Margot Merrill on modern parenthood and the writing life


This is 40

Big day, folks. Four decades on this planet! That's me. Forty.

Thank God I got most of my identity crisis shit done in my late thirties! I am delighted now. I'm the youngest of all of my friends in their forties. (Sorry, guys.) I'm the wise elder of Those Who Have Not Yet Turned Forty. And I'm cute and humble, too.

It's not like things are perfect now–it's life after all. But I hope my forties are about enjoying what I have.

Yes, I'm aware of my blessings! They were singing to me the last few days. Now my job is to quiet my brain. Shut up and enjoy it, Margot! You hear me??

Okay, I may be losing it in my old age. As proof, here is the cheesiest image I have ever posted, and will ever post, on this website:

Your thoughts?




Your rose, your thorn, and your bud

My friend Tyler's buddy asks his kids this question every night: "What are your rose, your thorn, and your bud?"

Your rose is the happiest moment of the day. The thorn, the worst part of your day: what's bothering you or keeping you back. And your bud is what you're excited about learning or doing next.

Roses have been on my mind lately. When I'm trying to calm down I visualize being in one. A giant red rose. I curl in the center like a baby, a yellow pollen blanket under me. The petals unfurl around me.

Love, that's what a rose means. In that visualization I do, it means self-love. Self-love. I didn't know I needed it, but apparently it's what I'm supposed to be learning. Have I mentioned I hate learning? I've come to recognize that my wires are crossed. Learning = failing. I'm working hard to change this belief, and to be kinder to myself as I grow. (How do you do that self-love thing? Did you always yourself unconditionally? Is it learned? Does it come and go?)

I had a rose-related breakthrough recently when a wise woman who knows me well said: "You don't have to constantly be exceptional, Margot."

"Yes I do!" I shouted. And then I laughed a little and explained, "So I can keep torturing myself for failing!"

She, much older and calmer than I, said: "Lower your expectations. Especially of yourself."

It was a revolting idea.

"But I want to create! Beautiful things!" I said. "And change the world! Make it better! Help people! And be a great parent! And–"

"It's not realistic, or kind to yourself, to think you have to be phenomenal all the time," she said. "To create, you need down time. Time when you're just normal old you. You need time to gestate."

Then I thought of a rose, and why it's exceptional: it's not always blooming. The bush hibernates. It makes rose hips from faded flowers. Its roots stretch into the cold deep earth to bring up nutrients. The leaves do their photosynthesis thing.

shhhh, we're working on something good inside over here










And when things are ready, it blooms.

Ah. That feels good. Pretty exceptional, huh?










I feel like I'm coming out of a dark winter. So grateful to see the late-Spring sun. I have to move past being mad at myself for breaking down. I know this whole process–my recent crash, and evolving identity, and awkward inner growth is leading to something. More roses. I'm sure of it.

I haven't yet instated the rose/thorn/bud routine with my family. I'll have to add it to my list of to-do's. If you're inspired, and you actually have dinner with your family regularly, please do it and lmk how it goes.



Returning to work

The return to work was rough, mostly because it coincided with my husband being out of town for like, two months. Sure, he was back for a week here and a few days there, but it was intense. With a five-month old and a three-year old, plus a half-assed plan for childcare, it really sucked. There. I said it. No, wait, I'm not done! It REALLY REALLY SUCKED. But since we're not planning on having more kids, at least I can say: Well then. I won't have to do THAT again.

I have the option to bring Story Jane with me to work since Hot Studio has a formal, and awesome, babies-at-work policy for returning parents. It's a great benefit, and it helped the first few weeks, but I couldn't swing it any longer. I was a single parent returning to the workforce in a new role. After being off for almost seven (!!) months, I was ready to just get back to work. And frankly, I'm not the most chill mom in the world. More specifically, I freak out when my kids aren't sleeping. So trying to get Story to take a nap–while meeting new people and setting up new processes at work– was a recipe for a mommy meltdown.

The ongoing identity crisis: I didn't say "I'm a mother," but "a mommy." I also have a full time job and a fancy new title. Transitioning between these two roles is what's most awkward. I can get so into work, and so fulfilled by it, to be honest, I don't leave at 5:30 as planned. I probably haven't pumped at the designated time. My commute home is super stressful, 'cause I know I'll miss my daughter being awake. My husband, if he's home, has to cover for me. We haven't made dinner plans. Even leaving at 6:00, I'm too late. I've f'ed it up, and I'm not even home yet.

When I walk in, I've got to be on. I want nothing more than to squeeze my boy. Usually Alejandro doesn't have pants on and he's doing ninja moves. He desperately wants someone to decapitate action figures with him.

I give him a big hug and many kisses. That's the best, for both of us. Then I deny his requests to play. I may make dinner, or feed Story, and put her to bed if I'm not too late. That means patting her back and singing and letting her cry. I walk out of the room for five minutes at a time as she screams. I give Ali a Popsicle, then return to pat her back some more. I hear Ali stomping towards their bedroom. "Mommy!?" His Popsicle has dripped all over his privates and the hallway, and as soon as Story hears him, she wakes up and cries louder. She's frustrated she isn't part of the violence in the living room.

It's really fun. No really, it's not.

I don't know why I expected it to be "fun." What Kool-Aid did I drink, way back when I was envisioning myself as a super chill, relaxed, loving and art-inspiring parent? And can I please have some more?

I wouldn't change anything about my life, of course. It's my design, rough edges and fuckups included. I wouldn't trade our two gorgeous babies or their amazing dad who has a creative job at which he excels (but requires him to travel)–not for anything. Or give up my job, for that matter. I love it. I love going to it, and I can't deny that.

So here I am, a modern parent.

My friend Katrina, who writes the profound workingmom'sbreak blog, told me long ago that she and her husband sometimes said to one another: "There's just not enough to go around." It's a sad state, but a good reminder to avoid the blame game between partners. It doesn't seem like enough, but it has to be.

Experienced moms tell me that it'll get much easier when the kids are in elementary school. "It's just five years away," my boss and friend Maria told me tonight. Just five years. Only a parent would be crazy enough to say that.

Only a mommy like myself would accept that decree with a bowed head. And then mourn those years' passing.


Due Date

This baby, as-of-this-moment unborn, is likely the best thing that’s ever happened for my personal evolution and for my family. (I can say that now: my family.) The timing, and the very fact of her, is a blessing I couldn’t or wouldn’t have planned. It’s been a painful and mind-boggling nine months. As I admitted in June, I've been majorly depressed.

But had she not come into being, I would’ve spent another year or more doing the same things I’ve always done: over-working, over-doing, stressing out, and trying to organize my way into happiness. Instead, she’s forced me to look back at what transpired since I became a mom to Alejandro three years ago. And that’s finally allowed me to start identifying misconceptions I’ve carried since then; to heal some old wounds; and to look forward to being a happy mom to two.


Today is my due date. I’ve officially avoided an early labor. I’ve decompressed from my job, where I was responsible for every last detail of projects both big and small. I handed things off. I let go. I was planning on going back for a lunch with co-workers a couple of weeks ago, but instead found myself kneeling in the street outside of our house with a badly scraped-up leg. I’d twisted my ankle on a curb on my way into SF. So I never got there, and it’s probably for the best. I had to go lie down instead.

Too much, too much, too much, is the message I keep receiving. Stop doing too much! Having partially ignored this message, I’ve now reached the end of my List of Things to Do Before She’s Born, and now find myself on the verge of going nuts. And trying to be calm while I wait.

Waiting to Explode

Yes, I’m waiting to go into labor. On the other side of it, I can imagine holding her. That new baby smell. I can imagine having a family of four, and it being a sweet sweet thing. I can also imagine the first few weeks and months being hard. The agony of sleep deprivation, the bitch I might become at times. The challenges of trying to satisfy an infant and a willful toddler. Oh, how I want to experience these things! How I want her to be okay!

In between those future events and today, there’s the reality that I’m going to have a crazy fucking physical experience in which I will open up and a tiny human being will emerge…from me! “Mother fucking fuck of God” is all I can think of to say. In those hours (days?) of labor, I will be completely animal. Vulnerable. I’ll sweat and huff and moan and cry. My body, and hers, will do what Nature, not I, says to do. I won’t be able to talk or make jokes or analyze. I’ll be having A Birth Experience. It may work out great–it may not. How does one prepare for that?

The fact is, my last birth experience was pretty horrific. Am I allowed to say that? I’m afraid it’s a "dis" on Alejandro, who turned out great, and who in the end did indeed emerge just as he should have. I’m afraid to scare new and expecting mothers. (“Everyone will compete to tell you their horror stories,” I was told in a birthing class. “Don’t listen!”) So I’ve tried to keep mum about it all of these years. I tried to just move on. But the idea of giving birth again–I’ve been so scared!


I’ve realized that one of the key factors in my thinking of the experience as horrific was that my expectations were really, really far off. I expected a natural, painless, birth to go down in, oh, let’s say about 12+ hours. My older sister, the closest personal reference I’d had to childbirth, had her first baby naturally, without pain, self-hypnotized, in something like 9 hours! She was so zen about everything. She was comfortable as a mom from the beginning. I expected her experience to translate into mine through our shared DNA. At the very least I hoped my knowledge that a first birth could be like that would make it more possible for me.

The Last Time

Here’s what really happened: I tried stubbornly to do it naturally for way too long. After a day of laboring, I was in intense pain. We went to the hospital, but they said I wasn’t dilating. I could either get an epidural or go home. I went home for the night, and it was the worst night of my life. The hypnobirthing training flew out the window sometime after midnight. (How could I convince myself that it didn’t hurt when it DID?) Intense contractions kept coming, one after another. I wandered around our condo trying to relax. I huddled in various places feeling like a mad dog, very alone. (Rafael was fully present, but could do little to help me.) When we returned to the hospital in the morning, I still hadn’t dilated! After all of that pain and hard work! After 8 more hours in the hospital, I ended up getting an epidural, and then things moved along.

Ali was born 46 or 47 hours after my labor had begun. And I began motherhood as an exhausted and confused wreck.

I just wish that I had been told the following:

  • A first labor takes between 12 and 48 hours, maybe even 3 days!
  • You can’t plan it. No, seriously, YOU CAN’T PLAN IT. Give up control now.
  • It does hurt! But contractions come and go. It can be done naturally – if those contractions are making good progress moving the baby down and out.
  • For God’s sake, give up and try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working! Do it earlier rather than later, and let your partner help decide when.
  • Positive visualization may not work for everyone. You may be more of a physical or auditory person. You may have to moan. A lot. Or move, or squeeze the fuck out of something. Just give it up.
  • Get some f’ing painkiller if you are in lots of pain. (Duh. I thought that was my plan, but my plan evolved into some sort of sick endurance game about 12+ hours into it.)
  • Rest up, and be kind to yourself no matter what happens.

This one

I’m not planning it. I may get an epidural, happily. I may not if things are actually moving along. I’ll try not to talk or analyze. I’m going to be a beautiful and ugly and strong and weak animal woman, like the millions and billions of women before me who’ve done this amazing feat. Who brought us all into the world. I will be one of them. I will be one of you. And I will emerge on the other side, please God with a healthy baby girl, and with a new experience.

Because you love us, I know you want to know what’s going on, and when it will happen. So do I. But this plan is an unspoken one between her body and mine. It has nothing to do with a date on a calendar.

So, meanwhile, I am just, um, waiting. Trying to be still, and to rest, and to be open to whatever may come, and whatever she may teach me next.


Knocked Up and Feeling Down

You're not supposed to be depressed when you're pregnant. You're supposed to feel lucky and blessed to have the Power of Breeding. You should feel smug, as this song, recently shared by a FB friend, reminded me: “Pregnant women are smug. Everyone knows it. But nobody says it. Because they’re pregnant.” It’s kind of catchy. If I wasn’t so depressed, or pregnant, I’d laugh.

I apologize to anyone who's reading this oddly public format, thinking: "Margot's pregnant again? Why didn't I know?" Well, it's because I suck. I probably haven't talked to you in months. I've been holed up trying to figure this out while I work full time, feeling a continual pillow of sleepiness pressing down, trying to be chipper for boundless-energy Alejandro. Rafael's also had two out-of-town jobs in the last month, which means I've been a single working mom while he brings home some bacon. Frankly, I'm a mess.

And let's face it, I don't look cute. I look bulbous and exhausted. The $500+ I spent on rushed maternity clothes had horrendous results. I have three pairs of pants with the appeal of paper sacks. One needs to be hemmed. The shirts are either schlumpy, oddly tight, or ruffled and pleated. All also bag-like. I have one decent dress, and have already explained to my co-workers that we can have only one important client meeting every week, wherein they can expect to see me wearing wrap-around teal.

Of course the clothes don't matter, and how I look is a matter of opinion. I'm schlumpy on the inside. I'm full of guilt about my depression, and anxiety about my impending second-motherhood. If I can't manage my current life, I reason, how the hell am I supposed to be a good mom to another small human? And to the one we already have? I've told Alejandro we don't whine, but here I am. I have so many conflicting emotions.

Of course, I am happy, too. Absolutely blessed. Hopeful. I hold my belly and speak to him/her, willing them to be okay. I promise him/her that mommy will figure stuff out before they're born, that I want want them, and will do my very best. And we did always plan on having a second child. I want Ali to have someone to commiserate with about how nuts we are. Isn't that what siblings are for?

I just wasn't ready. On the contrary, we had just planned to wait for a year. Back in March, as I realized I could evolve my job into something that would make me happy, I decided to concentrate on that, and set myself up for a future when yes, we would have a second child, and I wouldn't be returning to the same old grind. "We've decided to wait." I told about 20 people in about three weeks. I admit it: I was smug about the decision to wait. And I was pregnant the whole time.

At the heart of the issue: having too much to manage. Guilt over having too much, period. Why couldn't sperm-meet-egg for one of my friends trying so hard to have a baby? It's been such a hard road for many: scientific timing for sex, hormone injections, rushed trips to the sperm bank. Waiting. Hope and disappointment. The stress of it! These people too are in pain, and quietly suffering, waiting every month for the opportunity to love a little one, and to experience the back-breaking and mind-bending act of parenthood. To them especially: I'm sorry that I'm depressed about our good fortune. I'm doing my work to approach this with the joy and celebration it deserves.

I know on the other side of all of this–on the other side of depression–there's healing, and great positive changes to be made. A future with more balance. As I mentioned in my last post, it's the swimming in the muck that motivates one to seek higher ground. But God, it's mucky. For now, I can only keep dog paddling, and float on my back when I'm really tired. I can make an appointment with a therapist specializing in these issues, hoping she's a life vest that will fit. And I can write this post, even though it's humiliating and I wish I was being more uplifting.

But it always feels better to write, and to be honest about what's going on. I'll get to the other side. Have patience, Margot. Have patience, friends. And please don't be mad at me for where I'm at now, nor where I'll be when I've seemingly figured it out and it all looks so easy from the outside!


The passage of time, the passage of Minos

He isn't dead yet. My cat. My friend and constant, meow-y companion of seventeen years. But It is upon us. His kidneys don't work. He don't work. I am, amid all else we're doing, injecting him with H20 once a day. And pushing down meds for his thyroid, meds to increase appetite, meds to help "bind phosphorous" or something like that. It's pretty awful.

He's old. 84 in people years. A once-giantly fat cat, he's now 7 pounds. He's deaf. Senile and prone to demented meowing for hours at night. You'd think we'd just let him go, huh? I am, I am...just working up to it. You see, this cat, in addition to being a fabulous being–anyone who's met him will attest to that–is my young adult life. He's me, way back before I was a producer, a college graduate, a writer, a wife, a mother. Minos has simply always been there.

Visiting Margot meant sitting on my couch and hanging out with Minos. "Us," before "us" was Rafael and I, or Raf-Ali-and-I, was Minos and I. And you. Our friends and family, who love him too. There are cats, and then there's Minos. I know the difference–I've had both. I called him a bear-bat-monkey-cat. You called him fat. He hung out like one of the guys. He hung out like one of us.

Now he's just hanging on, and so am I.

I think of Minos as a tiny kitten who was delivered to me, sight unseen, to my first apartment in San Antonio, Texas. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I couldn't even legally drink. He was a ball of black fuzz in the palm of my hand, fearless, his legs draped through my fingers as I held him up. When I decided to open a cafe instead of go back to school, Minos met me in the yard after every long day. My friend Jen's jaw dropped the first time she met him, because he jumped down from a tree onto the hood of my car after we pulled in the driveway. "Hellooooooo!" He meowed triumphantly. "This is my cat." I said proudly. He was so cool.

He was always a whore for people and food, but I let him roam free, and he always came back to me. To that first apartment in Texas. Then Jen's place in Denver, where he stayed while I moved to San Francisco. Then, all of the apartments in S.F.: Cole and Carl, Kearny and Chestnut, Funston and Irving, 15th and Ramona. He's even stuck with me through the last two-plus years, through the birth of our son, two moves in the East Bay, and my resulting identity crisis.

Minos found a new lease on life each time each time we moved. But here we are, in the best home of all of those places, and it’s the end of the line.

Not bad, you’ll tell me. He had a happy life! It’s time!

I know all of that. I feel it in my bones: it’s time. I ain’t got enough to give him anymore, you see. Not like he ever got too much of a say in what I did over the last seventeen years. There was partying in my house, and crying, and lots of friends, and weekends he was left alone with his mentally deficient cat sister Mellie, and some missed meals and medicine. There was much yelling back and forth between us: “MEOoooooow!”

“Shut up Minos!” The yelling at him only stopped being fun when he went deaf.

This has been my life, up to now. Or next week, or the following. Or whenever he actually dies, or I decide to stop hydrating him with an IV because I can no longer fucking take doing it every night.

With Minos’ inevitable passing, I'm pushed off the mesa of my young adult life. I think I spent the last two years hiking up a new mountain called middle age. I’m a mother. It's so humbling.

Hold on - could I please refer to this next chunk of my life that I’m facing, terrified, as “young middle age?” Because you can’t quite call me middle-aged now, can you? Is 37 middle-aged? At age 16 I would’ve said “Duh. Definitely.” At 28 I would’ve said, “Naw, middle-aged is when you’re in your forties and fifties.” I’m creeping up there, friends, and want to keep putting it off.

I always thought that the trick to getting old without getting miserable was: to retain the gut-knowledge that a great life is possible, even to be expected, and worth fighting for. Oh yeah–and to keep havin' fun, yah brah! Of course, we ask ourselves: what does “a great life” mean? It keeps changing. I keep changing. Do you remember how many times you’ve heard someone say, or said yourself, “It was the best thing I ever did”? That statement usually comes after they’ve done something they thought tremendously risky. They changed something. They changed themselves. I think it’s what we’re all supposed to be doing.

But God, I hate all the time spent swimming in the muck of the past, sorting it out, before you can actually start evolving. And that's where I am, with Minos's inevitable passing: sorting it out. Swimming in the dark again. I'm looking through all of those messy memories, where Minos was my one constant (my familiar, I used to think) and preparing to put them to bed, like him.

There will be a new chapter, a new outlook on my "young middle age," and new lives in our children. But there will never be another Minos, or a me, or a you, like we were then.