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On Extinction, Mad Cows and the Crazy Necessity of Celebrating Our Children’s Birthdays

My younger son turns 21 today. And OH what a morning it is! Already, the chickadees are bombadeering around the yard, rabbits are munching on fallen apples and the fish are voraciously feeding in the cattail grasses, their bright orange tail fins waving above the water like airfield navigation flags for the dragon flies who maneuver in formation above the pond like pilots in an airshow competition. And, as if this weren’t enough, the squash leaves are as high as an elephant’s eye, and it looks like they’re climbing clear up to the sky……It’s that kind of morning.

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And mother-goddess if my knees don’t buckle beneath me as I momentarily forget to forget, and in so doing, I remember what’s really going on across the Earth, to the Earth. As my son, across town in his house of young men, awakens ‘A Man’ in the eyes of our (beleaguered) culture, right now, with so much to celebrate, I am on my knees in front of the butternuts, the big orange jack-o-lanterns and the tiny decorative pumpkins I can’t figure out why I planted. I’m in tears. Sobbing actually. It just comes in waves. I imagine at least a few of you know what I’m talking about. I have a feeling, if all of us – the ones who know what I’m talking about – tattooed a scarlet heart on our foreheads we’d see the truth of how many of us there really are, who end up on our knees sobbing on any given day. And maybe then, able to see that we’re actually a formidable army of people – those who haven’t been hardened off to the beauty and the catastrophe – we would be emboldened to take real action.

Here, this morning, it comes in waves because of the irony. Is that what it is? Irony feels so un-intimate. This feels so intimate I am claustrophobic. It feels like it’s in my lungs, wrapped around my heart, like it’s kicking me in the backs of my knees every time I try to stand back up. Whatever this is, it has everything to do with my two sons’ beautiful, healthy excitement about growing older in the world. One of them has just past the drinking milestone, the other one fast approaches the ranks of no-questions-asked rental car customers. And holy shit, in this culture, that’s actually exciting. These milestones matter. But it’s horrifying that they matter. It’s a great shame of our culture that these are the things we tell our precious young adults to look forward to. On more occasions than I can count I’ve had to stifle my words, just swallow them in a great, very necessary and very appropriate self-censorship. I gave birth to these two beautiful souls. And these two beautiful souls are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing – embracing the world and their place in it. It’s exciting to be able to get legally shit-faced. And it’s exciting to know you can rent a car should you need to. It’s awful that these are exciting things, but they are. And, since my generation and I are more accountable for this madness than my sons, I must take responsibility for the fact that I haven’t worked any cultural magick in the 23 years I’ve been a mother to have these shameful milestones displaced by, say, oh, I don’t know, successfully hunting for one’s own food or any other thing that is actually beneficial to the world.  

In my private practice I sit with women all day long, most of whom are mothers. I listen to them describe each their unique versions of the crazy that roils in us because of this Stepford life we’re all living; because of the nearly impossible tension between raising children to be alive, awake and joyful, all the while we are navigating the unavoidable, unrelenting truth of the catastrophe of our human impact (not to mention our quickly approaching demise). It’s like riding a class six rapid trying to make sense of the all-out biocide we have unleashed upon the Earth and all its life, including the life that comes through our own wombs. This last part is the pièce de résistance, the umbrella in the cocktail of Crazy we’re drinking – that we are destroying the livable habitat for the very humans we’ve so dutifully conceived, gestated, birthed and painstakingly nourished into adulthood. A new kind of spongiform encephalopathy – feeding on, to the point of annihilation, the very mother who sustains us, who is us. 

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Oh people, there’s no antidote for the crazy that is that. One of the first signs of this madness in cows is the inability to stand up. On my knees in the pumpkin patch, I remember the images of the first cows stricken with mad cow disease, knees buckling, their brains awash in toxins caused by ingesting a thing they should not ingest – each other.

In sessions with the mothers, amidst their tears and rage, I try to normalize – try to put the Crazy in context. It’s not easy. There are plenty of us who find it far easier to take one for the team; to insist that it’s our own personal insanity; nothing whatsoever to do with the culture. “It runs in the family” she might say. “It’s that time of the month” is another popular one. Somehow that’s easier. Like the child of fundamentally incapacitated parents who, in her wild brilliance, sees their incapacity. In that place, instead of staying in the truth of this impossible reality (the reality that would lead us to question the very nature of the Universe itself), she fashions her entire life around a diligent and meticulously maintained story of her own wrongness. It is far safer to imagine ourselves crazy, and spend our time diligently managing, and apologizing for, ourselves, than to live in the truth that the very fabric of the human world is mad.

But, what if we utterly (udderly) crazy bitches, tattooed hearts upon our foreheads all, actually believed ourselves and each other? What if we stopped telling the stories of our own crazy and stopped participating in the insanity of this biocide? What if we bought land and helped raise each other’s children, teaching them to forage and hunt and look up at the night sky. What if we all read poetry to each other while we harvested the pumpkins, remembering how to breath from our bellies and feel our feet rooted in the Earth again? I do know this is one of those regrettable moments in a piece of writing when the author ventures over the cliff of the melodramatic and absurdly nostalgic. And still…it’s a sure sign of cultural madness when the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, sounds outlandish and immature to our ears; that we fight for our right to do the exact opposite of the right and smart things.

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Quite thankfully, these moments somehow never last long, these on-my-knees-in-front-of-the butternuts-and-pumpkins moments. I manage to button it up, remembering that the whole family is arriving shortly to make gluten-free (mother-of-god, of course, we’re gluten-free) donuts and potato sausage hash and to drink mimosas, the champagne purchased by one young man who is now old enough to walk into any establishment and buy himself a drink, (a fact which I am going to celebrate, even if it kills me). We will laugh, eat, talk about life, about what’s next for this young man who is alive with possibility. We will roll around with the dogs, ponder how those little decorative pumpkins got in the garden and what on earth we’ll do with them… And I will thank the stars, and the air, and the water, the soil and the dragon flies and fish for being here one more day. And it will simply be a lovely celebration. As it must be.

And then tonight, you and I and all the other udderly Crazy Bitches will gather under the harvest moon and plot the revolution, because if we are going down (and people, it appears there is no avoiding it), let’s at least go down howling our gratitude and rage as only truly sane people would.

Christiane Pelmas5 Comments