Squeezing me in between

The honeymoon’s over.

Me and this blog, we don’t talk so much anymore.

My life has radically changed from when I was a stay-at-home, wannabe writer. Even though the last of those days are barely a month gone, I have already made them into golden nuggets. I catch myself thinking, remember when I could put Tater down for a nap while Little Lady was at summer camp, and I could sit and think and write? Of course, my memory has blotted out the crazed insanity of the hour prior to getting her out the door.

The first morning I put Little Lady on the school bus was the also the first day I put on some make up and clocked into my new 22-hour a week life. Four hours a day… oh, poor me, right? But listen, here’s the reality of how four hours of work morphs into a whole day:

7AM – 8:30AM: Kids up, breakfasted, dressed; make lunches; squeeze in a couple of chores

8:30: Walk to bus stop; wave off Little Lady

8:40: Walk or drive to work; grab a coffee if time

9:00: Kiss Tater Tot goodbye downstairs in toddler room; walk upstairs to office or return home to do laundry, dishes or bills, or run into town to grocery shop

11:00: Return to work

3:30: Leave work

3:45: Meet bus

4:00-4:15: Disperse snacks, check backpack, go through mail

4:15-5:00: Workout while watching Oprah (who am I kidding? I’m mostly just standing in front of the TV, doing the occasional leg lift to justify watching TV for a few moments.)

5:00-6:00: Prepare and eat dinner

6:00-7:00: Clean up dinner and kids

7:00 – 7:30: Put kids in bed, read story, sing song, say good night, go downstairs, come back upstairs, put Tater back in bed, kiss goodnight, go downstairs, come back upstairs, put Tater back in bed, kiss goodnight, walk downstairs… (this can go on for 5 minutes or, like last night, 1/2 hour).

7:30 – : At this point I collapse on the couch and try to push my brain into writing mode, usually unsuccessfully, until I can keep my eyes open no longer.

Needless to say, I left out of the schedule the 6 circles I make around the house looking for the left shoe, or the 7 minutes I spend debating with Little Lady whether she should eat the soggy cereal of which she gave herself too big a helping, or the 11 minutes I am chasing a giggling Tater trying to grab his soupy diaper.

And there you have it – Monday to Friday, 7AM-10:30PM, poof!

I ask you, where’s the me in there? Where are the great tomes I’m meant to bring forth?

I know this is a time of transition and I will eventually settle into my new life. I plan to take three mornings for myself – schedule in my writing. No housework. No errands. No excuses.

NO excuses.

Think I can do it?

The Sound of Silence

It’s 6AM and I’ve been awake since 4. Ike (Tropical Storm Ike, that is) has been blustering around the house all night, licking us with hot, sticky tropical winds. It’s 6AM and almost 80 degrees outside… in Vermont… in September! It’ll probably snow next week.

Once in a while I don’t mind not being able to sleep – getting up in the dark and having complete silence and motionless-ness for a few hours is intoxicating. I think that’s the most difficult part of motherhood for me – the constant motion, constant noise. I’m an introvert, I don’t particularly like to talk (unless I’m in a comfortable social situation or feeling overly emotional, then I don’t shut up).

When Little Lady was a baby, and my mother or sister was visiting or babysitting, I was struck by how they would talk and interact with the baby continually. When I was home with her there was almost complete silence. Of course, I talked to her but wouldn’t offer a running commentary. I’d get so tired if I had to engage my brain and move my mouth that much.

I used to worry that I was doing our child a disservice by not reciting the alphabet or giving her a blow-by-blow of what mummy was doing every second. When we began to socialize at a mommy-n-me group, I’d feel ashamed when the toddler on the next mat could count to ten in English and German when my little one could barely count to three in any language. But she was dancing with abandon at music time or sitting quietly at still time. And, I think, more importantly, she knew (and knows) how to entertain herself.

Today, I look back on those quiet hours with my baby with longing. From the moment the kids lift their sleepy heads to when they finally give in to the drug of sweet slumber, there is a racket – either from their games, their music (which is still danced to with abandon by both), or from PBS or Disney. Now, I am forced to use my voice interminably: Stop that, food’s ready, don’t fold your brother in two… or just to answer the never-ending flow of demands for “Mama, Mama, MAMA!”

I’m tired. Very, very tired. Listening takes almost as much energy as talking. I crave silence more than a manicure, more even than Ben and Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz (and that’s saying something).

It’s my birthday on Friday and all I want is a big box of silence, wrapped up in a bow.

So, thank you, Ike. Although you did some harm down in Texas, and I admonish you for that, I do appreciate the gift you gave me this morning: Two hours of… nothing.

Unfortunately, it’s a gift I will have to pay for with lots of coffee (or maybe some coffee ice cream?).

Start your engines… hear the roar… the madness of a school morning is about to begin.

The many hats of me

I need a haircut. The shaggy, steel wool mop that haloes my head is reflected in the screen of my laptop as I sit on the deck this glorious late summer morning.

I also need to finish organizing the new office which until 3 days ago was the kids room. Boxes of books, old files, and decades-old computer stuff, retained “just in case” (or rather “just too lazy”) were crammed away in a closet. Now, due to the room rearrangements, they have resurfaced and are demanding my attention. I need to make curtains for the new kids’ room. I need to hang out the laundry that’s slowly rotting in the washer. I need to put away the clothes that have been sitting in a basket for a month. I need to empty the dishwasher. I need to put two years worth of photos in the kid’s albums. I need to listen to another session of my journal workshop instructor training. I need to dig through the heap of shoes on my closet floor and take half of them to Salvation Army (so I can justify buying more). I need to be brainstorming article ideas and getting out queries. I need to pay the bills…

I need to not be sitting here writing this blog.

Ever since I began this blog-ourney I have neglected everything else around me. I send my husband to bed with a “I’ll be there soon,” and then not show up for another 2 hours. I don’t even give the TV my full, undivided attention. And next week I start work. I wonder how I can possibly divide a 24 hour day into so many increments. I feel writing this blog is important (I’m not sure exactly why yet) and I don’t want to give it up. But, really, how does one wear so many hats?

The Mom Hat: The shabby one with the unidentifiable stains. It has a big brim and droops in various places. It’s worn out and really needs to be replaced but no other hat will ever fit quite as well.

The Wife Hat: The one most often forgotten in the closet even though it is nice-looking and can be fun to wear. It should be worn more frequently.

The Housewife Hat: This one’s dusty; hard to get clean. It’s very large and kind of overwhelms the wearer. It gets in the way of other more agreeable hats.

The Administrative Hat: The one decorated with numbers and letters. It’s an annoying but essential little hat worn for protection of one’s assets.

The Employee Hat: This one’s new and very smart. It is a good one to wear in public due to it’s professional appearance and lack of accouterments.

The Writer/Artist Hat: The one with a veil behind which one can hide. This hat fits the wearer well and is the preferred one in the selection, but other more practical hats are usually (or should be) worn instead. It is very colorful but does have some ink stains.

The Single Gal Hat: Rarely worn, or ownership even acknowledged. It is bright, stylish, shapely and attractive. If worn more often it could revitalize that which is dull, monotonous, and all together too blah.

I really do need a hair cut… maybe then I can cram two (or three) hats on my head at once.

September Sentiments

September has always been my favorite month. It is a month of beginnings. I came into the world in September and as a child in England, it meant the beginning of a new school year. I actually turned 5 on my second day in Mrs. Goddard’s class at Huish Infant School, Yeovil, Somerset.

I have always loved school. While my classmates dreaded those first signs of an oncoming school year – cooler nights, stores with the oh-so-subtle signs blaring “BACK TO SCHOOL” – I felt excitement instead. In high school I would start buying my notebooks and pens in July. That annual trip to Ames was a high light for me. New sturdy spiral notebooks with crisp, bright white pages, colorful coordinating folders, multicolored pens… oh, makes me want to run out to Walmart right now.

As an adult, September holds a new joy for me. Fall. That first telltale kiss of a crisp breeze, the first splash of red on the mountain side, apple trees heavy with fruit. And of course, my birthday. I don’t avoid the commemoration of my birth; I like parties, I love gifts, and I particularly enjoy being the center of attention. You can blame this little egocentricism on my mother who has always venerated birthdays as a true cause of celebration; the celebrant is duly honored with gifts, a card, a meal of their choice, and a cake. If said birthday-girl (or boy) is not within hugging distance, then a phone call first thing in the morning must suffice, complete with a harmonized rendition of “Happy Birthday” (thanks to Dad’s willingness to oblige his dear wife).

This September, the one that is amazingly only one week away, holds particular significance for me and our family. September 2nd, 2008 will mark two milestones: 1) I am going back to work after 4 years at home, and 2) H is starting Kindergarten.

Yes, I am starting a real, wake-up-to-an-alarm-clock, take-a-shower, wear-a-bra job. And my little baby girl, the one who had no hair until she was 18 months, will, with pony-tail bobbing, board a big yellow bus and drive away from me. She’ll be back 6 hours later, but that disappearing back-end of a bus marks the beginning of her full departure from home; from me.

Um… corny! Yes, I know, but true. This is where she’ll start to hear and learn things from other kids that I may not be so pleased about when she brings them to the dinner table. And I don’t just mean those words we have protected her young ears from; the attitudes, the bad manners, the commericial world of Bratz and Hannah Gag-tana… she may be entering the structured world of school, but it will be a world I can no longer control. My precious baby will slowly grow up whether I like it or not.

If she’s anything like me (which I believe she is) she will love school because she loves to learn. I can only pray that school does not turn into a place of bullying or boredom. I hope September becomes a month of happiness for her aswell and that together we can look forward to the trips down the stationary aisle (and I’ll try to just breathe real deep and let it go when the Cinderella folders are exchanged for those showing some 14-year-old blue-eyed hunk with a basketball. Lord, help me now.)

Booster seats and belly buttons

Now’s this for a bad day? I almost get the cops called on me and my daughter could have gotten lyme disease.

With one minute remaining to get to daycare on time I discover the only thing filling the space where H’s booster seat usually sits is a smorgasbord of crumbs, small toys, and juice stains. H stayed with my parents for the last couple of days and the booster seat never made it back out of their car.

I debate whether to stay home. But I pay for daycare whether T is there or not and I have promised H a girl’s breakfast out. I decide to take the risk. It’s a two-minute drive on back streets and H is tall for her age. She is, of course, securely buckled in. My plan is to ask at daycare if they have a spare booster seat. Which I do and instantly wish I hadn’t. The answer is no, and if we see you leave with her without a seat we’ll have to call the cops. Mandatory reporters.

My heart drops. I suddenly feel like a criminal. I’ve never done anything like this in my life and I never would have if I didn’t think my child was safe. After a momentary panic I realize H can still fit into T’s carseat. Ten minutes later H is safely – and legally – buckled in a new booster. I silently bless Walmart (which I won’t own up to it again if you ask me) for being so close and so cheap. But for some reason I still feel blemished, as if, just with a glance at me driving by, a cop would know my sin.

A hour or so later, H is parading around half naked, various scarfs and oversized shirts draped this way and that. Sitting on the couch I have an eye-level view of her belly button, which in normal circumstances, despite its curly-q cuteness, I would not have noticed. Now, I know my child is usually a tad grubby, she plays hard, but I laugh when I see she has dirt in her belly button. How on earth? I call her over so I can do the mom thing and extract the offending dirt speck.

But it won’t budge. Bewildered, I dig at it a little harder – it suddenly becomes a challenge like a stubborn black head or a deep splinter, and as my poor family knows, both of those impairments bring out the evil conqueror in me; vanquish the perpetrator no matter the consequences. So, I’m trying to grasp this strange dirt when I realise what I’m looking at… a tiny, disease-carrying, uninflated balloon that’s buried its arrow of a head in my child’s flesh ready to gorge itself with her blood. Argh!

A call to the doctor assures me the lack of engorgement means the tick hasn’t been attached long enough to create any trouble. Only after 24 hours can they transfer lyme disease. With a quick tug with the tweezers I rip the beast out and all is well.

And all this before lunch…

Oxymoron: writing mother

Literarymama.com wants me to explore:

The relationship between becoming a mother and becoming a writer
The influence of motherhood on your craft
The influence of writing on your mothering

It’s not a good day for me to write about being a writing mother. Today I want to edit out the mother part.

We began this day quite calmly (that’s a qualified “calm”) getting ready for summer day camp. Out of the silence (again, silence is relative) a blood-curdling scream rips through the house. I run to the source, but before I can even get out the words, “what happened?” my 5 year-old’s eyes bulge and she leans forward, arms akimbo. The words explode out of her usually beautiful, now grape-red face: “I didn’t DO anything!” and she bursts into tears.

I stand there stunned by the vehemence, the unadulterated anger coming out of my little girl. Meanwhile, the 22-month-old instigator of the scene is still crying, profusely.

Straining with the pressure of ignited anger, I manage to calmly respond, “I didn’t say you did…”

Should have stopped there.

“But you screaming at me like that makes me think you did.”

No. No. No. What was I thinking saying that to this little someone who’s so highly reactive, so incredibly frustrated. She opens her mouth, wide. I brace myself…. oh, the ringing in my ears!

Needless to say, we were late for day camp and I couldn’t write all day. My mood was shot.

All is calm (for real) in our house now – they’re both asleep. So now I shall attempt to write about being a writing mother:

The relationship between becoming a mother and becoming a writer: My children give me priceless, endless subject material and then keep me from my computer with their constant needs and wants, frustrating me to all get out.

The influence of motherhood on your craft: See above.

The influence of writing on your mothering: When I do finally do sit at my computer, the world disappears. Their yelling and laughing and smashing of my precious possessions are mere squeaks and creaks in the wind.

Yes, I am a bad mom and a bad writer. Crap.

Exposing and disposing the Fear

I saw my name as a byline for the first time today.

I submitted three tiny pieces to AssociatedContent.com a couple of days ago just to see how the process works. While it is exciting to have my own words there for the world to see, it is also a little disconcerting. Strange that I would feel this way when my dream has always been to see my name in print. It is like the scraped-surface feeling I get when I send off a job application and resume – raw, vulnerable, exposed.

But at the same time, I am supposed to be promoting myself so I can begin to make money at this writing game. Just like that resume and cover letter, it is about strutting your stuff without being pompous or arrogant – just honest and healthily ambitious. Reaching out for what you need for your own well-being.

For the past two weeks I have been reaching out so far I’m hanging off the edge off my comfort zone. I applied for three jobs, none of which I really wanted but felt I needed to help our family through this coming heating season. Out went those soul-exposing letters and resume. One rejection (OK, I’ve never actually been an executive assistant), one “you’ll be hearing from us soon,” and one complete blow-off (the utter lack of professional etiquette on that one has me composing passive-aggressive emails in my sleep.)

Yes, I’ve been home for four years but I haven’t stopped “working” during that entire time. I drew enough people’s precious pets and big-eyed babies to pay for one Christmas, taught a journal-writing workshop (and am about to get certified to do another), written 6 chapters of a children’s book, completed a literature course, laid out newsletters and theatre programs…

Hey, wait a minute… I don’t need a damn job!

I think Fear sent those resumes out, but something else started a blog, submitted three stories, revised a full-length article, and sent a query letter to a “real” magazine all in a matter of 48 hours.

I don’t know how the heating will be paid this winter but I’m exposing myself to all the possibilities.