An Excerpt From Fat, Pretty, And Soon To Be Old

Kimberley Dark

Essays that mix memoir and social criticism to develop a sophisticated, but highly accessible, understanding of beauty and appearance privilege.


Migration Patterns — An Excerpt from Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old

My son Caleb convinced us to buy the RV. His logic was irresistible. He would sleep on the bed above the cab of the truck, so that I wouldn’t have trouble climbing up and I wouldn’t fall out in the middle of the night in case I sleepwalked. He would learn how to use the giant icky tube that lived inside the back bumper in order to hook up the RV to the dump station. He would wear the latex gloves in the glove box when he hooked it up and turned the switch to let all the poop fall out. He would also be the one to make sure all of the windows and top hatches were closed before we took off driving somewhere, so that nothing flew away. He would latch all of the cupboards and turn the lock on the refrigerator door to “on” so our mustard didn’t squirt all over our living quarters and make a big giant mobile kitchen mess.

Really, this purchase would be 100 percent comfortable and worry-free for me. My precious six-year-old son assured me of this. My only job was to buy the RV. Surely—surely—I could do that one simple little thing. He said this as he danced around on the sidewalk, still wearing one purple latex glove from his lesson on hooking up the dump hose.

My girlfriend and I were already pretty sure we’d buy it—that’s why we took him along on this second look, just to make sure he was into it. I really didn’t want ever to touch that dump hose, so it was in my best interest to convince him that I needed convincing. And he was into it. Oh, was he into it.

During our first year of RV ownership we took the quintessential American family summer vacation: the Grand Canyon, then to the Midwest to visit my girlfriend’s family. We were gone a month, and when we returned I spent two months waiting by the mail for news of my canonization for the miracle of cooking everything over hot coals for thirty days straight. There was a stove in that RV, but it was hot as Hades, and we had no air conditioner. Every time we stopped, I’d sling out the charcoal and get the fire going. I had one skillet, and my campfire repertoire was limited to veggie burgers and pancakes. Over and over and over again. After a few months with no news of sainthood, I realized that I really did want to make another trip.
During the next two years, we took a number of short trips up the California coast and one trip south to Mexico. The three of us traveled together with Caleb’s dad and our other close family friend who is something of a fourth parent to Caleb. The RV can sleep three comfortably—four if we double up—and even five with a sleeping bag in the center aisle.

Sometimes our family seems exceedingly normal—almost anachronistic really, in our desire for our son to go camping and hiking and learn to work an RV dump station, in our stalwart insistence that he learn to swim, play a sport, take music lessons, and go roller-skating. He told me recently that we didn’t take him to as many athletic events as his friends seem to have attended, but he’s definitely seen more theater and dance performances. If I did anything right, he’s watched a little less television too.

But then, to some, because our family is broader than two parents, and the genders vary, we’re total freaks. Because we’re queer, we’re—to be redundant—odd. And not only do the genders vary, so do the gender roles. Once my son’s father came over when our little boy was in the garage doing woodworking with my girlfriend. As we looked on, he quipped, hand on hip, “I’m glad you’re dating someone who can teach our son to be butch.” And, indeed, our son is now a competent handyman—and a competent dessert maker, thanks to his cake-decorator dad.

Some people worry that a jumbled-up family will be confusing to a child—damaging, even. Some go so far as to say that families like mine will damage our very culture. Everything will be akimbo, and our moral compasses will spin wildly, leaving children crying in the streets. That’s just not how it is. I know, because I’ve parented under these unique conditions. And I think most families are unique somehow— some just try to hide it. Perhaps that’s more damaging to children than simply knowing what’s what and who loves them and defining the terms as necessary.

On one weekend RV trip to see the monarch butterflies resting in Morro Bay, California, before they flew south to Mexico, my son’s father, Richard, and my girlfriend, Katie, were both along with Caleb and me. Caleb was about seven years old. As Richard drove, the rest of us sat at the back table—Katie reading her novel, Caleb and I having light conversation. After a thoughtful moment of silence, Caleb looked at me and said, “If you’re my mom, and Katie’s my stepmom, and Dad’s dad—and if Dad’s your husband and Katie’s your girlfriend—then who is Katie to Dad?”

He wasn’t distressed about it, just trying to get all the titles right. I was still trying to sort out the question when Katie calmly looked up from her book and said, “That makes him my step-spouse.”
“Oh!” said Caleb, with a look of satisfaction, as though that obvious detail had simply escaped him. And Katie went back to her book. Soon after, we stopped at a gas station—because those RVs really drink it down. I relayed the story to Richard, who chuckled and said “Makes sense.” And then we had a small argument with our son about why we wouldn’t buy candy at the mini-mart. He didn’t get M&Ms, but somehow he ended up with a lollipop. His dad’s a chump that way. We got back in the RV, with me in the driver’s seat, and then the three of them started a game of cards.

The monarch butterflies were beautiful that weekend—lining the trees and becoming a bright orange sunburst as they took flight. We attended a class and went on a hike offered by the natural history museum. Those butterfly migration patterns are amazing—and complex. But somehow they figure it all out. And so do we. We figure it out—like it’s the most natural thing there is.


Get the book Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old here.