Elizabeth Crane is the author of two collections of short stories from Little, Brown: When the Messenger is Hot

Elizabeth Crane, When the Messenger Is Hot
© Little, Brown

and All this Heavenly Glory.

Elizabeth Crane, All This Heavenly GloryAmazon graphic
© Back Bay Books

Her work has also been featured in journals, such as Other Voices, fivechapters, Nerve, Washington Square, New York Stories, Sycamore Review, Mississippi Review, Florida Review, Eclipse, Bridge, Sonora Review, The Chicago Reader, Sleepwalk, The Believer, McSweeney's Future Dictionary of America, and The Banana King, as well as several anthologies, including The Best Underground Fiction, Loser, and The Show I’ll Never Forget. She is also a regular contributor to Writer's Block Party on WBEZ Chicago and a columnist for Punk Planetmagazine. She received the Chicago Public Library 21st Century Award, granted by The Chicago Public Library Foundation, in October 2003. She teaches creative writing at Northwestern's School of Continuing Studies, The School of the Art Institute, and The University of Chicago. Her third collection of stories, You Must Be This Happy to Enter, will be released this fall by Punk Planet Books.


posted May 15, 2007

I will feed you sugar.

I will not name you anything like Kal-El or Pilot Inspektor, but I might think about it for a minute. I will name you something different, but not too different. I will not paint your room blue or pink whatever sex you are, even though I like blue and pink. Your room will not have a theme. You will not know who Barney is until there is no remote chance that you will care. I will plug up all the plugs, put away all the cords, lock up all the cabinets, pack up all the breakable thingies, keep the medicine locked up, I will direct you away from hot things, I will cover the sharp edges on the furniture. Or, we’ll just move. We’ll move to an apartment with no edges of any kind with outlets up around waist high, we’ll get beanbag furniture. I will still forget something, but even if I don’t, you will fall down, and when you fall down, I will hate myself for a little while. When you cry, I will pick you up, but if you cry too long or too loud or in a weird way, I won’t like it. I am not opposed to use of a pacifier, but I will never call it a binky. When you make six poops a day, I will not complain about your diapers but I will probably call you stink-maker to your face. I will look at your poops closely. I will tell Ben what color and size and shape they are. Every day. We are practicing for this now. After your bath I will slather you with smelly-goody things. Without a doubt I will kiss your butt. When you are bigger and tired of poop in your pants I will teach you how to use the potty. I will say, It’s easy! Sit on the seat! Poop and pee! You will see how easy it is.

I will not talk to you in a baby voice, but I will sing to you in a silly voice. I will never, ever, ever, talk down to you. I will try not to, but I am likely to swear, at some point. I will feed you mashed-up peas and beets and chicken and whatever, but you will know what cake is, because cake is good and anyway no way in hell will you be one of those two hundred-pound talk-show babies, not on my watch. When you get the cake all over your face, I will take your picture.

When you wake up crying six times during the night, I will pick you up three times and your daddy will take over when I start to cry myself. During this period when you are crying six times during the night, I will be a little edgy during the day. Try to understand that I do not know what you are crying about. That I will wonder if your PJs itch, or you’re allergic to our laundry detergent, or the sound of my voice, or if you miss the mommy who carried you and how could you not. That I will wonder if you somehow already have a sense of the world we are trying to raise you in even though your whole world is soft and colorful and warm and smells so good all the time. Yes, I know, hungry and wet are the likely culprits, but since you won’t stop when I feed and change you, what the hell? When you wake up every day at five am for good, I will get up, because what else would I do.

You will need to let me read a book at some point, or I will completely freak.

I will have a shelf full of books about babies and parenting, but I will not read them. I will look at them only when you are screaming at the top of your lungs, and since it’s hard to read with a baby screaming at the top of their lungs, I will tell the book to bite me. I will teach you by example. I will teach you some things I do not mean to teach you just like my mom did. I do not know in advance what those will be. You will grow up to be awesome, but flawed. If you end up in therapy, I will try to realize that’s probably better than if you didn’t, but I will still blame myself for that and for other things, like the war in Iraq.

You will be so super-styley. If you are twins, you will never ever ever match. You won’t even coordinate. If you are twins, you will clash. You might even clash with your own self. Even if we shop exclusively at the thrift store I will pull t-shirts over your little head and you might fuss but when you’re dressed I’ll hold you up in the mirror and you will think in your baby thoughts, I look good. When you give me time, I will sew you things. Give me time.

No way will I carry anything that even remotely resembles a diaper bag, not even a Kate Spade diaper bag that’s supposed to look like a fancy bag but only looks like a diaper bag that cost a lot of money. I don’t know what to do about the stroller situation. I will find the least strollery-looking stroller. I will wheel you around on a dolly. I will not talk about diaper genies. I will never say diaper genie in conversation to anyone. I will not be a cliché. I will be a cliché. I won’t. Your mommy will be so punk.

When you learn to walk, I will hold your hands. When you learn to run and you run straight into the oven door, I will take you to the hospital to get stitches. At the hospital I will yell at people randomly, officially marking my complete transformation into my own mother.

I will not make you take a picture at Sears Portrait Studio, ever. But I will take your picture at home, often. I will document your every first, your first smile, your first steps, the first time you seem like you’re about to hold a bottle even if what you’re really trying to do is throw it to the floor for the first time. I will document your first sneeze. How I will capture your first sneeze is I will have just taken a photo of you that I thought was your first yawn of the new year, but which was actually you starting to sneeze.

When you come home, I will whisper my promise to tell you all about where you came from someday.

In the winter I will dress you up in a snowsuit and take you to the park. I will never not for one second take my eyes off you. When I scope out possible predators, it will be from the eyes in the back of my head. Oh and don’t think they’re not there.

I will want you to have only wooden, beautiful toys, or handmade stuffed animals, or one of a kind antique dolls, but that will not happen. So I will make you put your plastic toys in a wooden bucket. I will try to get you toys that you want, but I will simultaneously be trying to recreate my own childhood, or possibly the childhood I want now, so I hope, if you are a boy, that you will not be too upset about the amount of Hello Kitty things I bring home.

I will never let you get too cold or too hot or wet. I will tell you how much God loves you. I will tell you that God made you so smart and beautiful and talented and good and that you can grow up to be whatever you want, but I will not let you be on America’s Most Talented Kids. You will not have to run away to be a circus performer because I will let you be a circus performer locally.

I will say no to you. However much I say no to you, you will think you won’t like it but really you will.  

In autumn, I will walk down the street with you in a Snugli, in that outfit Ben likes (jean jacket, jeans, boots, long wooly scarf) and I will wear big sunglasses and carry takeout coffee in one hand and a bag from Barney’s in the other and I will take long strides just like Meg Ryan or Angelina Jolie or Nicole Kidman except no one will be taking our picture and what will be in the Barney’s bag is a baggie full of Cheerios. Which we will share.

I will explain to you, as soon as you have a word or two, that another mommy carried you in her tummy. When you have a few more words I will explain that that mommy loved you so much she knew we had the most love to give you. Or something. I will explain to you why we look different. Even if you are the same color, or of a similar color to me, I will not ever try to say I don’t see color when I see people. How could I not see color in people if I see it in t-shirts and fruit. I see color fine. I will try to remind you of where you came from and where you are now just the right amount. It might be hard for me to learn Chinese, or Russian at this point, but I will learn a few words and try to remember to ask you if you want some shui-goo or if you want to come to the yin-hang with me. I will make sure you know that you are in the right home. I will try to put the exact right amount of Chinese or Russian things in your room, enough so you know where you came from but not so many that you forget where you are. I will say the exact right thing. I will try to say the exact right thing. If I say the exact wrong thing, I will have meant the exact right thing. Know that now.

When you get old enough to start spilling things, I will be so bummed at first, and I will sigh loudly and say It’s okay, it happens, and you will know from my tone that I don’t think it’s okay, especially after you spilled coffee on my favorite cardigan, but it really is okay, and after a while I will stop wearing my favorite cardigans, but I will not start wearing giant college sweatshirts and mom jeans, never. I promise always to be a hot mom. Even if I’m the oldest mom at your school, I will always be a hot mom. Unless you don’t want me to be a hot mom. Then I’ll try only to be a hot mom away from your school, or I’ll drop you off from across the street, but I will still watch you until you get inside.

Dinner will be disappointing, but we will all sit down at the table together and there will be something on it three to five times a week. You will not grow up to be a person who eats something in a restaurant and says This isn’t how my mom used to make it because chances are high that mom never made it at all. I will learn to make Lois’ Frito casserole. That’s good stuff. Two to four times a week, when there’s too much mail piled up on the table, we will eat somewhere else, like our bed, and the TV might be on. Get used to it.

I will watch Wallace and Gromit with you five hundred and eighty-seven times. You will watch TV. If anyone tells you TV makes you stupid or ruins your life you tell them your mommy watches TV and she wrote three books and teaches college. You tell them that people who watch TV also read books. I will read you a lot of books. I will read you books before you are even born, I will read you books when you are so young all you probably hear is Eerh lala hrrm mmm hm ha ha, I will read you enough books so that you will know how to read when you are one, probably, and then I will read you more books. And even if you can read when you are one and you are the most genius kid ever, you will not be one of those six year-olds who goes to college because that’s just not right.

If some kid tries to bully you in school, I will tell you to invite her over and I will bring you slice and bake cookies and I won’t say anything but I will look her in the eye and scare the shit out of her while I’m smiling in her face and trust me she will never bully you again. If you show any signs of being a bully to anyone let me just tell you right now we’re not having any of that, mister. You will say please and thank you. You will send thank you notes as soon as you can write. People like thank you notes.

I will know the names of your teachers and whether you like them or not. I will care about your grades, but I will not make you feel bad about a C or a B plus or an A minus. No one should ever feel bad about an A minus. If you get a D, I will spend more time helping you with your homework. When you are in eighth grade, I will no longer be able to help you with your math homework, so if Ben can’t help you with your math homework, I will get you a tutor. When you are in tenth grade, I will no longer be able to help you with your science homework. When you are in AP History, I will be really, really impressed and tell you so. If you decide you might be a writer, I will be very helpful.

We will play a variety of rock and roll music, classical music, and kids music, if there’s any such thing that’s not super corny, around the house from the time you come into it. If you start listening to some loud music that I find excruciating when you’re twelve or thirteen, like I don’t know what, country or boy bands, I will make you close the door. Whatever it is, I will be like every other parent in history and think that the music from our day was better.

If you want to wear a trench coat every day, that’s cool, but if you hoard ammo in the garage, I will not pretend that’s not fucked-up. If you start smoking cigarettes, ever, I will try to have a rational conversation about it, but if you keep it up, you will not win the fight.

If you ever say You’re not my real mom, I will try not to flinch, I will tell myself things about just words, just words, but this will crush me. If you ever, ever, ever tell me you hate me or your daddy for any reason, that is just not gonna fly. I will tell you to tell me to go fuck myself before you use the word hate, ever, to us or to anyone, and if you say Fine, go fuck yourself, do not plan events outside of your room for an undetermined length of time.

If you are a girl and you kiss a boy in first grade, I will refer you to your father. If you kiss a boy your senior year of high school and it sucks, I will tell you it gets better later. If you are a boy and you kiss a girl ever, I will first tell you how not to become a jerk down the line and it might be obvious that I’ve had some issues and then I will refer you to your father. If you are a boy and you want to kiss boys or if you are a girl and you kiss a girl in tenth grade and it rocks your world, I will say Right on even though you will tell me no one’s using that phrase anymore, for the second time. I will tell you about the birds and the bees with plenty of advance notice, but I will not involve any birds and bees in this story.

Once in a while, I will leave something out that you shouldn’t see.

Occasionally, I will embarrass you.

I will, inevitably and without meaning to, send you a mixed message. I will not pick up after you, when you are old enough to pick up after yourself, but if you see me picking up after daddy, I might not have a good explanation. If you see me eating cookies before dinner, I will try very very hard not to explain it by saying anything that remotely translates to, Because I’m the mommy that’s why. I will say that I am 80% consistent and you will not think I’m as funny as I do.

When you experiment with drugs, I will have thought about what to do for the previous fourteen years, and I will still not know what to say when you remind me that I experimented with drugs. I will want to say And that is how I know you should not experiment with drugs, but I will know that this will not help my case. I will want to find the way to be most cool about it, but I will not realize that this is really not possible.

I will try to stay out of your love life, but I will urge you to practice the safe sex I do not want to hear details about ever but if your girlfriend calls you names or your boyfriend hits you I will kick their fucking asses down the stairs and out the door.

Aw hell yeah! I will monitor your internet use or whatever the kids are using when you’re that age, I will monitor the chip in your head. Brain chip predators coming around my kid will regret it.

When you go away to college, I will know that you are doing things I wish you weren’t doing, but I will try to muster some denial about it.

If you go through a period in your twenties, of making one terrible choice after another, I will try not to tell you it’ll get better in about ten years. Even though it’s true. I will try to let you make your own mistakes, I will try not to get into a shouting match with you if I find out you don’t have health insurance, or if you date a series of emotionally unavailable actor/poets, or if you move across country and back in a single week, or if you do anything else I’ve done myself and therefore know is a terrible, terrible mistake. If you remain single until you’re forty-one, or forever, I will not think something is wrong with you. I will never think anything is wrong with you.

When you become the last thing in the world I thought you’d become, an accountant, or a school bus driver, or a marine biologist, and it makes you really, really happy, I will be really really happy. When get a plaque that says Accountant or School Bus Driver or Marine Biologist of the Year, I will write about it in the holiday letter. When you get pregnant but you don’t want to get married because marriage is a meaningless construct of society, I will write about it in the holiday letter. When I become a grandma, I will meddle, I will spoil them and let you suffer the consequences, I will write about my grandkids speed-walking races or sixth place 4-H ribbons in the holiday letter.

Someday, you might have to change my diapers, or maybe your dad’s. Just remember: we did it for you.

I will do all of this. I will do none of this. I will love you so hard.

If I think I won’t see you again, I will kiss your face and say, It was really nice knowing you.