Thursday, August 17, 2017

window blinds

But today...

After three and a half years of being a stay-at-home mom: of wiping asses and making lunches and putting out playdoh and scrubbing dishes and breaking up fights and band-aiding scrapes, I had two hours to myself. Holden started preschool.
I ran to the lake, a spring in my step. There, the wind blew what is left of my hair and the sun warmed my arms and my phone pumped hip hop into my ears.
Then I ran back here, to this place that has housed us through all these scrapes and cuts and bruises.
I opened the blinds, let the light in.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

emptying and filling

Here is how I measure the progress in my life:

I quit my job. There is a guy I worked with there who recently left for a few weeks so he could check himself into rehab. On his last night, we were rolling silverware together and I said, "this place is a trigger" and he said "absolutely."

What I meant was that it was reminiscent my younger days, waitressing, then spending my tips on booze, getting shitfaced with the other servers, blacking out at their apartments or mine. Someone who has been known to drink too much alcohol shouldn't work at a place that peddles alcohol. Shouldn't be suggesting it to people, pushing it on them, so that I can make tips and stop at the liquor store and pick myself up a bottle of wine.

I shouldn't be staying up until two a.m, or three, or four. I should be waking up at seven, making my sons breakfast, walking them to school. I should be writing. I should be practicing yoga and running and sending letters to my friends and watching Big Brother without a cocktail in my hand. I should be better than who I was. More responsible, less reckless.

That guy came back after rehab: not 30 days but he made it 21 and returned more tan, less predatory. I was glad and sad to see him. Glad because I like him as a person, sad because I knew he shouldn't be in a place like this. Neither of us should. A few weeks ago, he told me he was quitting for good. Two days later, I put my own notice in.

I woke up on Sunday, hungover after having last night drinks with my co-workers. I puked, just like in my younger days. But unlike my younger days, I thought, "this is over." I went to the salon and my hairstylist chopped off my hair: cut it short, clean. "I don't go backward in life," he said, referring to his old boss calling him up, asking him to return. And I said, "yeah, me neither," which isn't true but I want to be true.

Being unemployed isn't exactly progress in life to most people, but it is to me. Because I've learned that money isn't what is important to me. It is fulfillment that I'm after. I will fill myself now, rather than emptying myself. I will not drain myself any more. I was empty once. I won't be again.

This is how I measure the progress in my life: I notice the hole I'm falling down while I'm falling, before I've reached the bottom. And I claw my way out, dirt beneath my fingernails, back into the sun. 


*First line borrowed from Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me

Monday, August 14, 2017

first day of kindergarten

At work the other day, my manager was talking with another parent about how hard it was to say goodbye to their kids on the first day of school. "I'll be fine," I said flippantly. "Get out of my house already, I need the quiet." And while it's true that I crave quiet and aloneness, which mothers don't get enough of, I am not as hard as I thought I was.

This morning, I was a softie. Last night, too. I tried to go to bed early, knowing we would all be waking up to an alarm. But I tossed and turned, thinking of my baby out there in a cafeteria line, finding his desk, hanging up his backpack, all without me protecting him.
 
We walked to school, all of us together, and at the door, Brandon lined up with the rest of his class. First, he kissed us each on the cheek, gave us hugs and high fives. "I'll miss you, Holds," he said and a tear slipped down my cheek.

A girl in his line was crying and screaming, lying on the beauty bark, kicking her feet. "I don't wanna go!" she cried, tears everywhere. Brandon just watched her, no tears or hysterics of his own. I remember last year at preschool, he clung to my leg and begged for me to stay. But this year, he stood on his own, fearless.
I will have to learn to let Brandon experience this big world I've sheltered him from. I will need to learn to back off. There will be pain, but also joy. There will be lessons, both good and bad, that he will learn. He is not a baby anymore. He will grow into that giant backpack.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

symbiotic brothers

Brandon starts school on Monday. All day Kindergarten. Before, I thought it was me who would have a hard time with it. But now I realize it's Holds. These two have this bond that is so incredible. They speak their own language together. Brandon coaxes Holden into absolutely anything because Holden wants to be just like Brandon. They are into the same things: stuffed animals, watching iPad videos, making an Animal World on the train table. They race each other down the sidewalk. They draw with sidewalk chalk. They play video store in their fort.

They have become so attached that they poop at the same time every day. Last night I was getting ready for work and I realized the house was too quiet. I came downstairs. "Boys, what are you doing?" I pushed open the bathroom door and Brandon said, "we're pooping and telling jokes." They try to hold hands across the bathroom. They have a symbiotic relationship.

At Open House on Thursday, I watched them playing on the playground and I said to Steve, "I just wish they were going to school together." Because together, they take care of each other, have an ally and a friend. Alone is a whole different story. I know they will find other friends, but it will never be like this: pooping while holding hands.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

illiterate women's secret writing

I once saw a copy of a page filled with the strange, elegant scratching of Nüshu, a secret writing system used for centuries by women in the Hunan Province of China and still one of the least known writing systems in the world. Only boys were allowed an education and to participate in the public world of ideas and communication. Girls were kept at home and taught the skills required to run a household. When they were old enough for marriage, they had to leave their mothers and sisters forever and travel to the faraway home of their husband to live under the rule of his family. When a girl left her home for marriage, there was great crying and wailing among the women in her family.

Illiterate, the women developed a secret way of writing in order to communicate with their lost daughters. They borrowed some characters learned over time from the Chinese and made up many more. Like Chinese, Nüshu is written top to bottom, right to left in columns, but the writing looks very different from written Chinese. The characters are not square. They are elegant, feminine, elongated like the legs of cranes, with thin swift strokes connecting the vertical lines, binding women together outside the rules.

Grandmothers and mothers taught their girls the secret writing by making up and singing a verse, then writing it on the hand of the girl. Verse after verse, day after day, slowly the girl came to share in the mother-language of secrecy, a connection, of loyalty and love. Forbidden paper and ink, the mother would give her departing daughter a beautiful book of Nüshu she had sewn, stitch by stitch, to comfort her and bind them together forever, the characters themselves little signs of their eternal connection. For years after the girl went away into marriage, her mother made up long verses of steadfastness, stitching them in Nüshu into her little books and secreting them to her daughter.  
 ~An excerpt from Without a Map by Meredith Hall

It's true; I wikipedia'd it. Isn't this the most beautiful thing you've read today?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

little acts of kindness

I have been thinking a lot about days. About these self-contained units of time we wake up to each morning and make something of. Each one is filled with little acts of kindness and unkindness. By ourselves, by our family members, by our co-workers, by our friends, and by strangers.

These little acts we amplify into something more, let them ruin or make our day.

I was telling my friend today, while we walked along the Missouri river that it seems like so many people just want to focus on the acts of unkindness. We want to bitch about the driver who cut us off, moan about the wait at a restaurant or the storm warning that interrupted The Bachelorette. We focus on the negative, because its what other people do too. It's our culture. Let's write bad reviews about restaurants, tweet out every frustration. We live in anger, band together in shared hatred.

But what if instead we focused on the acts of kindness? What if we amplified those into something bigger? The old man that holds the door at the library, the chirpy barista who likes your nail color, the six green lights in a row that you hit when you were in a hurry. Then we would let joy wash over us instead of pissed-offed-ness.

We talked about this while we walked. A nice breeze hit us and cooled our sweaty bodies. Why couldn't we focus on the breeze instead of the beating sun?  We went to a restaurant in the Old Market for sandwiches. I pulled into a parking spot where someone had overpaid the meter and given us an hour free. At the restaurant, my friend just wanted toast and peanut butter, berries and whipped cream. "When people ask me for special orders at work, I say 'yes,'" I encouraged her. "I mean, why the fuck not? Get what you want."

She asked our waitress. "I don't mean to be a pain," she began. Then she asked for it. The waitress just asked what kind of bread, then brought out exactly what my friend had asked for. "Sorry I'm so sweaty," I apologized, self-conscious. "Don't apologize for a bodily function," she replied. "I mean, it's not like you're spurting blood all over the table. That would be concerning. A real health hazard." We laughed, hearty, full laughs, imagining me spurting blood all over the table, the commotion it would cause. In comparison, a couple pit stains were nothing. We could laugh or apologize. We chose laughter.

When we returned to my car, I said, "look, the meter expired and we didn't get a ticket! We're living a good life right now." She didn't criticize me when she sat in my passenger seat which was covered in shredded cheese. We laughed about how I slammed on my brakes on the way to work while eating a taco the other day. Today I chose happiness over pissed-offed-ness; I chose to amplify the good. I'm going to do it again tomorrow. And the next day.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seeking:

An employer which allows me to work part-time, flexible hours. Somewhere that lets me put in my headphones when I've had enough of people. A job that keeps my mind free to be creative: a place that doesn't clog me with pettiness and politics. Must be near a good coffee shop. I will show up, log in so you know I'm "there," then immediately leave to get coffee every morning. It's cool though, I'll bring back some for the people I like.

A place that doesn't discriminate. No sexists and no sexual harassment, for god's sake. Also, speaking of god, a place that doesn't pray together or only hire Catholics. A place that doesn't discriminate against Muslims because they pray at certain hours of the day. A place that doesn't fire me for speaking up against injustices (because it's only a matter of time). A place that doesn't discourage friendships by forcing us back into our cubicles like cattle in stalls.

A place with cool ass people, a refrigerator, and plenty of parking. I offer a shoulder to cry on, jokes that go way too far, and unsolicited commentary on anything and everything. I'll send you my resume as a PDF, not that you need it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

adult camp

When I was a kid, I spent some babysitting money on Pringles and Snickers, but most of it I saved. I gave it to dad who put it in his safe and occasionally brought it out for me to count. Camp money. I spent the year adding $5s and $10s, looking forward to that week over the summer. The week of intense friendships. A week where I could shrug off my chores and obligations and just be.

On the last day of camp every summer, I signed the back of my friends' shirts with a Sharpie. The grass was always dewy, I remember.  "Keep in touch," we instructed. That week was life-changing. We would be friends forever. Until we weren't. We returned home, crying in our parents' sedans. We did the dishes, homework. We told our brothers and sisters about our week, but they didn't get it. Couldn't. You had to be there. I sent letters to my best friends from camp and they wrote me back. Pen pals. We stayed friends as long as we could, but real life and camp didn't have any crossover. We couldn't recreate camp. We lapsed back into our lives, unsure of which self was real.
That's what residency is like, but with life crossover. It's a week of intense friendship. There is constant camaraderie with people who get you, people like you. "Our tribe," we call it. We spend a lot of our time in lectures and readings in this conference room in the Lied Lodge. In the center of the room, above the fireplace is inscribed a quote by Thomas Jefferson: I never before knew the full value of trees. Under them I breakfast, dine, write. read, and receive my company. 
 
We do just that. We eat jiggly eggs and we workshop each other's writing and we scribble notes during lectures. We laugh and we cry at readings. We get rowdy and obnoxious on the terrace with a lil vodka. All my best friends are there. Imagine writing your heart and sharing it with people and them doing the same. There is nothing like it, no greater vulnerability, no stronger bond. Like on the last day of camp, so many summers ago, I cried yesterday in the car ride home. I thought about Chad Christensen's poem: People cry in cars. The guy who holds the stop sign during road construction knows this. 

We will wash our laundry and unpack our suitcases and order our books and real life will slam its way in. Our cock tattoos are gone now, but we are bonded nonetheless.
 
Unlike camp, we come home, knowing we will do this again. We will send each other our writing, our hearts, and we will respond, delicately but honestly. We will be pen pals. We will write and we won't quit. Those kids I went to camp with were campers. But we are writers. We will never stop writing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

with joy and pride

Writing is hard.
Because it's lonely and draining.
Because it takes a long time to get it right, or right enough.
Because it is a discipline.

Because we're not getting paid. That makes people think it isn't that valuable. Because we are doing this with merely hope that one day it will be something that other people value.

So practically, writing gets pushed aside. Money-making ventures take priority. So I waitress and freelance. Those I do for money, but not with joy or pride.

Sometimes I think about all the time I'm spending working a job I don't love and I wince, but then I finger the dollar bills bulging in my pocket. And then I think of all the writing I might have done instead but didn't and I wince again. 

My kids are here and until a few weeks ago, I didn't leave them in someone else's care to write, because I felt guilty, and because that means not only does writing not make money, it also costs money.  But now I do. I'm spending money because writing isn't only something I do, it's something I love and I will throw money at the pursuit of happiness for the rest of my days.

I could write in the evenings, or on the weekends, but that's my only time when Steve isn't at work, that's our only time together, his only time to himself. I still do, but I feel guilty sometimes. I'm working on not feeling guilty.

Writing demands it.

And although it doesn't end with a paycheck, it does have other positive results. Like a clearer head, a happier mom and wife: one who laughs and dances in the hallways and sings because I am lighter, lifted, without my unsaid words weighing me down like an anchor. I remember that I am more than just a mom and a wife, that I have a craft and it is a gift and to squander it would be sadder even than that waitress apron I stuff into a cupboard because I can't bear the sight of it.

You can be a writer once you stop giving a fuck. Or once you start giving fucks about yourself.
With joy, and with pride. It's a pretty badass thing, if you think about it: writing yourself into your dream.  Selfish as fuck too, but that's writers for ya.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Do I still have what I carried east?

Most of it has disappeared.

I lost some flip flops in a lake once, when I was drunk. I walked barefoot to my car the next morning.

The car I drove here inmy first car, a black Saturn SC1I cried over as I sat with my husband at the Mazda dealership, trading it in for something more dependable.

My Abercrombie clothes were sent to Goodwill as I replaced them with slacks and sweater vests.

I sold my books to Half Price Books, the religious ones, at least, because I don't believe in God anymore.

My CDs are still here, but only because no one wants CDs any more. Stacie Orrico. Backstreet Boys. Joe Diffie (there's something women like about a pickup man).

And I still have my notebooks filled with poems. And a chapbook from my undergrad writing professor. I still have pictures. And a couple of camp T-shirts. A little remains, but mostly, what I carried east has blown away like dandelion seeds.

What remains reminds me of who I was.
And on the right days, when the wind doesn't blow, of who I still am.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Q217 Songs

Love Your Memory - Miranda Lambert
A Little Bit of Rain - Amos Lee
Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison
Look At Miss Ohio - Blind Pilot
Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop - Landon Pigg
Makin' Me Look Good Again - Drake White
Imagine - John Lennon
Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning - Chris Stapleton
Lose It - Oh Wonder 
Brokenheartsville - Joe Nichols
The Greatest - Cat Power
Losing My Religion - Dia Frampton
All This Time - One Republic
Easy Way to Cry - David Gray
Better Than You Left Me - Mickey Guyton 
Without You - Holly Williams
Kiss Me - Ed Sheeran
Stars - The xx
Everyone's Waiting - Missy Higgins
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room - John Mayer
Somewhere Only We Know - Keane

Sunday, June 25, 2017

meshing

I think I have the perfect kids for me. The perfect kids for me to parent. I don't feel equipped to mother properly, but they make it easier on me by being for me what I need: adventurous, affectionate, and self-reliant.

I hope I am for them what they need, too.

This week my boys begged me for another kid. "Ask your father," I said, in typical mom fashion. So they FaceTimed Steve at work. "Dad, can we have a baby? Please? Pleasepleasepleaseplease." Steve and I laughed while they begged, each of us thinking about what a bad idea it was.

Not because we wouldn't love another kid, but because three is so much more than two. But a third kid, no matter what it was like, would still be the perfect kid for me to parent.

I don't think any of us need to worry about having kids that aren't for us what we need. Because instinctively, we do that for each other. Kids give you what you need and you give them what they need. I am hands-off, congratulatory, and adventurous for my kids. But is that because it's what they need or because naturally, because of who they are, that is what I am for them?

There is this meshing that goes on between parents and children, between spouses, in deep friendships. In any close relationship, I suppose. We learn about each other and want to be for one another what is needed.

I have a friend who always hugs me. I am not a hugger. I pull away from hugs and handshakes. If you need to touch me, a pat on the back will do. But I hug her. With her, it feels right. She needs to hug me and I, in turn, need her to.

My kids are even learning about the quiet time I need. They are learning that when mama is at her desk, entertain yourselves. When she is doing yoga, don't yell. They aren't perfect, of course. They're actually quite terrible a lot of times, but they are the perfect kids for me. We mesh.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

evangelizing Grandpa

Once upon a time, I tried to evangelize my grandpa. It was 1998. I was still home schooled. I knew very little about the world. I thought what I knew then was the absolute truth. And of course, I had to share my vast knowledge with everyone who didn't believe what I did, to make them become like me.

What my grandpa wrote back to me never left me:

May 14, 1998

Dear Holly

It's raining and everything is green outside. I'm doing laundry so I'll take this opportunity to reply to your letter. 

I don't usually discuss religion but you took the lead in bringing it up, so here goes. 

First of all I think it was very sweet of you to consider me important enough to write your letter. Your mother and I have had this same conversation before. 

There are many denominations of Christians from those who believe that "giving yourself to God" to those who believe in "Jesus of Nazareth." I've had experience with some of these Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Latter Day Saints, Jewish, and Watch Tower. Would you believe they all can defend their religious beliefs and consider themselves the one who are correct. And how about the other great religions which include many others: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhism, Mohammedan, Sikhism and lets not forget the American Indian. They are determined their belief it the correct way. They can't all be right but each one has good things about them. 

As you get older you'll come into contact with different religious groups and you'll probably discuss the aspects of religion. The more you get out among others of different faiths the more you'll wonder. I have worked with many people of other faiths and the "measure of a man" is NOT his religion. 

I don't want you to be as skeptical as I am. 

Remember we love you very much and the hope you'll keep your innocence. 

I have Bibles and the Book of Mormon, I don't have the Koran yet. 

Love
Grandpa

And here I am now, nineteen years later, agreeing with my grandpa. As "skeptical" as he was. But I don't like the negative connotation the word "skeptical" holds. We are independent thinkers. And I have seen much more of the big world now than I did in 1998.  

The measure of a man is NOT his religion.
I have grandpa's genes. I believe we can do the right thing without a religion telling us what that thing is. That we know intrinsically that being kind and honest with ourselves and others is good.

Go to church or don't, but be good to one another. Be kind and honest and care about what is important. What is important is not our religion, but the measure of who we are.

RIP Grandpa. You died nearly ten years ago but I'm still learning from you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

we are not scarecrows

When you take someone for granted,
you view them as a fixture,
not someone you need to prop up. 

Someone told me that once. I hurried to write it down.

Don't be taken for granted.
But more importantly, don't take anyone for granted.

We are not fixtures.
People move and change, evolve and grow.

We do not stand still in one place like scarecrows. 
/
Nothing is permanent unless you take care of it so it can be.

And no matter how independent a person is,
they could use some propping up.
Just because you can make it on your own two feet
doesn't mean you have to.

It's nice to have someone's arms to sink into once in awhile.
It's nice to feel not as if you're not alone.

Monday, June 12, 2017

shadowy corners

I've seen the paths that your eyes wander down, I wanna come too
I think that possibly, maybe I'm falling for you


No one understands me quite like you do
Through all of the shadowy corners of me

 
"All of the shadowy corners of me." I like that. I like how many different aspects one person has to offer. I like people who are complicated, or at least not simple. I'm here for the dark corners. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

aspiration

One day, I am going to be a writer and I will look back at this 34th year of my life, the one where I was in grad school and waitressed at nights and took care of my boys by day and I also freelanced and kept a house and attempted to take care of my body and tried my damnedest to maintain friendships. The year that I finished my first novel and started my second and thought I was going to lose my mind, being so overwhelmed and exhausted from all the effort I put into everything.

And I will smile, then, because it is over.

And because then I will know what I don't yet: that I was so close to my dream. That all of that effort compiles, each little one on top of another into something big: bigger than me. My aspiration, which has always seemed so far off, farfetched, nearly unattainable, will be achieved then and I will have a new aspiration, even loftier than the first.

I will be proud of what I did: exactly what I had to. And I will have my Friday nights clear, my name not on some company's schedule tacked to a bulletin board somewhere. I will pull my chair up to my desk and write, sipping a screwdriver, no doubt. Having things to write about, but different things, not only angst and stress and loneliness and quiet desperation.

I am only passing through.

Drawing breaths.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

chasing babysitters

I have been spending the morning trying to nail down a babysitter. For one afternoon a week, some (hopefully) responsible person will watch my children so I can run and write.

Once we had not one, but two children, Steve and I decided I wouldn't work. Which was great in some regards: like we saved a shit ton of money on childcare (but also lost a shit ton of money without me pulling in a salary). It was great that I could spend so much time with them, but it also suffocated me.

I had these things that fulfilled me before having children, so being a mother couldn't fulfill me on its own. So I have kept writing, just with two little kids nipping at my heels (I don't mean to make them sound like dogs. They're much louder and more snarly). But I have also taken large breaks between writing, months on end.

It's funny, how as kids grow older, parents relax. When Brandon was a baby, just the thought of someone else watching him would bring tears to my eyes. I thought no one would ever watch him without a background check and ten references. But now, here I am, trolling Nextdoor for a reliable teenager that I don't know at all to come stay in my home and watch my kids wrestle each other.

Moms need breaks. Sometimes just a car ride alone, without kiddie music or fighting or whining is a vacation, because it's all we get: an errand run. But we need more than that. We need our own hobbies, interests, our own meals that aren't fishsticks, our own air to breathe and space to be. We need babysitters.

So damn it, that's why I've been spending the morning online babysitter hunting. Because come hell or high water, I'm getting a break. I can't take months off of writing anymore. And when we find what fulfills us, we must chase it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

headphones

A lot of people my age with kids are hover parents. A hover parent is a parent who is always up in their child's grill, out of protection or lack of anything better to do.

When I said a lot of them, I meant *cough* "all of the ones I know" *cough.*

OK, that's not true. There is one that isn't. We used to organize play dates. My sons and her sons are only a couple of months apart. When her son would crawl toward the fire place, I would want to reach out and  grab him, but I didn't out of respect for a mother's space and rights (later blog post).

She would get up and walk to the kitchen when her six month old was on the floor. I thought, oh damn, can we do that? 

The answer is yes we can.  

This woman was great for shattering my narrow view of what parenting was. I thought it had to be what everyone else did. But it doesn't. A parent has the right and even responsibility to make parenting her (allow me the female pronoun, but know this can also apply to males) own. To tailor it to what works for herself and her children.

I do not subscribe to any parenting philosophies. In fact, I don't even know what they are or how to define them, most of the time. That's because I don't read parenting books with the rare exception that gives a parent allowances rather than restrictions (Bringing up Bebe gave me great peace, learning that I could leave my child to cry for minute at night).

The reason for this is because I believe parenting is mostly intuitive. We operate based on instinct. We know our kids and what will and will not work for them. Kids are not all the same. Some are emotional, some are physical, some are introverts, some are extroverts, some like to build things, some like to destroy them. So when I read in a book that I should discipline my child by taking away TV, I just think, "ha. He doesn't even like TV. Joke's on you."

I once was, but no longer am, a hover parent.

I am a convert.

Part of this is necessity. I do not have a babysitter (terrible strategy I wouldn't recommend, later post on that). But I write. I write and edit for money and also for school. Both have hard and fast deadlines. Neither one allows me to be all up in my children's grills (not that I want to be anyway). So I leave them to their own devices, with my ears open for hunger, bickering, and emergencies.

The other part was contained in my parenthesis. I do not want to be all up in my kids' grills. I believe kids need freedoms. Kids need to be kids. There is a sense of community within children: they learn not only independence, but also how to take care of each other in the absence of adults. I'm not saying I'm never around. I'm always around. I'm just not sharing their breaths, recycling their air. That's their air. And I need my own air (more on that later).

All of my favorite childhood memories were in the absence of adults. It was playing roller hockey in the cul-de-sac, building a fort, biking around on recycling day and taking Pepsi points. It was reading and writing and drawing dopey little catalogs that advertised clothes. It was sleepovers with my sister where we stayed up too late listening to Point of Grace and playing M*A*S*H. It wasn't my mom saying, "be careful" or my dad following me on my paper route.

It was when I was free to be me. It was the space between people that allowed me to become my own person.

We need parents to teach us responsibility and respect. Parents provide for their children: a home, food, clothing, education. But I don't think a parent needs to be an extension of her child. Let the child do their own thing and the let the parent do her's. Allow each other to be. I don't ever want to be so wrapped up in my kids that I forget who I am. And I don't want them to be so attached to me that they can't go to school, have a babysitter watch them, or cut up their own food. Fuck that.

Mama needs her sanity. You know that DMX song:

Y'all gon' make me lose my mind
Up in here, up in here
Y'all gon' make me go all out
Up in here, up in here
Y'all gon' make me act a FOOL
Up in here, up in here
Y'all gon' make me lose my cool
Up in here, up in here


That's a mom about her kids. That's when it's time to let them run around outside and sit down with a good book, a cup of coffee, and--yes, I'm going to say it--headphones set on low.

Monday, June 5, 2017

a gift, but also a nightmare

Can I be candid about motherhood?  I'm going to be.

A lot of times, it sucks.

I remember being a new mother, with raw nipples and tear-stained cheeks and puffy eyes thinking, why didn't anyone tell me this? Why couldn't one person have been honest about how hard parenting is?

It's fucking hard. I mean, really fucking hard. Kids are a gift, but also a nightmare.

I know I'm not supposed to say that. I live in a generation full of moms who say only the stuff people expect to hear. The gift part. About how their lives are richer, fuller, complete even because of their children.

I, on the other hand, think you could have a rich, full, complete life with or without children. Choose your path. One is not greater than the other. We should not shame people who choose different journeys than our own.

I digress.

Here's my truth:

There are those moments--like tonight, when I looked over at the two boys sleeping in my bed between my husband and I--that are heart-warming. I smiled and thought, this isn't so bad. It's good even. There are moments when your family is united and everything is running smoothly and no one is yelling. It's true, there are some. But mostly, that's when the kids are asleep.

The moments that fill the space between the peaceful, happy ones are the majority of parenting. There is whining and screaming, fighting and yelling, tantrums and meltdowns. Sometimes it's the kids. But it's us parents too. We are not immune to the ups and downs of all these beings sharing a home, an existence.

There are lessons to teach, lessons to learn. 

I don't know a single mother who wears lipstick and drinks her coffee on the patio each morning, serenely watching her children toss around a baseball. Usually it's stained sweatpants and yesterday's mascara, nagging for the umpteenth time to put the toys away. I've told you a hundred times to clean up these damn toys! 

Most of the time, we aren't actually waxing poetic about what a gift children are.

We are dreaming of a cocktail on a beach somewhere. A vacation. A break. Peace. Quiet. Calm. We do this while we pick up toys, while we spread peanut butter on bread, while we wipe pee off the floor. We do this when we hurry our children out of public, apologizing profusely to strangers. When we're up at three a.m., inching out of the nursery, praying the baby doesn't stir.

We are not as good as we claim to be. Because we're humans. Fucking humans. We are real people, not glossy magazine stills. What's so bad about being real? About ditching the act? There is nothing wrong with honesty when it is delivered with good intentions.

This is the start to a little blog series on mothering.  My mothering.

It is not a how-to guide.

But it is honest. And despite the language, I promise I'm writing it with good intentions.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

colorado

We started the Colorado trip with that epic Chris Stapleton concert. Margaritas!
 
Brandon and Holden loved the house we stayed at the first night. It was next to a creek. And it had a trampoline and a bunny. Steve's aunt and uncle were excellent hosts and prepared us a nice hearty breakfast.
And then, of course, lunch at the Old Spaghetti factory. We sat on the trolley.
We checked into the hotel. Our house is blue. Holden is often heard saying, "I want to go home to my blue house." So they thought it was special that our hotel was by the big blue bear.


My college roommate lives in Denver now, so we met up for dinner. Her little girl is just older than Holden. 
Instant friends. 
We went to a mall that had a Disney store and a Lego store. 
 We wiped them out 
 On Friday we toured 16th street. Holden relaxed on the shuttle.
And found himself the biggest bottle of Hershey's syrup, the staple of his life. He lives for chocolate milk.
 Brandon got his own room key from the woman at the front desk. Every time we left he made sure to bring it with.
 Found a big ol' bear outside Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
 Holden jumped on the bed.
 And colored. Some on the hotel comforter, shh.
On Saturday we stopped at Steve's grandma's house to see a few relatives. Brandon became instant buddies with Kevin. He teared up when we left.

Then we drove the 500 miles back home and it wasn't all that bad. We stopped only once, in North Platte, and toured the Fort Cody Trading Post.

"I don't want to go to Colorado again, because that took forever in the car," Brandon said the other day.
"But don't you want to see Kevin?" I asked.
"Oh yeah. OK. We can go back to Colorado."

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Chris Stapleton at Red Rocks

Once upon a time, I became obsessed with Chris Stapleton. I mean, not obsessed with him, but with his music. I wasn't following him on social media and pinning pictures to my wall. But I was listening to his Traveler album all. the. time.

I'm not even a concert person, but I thought this would be a concert I'd like to attend. I've been to many concerts. In college, my roommate and I went to see the country artists we liked at bars and casinos and the state fair. My husband was in a band when we were dating, so I went to a few of his shows at sketchy clubs where minors had to get Xs on their hands. Then we were married and I went along with him to see the artists he liked at dark damp places that never had anywhere to park.

But this would be different. The concert to end all concerts.

I looked at Stapleton's tour schedule and there was nothing in Omaha. Who cares? Omaha sucks. I would travel. I'd be a traveler (it's late and I'm delusional. Everything's funny).  He was going to Chicago. I've always wanted to go to Chicago. It was at Wrigley Field. Steve and I would catch a Cubs game. He's always wanted to go to Wrigley. But the timing didn't match up with our schedule.

Oh well.
Kansas: no. That's as bad as Omaha.

Denver. Now we're talking. Denver is a city I love. Steve and I used to go there once a year. We went there when we were dating on our first real trip together. Maybe we even fell in love there (I'm probably reaching but it sounds poetic). I met his extended family and instantly felt accepted. I stayed at my cousin's hotel, the one I could never afford without the friends and family hookup. Steve and I walked 16th street and gave crumpled ones to street performers and bums. We held hands and stopped for beers on patios.

Chris Stapleton was not just coming to Denver, he was performing at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Last September Steve went to Red Rocks to see his favorite artist (Gregory Alan Isakov). He went with his brother and ever since he's been telling me about it: what an experience it was, up in the mountains, in the open air, under the stars. I would have to go sometime, he said.

So fuck it, I would.

Tickets were sold out, as they always are in this age of ticket agency hustlers. But we bought them anyway. We paid what we had to. But still, I wouldn't say we paid too much.

Then last Wednesday, we set our alarms for 5:30 a.m. and roused the boys from bed and hit the road. We drove five hundred miles with two toddler boys. We dropped them at Steve's uncle and aunt's house where they threw pine cones into a creek and then slept in a tent.

And Steve and I made our way up the mountains. To those giant, almost unbelievable red rocks.

The home of the $9 margaritas that got me not quite fucked up but just the right amount of feeling good. And the music swirled and dipped and the crowd swelled and overflowed. And the shadows lengthened and then the sun went down and the stars came out and the crowd got rowdier and I cared less and I heard my favorite songs and I smelled the mountain air and the Colorado marijuana and the music filled my ears, my lungs, my body and I knew what Steve meant then, about it being an experience. Not just seeing someone, not just hearing them, but feeling the music in your whole body.

It wasn't the liquor, but that was a part of it.
It wasn't the smoke plumes in the sky when he sang "Might as well get stoned," but that was some of it.
It wasn't the people watching: the cowboy boots and cutoff jean shorts, the glassy eyes, the flannel shirts. But that was a little.
It wasn't Stapleton with his long hair like a homeschool girl, covered at the crown with a cowboy hat. OK, it was, a bit.
It wasn't familiar songs filling me as they filled other people, being a part of it together, watching the way it moved them, affected them. But that was a lot of it.

It was all of it. And it was the line at the bathroom and the way we huffed to the top of the stairs because of the altitude. It was the people tailgating in the parking lot and it was having someone else put our kids to bed for the first time (my mom has been the only one up until now). It was traveling to get there and planning it before that. It was all of it wrapped up together, this giant ball of energy that moved in us and made us feel alive, up there in the mountains, under the clear Colorado sky.

Life is full of moments. A lot of them are ordinary. But we have to make room for those unordinary ones. We have to clear a space for those expensive, ridiculous, impractical ones. The ones that fill your entire being and remind you not only that you're alive, but all there is to live for.

Fuck yeah, it was that. good.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

B's photography

Last week, Brandon graduated from preschool. 

You should see this boy. 
He is incredible. 

We decided to pull apart our house for a garage sale in two days, and he has been the best helper, organizing and sorting, cleaning out, even lifting one end of a table for me. 

He is a photographer now. I wanted a picture of him in his cap after his graduation ceremony, but I had to bribe him in order to take one. 
He wanted to take it himself. A selfie on a Canon. 
He might have something here, that je ne sais quoi that photographers have. Their ability to capture with a camera what most people can only sense, not see.
He poses his animals all around the house and walks around snapping shots with my Canon. 
Not my phone. 
Heavens no.
 Look at what he does with colors. I know it's on purpose. This kid never does anything accidentally.
 The gray elephant in front of the dirty stainless steel. I mean, it's masterful.
 The sunlight winks in his photos. It is playful, like his toys.
 A menacing toy atop bright colors. It's all so ironic, so cheery and cheeky, so Brandon.
 Iago by a coffee mug.
 Sunlight dancing on the leaves. Brandon owns the light.
 A couple shot, to show his range.
A sticker on a wall, because photographers always have these oddball items that you think are nothing and then you realize it's something to them so you think about it and let it become something to you.
 A small pony among giant books. 
It's hard to believe Brandon just left preschool a week ago. 
I can already see his name in lights.
But then again, maybe it's mom pride. 
Mom googles. 
Of course, I don't think so.

Monday, May 29, 2017

transformations

I guess what I'm most interested in is the way people change.

That's what I like to read, what I like to write.

I'm currently reading Karen Gettert Shoemaker's short story collection, Night Sounds. She talks about friendships, about how we enter into them knowing they will change us.

I think not only about people, but about our hobbies that shape us: the absences we create that we used to fill, the absences we used to have that we learn to fill. What we do to stave off grief or loneliness.

The jobs we hold, how they create biases or destroy them.

We are constantly evolving, not only because of things that happen to us, but because of things we make happen and things that happen to people we love. We react to situations, learn to cope, to move on. 

We are educated by hard knocks, trial by fire.

We can transform from who we were into something almost new. But really we are not new, we are duller or shinier. These memories accumulate into parts of us that make the whole of us. We learn to reinvent ourselves when we need to. We are shedding old skins as we learn to live a different way.

That's what the novel I just wrote was about. And that's what my next one will be, too, but with a different story. I have a suspicion that's what all my stories will be about. Because I can't think of anything more hopeful than people changing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

second novel

I haven't written in a few weeks. Ever since I finished my novel.

I mean, I wrote a short story and a couple of poems.

But I didn't write anything longer, bigger.

I've had this idea for a second novel for a few months now and last night, when I was trying to fall asleep, I kept thinking about this character and her backstory. Words were boiling over: my mind needed to think it through, my fingers type it out.

I used to worry that once I wrote a book, that I would be done. That I would pour all of myself into it and have nothing left to say afterward.

But that's not how it is. Different characters get into different situations, have different thoughts, and for every one of those, a writer finds something to say.

If you see me in real life, I probably won't have anything to say. I'm a terrible conversationalist. But if you give me a keyboard, a monitor, and some time alone, I will never shut up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cheryl Strayed

Once my sister recommended I watch the movie Wild, so I tried it. I mean, I started it. I'll be honest, I'm not a movie person. I'm not even really a TV person anymore. The only way I sit down in front of it is if I have a game to play or a book to read simultaneously. I get bored with TV. It doesn't do it for me. I like to laugh, I like to be entertained, and I love a good story, but those things are are more likely to happen from a book or in real life than from a screen.

So I sat down to watch Wild but I didn't get into it. It was hard to follow with the flashbacks. I just don't follow stories on screen that well. But if I can get my hands on it, see the words, feel them, flow with the tide of each sentence, I can get into a story. I said, "I'd rather read this." Of course, as most good stories are, it was a book. So I put it on hold at the library and in a few months, my name came up. I was captivated. Cheryl is the heroine of her own story, a real person, not a created character. She is flawed and not made to be likeable. But I found her likeable despite her flaws, or maybe because of them.

The book, in case you live under a rock, is about Cheryl's journey hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, 1100 miles of it, all alone one summer after losing her mom and losing herself in the hole that had created.

Then three weeks ago, Cheryl Strayed came to UNO. A friend in the MFA program got me a ticket without asking if I would want one, maybe just knowing I would want one because we're writers and very few things can excite us more than hearing another writer speak our language. It was in the Baxter Arena, so it wasn't like the casual readings I've been to in coffee shops or little rooms within a college.

She came out on stage and I strained to look at her, as though she was a rock god and I was a groupie. She spoke, a bit about her book, Wild, yes, but also just about living and how she managed to do it. About her two kids, one named Carver after Raymond Carver. I smiled, and daydreamed about meeting her and telling her my son's name is Holden after Holden Caulfield. Then I scribbled notes furiously, the way I always do in the presence of greatness I admire.

She said she is often asked what took her so long to write Wild. She replied: "The hike was in the summer of 1995. I wrote Wild at the moment that I had something to say about the hike. As a writer, until you know what you have to say that transcends your own life, you don't have a book."

At this time, three weeks ago, I was two days late turning in my final packet and was trying to write the ending to my own story. The next day, I finished it. My own novel is about an eighteen-year-old girl, which I haven't been for sixteen years. But I'm writing about it now, because now I have something to say about it. I will never know if it was coincidence that I finished my book the day after I saw Cheryl or if she--this hero of mine, this badass writer and woman and mother--pushed me toward it. If her bravery was contagious, even in that giant arena full of people.

Today, having something like free time, having finished my semester, finished my book, I sat outside in my new reading chair and read Cheryl Strayed's book of her own quotes that Amber sent me, Brave Enough. Let me leave you with what she left me:

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

graduation

Well, he's done it. Steve has graduated with his MBA. 
 
I took the boys to the graduation.  I could get Holden in respectable attire, but I gave up on Brandon.
I did not graduate from a big university. I didn't know there would be traffic and a shuttle. I didn't know the ceremony would actually last three hours.
But the good thing about big schools is that they have graduation ceremonies in arenas with snack bars.

We sat in the very top back row at Brandon's request and I took the iPad and when daddy's name was called, we cheered and somehow he heard us from all the way in the back. 
 
We did leave a bit early, after dad's name, because it wouldn't end. We went to Target. Dad came and met us.  We broke into smiles, seeing him in his full graduation gear.
We went out for pizza which seems like a nothing celebration given that it took three years for this achievement. But when you have kids and they are quiet at restaurants, that is a celebration. 
I am proud of Steve's achievement, proud of the example he sets for our boys. About hard work and being a lifelong learner, of course, but mostly, about not giving up. Most people give up. Not us.
We are just two grad students trying to raise two kids and work two jobs without cracking.  Maybe we're getting there. The cap and gown and honor society tassels seem to prove it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

winding my spring

Just as you take care of the birds and the fields every morning, ever morning I wind my own spring. I give it some 36 good twists by the time I've got up, brushed my teeth, shaved, eaten breakfast, changed my clothes, left the dorm, and arrived at the university. I tell myself, "OK, let's make this day another good one."

I'm reading Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood and the protagonist often talks about "winding his spring." He is referring to a watch, the old-fashioned kind you wind to keep it ticking. I love the metaphor. Our bodies perform routines and we keep going. We mentally prepare ourselves for what is ahead of us. Our gumption is our fuel.

Life can be hard. Relationships help us or distract us, fuel us or drain us. But despite our relationships, we all need our own gumption. We all wind our own springs. Some people just need a bit more winding than others.

How many Sundays - how many hundreds of Sundays like this - lay ahead of me? "Quiet, peaceful, and lonely," I said aloud to myself. On Sundays, I didn't wind my spring. 

Murakami also talks about taking a break from the winding. One day a week his protagonist allows this. It's a wallowing, a lying about without forcing forward progress. It's allowing yourself to be still. Just like I need to wind, I need to unwind (mixed metaphor, I know). I need to rest to have the energy to keep moving. And then, when I have it, I wind again. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

start of summer

 It's summer time. I finished school on Monday.
We're in full-on happy lazy summertime mode (note Holds in the background)
 Even though Brandon is still in school. For three more weeks. He's been a little late this week.
 We went to the zoo. We raided dad's Dolphins hat collection. Holden's ended up sideways which suits him perfectly.
 I love to see the boys together.
And I don't hate the zoo so much as long as I don't have to go to the aquarium, I realized.
Even Brandon fell asleep on the way home.
Found this on my camera roll. This year at the boys' doctor appointments they wore tiny robes which I thought were adorable.
 For Holden's birthday, I took them on the ferris wheel at Scheel's. I think they loved it.
Last week for Arbor Day, we went to Nebraska City, the home of Arbor Day. We went to the Lied Lodge, where I go to school. The boys love the pool there. And I love seeing them happy.
 Dad came with us this time.
I want to remember this about Holden: his signature move is his thumb in his mouth, his finger in nose.

Also, after looking at these pictures on my big computer screen, I've realized I need to take pictures with my real camera.