My sister sent me a list for her daughter’s birthday yesterday… our first kids were born within five days of each other. My kid first, on the 19th, and hers on the 24th, the day before my original due date.

The two of them are turning 13, they’re totally hormonal (in different ways—estrogen and testosterone are equally powerful, but different), they’re by turns funny and sweet and cuddly and then borderline psychotic, antisocial, and venomous. “When I said I hated you tonight, I still loved you, I just didn’t know it then,” my son told me before he went to bed, kissing me on my face.

He emailed his list to his aunt, and the gift is apparently on it way. But I’ve been having trouble pinning my niece down, even using all Auntie G’s winning charm on her text msgs (“Darling, Auntie G wd like to speak w/u re BD, pls call!! xxxooo”—should have replaced kisses and hugs with dollar signs). So my sister emailed me a half-assed list that she somehow conned out of her daughter that morning over cornflakes or pop-tarts or a naked bagel.

We had a hilarious back-and-forth over this list that included our responses to Justin Bieber and his passing resemblance to Taylor Lautner; the “manorexic” jeans I saw on a website my kid now shops on; and the difficulties of finding a magazine appropriate for a 13-year-old girl (Teen Vogue has Justin Bieber, eeuuw; Anna Wintour Vogue talks about “sex and orgasms and what guys want you to do to them, etc.”). And then she mentioned a few more things her daughter wanted: “a new carpet; UGG sneakers (God help me!)” and she said this:

Maybe I’ve over-indulged them. Not like I buy them anything/everything. But I remember getting practically nothing growing up. Mom would take us to get a donut at Daisy Donuts in the mall like once or twice a year, and we thought it was heaven.

And gray memory’s doors opened before me. The days and days of nowhere to go, stranded on half an acre surrounded by woods in deep suburbia; no friends to hang with, no neighbors, no neighborhood. No one ever called our house or rang our doorbell. Growing up in an alcoholic family was like living in a monastery, complete with matins, vespers and compline, the daily round of work, and the ascetic menu to boot—except for Daddy’s beer.

The trip to get the donut at the mall was like the nuns coming out of cloisters once a year.

To have my sister confirm it brought it back into focus. Because it had been so lonely, so everlastingly fucking boring (filled with my mother’s boring work: painting the house, hanging her wallpaper, tiling her floor, refinishing her cabinets, all in an effort to Save $$$), it was almost as if I MUST have made it up, though of course I knew I hadn’t. I have journals and vivid memory.

BTW, the reason my son had told me he hated me?—I said he had to shut off the computer. And he didn’t want to be “bored.”

It’s commonly said that, in recovery, dealing with boredom is one of the most important skills one can learn to prevent relapse. No wonder I’m, like, a little sensitive to boredom and loneliness. Especially loneliness. I didn’t mind the work so much, but I minded having nobody my age to talk to and nowhere to go. I also did mind always being completely broke and not being allowed to get a job. A bit of self-compassion here for G?

I told my sister:

I cannot tell you how comforting it is to read you say this, because this is what I remember. I simply got used to asking for nothing. I took an online “narcissistic personality inventory” just for kicks the other day, and I scored off the low end of the chart (except for vanity—I AM a vain beeyotch, I know this), and it told me that I expect almost nothing out of my life. I have basically coasted and waited for the next thing to happen.

My sister does not know (yet) that I’m recovering from addiction.

Then she wrote back, asking herself why it was impossible for her to buy herself an iPhone?


This really did it for me. I’ve wanted an iPhone for months and months… probably a couple years, probably ever since they first came out.

I have not yet been able to bring myself to buy an iPhone. It would do many things that would be “convenient”—synchronize my calendar with my address book with my phone; allow me to record phone calls, totally BONUS as a nonfiction writer; produce texts in less time than it would take me to, say, install new brakes on my car, or weed my vast, overgrown, urban garden. I’m not even talking about its camera or video tchotchkes.

I swear to God I have no investment in Looking Swell on this one. The question is, DO I NEEEED IT?

I can hear my mother: “NO!!!” and then, in her calm, erudite historian-cum-philosopher voice (waving her cigarette in the air), “There is a big difference between what one NEEDS and what one WANTS, and what I ascertain is, you WANT this. When you get right down to it, Guinevere”—God, how many times did she used to say this?—“When you get right down to it, Guinevere, one NEEDS very little in life. (blowing smoke in my face)

Here’s where I lost my temper at my mother, which I haven’t done in a long time, partly because she’s been dead for 11 years; also mostly because she didn’t take at all kindly (as you can prolly guess) to people losing their tempers with her, and I sometimes suspect this remains true even in death.

NOT TRUE, MOM! I argued querulously. One NEEEDS those little Tech Deck skateboards I buy for your grandson so one can disassemble them and leave the parts scattered all over the house! One NEEEDS new carpet and Ugg sneakers!! One needs to make mistakes; one needs to spend money and lose it; one needs friends; one needs good food; one at the very least needs a high-functioning phone if one is going to shuttle three kids to three different places at simultaneous times the way your younger daughter does, or hope to do a good job the way I’m doing, and also be happy. O and by the way, one needs to be happy! One needs to want. Get real, Mom!

Silence. I can hear her jaw clenching.

Into the crevasse of my hesitation I fall, pushed by the shortcoming of my self-doubt: the new iPhone has defects; the old iPhones are outdated; should I wait for the new version of the new iPhone? should I buy an old iPhone on eBay and save $$$ (the everlasting Save $$$ Debate)? Should I wait until Apple’s contract expires with the Evil AT&T? … In my hesitation I am lost, and instead of getting a smart-phone I stick with my crappy old stupid-phone that SUCKS and that I HATE, that I want daily to DESTROY, and that instead I pay $50+/month to use.

Insanity still controls G’s life! In my compulsion to Save $$, I Waste $$!!


Also: I don’t even ASK how much an iPhone might cost because I have this IDEA that I’M NOT WORTH AN IPHONE. This is not a fact, it is an IDEA, it is what the Buddhists would call a Concept, and it is classic to kids raised in alcoholic families: You Are Not Worth It.

It is unmanageable through my will alone.

I still have my crappy flip-phone. But by and by, through relying on a will greater than my own, I’m giving up these insane, unmanageable behaviors and starting to treat myself like a human being—a person that I like and respect.

I start taking care of myself, instead of always taking care of other people first, even people who I, sadly, buried a long time ago.

My therapist—who wrote a dissertation on self-forgiveness—says,

Let your mother carry her own bags.