We’re fundraising right now and before I spill my guts to you in this letter, I want to say that I hope the work we do at Autostraddle inspires you to give even just $25 if you can! Just about everything I’ve written has been free to read for over 12 years, but it hasn’t been free to create. Every dollar helps our little indie outlet.
On with the show!
I keep trying to bury this lede from my own self every time I draft this piece, so let me just be clear to both of us about what we’re talking about here: I’ve prioritized my job over my children. Not wholly and not daily, but with enough predictability and dedication that it’s indisputable. Both of my exes were kind enough to point it out to me, several times. Not that I needed them to — if anyone could see that she was pushing her own children to the side so she could shore up a workplace, it sure as fuck was me. It would be a pathetic understatement to say that I have guilt about this because no, what I have is an unshakable regret that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the pride I have for the work I’ve done here. One couldn’t exist without the other.
Would a straight man be held to the same standard? Of course not, but a better question is, do I even give a shit? No, because it doesn’t make a material difference to me if a straight man would feel less shame and regret for frequently choosing his work over time with his children — I’d still have mine. I’d still wonder if I’d made the right decision, still need to talk to my therapist about it, still need to journal about it, still be answering for it to everyone from my own mother to strangers on the internet.
The only people I care to hear from on the topic are my children. So one summer night, without really meaning to, I asked them.
I used to say that I’d give anything for an office with walls and a door that I could close. And lock. I started out with one, actually — it’s where I’d write my column for OurChart back in 2008, at the same desk where I sat when I opened my first check with Showtime’s logo in the corner. (I still have the paystub.) I turned half of that space into a craft room, too, the year I decided to make all the Christmas gifts for my family back in Tennessee. I made them handbound journals and accordion jewelry pouches, matching owl plushies and necklaces for my sisters, and a hand-sewn pillowcase that I embroidered with an outline of Darth Vader’s helmet for my dad — all done by lamplight while the boys played in the room they shared across the hall. It was a sweet little room and I stretched out into it like a teenager. My first and only real office.
At some point I became worried that the kids needed to have separate rooms. Slade was almost 10 and Eli was nearly 4, and they both had so much stuff and I just had this nagging feeling that I was taking something that they needed more than I did. We moved everything of mine out and sold the desk on Craigslist. Slade pinned posters to his new walls and helped Eli find a better place for the Thomas the Tank Engine table in what was now his own room.
I ended up working from my bed a lot, which was fine because I wasn’t even 29 years old and could therefore stay hunched over a laptop without adequate lumbar support for hours on end. This is where Autostraddle got born — a story I know you’ve read countless times, so I won’t bore you with repetitive details here except to confirm that we were, all of us, sitting on our beds in our rooms, every single day.
My dad died later that year, and then my relationship ended and Riese, finding herself unsustainably overworked and also understanding that I’d need a new place to live, added some more responsibilities to my job description and started paying me from the money that our early investors had given. (At the time, she was paying her own rent with the money her father had left her when he’d died, because we really are a community built on the graves of our fathers, bless us.)
I moved with the boys into a two-bedroom apartment and set up my office in the space that would’ve been a dining area. Between answering homework questions and life questions, delegating chores, making sure people brushed their teeth before bed and again the next morning before I ferried them away to school each day, I was still gchatting and writing, but also soliciting and editing pieces from other people and taking a bigger role in shaping our content. We learned how to tighten up our mission, create workflows for a rapidly growing team, and started facing the fact that we were in charge of something very big.
My work days got longer and I started saying, “Wait, just give me one second” to my kids a lot more. We stopped having dinners together, because an Ikea desk can’t provide a dining platform for a family of four and still hold all my pen cups and notebooks and post-it piles. I tried out at least 40 different configurations of an approximation of an office in the corner of my living room, hoping to create some privacy or at least make it easier to concentrate. I’d say, “If I’m looking at a computer screen, I can’t hear you,” and whichever child was hoping for my attention would dutifully and begrudgingly wait for me to turn around. I was simultaneously wishing I had a door that I could close, and wishing that I wasn’t working so late in the first place.
Autostraddle kept growing. We were paying our writers, holding weekly editorial meetings, enacting social media strategies, hiring more full-time editors and creating new roles for part-time editors. Our publishing calendars went from a color-coded post-it grid on my living room wall to Airtable. We started A-Camp and I started figuring out who could watch my children and take them to school for nearly two weeks at a time. (A couple of times I had to just take them out of school entirely.) I wrote heartfelt advice to readers while Eli waited for a chance to tell me what happened on the playground that day. I put off sending rejection emails to writers so I could go to his orchestra concerts. I pushed back my own deadlines so I could stay up late talking to Slade about his girlfriend. I put off reading his IB English paper so I could give editing notes to a new contributor. I vaguely kept up with the conversations happening on the other side of the living room while I answered questions in Slack about our current rates or how a freelancer should invoice.
I did a lot of very good and important work. I gave very good life advice over midnight cereal. I missed a lot of deadlines, a lot of family movie nights.
I was always choosing one of them over the other, and then second-guessing that choice and feeling like I’d failed them all. I apologized, a lot.
We moved in 2019 and for a very brief couple of months, I had an office. The closet was stuffed with my art supplies and I arranged the furniture so I could look out the window and see Eli walking home from school. I kept the door closed and tried to focus, but it was hard to concentrate with all the couple’s therapy, you know? My marriage ended and Slade moved back in. I moved my office to my living room. I rang in 2020 from my backyard, praying to something that this new year would be easier than the last.
All three bedrooms are shoved over to one side of our house, with about five feet of hallway between us, mine on one side and theirs directly across from it. We have a habit of saying goodnight to each other and then standing there in our doorways, talking about anything and nothing and all of it, everything, sometimes for hours. Sometimes we end up in my bedroom so I can put away laundry or take off a face mask, and Eli finds a seat at the foot of my bed and has to confront the fact that our cat, Winona, still does not wish to be petted by him, which is tragic. This is how our most important conversations happen now. This is where I asked them.
It had been another week of working late and asking Slade to order takeout for the two of them, and I was promising, yet again, that once this push was over, once we xyz’d something or another at work, I’d have more time. I’d go back to making dinner. We’d eat at the table, we’d play board games on a weeknight, we’d look each other in the eyes. One of them said something like, “We know, it’s ok,” and it just… broke me? Like the here and now just blinked out for a second and somehow I saw everything all at once, all 12 years.
I said, “I know I’m always saying this, and I know you’re so tired of hearing it. I’m so sorry.”
They said, “No really, it’s ok!” and I said, “No, it’s actually really not ok! I’m not sure it was ever ok!
I don’t know if I— I think I might have fucked up. I think I might have really fucked this up. Oh shit.”
“You are a great mother, and you have not fucked this up.” (Slade said this, Eli hasn’t cursed in front of me, yet.)
“I thought I was making the right call but now I just… ”
“I really believed in what I was doing, in what we were doing — I mean I STILL believe in what we’re doing — but I missed so much and now it’s so late.”
And yes I was crying by this time and no this was not the chillest way of broaching such a fraught and prickly topic! But here’s what really fucked me up. Are you ready? I was not.
“We believed in what you were doing, too. We still believe in what you’re doing.”
“Yeah, we get it.” (Eli, holding a toy above Winona’s head.)
“You don’t feel like I neglected you? Like I should’ve had a different kind of job or just—”
“What?! No, jesus. You love your job. You have a job you believe in AND we got to see you doing it. No. No, I don’t think you should’ve had a different job. And no, you didn’t fuck this up.”
Now listen, we’re talking about two very young men who have no way of understanding the nuances of say, capitalism, or community-building. These two do not yet comprehend the weight of bringing new people into the world and then still being one yourself. They can’t possibly grasp how wrong they might actually be about whether or not I was a good mother. I still know where I fell short of my own standards and when I let myself down as their mother. I know it wasn’t perfect, and even though I also know that none of us are, I still wish I’d done a lot of things differently. I still wish I wasn’t sitting here writing this at 7pm on a Monday night while they’re playing video games in the other room. But even with all of that, with everything, they still see someone who believed in something bigger than herself. They see me.
They see you.
I’ll never know what Autostraddle would’ve been without me, or what my kids would’ve been like without Autostraddle. I watched the three of them grow up together, I don’t know one of them without the other two. Success feels like a moving target, but I do know that I’ve seen signs of it: the confessional texts from Eli and his relief when I tell him he made the right choice; the annual Christmas letter that Slade stays up late to write, condensing the year down to a few handwritten pages and pointing out where I’d made it better somehow; the way they can both land a callback joke with the nonchalance of a pro; the emails from readers I’ll never meet, the writers tweeting about how proud they are of the work they published on Autostraddle, the fundraiser goals y’all somehow meet every single time. I do know that what we’ve built here — me and you and everyone who’s ever read, donated, written, told their friends — is singular and enormous, and I’m so proud of it all. I know Autostraddle would not exist without you, period, and we can’t exist in the future without you either.
So much of what we do is super professional and streamlined, and honestly really impressive, but we’re still very much an independent operation staffed by people who, while working from the center of our unmade beds, have been figuring this shit out, on our own, without corporate scaffolding or funding, for 12 long years. We’re fundraising to help grow our editorial team and hire a dedicated ad salesperson. These three people will make a world of difference to everyone’s workload, not to mention the platform they’ll have on the site. We’re excited to bring them on and see where they take us! We know how to spend your money and we know what we’re doing, and we still need you to help us do it. We will always need you.
It’s wild as fuck what we build a resiliency for, and how the choices we make are choices we’re also making for everyone around us. When I chose to work here, I decided for my children that they would have a specific type of mother, a specific type of life, and I just… got to decide that! And it’s wild that we all get to do that to each other and then hope that we didn’t make the wrong call. It’s a leap of faith, over and over again, every day, every time. And when you give, you take that leap of faith with us. You make choices for people you’ll never meet, people who’ll need Autostraddle one day.
Whether you’ve been here since Eli was four or Slade was 16 or yesterday (that’d be 2009, 2015, and 2021, respectively), you’ve seen us grow. So many of you have believed in us for so long — we couldn’t have gotten this far without you — and today I’m asking you to believe in the future we’re building. I’m asking you to give what you can, right now, for tomorrow. Every single dollar matters.