried, looking back and forth between Mom and the man in the car.

“Run!” Mom repeated, trying to get her own feet in motion.

Chris bolted up the hill in front of us, never bothering to look back and make sure his sister and mother were still alive.

I, on the other hand, was crying half a mile ahead of Mom, who was struggling to move quickly. She tasted blood whenever she tried to run, so this safety plan wasn’t working out so well for her.

“Mom, hurry up!”

Shaking her head, she motioned for me to keep running. “Just go,” she yelled. “Don’t worry about me.”

We all made it back to the house that day. Turns out the man in the car only wanted directions.

My mom—well, she only wanted to save us.

*****

When I was 10, I shit myself in a movie theater.

My family was vacationing in Deep Creek, Maryland, and wanted to break up the lake activities with a trip to the movies. My parents decided it would be OK if we split up—Chris and I seeing “Jungle 2 Jungle” and the two of them catching a Barbara Streisand flick in the neighboring theater.

But 40 minutes into the movie I started to feel sick. Realizing I had approximately 10 seconds to make it to a bathroom, I shot up out of my seat.

Unfortunately 10 seconds turned into that very second, because as soon as I stood up, I pooped my pants.

“Chrisssss, go get Mom,” I cried, before running out of the theater.

A few minutes later I heard Mom call my name in the bathroom.

“Where are you honey? What’s wrong?”

“I’m in here!” I sobbed, locked behind the third stall.

“It’s OK, don’t worry about,” Mom assured me. “Just hand me your underwear.”

“Mom! I’m not handing you my underwear.”

“Lauren, just give them to me. I’m going to wash them out and put them under the hand-dryer.”

It was no use arguing. Heaving uncontrollably, I carefully handed my soiled underwear over to Mom, watching in horror through the slit in the stall door as she carried them over to the sink and turned on the faucet.

Scrubbing and grunting as she worked on my previously white pair of Hanes, Mom finally shook her head and tossed them into the trash.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said, “they couldn’t be salvaged.”

I rode home from the movie theater that day sitting on a plastic grocery bag in our teal mini-van. We were all disgusted that Mom used a public sink to wash a desecrated pair of underwear.

She didn’t seem bothered in the least.

*****

When I was 14, Mom choked on a garden salad.

“It’s the vinaigrette,” she gasped. “It’s ta-king my breath a-way!”

“Stop talking while you’re choking!” Dad yelled, as the rest of us sat around the dinner table at the beach. “And stop getting vinaigrette dressing.”

“I know, but I love it,” she said, wiping her eyes before a second wave of dry heaving commenced.

Mom choked on a lot of things—vinaigrette, mozzarella sticks, church incense—for no apparent reason. Chris and I always waited until she was out of the woods before we began laughing. There was an unspoken agreement that we were allowed to make fun of her choking habit when she was no longer in danger of dying. There was an unspoken agreement that we were allowed to make fun of her for anything, really.

She was our mother after all.

But as Mom reached for her throat, this particular choking incident was getting less and less funny.

“Mom, are you OK,” I asked, dropping my fork and completely losing my appetite. Chris kept eating.

Reaching the point where she couldn’t even gasp for air, Mom and Dad made a beeline to the bathroom across the hall. Behind the closed door we could hear him attempting to give her the Heimlich.

Eventually, Mom started to cough, then blow her nose, then clear her throat.

Peeking her head out of the door, her face was covered in sweat and mascara was smeared around her eyes. She looked like Tammy Faye Baker.

“Keep eating, kids,” she said with a smile. I’m fine, just enjoy your dinner!”

*****

Like I said—if you’re not willing to look crazy, you don’t deserve to be a mom.

I used to marvel at women who looked so put together when raising children. Now, when I think about my mom—the best mom—I realize that motherhood isn’t about having it together.

It’s about turning a lost driver into a murderer and washing the shit out of your daughter’s underwear and wanting your kids to enjoy their dinner while you’re choking to death.

It’s about being crazy in love.