Mar 15 2012

Bye bye baby

My littlest little, Teagan the 19 month old, starts “preschool” this week.  And I am le sad.

I know that she’ll have fun; she loves people and songs and books and playtimes.  And the school–the toddler counterpart to my son’s Montessori preschool–couldn’t be better.  I know that she’ll learn lots and make friends.  I know that on the days that I don’t work at the library, I’ll be able to write and hopefully cut out the number of nights I work in Starbucks until midnight, freezing and yawning and listening to off-key homeless banjo playing.

I know she won’t resent me for having two jobs, for working to further my career, for choosing a safe place for her to explore learning and new faces.

I know this is the next stage for our family.

I know all babies grow up, even dimple-cheeked, feisty blond ones.

But she is my last baby, and leaving behind this last year and a half spent nursing/cuddling/crawling/playing is harder than I thought it would be.  Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want another baby.  It’s just that I want more time with this baby.  This blue-eyed, squishy, noisy, climby baby that wraps her arms around my neck like a koala bear whenever I pick her up.  This baby that says “mom-EEEE” like a mantra and mine and no and whoa as many times as she can breathe.
I wonder if she’ll miss me with half the intensity that I’ll miss her?

Feb 7 2012

The gift of no time

I remember in college one of my writing instructors asked how we all stayed motivated and managed to churn out our writing assignments.  The most common answer was a shrug, and “Well, I had to turn the story in the next day so…you know.”

I think I work best under a deadline.  And not only a deadline, but in busy seasons, where there are dinners to be made and babies to cuddle and libraries needing tending.  When I only have one or two hours a few times a week to sit down and write, it forces me to honor those times, to fill them up with sweat and tears.  I don’t have time for writer’s block.  I don’t have time to sit and ponder the next scene.  I just have to roll up my sleeves and work.  And even though I dream about the day when my writing can support my family and I won’t need a day (or night and weekend) job, I know that I will have to adjust to having so much time to write.  I’ll have to adjust to freedom.  Because right now, the gift of no time is what forces me to work, to put my nose to the grindstone, even when I’m tired or sick or depressed or happy or want to curl up with a beer and my DVR.

Dec 11 2011

Bright (Plaza) Lights, Big (ish) City

The lights at the Country Club Plaza

I forget, because I actually have stuff to do in the area, that the Country Club Plaza is insane at Christmas time.  What is the Country Club Plaza, one might ask?

Well, what isn’t the Country Club Plaza?

It’s got restaurants, shops and fake Spanish architecture.  Fountains and sculptures and parking garages that smell like urine.  It was the brainchild of the man who single-handedly engineered white flight in Kansas City and built covenant-only suburbs that excluded African-Americans, Jewish-Americans and Hispanic Americans (unless they were live-in maids.  How nice.)  Mostly, rich people go there to shop at places no one else can afford, and other people go to walk around and pretend that they’re shopping at places no one else can afford.  Or, if you’re like me, you go for the coffee, since it’s the closest source of non-McDonald’s coffee to my house.

And in the winter, it’s got lights!  With an exclamation point!  Lights!

And everyone says to one another, “Let us go and look at them!”

Now, I’m not really mocking the lights.  They are pretty.  The whole Plaza is pretty, really, when I suppress my natural inclination to judge the place for its creator.  Also, I’m only gently mocking the people who go to see the lights, because it is fun, especially for kids, even though it’s cold and crowded and you have to watch out for the horses trotting grimly along and the occasional violent teen riot.

What I’m whining about is the fact that I am now a coffee-shop vagrant, wandering from place to place, just looking for a table, and sometimes when I’m extra needy, an outlet, and I’m a stranger in my own cafes since they are flooded with shoppers and light-gazers.  AND, since the other students/writers/hipsters who normally frequent the coffee haunts are also being driven out by the crowds, the coffee shops surrounding the Plaza are packed too.  Where’s a lady to write?

Her house?


Oct 6 2011

June Cleaver called. She wants her cleaning complex back.

I wonder if other women have as fraught of a relationship with their house as I do.  It seems like most of my other friends are able to effortlessly juggle work, children and their housework without breaking a sweat.  Or, if they’re not able to get to the laundry or the dishes or the suspicious stain on the carpet, they’re able to brush it aside.  Leave it for another day.  Go to bed without feeling like The House is staring at them with bright red eyes while they sleep.

These other magical women.

I, however, feel like The House is always following me around like a diseased parrot digging its talons into my shoulder.  The dishes!  The laundry!  The floors!  Those cats I used to love but now regard as burden of litter-boxing and feeding!  No matter how much I clean, it never feels like enough, and whenever I’m doing something else–babysitting, playing with my own kids, collapsed on the couch–I feel like I’m shirking my duties as a part-time SAHM/WrAHM/what have you.  This has become an issue in the last few weeks because, with my son off to preschool, I thought that meant I could use my daughter’s nap-times to write (if I didn’t take a nap myself.)  But so far, I just spend that extra free hour cleaning.

There’s no reason for me to feel this way.  My stepmother worked two jobs while my father sorted/washed/folded all the laundry and made meals once or twice a week.  My own mother stayed home, but was not particularly domestic.  In fact, growing up in my mother’s house should have inured me to all forms of mess.  I supposedly come from a generation of educated women who’ve grown up with more equal opportunities and less gender stereotypes than any generation before it.  So why do I feel like I’m letting my husband and children down if my house doesn’t look like a 1957 Redbook advertisment?

I didn’t always used to be so racked with messy house guilt.  When my husband and I first got married, and the sum of my responsibilities was an education from a state university and a part-time job shelving books/napping in the staff room at a library, I didn’t really give a crap how our apartment looked.  I still did most of the cleaning because I felt like that was my way to contribute, since I wasn’t contributing financially, but none of the chores ever haunted me.  I didn’t find myself wondering about a leftover load of laundry in the washing machine at parties.  I didn’t spend my drive to school wishing I used my morning to sweep and mop.  I maintained the apartment to the point that rats wouldn’t live in our closet, and that was good enough.  I had other things to do after all–watch Lost, and procrastinate on other things so that I could watch Lost.

No, I didn’t morph into a clean freak until after my son was born.  And then my brain split apart, and my eyes went red and a voice said, “There is no Bethany.  Only Clorox.”

Why do I feel the need to be Suzy Homemaker?  When I’m educated and modern and married to an educated, modern man?  Do our cultural roots go so deep, that unconsciously I associate good motherhood with the image of a woman in an apron scrubbing her toilet?  Or is there something biological in my mama bird brain that demands an organized nest?

In an effort to curb myself before I fritter all my time away wiping baseboards, I am resolving to Beat Back the House Guilt.  Go away, House!  You have no power here!  Not when there is writing to be written and books to be read and husbands to steal bites of pie from!

Sep 9 2011

Drafting again

After three years, two major revisions (which each time involved deleting about 40,000 words,) and a more normalized revision with fleshing out characterization, world building and narrative threads, Landry Park is now in the hands of my critique partners.  While I’m waiting for their disgust suggestions, I am working on other things.

At first I thought I would just flesh out notes on some ideas that have been swirling around in my brain for quite a while.  Three years is a long time to work on one project (although much of that was taken up with school, and gestating and birthing two babies) and even though I am religiously monomaniacal about finishing a project I’ve started, my brain tends to wander after that much time.  Plus, as a mom, I have a lot of dead time in the car, or while the kids smash Play-Doh into the walls, or while I’m waiting for my son to finish on the potty.

That’s right.  When you have a toddler, hours of your life will be dedicated to watching someone poop. Waiting for them to poop.  Begging them to poop so you can go check on dinner or the infant that’s started pulling laundry out of the hamper.

But, when I started fleshing out notes, the stories started getting more compelling.  The characters became more vivid.  And I could resist opening a new Scrivener file and starting.  And after gut-wrenching revisions, filled with massive cuts and hours of fine-tuning and fiddling, the feeling of a blank screen and infinite possibility was amazing.

In drafting land, there are no mistakes.  There are few agonies and even fewer minor frustrations.  You are walking along with your main character, learning as they learning, meeting new people as they meet them.  I love this part, just spending time with your protagonist, because on the long road ahead, you need these happy memories to keep going.  It’s a lot like marriage, really.  Or watching a tiny person poop.

Aug 29 2011

The more you write, the more you write

This aphorism courtesy of one of my critique partners.  I have two critique partners who are both awesome, and both have different encouragement styles.  One gives the most genuine, enthusiastic encouragement and gives her advice in my preferred style : the Compliment Sandwich.  She is the Professor Lupin of critique partners, and yes, she is a werewolf.  Or a gymnastics mom.  Something where she leads a double life.

My other CP is the Professor McGonagall of critique partners, except without the hat.  Her advice is more direct and to the point.  It’s also invaluable.

So, right now, I’m at this point where I’m working on the novel more than I ever had, staring at the screen for hours at night after everyone else has gone to bed.  It’s exhilarating and also exhausting.  But I’ve found that the hard work has begun to change my writing style.  I used to think of myself as a painstakingly slow writer; it took me two years to write my first book, two years to write my second, and two years to write much of this one.  (Keep in mind that I was a full-time student, a part-time page/museum person, and a mommy during a lot of this.)  But recently, as I’ve made it a point to dedicate a couple hours everyday to the writing, I’ve found my speed and output increasing.  Which makes me think I should have listened to Professor McGonagall all along when she said, “Get off your butt and write.  No excuses.”

And when I stopped making excuses, that I was too tired tonight because of the narcolepsy, that I was too busy because of the dishes and the laundry, that I was too uninspired to write anything good–when I stopped all that and cracked open my laptop anyway, I found myself to be a lot more productive and creative than I ever imagined.

Aug 18 2011

WrAHMing it up

I’m part of an open WrAHM group on Facebook, started by my critique partner and play-date friend, Gennifer Albin.  A WrAHM is a woman who does certain things (not in any certain order):

Gestates offspring
Births offspring
Keeps offspring alive by feeding and keeping them away from outlets
Feels guilty about any time she spends writing, talking about writing, thinking about writing or writing about writing and not thinking about offspring.

Gennifer Albin has already posted several great and honest posts about the life of a WrAHM, so I won’t pretend to add much to it save for my own experience. (links)

A WrAHM is the same thing as a SAHM, with the impossible schedule of a WAHM, plus the guilt of a Working Mom-ahm.  Got all that?  Now say it ten times fast.

What I mean is, I think each lifestyle has pros and cons.  Time away from kids vs too much time with kids (oh, it’s possible.)  Using your degree to better the world vs using your second grade language arts to teach a toddler what a W looks like with ketchup on a plate.  Missing some crazily beautiful moments vs being there the first time your toddler hugs his little sister voluntarily.

But writing at home is kind of a tricky combination.  I manage to slip out a couple days a week to work part-time, but for the most part, I’m at home, being Mom to two kids under three from seven in the morning until nine or ten at night.  If there’s a lull, I might be able to get on Facebook or check my email, but for the most part, the laptop stays shut until both kids are asleep.  About once a week, I’m able to muster some sort of manic energy and work on my novel at this time.  The rest of the time, I drag a book into the shower and read for fifteen minutes.  (Yes, I read in the shower.  Don’t you?)

Then I fall asleep.

About twice a week, my dad or a friend watches the kids for a couple hours so that I can write when the sun is up and not at the expense of my sleep.  I try not to feel guilty imposing on people close to me for free babysitting, but it’s hard.  Babysitting isn’t easy, and what am I doing really?  Typing words?  That maybe aren’t that good?

One thing I miss about being Student Mom is the black and white-ness of it.  I had a job to do–read books by old, dead, white guys and write papers about them.  I had to write the papers.  I had to go to class.  By doing so, I fulfilled my duty as a Jayhawk and earned a walk down a hill in a black robe.

But writing a novel?  I don’t have to do that.  I won’t earn anything by it (not yet, at least.)  Is it the same thing as asking someone to babysit so that I can knit?  Or read Entertainment Weekly?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Most writers will tell you that it’s hard not to write.  Ideas and characters and narratives hover around you like a golden corona of inspiration–or a swarm of mosquitoes.  The swarm won’t stop.  Even if your fingers aren’t set to the keys, your brain is still writing, still dreaming and drafting and not stopping, even when you’re supposed to be de-gunking the high chair of smashed bananas.

Luckily, the people closest to me know this about me, and have accepted it.

The corona/swarm creates its own guilt, though.  Sometimes I find it hard to focus on the more mundane tasks of the day, like diaper changes and giving baths.  I’m anxious to get those things done, get those kids to bed so that I can start putting my ideas into the computer, but then after they’re asleep, I wish I would have been more patient, more engaged.  The mundane tasks are some of the most important, and it won’t be long before I’ll be completely irrelevant to my children’s hygiene and entertainment and lives overall.  And then I’ll cry.

Working from home, especially in a creative job, is a tricky balance.  On one hand, I’m a decently educated (okay, at a state university, but what the heck), decently literate woman who loves to write.  On the other, I’m a lady who knows how to use a breast-pump and who has Goodnight Moon memorized.  I want to enjoy both parts of my life with equal engagement and not spend summer wishing it were winter and vice versa.

From what I understand, balance gets even more difficult once the work earns real money and has Real World Deadlines and Concerns.  Then you can’t tip the scales more towards the kids because People Out There Expect Things From You.

I don’t have any advice and wise words about WrAHMing or WAHMing or any sort of mommying really.  I’m hoping at some point I’ll figure it out, and at some point I’ll have a this heroic moment of doing everything and doing it well.

But until then, I’m glad I have my other WrAHMing friends.