Monday, November 25, 2013

Making peace with the fibers of my being

I have not been filled with gratitude the past week. 

In fact, despite the fact that it's the season for blessing counting (as I am reminded by the myriad of grateful people posting daily on Facebook) I have been feeling kind of frustrated. And maybe a little rageful.

OK a lot rageful.

Don't worry though, it doesn't have really anything to do with the holidays. I'm a strong supporter of Thanksgiving, what with the veritable cornucopia of ways in which I can consume sugar and carbohydrates (IMHO you really can't argue with a meal in which it's acceptable to eat mashed potatoes and stuffing and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and, for good measure, a dinner roll). Oh yeah, and it's cool to see family and stuff.

It's a week that's  forced to come up with on-the-spot strategies for capturing a 3 year old who -- though she promised to hold on to the cart if I let her out of the cart to walk -- instead bolted toward the toy section in Target laughing in a manner eerily similar to The Joker and deaf to my pleas to come back to the cart. 

Come back to the cart! Lily! Come here now. GET BACK HERE NOW! 

Yelling is a failed strategy by the way. Also, sudden movement. 

Sudden movement only serves to startle a still preschooler and make them run even farther away, which means you have to decide to either sprint full speed through the Target while pushing the cart containing your 19 month old who thinks the whole game is hilarious. Or, abandon the cart (and thus your now slightly alarmed 19 month old) in hopes of gaining a small measure of speed and maneuvarability (and a retaining the last specks of pride still clinging to your soul like cat hair to a fleece jacket.)  

If you're like me you end up taking the best of both worlds -- power walking with the cart toward the toy section. Leaving the cart within several yards of the escapee and taking the longest strides possible to reach out and nab your wayward child, much like you imagine a kidnapper might do.

It's a week in which I found myself rooting through a gigantic pile of leaves in front of my neighbor's house in search of my 19 month old's lost shoe. Which is small. And brown. I waved to my neighbor as he looked out his giant bay window at me and tried to gauge whether that look on his face meant he was considering contacting the authorities because surely the person in his front yard digging through his dead leaves must be mentally unbalanced. 

It's not a week in which my kitchen floor got washed. Nor was the week before. Or the week before that. It needed to be scrubbed a month ago, in fact, yet there it lays -- accumulating dried, crunchy bits of Play-Doh, spilled milk and yogurt. I believe the small ecosystem developing in one especially hairy patch might have survived long enough to actually have evolved advanced life forms. I find myself wondering if I could meet them -- Avatar-style -- and let them convince me that their world is too precious for me to destroy with my scrub brush and trusty sponge.

When I committed to participating in NaNoWriMo, I'd decided that the kitchen floor would be one area I'd allow myself to neglect. You know, in the name of art and stuff. Not that I have a huge list of options for things I can neglect. The children would not take well to my ignoring them in favor of writing a novel. Nor would the various clients I freelance for. While I have been considerably less consistent about personal hygiene and grooming, even I have my limits. 

That ragefulness I spoke of earlier has to do with this -- the lack of give in my schedule for this pursuit. And the fact that I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to creating this time.

Case in point, I'd thought that this weekend would be a good time for novel writing, because I'd caught up with my freelancing work. Then one of my editors contacted me and asked me if I'd have time to pick up several blog posts for one of their high-profile clients (he thought I'd be a perfect fit for the job!). Most fibers of my being told me to say no. But there was, like, one fiber -- the loudest fiber as it turns out that -- that told me that I should never turn down work, especially with Christmas coming up.

I hate that fiber. Really, I do. That fiber causes me a lot of anxiety. But yet I always give it the power. 

I think this fiber controls most moms I know. Maybe this fiber is guilt. Or, maybe it's fear. Maybe it's something else entirely. Whatever it is, it's always the thing that stops us from doing the thing that would be more satisfying and soul-nurturing to us than the thing it's telling us to do.

My fiber is always telling me to take the extra assignments. If I take the extra assignments I will be contributing to the greater good of the family. If I don't take the extra assignments in favor of whatever else -- writing my novel or doing that painting project or scrubbing the GD kitchen floor (OK maybe that last one would be contributing to the greater good) -- than I'm being selfish. 

And mother's aren't supposed to be selfish, right?

Mothers -- stay-at-home mothers in particular -- are supposed to relish every minute of their lives. Feel grateful for the opportunity to witness each and every moment of their children's childhood. Feel blessed that their partners are willing to sacrifice more income  in favor of more quality time. Feel lucky for any opportunity contribute to the family budget in the hours between parenting.

And truthfully, because it is Thanksgiving and all, I am grateful for these things. I am not being disingenuous when I say that. I was not happy working full time and putting Lily in day care -- it wasn't a good fit for our family. And the girls are so much a part of me -- they're like limbs -- autonomous, mercurial little limbs that scream for chocolate milk and plead with me to stop singing -- whenever I venture out without them I feel less than myself.

But then there's that fiber again. Because these girls are not my limbs. Nor should they be the shields I sometimes use them as -- the one that blocks me from having to be a person separate from my motherhood. 

Motherhood, by nature, seems to be all consuming. It filters into every part of you person and influences decisions both big and small. This isn't a bad thing.

But it's maybe not so great when you start forgetting that there are all of these other parts to your person that need to be tended to that have nothing to do with your children. 


Me in Austin with the happy couple. Feeling happy!
(Photo courtesy of the illustrious Rebecca M.)
A couple of weeks ago I went to Austin by myself for my friend's wedding. I missed the girls. But not as much as I thought I would -- probably because I knew the three days away would fly by and I'd be back to the routine in a blink. 

Without the girls on my person I had to take my old self out of mothballs and trot her around -- the one who can carry on uninterrupted conversations about non-parenting related topics and who can sit down for extended periods of time without having to clean up spills. The one who can eat a meal without a kid on her lap and go to the bathroom without an audience. 

I really missed that girl. But here's the thing about that girl. That girl was never very confident, generally self-conscious and felt perpetually out of her league among most people. 

I'm not that girl anymore though. Motherhood (and perhaps hitting 30) transformed her into someone who is less judgmental and more empathetic and considerably more confident and carefree. 

The person I re-connected (or was introduced to) in Austin was this new-and-improved hybrid of past and present me who made me realize how much I've allowed myself to disappear into my role at home. 

Now I'm trying to figure out give that person some more attention. And it feels like an impossible task. Mostly because of that fiber.

So my rage-fulness is the product of a mental war between my inner mother and my inner Susan -- that person that was a part of me long before Lily and Jovie. 

Whenever the girls are fighting over who gets to sit with me, I always tell them there's room on my lap for both of them. I'm assuming the same is true for both Mom Sue and Sue-Sue*

Otherwise, I'm going to be waging a lot of mental battles … with myself. (In which case my neighbor with the leaf pile should be worried after all.)

Novel update:

18,215 words
0 words written today 
31,785 words remaining
At this rate I will finish on Jan. 8, 2013
5,298 words a day to finish on time

*Typing this made me smile and think of my grandfather … who always used to call me that. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like another holiday rant

This photo was taken September 2012.
Flanking the Christmas decorations are Halloween costumes.
At the time I Tweeted that I was divorcing Target. It didn't take.
I was in Target the other day looking at things I didn't need in the home decor section* (maybe next time wall hook shaped like an elephant and useless tin bird pitchers) there was a customer who had a guilty, slightly desperate look in her eyes.

"I can't believe I'm looking at this stuff already," she said to me as she sifted through holiday-themed snow globes. "It feels like it was just Halloween."

Yes! YES! Complete stranger. Thank YOU! It was, in fact, just Halloween. Just two weeks ago. We still have fun-sized M&Ms and Milky Ways left in the candy bowl and pumpkins on the porch to prove it (and they will remain there, until after Thanksgiving ... and maybe a little into December depending on when I decide to cede the yard to inflatable Christmasstuffs. Hell, maybe I'll just keep them there all winter. I wouldn't be the first person in my neighborhood to be less than seasonally inclined).

But to the good people at Target (and probably most other retailers in the country), Nov. 13 might as well have been Dec. 13. 

I joke with Brad every year in July and August that the back-to-school stuff would be gone in a second and the Halloween stuff would be put out for a couple of minutes, but secretly that whole time its Christmas. Because lining the back walls of the story and lurking in the themed aisles are tell-tale signs: tree stands and Santas and strings of lights. 

There's no attempt at all anymore to give us November and the time to watch the last of the leaves drift off the trees. 

There's no breath before the rush of the holidays. And poor Thanksgiving is being reduced to Black Friday Eve -- or worse just Black Thursday.

After my visit to Target I saw this report on the local news station about the holiday retail season getting an early start which confirmed all of my assumptions. In the story, they interviewed the manager of a local Walmart, which will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

At the end of September we still had Halloween but we were changing right over to Christmas," he said. 

When asked about how they determine what time to open for Black Friday sales, he responded: 

“We kind of wait until everybody comes out with there times and then we go with that so we try to be ahead of that game but I can foresee us starting on a Wednesday sometime down the future."

I've ranted about this before. How we're being sold something that was never meant to be sold. And in all of the frenzy we're getting so lost and weary and defeated. I could see that in this woman's face in Target. That hole in us doesn't need to be filled with all this glittery stuff. 

I'm not Scrooge. I like Christmas. I look forward to watching "Elf" with Brad and taking the girls to Christmas Magic and long, giggly gatherings with our extended families. I would really just rather skip everything leading up to that moment. 

We got "Lady and the Tramp" for Lily last Christmas. And I find myself tearing up at the opening scene** (and not just because of the puppy -- although seeing Lady as a puppy will always remind me of the sheer joy I experienced when my dad finally relented to our demands for a puppy and picked up a box on the side of the road that contained our Meggie ... but that's another story). But because this is what I love about Christmas. That quiet moment when you can curl up in the love of your family and friends and the knowledge that you get it. That this great thing you are celebrating -- this message of love and humility and grace and generosity -- is the actual gift. And the best one at that.

Maybe it's just me, but I think it's worth waiting for.

P.S. My NaNoWriMo update (yes I'm still at it ... but woefully behind ... but not too worried about it because at least there's forward motion). 

15,769 words
0 words written today 
34,231 words remaining
At this rate I will finish on Dec. 21, 2013
2,283 words a day to finish on time

* I should probably just avoid this entire section with its adorable, but fragile thingamawhatzits that would just end up attempting to occupy space in my home that really belongs to our overflowing collection of plastic playthings. I should really stop watching HGTV because I'm pretty sure they wouldn't count the Fisher Price Barn on my living room floor as a great accent piece that adds a nice pop of color, nor the pink Step 2 kitchen blocking my fireplace as a stylish, but functional furnishing. (Its functional insomuch as it will occupy Jovie for a good 10 minutes at 5:30 in the morning so that I can catch a couple more minutes of sleep on the sofa -- which, by the way, is a vision of shabby chic what with the forever bunching drab green slipcover that's perpetually covered in dog hair and lost pokey playthings (as I type the toy thermometer from the girls' doctor kit is dangerously close to my posterior). 

** The self-conscious part of me feels that I should acknowledge the sappiness of the song and the images and how it probably plays right into the stereotypes of Christmas anyway. But then the earnest part of me really wants to beat the crap out of the self-conscious part of me because the self-conscious part of me is missing the point. So here I'll have it both ways.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Well, I have the NoWri part down

I'll make this quick. It's day nine of NaNoWriMo. I'm already hopelessly behind on my word count and worried that my story concept is too amorphous. 

"I'm a fraud!" I cried to Brad last night from under my Penn State hoodie. I'm not a fiction writer I told him. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I thought I had a plan, but now I think my plan sucks. But maybe it doesn't. But mostly it probably does.

"You're not a fraud," he told me. Then he suggested I simplify. I have the perfect setting and the perfect protagonist gifted to me from a very trusting friend. Now I just need to fill in the blank spaces. 

And with those sage words we watched the first hour of "Anchorman" before falling asleep on the couch.

This morning I'm a little less tentative. Though no further ahead.

It's not looking good for Nov. 30 though.

Here's the count:

8,514 words
0 words written today
41,486 words remaining
At this rate I will finish on Dec. 23, 2013
1,886 words per day to finish on time

Guess I should get writing.


P.S.: Updated stats (after deciding not to get discouraged by my own lack of confidence and general feelings of fish-out-of-waterness):

9,862 words
1,348 words written today
40,138 words remaining
At this rate I will finish on Dec. 16, 2013
1,825 words per day to finish on time