I thought I was unconventional, cutting edge, a rebel. Boy was I wrong.
When I came out of the closet and then had children with my partner, I worried about the stigma. But I did sort of feel like I was avant-garde—or at least like I had an atypical family composition. When I started talking about my lifelong struggle with depression and hospitalizations, I thought for sure I’d be shunned and thought incompetent or at least weird. And I really thought my Adult Protective Services (APS) job—where I investigate and manage cases dealing with vulnerable adults who have been abused, neglected, or exploited—was off the beaten path.
But thanks to the progressive tendencies of the Maryland community in which I live, my identity as a lesbian/APS social worker/mom with mental illness has become so dreadfully…normal.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that same-sex marriage is both accepted and legal. I can now pay taxes in a normal way, and my wife (thank you, SCOTUS) can make medical decisions for me. There’s far less stigma and more acceptance of depression, which seems to be a popular thing to have these days. The number of people with the same debilitating illness I have means that I can speak more openly about it. And TV shows like Hoarders and news stories about older folks getting taken advantage of have made even my APS job more familiar.
So my life is conventional. Regular. Boring. And my biggest excitement is the occasional opportunity to communicate with real, live adults over a quick dinner outside of work and away from my children. Although I have not resorted to being a soccer mom (my kids don’t like soccer) or wearing an appliqued kitten in a basket on a soft, pink sweatshirt, I am an average mom around here.
I’m the new Stepford wife—the suburban, liberal, sometimes crazy, lesbian kind. So what am I to do for a mid-life crisis? Do I have to become a straight, conservative PTA mom to rebel?
I’m on a serious search for something new, something different, something rebellious, and something meaningful and exciting to do with my life—inexpensive or free, please. So I’ve checked out my options and come up with some possibilities.
Option 1: Monster-Truck Driver. I can hear the crowd roar as I’m high in the air, revving my engine at the top of the vehicular food chain—intimidated by nothing. I maneuver my stick, in control of a huge beast that can crush piddly full-size SUVs. Vroom Vroom. But it does all sound a bit phallic—now I see why it is predominately a male sport. I, of course, would paint a rainbow with Rosie the Riveter proudly We-Can-Do-It’ing on the side of the truck, and name my truck something like, “Kick Ass Amazon Estrogen Warrior.”
I start watching monster truck videos. The appeal is waning. I think driving over cars might feel even worse than driving over incredibly big potholes and speed bumps. My butt hurts just thinking about it, and I know I’d definitely need to sit on a pillow—maybe one of those post-hemorrhoid-surgery doughnuts could be Velcroed to the seat. I’d put a macho flannel pillowcase with big trucks on it, but somehow I think no cover could make a hemorrhoid pillow macho enough for a monster-truck driver.
I wonder if I could get a monster truck with sliding side doors like my minivan and car seats, so my kids could easily ride along. I also wonder what my neighbors will say if I parked it in front of the house. I’m not quite sure how I’d manage drive-thrus or get in and out of the truck. A blow-up ladder? A Hoyer lift? A trampoline?
I check the DMV website to find out how to obtain a CDL license, hoping that the ability to spell CDL is all that’s required. I also check out the Monster Truck Racing Association website. I scope out the tan, lithe, manly men on the site, and I realize that there’s a small possibility I won’t fit in. And apparently they do not give a membership discount to social workers.
Option 2: High-Octane Crafter. I do not have enough time, events in my life, sense of paper placement, or highlights in my hair, to be a good scrapbooker. So I look into new types of funky crafts. A kind of craft not to be found at a conventional craft store. Because I am no longer conventional, dammit.
Glassblowing classes at Glen Echo look fun. With long metal poles, fire, and artistry, it seems to be sort of a Cirque-Du-Soleil-meets-visual-art thing. But as I look through the pictures of people blowing glass, I notice that none of them look intrinsically happy. And that is really what I am searching for. That, and a cool uniform.
So I check out metal sculpting and welding—where fire and cool apparel meet. I could look like a Monty Python knight while brandishing a fire weapon and producing art. I could be a new anti-super hero artist chick: Who is that woman behind the mask? It is the mistress, Rodin-Katz, sculptor of evil, creator of all things non-mundane. With her powerful hands, she crushes scrap-bookers and PTA flyers into usable pieces of metal for the greater good.
But it turns out all local metal sculpting classes require enrolling in a whole course of study at a community college. So Rodin-Katz will have to rise another day. Despite knowing this, I have vivid dreams at night of welders doing interpretative modern dance and synchronized swimming wearing rustproofed welding masks. Obscure rebellion clearly lives on in my unconscious.
Option 3: Start a New Career—Law School. I swear there are more lawyers around here than streets, but I convince myself I would be different from them. I convince myself that I would be a tattooed, cool public defender or legal-aid attorney. But then I remember: Oh yeah, I despise public speaking. My voice shakes so severely that, after every oral report or presentation I’ve ever given, someone next to me puts her hand on my shoulder and flashes a patronizing smile saying: “You did just fine.”
Although they say to envision everyone in the audience naked, I think that’s rude, so I imagine everyone in layers and parkas so they don’t feel so cold. Even with a room full of down-clad, wool-socked and -sweatered audience members, I still sound like a blithering idiot. This public speaking thing may be a deal-breaker for lawyering and law school. Then there are the years of no income and the additional student-loan debt to think about.
Option 4: Learn and work abroad. I dream about applying for a Fulbright scholarship and taking either one kid or the whole family abroad with me. Then I remember how exhausting it is just taking a kid on the metro somewhere local. Two seconds after we find seats, I hear the inevitable: “I have to go potty. I don’t want to go to DC.” Then louder: “Why does that scary man look so fat and ugly?” And (louder still):”Do all girls have vaginas? Do I still have the chicken pox? I think I just peed.”
What makes me think I could help a child or two adjust to a whole new culture? Or even make it through a multi-hour flight? How could we break up our family for any length of time? And as much as school is appealing, do I really need to add homework to my list of responsibilities? (Remember, Liat, that sigh of relief you took after graduate school, when you were no longer obligated to do homework? You’re too old to do that shit again.)
Option 5: Get a Tattoo. This is a great idea—artistic expression, honoring my body as a canvas, and a definite rebel factor. Except I keep thinking of all those relatives of mine who were forced to have numbers tattooed on their arms. Would a tattoo be a big slap in the face to their memories? And with my luck, I’d probably have a misspelled word forever on my body (Like “Liar” instead of “Liat”). And because of Jewish law, I wouldn’t be able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Though, would I notice? The last straw: A conventional-looking me with a rebellious tattoo might just be, well, stupid.
Option 6: Volunteer. I make a couple of calls looking into volunteering to roam the city streets at night to provide support and resources to “sex workers.” (The term “sex workers” sounds so much less rebellious than prostitutes—almost like an office job. Postal workers only more sane.) The cover of darkness thing makes the volunteering sound so cool. The social worker in me says “sex workers” are troubled souls with unresolved abuse issues in need of resources that will help them leave the life.
But part of me is jealous, and I romanticize a clearly difficult existence—I tell myself they are leading the ultimate rebellious life. They are providing a fantasy for men that want them. I fear that helping sex workers on the street in DC might be too enticing. I can see my first conversation with a fictional prostitute I’ve named Ruby Starlet: “You make how much per hour?” Ruby probably doesn’t have dental insurance, but I am a night owl in need of more money, so maybe I could do this. Unfortunately I look terrible in hot pink spandex, and I fall over in high heels.
Option 7: Change my appearance through a new wardrobe. Nothing seems flattering when I feel fat. And a regular fashion makeover won’t do if I want to be unconventional. So I move beyond the standard of beauty for women into a wardrobe of rebellious self-expression, and this one requires no particular pant size. I plan my wardrobe carefully. I’ll wear the pink spandex from the sex-worker idea as a tasteful scarf. And I’ll work with my young girls to create a spectacular dress from rhinestone-studded tricolored rotini. I’ll call it “Pastabulous.” In an ode to the plaguing social ill of bulimia, I will fashion overalls from an air-sickness bag. And in an attempt to signify the struggle of the working class and my own struggles, I’ll stitch a skirt of overdue bills, to be accented with a Prozac necklace. Such a fine wardrobe, except that it’s all too ridiculous, even for me. Noodles will have to stay on the dinner menu.
The option I finally choose is Option 8: Write about my options in life, wax poetic about my dreams in therapy, be happy with what I’ve got, and get a new kitten. Her name is Carly, and she came to us from the shelter with ringworm, which she gladly shared. As a result my whole family now has matching round tattoos. Perhaps I’m a rebel after all.