Heather L. Barmore
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Heather L. Barmore
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    Change In Action at Babble Voices


    There's Something About Butter

    (Originally posted at Tue/Night)

    "You don't have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone."~John Ciardi

    Since spending six months abroad in Madrid, I often follow the Spanish method of enjoying breakfast. Instead of scrambled eggs and bacon, I dive right into thinly sliced jamón Ibérico on freshly toasted bread and chunks of cheese. I continue to fall hard for manchego, large croissants slathered with butter and a dollop of a fruity jam. It brings memories of a host mother who spoke very little English but knew food to be the universal language.

    “Quieres un sandwich, Heather?” she asked as I rushed to get out the door. I would take her up on the offer of tortilla Española on soft bread. She put butter on that, too, and offered it up with a grin.

    I share this anecdote as a way to show you how far I’ve come. You see, I used to be afraid of butter. Being asked whether or not I would like butter for a roll, or on mashed potatoes, caused a panic. I would hear the word “butter” and my chest would tighten. My face would become hot from the shame. I literally could not hear the word without tears springing to my eyes.

    From middle school to high school I was called “Butter.” Rumor has it that this was due to me being too fat to fit through a door and butter would be required to maneuver my sizable 12-year-old ass thorough such a narrow space. In case you’ve forgotten, in middle school and high school a sense of popularity is paramount. Never mind good grades; if that cute boy with the side swept hair knows who you are, even if it’s as the result of some cruel joke, well then, so be it. I laughed along and smiled when hearing them — the popular kids — bellow: “HEY! BUTTER!” from the top of the stairs. They liked me, is what I would tell myself. They know who I am.

    At one point I was gifted a hat with the word “butter” embroidered on it. The lettering was yellow and “b” and both “ts” had a dripping effect. I put it on and thanked the giver for a present. See? I was important. I was cool. I found out later that he had spit in it.
    From my experience, many friends and family who have deep aversions to a particular food can trace that aversion back to a moment in time. My now 28-year-old little brother spent our childhood hiding green beans throughout the house. Each day was a scavenger hunt to find the green vegetables. It turned out that he was force-fed them in daycare. My mother doesn’t do mayonnaise and has to avert her eyes when making her stellar potato salad — she too had been forced to consume the condiment at some point.

    “Tell me if I’m using enough,” she’ll ask with her head cocked back and turned to the side. She holds her breath.

    “Just look at it!” I demand. Some 50 years later she prays silently before placing a jar of Hellmann’s into her grocery cart.

    “Mortification due to dairy product” isn’t found in the DSM V. In fact, this is the first time I have given much thought to the very real cruelty of adolescence. Like many young women, my feelings about food were complicated, only to be exacerbated by school yard taunts under the guise of making me feel included. Which leads me to this moment, discussing my tenuous relationship with butter. There isn’t a moment where you sit down in front of your therapist to get to the root of why you cannot handle the sight of Land O’ Lakes. Much like anything from the tween to teen years, there is the fight or flight response. The ‘flight’ came in the form of moving to D.C., five states away from my little town in New York, the day after graduation. I vowed never to return (however thanks to a job offer I found myself returning to New York. That didn’t work out either, though, which leads me to believe that perhaps I should just stay away… but I digress) and to never feel that way again.

    After high school I briefly wondered if others — random strangers standing next to me at the grocery store — knew what I had been called. Did my discomfort show on my face as I stood in the dairy section? Did I show fear when trying to remember if a recipe called for salted or unsalted? Probably not. I soon realized that my move to a new place granted me a new a sense of perspective: I guess it was “Out of sight, out of mind.” Those who inflicted pain upon me were nowhere near by. Thankfully, there was no Facebook to force constant reminders of the past. More importantly, my move allowed me to be something new — someone new — other than Butter. Sure, I would still hear that word under the most innocuous of circumstances and I still felt a twinge of humiliation. But slowly the consuming humiliation dissipated as I learned to make my way around Capitol Hill and Georgetown and fell into a routine with new peers who knew nothing of my past as they became my Butter-free present.

    I’m not gonna lie. I still had an ass on me, but in the “Chocolate City” that was a commodity. The secret was to wall off my middle to high school years. Confessing much of this now feels like I am telling someone else’s story.

    I walk up to the counter of a local movie theater. It’s one of those art house places with an old-time popcorn machine. They use locally-sourced products which means that when the woman at the counter asks if I want butter — possibly made from the milk of cows just a mile away — for my popcorn I have to reply with, “Yes. Please. Extra butter.” It’s the fresh, creamy kind. I pat myself on the back for being able to enjoy the simplest of life’s pleasures. Oh, if she only knew how far I’ve come.


    On Being the Childless Friend

    Photo by Yvonne. Baby by Heather Spohr.Would you like to know why I don't have children? Because kids are work. There are plenty of other reasons such as preparedness and that I can barely get myself up and out of the door each morning, let alone another human being. Then there's the whole permanent nature of children and, oh yeah, they are people. People with needs and feelings which leads me back to, that looks like work! I'd rather just sit here and watch this terrible movie that I have seen 900 times and drink this wine. Enjoy dealing with another person's bodily fluids!

    Somewhere along the line I wound up with a life full of friends who have children. Many had these children prior to my entry into their lives others had a kid and then had another after I came into the picture. At any rate, I have gotten used to having my conversation interrupted. I shrug because hey, kids. I don't have any but from what I understand, taping their mouths shut is not an option.

    You would think that with my very, very, VERY, single status I would see people with children and run for the hills which cannot be further from the truth. Here's a fun fact my life without kids: Just because I might not have any doesn't mean that I hate every child I will ever meet. In fact, I really enjoy children. They are - for the most part - fun, hilarious, precocious, unpredictable. Children are all of the above and more but I don't have them. This doesn't make me more or less it simply is.

    Somehow, even without having children, I have managed to grasp the concept of life and that people will follow their own paths. I have never felt the need to begrudge another for their experiences or life choices and by the grace of God, I am surrounded by people who live the same. There's gossip and judgment and major side-eyeing at times but the general rule I follow for myself and I hope that others in my life follow as well is this; you do you.

    Every once in awhile a post will pop up just to remind those of us without kids how nfulfilled our lives are. Childless people cannot possibly understand the concept of love (or any human emotion). We have never really been tired. We don't know what busy really is, etc. etc. Today I came across a post on Huffington Post about the inability for those with children to have friends who do not have children simply because the latter group has no understanding of the havoc wreaked upon the lives of those who choose to procreate.

    Crap like this makes me so annoyed. More annoyed than it should since it's a post on a blog from a woman I have little to no interest in. Not only that but I often take the click bait and the writer reels me into their bullshit of an argument. I always feel the need to defend my relationships with my friends ("MY friends aren't assholes, your's probably are if they are anything like you", is what I told myself today) and to validate my life without children. All because of a sickness called, I Saw This on the Internet.  

    The true story of being the childless friend is that it is like any other relationship between two people: It requires work. I do not feel as if these relationships are extra hard. Friendship can be difficult but if it is something which is important to me then I will put in the effort to ensure its success. Why is this so difficult to grasp? That two people, in different phases of life can, in fact, learn from one another? Why must it always be all or nothing, hyperbolic bullshit about how HARD everything is? It's life. Life is difficult. Having children is difficult. We're all just going through the motions and each day, trying not to fuck things up for ourselves or for future generations. When one says that their time and/or life has more value than mine simply because I do not have children it makes me irate. Yes, it also makes me think of that person as an asshole. As my friend Em said, you were probably an asshole before you had kids and now you're just an asshole with children. And THAT is why your friends (both with and without children) don't hang out with you.


    Another Story About my Mother

    (Originally posted at TueNight.com)

    "A daughter is a mother’s gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self. And mothers are their daughters’ role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships." ~Victoria Secunda

    Four days prior to Christmas, I was the idiot running around Target with a cart full of decorations to put up around my home because apparently I need to invest in a calendar to tell me that a major holiday is fast approaching and perhaps I should think about, you know, participating in someway.


    This past holiday season was the first in which I had to take the lead. There was no mother around to purchase a tree and make sure the cat didn't try to use it as a jungle gym. She wasn't there to put out the photos my younger brother and I had taken with Santa or to tell me which ornaments should go where. I don't know about your mother but my mother always just made the spirit of Christmas and all that encompasses it happen. Like, one day I would come home and BOOM! JOY TO THE WORLD with an animatronic singing Santa and holly and gluten free sugar cookies. Not having Mom at Christmas is simply one moment of many where her presence was missed, often times painfully.

    The true miracle of it all was the way in which she was able to make magic while ensuring that my brother and I went to school, showered, ate and didn't murder each other on Jesus' birthday. And then she, like, went to work and took care of herself at some point

    It's the simple, selfless act of others — in particular when it comes to parents — that go unnoticed. After my mother's retirement in July, she opted not to retreat to a beach town but instead to New York City to pursue her longtime goal of getting her Master's in Journalism. A goal she had long put on hold because of the needs of her children. There was also her 20-plus year career at a teachers’ union where I was fortunate to work with her for six years.  She always had my back in the office and in the world of politics having someone to trust implicitly is a blessing.

    For 30 years she was just there whenever I needed her. I have not begrudged her for chasing her dreams, especially after a majority of her life has been spent taking care of others. But without her here an Albany ripped a hole in my heart as the dynamics of our relationship have changed. I miss her badly not just in the office, but the ability to call her everyday and receive a response back.

    Now I text on a Tuesday morning and receive a response late that evening with my mother lamenting about how much work she has to do or the all-nighter she just pulled. I find myself giving her advice about social media platforms and blogging. Her first several weeks at Columbia involved me painstakingly teaching her how to add HTML links to her documents. Then there was that day where she wanted the history of Twitter in 38 seconds and I was like, NO. I JUST CANNOT. NO.

    “I taught you!”, she said to my frustrated self. “I helped you with your homework!”

    It’s true, she did. But the dynamics had only just changed and I am far better at taking help than giving it.

    The role reversal we have discovered over the past nine months has been a growing experience for us both. I have yet to write about it and even this isn’t the entire story because right now it seems too personal and not only my story to tell.

    I hate how cliché it is to say that I am beaming with pride for a woman who at one point found herself at the end of her marriage with two young children. I am sure that in that moment of losing what she thought would be the rest of her life, she wanted to give up. I sure as hell would have. But she never did. She harnessed what I am sure was one of the most painful moments of her life and instead of curling up in the fetal position, she  kept moving.

    The biggest lesson here is not that I can be without my mommy or that it’s interesting to be the teacher instead of the student; the lesson here is what every parent wants to give their child is the ability to see that it will and can get better.  They say that motherhood is an endless loop of walking with your heart outside of your body and a burden of needing to know that the person (or people) you love most in this world are OK — even when they’re not physically with you. I have witnessed my mother go above and beyond, ensuring her children are happy while doing something for herself. Of course I think my mother is the definition of beauty and all other wonderful adjectives but also of the word ‘hustle’. She is everything I could ever hope to be.

    So, back to Christmas. When Mom arrived home from New York City, she was welcomed back with a tree and a colorful wreath on the door. Her favorite foods were in the fridge including the Diet Dr. Pepper I had to go to four stores to find. She immediately went into mother mode and wanted to know about the dishes in the sink and I admonished her for being an ungrateful teenager who didn’t appreciate my efforts to make Christmas perfect.

    “Making Christmas special is work! Appreciate ME!”, I said, exhausted. “Can’t you see what I did for you!”

    I yelled as I dragged a tree from the driveway into my living room.

    She laughed. “Yes, yes I can”, she said.

    Christmas morning I found presents under the tree — presents that were more than adequate for an adult who should have a family of her own by now. And, just like every year before, my mother carefully picked out everything, not because I had asked but because she knew what I wanted and needed down to the Bikram yoga towel. Despite it all, she continues to be the mother who knows just what to do and say.“

    “Thankful” does not begin to cover how I feel about her right now. Fortunate beyond measure. Blessed. And, most importantly, loved.

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