Illustration: Conxita Herrero

“Providing an inadequate warning is no better than providing no warning at all.”

American Law of Products Liability 3d, §33:1.


Ingredients: anxiety, intelligence (especially as it pertains to medical/surgical practicalities), bum knee (left),  sixth sense (for how to make others divulge personal information without revealing the same), little recall of high school Spanish, categorical recall for song lyrics from the 1980s, occasional night sweats, lousy self-control (around cheese and men who know less about most things than you but more about one thing: baseball, lawn equipment, infrastructure in developing nations), an openness to dogs and to damaged people (how many palates have you repaired? How many breasts have you formed from belly tissue? How many limbs severed, trauma wounds neatly closed?), Boston accent unshaken despite years of schooling elsewhere (else-wayah), a profound love of Cracker Jack and the shitty prizes at the bottom, of bowling, of being the sole parent to your baby-toddler-kid-teen-young adult son, mild asthma controlled by Ventolin, extreme claustrophobia controlled by not flying (bummer, limiting) or spelunking (you were on call anyway), solid mind, decent soul—if you believe in that kind of thing—a love of pick-up trucks and country songs, memories of your farm-anchored youth, berries in summer/onions and beets crated for winter, a sadness you cannot shake because—and how privileged is this—you have one kid and that kid is growing, leaving you exactly as you knew/planned/prepared for by following all the instructions: feed him, rest him, bathe and nurture him, provide stimuli and education, health care and enough—but not too much—attention. 

Use as directed. Who directed you? Your parents? Your immigrant grandparents? Centuries of persecution? Or something more modern: caring what other people thought? What if you had stayed on the farm, shoulder-to-shoulder with your hunched grandfather? What if you had continued to pick berries after those summers? Taken over that pie truck from Nana?

Maybe you would have the same son, or maybe you would have a different son. Or maybe you wouldn’t have had children. Or maybe you would’ve kept your limbs covered and not had so much sun exposure. Or maybe the genes were already in there, carried through so many generations of double-stranded misfortunes that there was nowhere else for them to go but into yours.  


Safety & Precautions: 

1) Keep this and all cleaning products out of the reach of children. Hello? They are children. So are you, sometimes. Like that BBQ with the bearded guy. If he comes into contact with your skin, simply rinse off (haha). Undo that BBQ and the subsequent texts that you tried hard to make un-flirty but that were definitely flirty.

2) Warning! Choking hazard. Children may be able to tear slider from bag and choke. They may also be able to tell you’re lying when you say you’re fine. That it’s only temporary about Dad leaving or the house feeling empty as a sock, your heart a vacant pocket. Not for children under 3 years.

¡Advertencia! Peligro de asfixia: Los niños pueden ser capaces de desgarrar la corredera de la bolsa y ahogarse con el deslizador suelto. También pueden ser capaces de decirle que está mintiendo cuando dice que estará bien. Que es solo temporal que Papá se vaya o que la casa se sienta vacía como un calcetín viejo, tu corazón un bolsillo vacante. No para niños menores de 3 años. ¡Phew, usted tiene ese correcto!

3) Warning: Keep away from water. But don’t because it’s the bath where you sang to your son. All you could remember after thirty-one hours awake at the hospital was the Brady Bunch song, but that counts and he gurgled and got so relaxed he peed. And it’s the estuary where you and your son floated on old inner tubes at the jetty at Crane Beach; where you scattered your grandparents into the seaweed-strewn water. Or the glass of water on the bedside table, the only thing remaining of your husband when he’s at the Center for Promises (not kept) again and it’s the last time because.

4) Danger: Do not hold wrong end of chainsaw. Such obvious advice you are passing on, but you feel you must explain to your elementary-aged son all aspects of life. We use placemats. We sit on chairs. Scrubs protect from bodily fluids and can be sterilized in bulk. Crayons break. Femurs, too. Be wary of fly balls, of needles left on your father’s bathroom sink. Watch out for movies that look fun but are actually scary. Chainsaws, axes, kitchen shears, marshmallow-roasting sticks, are all sharp—handle with care, or better yet, don’t handle at all.

5) Product recall: Those airbags. Plus, your parents neglected to fasten their seatbelts sometimes. The equation of this (lack of bodily restraint + shoddy mechanical engineering + faulty wiring = your darling, accented, and strong-bodied grandparents looking after you, and the farm, and your baby son in the summers until they cannot keep up with him or Earth life and are recalled themselves).

6) Warning: May self-destruct.  

7) If ingested, seek medical attention. From yourself? Drink plenty of water and do not induce vomiting. Hyperemesis is temporary. Having a baby is not. So then, what should you do? Of course, if the baby comes out with a beard, you will have your answer.

8) Warning: not for unsupervised wear. Mismatched socks, button-down with sweats, clothes as bright as macaw feathers. The bird you gave away after freeing your husband scanned everything, its 360-degree head all-seeing. Your heart’s like that now, swiveling in its chest cage, counting down days until your son’s slim shoulders fill the back doorway, the passenger seat. He will fill the world. And just what will you be doing? Making smaller and smaller portions of broccoli, of rice, of wild salmon, until each meal is bird-sized. A single grape.

9) Caution: Prolonged exposure to sunlight may cause melanoma (see: summers picking fruit to save for college. See: scrubbing decks on that schooner off the Maine coast, not to mention those epoxy fumes inhaled during outfitting season. See: those early outings when you slathered your son but neglected your shoulders, collarbone, back of calves. You, who have excised nodes from legs and thought your own were immune.

10) Warning: Do not reuse. Duly noted—you feel used enough. Dried up, in fact. 

        “The thing is,” you say to your son when he drops you off at the hospital for your shift so he can borrow your car, “The thing is that life has probably been hard for, like, ever.”

        Your son will smile with half his mouth because he is seventeen and unaware of what sorrows lie ahead of him, and also because a girl in his Advanced Topics in Social Justice told him he looked cute doing so. “If humans have been doing yoga and meditation for thousands of years, it isn’t because we’re awesome and evolved,” you say. “It’s because people have always struggled.”

        “Thanks, Mom.”

11) Warning: Risk of suffocation. What the fuck else are you supposed to do? 

Don’t for a second doubt the decision to let him skip that Tuesday and drive with you to Crane’s Beach, that low tide reveal—pinky-sized starfish as bright as ketchup, moon snails empty of their inhabitants, your bare feet next to your son’s on the wet April sand, his teenaged face toddler-soft when he realized the clam shack wasn’t yet open for the season.

12) Do Not Use: Without adequate ventilation. Or when tired. Or if you also take a multivitamin. So basically, don’t insert this into yourself, because it isn’t long-term tested and your uterus isn’t a lab despite your Advanced Maternal Age. You’d been so careful to have open talks with your son about getting someone pregnant and forgot to listen to your own advice. You are a walking sex ed pamphlet, except pamphlets don’t exist anymore.

13) Watch Out! That baby did not come with a warning tag. Did not have fine print on his inner thigh or foot arch that might read: warning, attachment likely. There was no florescent sticker that you would one day be forced into Early Retirement from Motherhood (ERM). You are a good surgeon. But you have excelled at raising this human. You have made the right choices, whatever that means. But the warning label would have been so beautiful. Now the emergency is in front of you.

14) Fait attention! ¡Cuidado! Careful! Contents hot. Of course the inside of the pie is hot—blueberries slurried into cinnamon, sauce thickened with butter, crust made with oat bran and graham crackers, all of it oozing warmth and wishful thinking that you’d made more pies in your life. When? When you were a scattered and lustful teenager sneaking out of the barn at night to slip into Ben’s side-dented pick-up? Or before your marriage fell to shit ,when you still read the Sunday paper and ordered in rather than cook because it was med school and it seemed each time you bought something—bread, orange juice, a piece of fish—it soured before you remembered it was there.

        “Did we ever bake?” you ask your son. He is sorting socks, making pairs to bring to his cinderblock dorm. 

        “Sure,” he says. “You taught me how to make that berry thing. Apple crisp?” 

        Berries or apple, crisp or crumble, you taught him to combine ingredients, to add more sugar, to use fruit about to go soft. To make. 

15) Contents under pressure. No shit!


Travel Alerts:

Warning level 3: Avoid non-essential travel/crowds. Look, we’re sorry, but we just can’t authorize the Fourth of July fireworks, the Mother’s Day duckling parade, the Jewish Student Union trip to the vegetable-growing kibbutz. You tell your son the state of the world is just too fragile. You tell him to inform the entire JSU they can all hang out here. You spend the forty-two minutes you have between surgeries to fill the backseat with all manner of Cheetos (may turn fingers fluorescent orange), Fritos (may cause severe parching), Doritos (may induce arguments over which is better: Cool Ranch or Regular). Only, when you get home in your stained scrubs, visions of teenagers lounging in your basement—you find only a note from your son. We’re at Leon’s. His dad’s there.

May cause: Fatigue

May cause: Faster alcohol absorption

May cause: Dizziness 

May cause: Lust

May cause: Lack of controlled movements

May cause: Regret

May cause: Nausea

May cause: Swelling

May cause: Panic attacks

May cause: Acquiescence/acceptance 

May cause: Side effects: So you’ll be a forty-four-year-old surgeon with one kid going to college, an infant due in October, and a moderate to severe atypical lesion on your leg.

Warning: Failure to follow instructions will lead to your ultimate downfall. 

Not intended for long-term use: Thicker tumors, ones that are spreading like yours, need larger margins—at the edges, in terms of depth of excision. You nod when the oncologist tells you this as though it’s new information.


The Requirement of Adequacy

§33:2. That sounds like life, right? Like, not good or bad, but just adequate. Can you manage that in the time you have allotted? 

§33:3. Warn people—your friends, colleagues, the students you instruct, your child. 

§33:5. Product manufacturers have policies and labels because they’re the ones who ought to know how to use/not use their items. Look, you are the one using your life, inhabiting your body and mind and sort-of Jewish soul. You are the sole proprietor and operator of you. How do you use those days you’ve got left?

§33:6. Everything has inherent dangers—even sucking candies and hot dogs. Even the wrapper the buns came in. Even the ink used to print the warning label. You can’t outrun this shit. So the burden falls to the company or manufacturer, which in this case is you.

Product Life Cycle: Maybe a design flaw.


*Paper from FSC forests

*Unbleached totally chlorine-free afternoons in the yard with the splintered Frisbee

*Recycled longings from your youth—a first kiss, a new baby, a life unfolding, one sadness begetting another, the dog you wanted but never had because you barely have time for the humans, your wish for more days. 


*Excellent for baking. But what about this baby? Will she know how to make pies? Will your son, her brother, literally keep her? What will she call him? He always wanted a sibling, but probably not like this, right?

*No greasing needed (not true—you are not non-stick. You are fucking stuck.)

*Microwave safe to 450f/220c. Your mother told you microwaves were dangerous, and of course she knew that before anyone else. So maybe you know your son, too, and that he can do this. He can be in school and raise the baby and help her with your savings from your impressive job and, as your grandpa used to say, pull zis whole sing off.


*Certified compostable. Go back to the beach when it’s time, you tell him. Tell him, you can try and prevent everything from happening, you can read the labels and warnings, and still it just unfolds and wind-slaps you. Tell him it’s not a slap but an unfurling—the baby’s sigh like she’s figured out how to be awake in the world. Tell him her days will unfurl into his. Tell him to collect them.

*Should be recycled. Tell him: Leave before traffic is heavy. Give yourself extra time. Merge onto 128 North. Take your baby sister and what is left of your mother. If ash gets on your fingers, don’t worry. The sea eats away at just about everything—rocks, silt, skin, glass, those smooth-fissured bottles with rounded edges we left on the windowsill those summers when your hand still fit in mine.

Emily Franklin

Emily Franklin's work has been published or is forthcoming in the New York Times, the Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, New Ohio Review, Blackbird, DIAGRAM, Mississippi Review, Lunch Ticket, Passages North, North Dakota Review, Monkeybicycle, Juked, and the Chattahoochee Review among other places, as well as featured on National Public Radio and named notable by the Association of Jewish Libraries. 

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