Photo credit: Ken Yanoviak
Lauren Grodstein will appear at Powell's City of Books on March 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Recently, my dog began taking medical marijuana. I was against the idea, and so was a friend of mine who’s a vet (actually, my friend is a veterinary oncologist, which is extremely boutique of her, but which also means she cannot be my
vet, because my dog is simply a nervous wreck and not, thank goodness, a cancer patient).
Anyway, I was against the marijuana, and so was my friend, and so, it turns out, was the FDA. But my dog was a mess and her (non-oncological) vet, from whom I had requested a tiny little Prozac prescription, suggested a more natural approach.
Doggy Prozac is like $12 for a month’s supply. Doggy cannabis is $110.
I said forget about it, looked up canine behavioral training, realized that that would cost me $180 an hour, called the vet back up and got my dog her weed. The entire time this was happening the dog was cowering under the kitchen table because somewhere, in the distance, she could hear the joyful voices of children at play.
Now, after a week on marijuana, my dog is, perhaps, fractionally more calm, or maybe that’s the placebo effect working its magic on us, her owners. We spend a lot of time trying to assess the dog’s behavior. Maybe she seems more willing to be downstairs at the same time as our son? Maybe she doesn’t shake quite so much when she passes a school bus? What is certain is that we now make lots of jokes about her name, which is Heidi. For a while I wanted to spell it Hide-y, because of her usual location under the kitchen table, but now, of course, she’s High-dee.
I myself am on Effexor and Lunesta, with semi-regular ministrations of Xanax. My husband is on a steady diet of Internet Scrabble. The only one in our house who doesn’t seem to be grappling with mid-to-serious levels of anxiety is our son, who is eight and still has a child’s clarity of mind. When he says that he’s feeling nervous about something, I look deep in his eyes and realize that what he means is that he’d rather not go to Hebrew School but instead stay at home and read books about Norse gods. "What are you nervous about?" I ask him. He says, "That Hebrew School will be boring." Well, you’re right about that, I say, but because he can name his dread — because it is not existential, because it is not amorphous and all-encompassing — I do not worry about him. His state of mind is one of the few things, these days, I do not worry about.
Something is wrong with all of us right now, with almost everyone I know. One of my best friends just sent me an email with the subject line, “thinking of you,” and it was about the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and the bomb scares at JCCs around the country. She wanted to let me know that for her, a very faithful Christian, these attacks on Jews are devastating. She was having a hard time sleeping. I love my friends, all my friends, and am so grateful for them, and I want them to be able to sleep. I want to be able to sleep.
If there can only be one person in the world whose eyes do not show within them a nameless, formless fear — please let that be my son.
I remember when our country was generally decent and the things that worried us were things that seemed changeable, fixable. Now I’m just hoping that all the ice in the world doesn’t melt before my son is a very old man.
In a few weeks I am going to embark on a tour to promote a novel that I am, honestly, very proud of. I think this book is everything I want it to be — funny, sad, honest. It is about a mother and her overwhelming love for her son. It is about a mother as she faces the end of her life and determines her legacy. It really is very good. Two years ago, when I was deep in edits on this book, I would reread passages and think, Yes, this is right
. This might even be important.
The story about a mother’s love for her child is
important — it is the story of the world. But what kind of person can self-promote in this age of overwhelming anxiety? Who cares about literature when we are facing down a fascist in the White House? Our president is arbitrarily cruel, and most of the people in his cabinet are toadies and profiteers. We march and sign things and give money, but we are not billionaires. We are not revolutionaries. We have, in our short lives, rarely come up against evil, and are not truly prepared to face it down.
I still believe the story of how much we love our children is the story of the world, but I feel more desperate about it. I know we have to fix the world — tikkun olam
— if not for ourselves, for our children. But this used to be a sort of metaphysical goal. Now I feel like if we don’t do this thing right away — and how do we do this thing? — we will all be lost.
If there can only be one person in the world whose eyes do not show within them a nameless, formless fear — please let that be my son. Let him sit up in bed and read novels about Norse gods. Let him sleep easy at night.
I am trying, in my own small way, to live my life, to protect my son, to write my Congresspeople, to give my money, to tend to the fires of my work and the fires of my home life so that he can grow up one day in the world I remember that we used to take for granted. As he grows up, I want his challenges to seem faceable. I do not want his world to be filled with deportations, attacks, and cruelties. When he goes to Hebrew School, I want him to be bored, but not terrified.
When I talk about my book, I’ve decided I’m going to talk less about plot and more about love. That is the only way I will be able to talk about my own small thing in the face of all these big things.
And when I come back from Atlanta or Portland or Boston to my own little town in New Jersey, I will kiss my son and dose my dog and do my best to gather the strength to keep fighting. And then I will take my Effexor. And then I will keep writing.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the author of four novels, including the New York Times
bestseller A Friend of the Family
, the Washington Post
Book of the Year The Explanation for Everything
, and Our Short History
, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in March 2017. Lauren’s work has been translated into French, Turkish, German, Hebrew, and other languages, and her essays and reviews have been widely published. She directs the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and dog.