"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1816




Friday, September 30, 2011

Song of the Subaru

Hubby and I gave up our jaunty Subaru Forester in August and it still smarts. When we left it on the driveway at Carmax, we left behind a younger version of ourselves. A version that was sporty and environment-friendly. A version that refused to look beyond its own needs and desires.

We knew we had ignored our wiser subconscious when we bought the car three years ago. Then expecting our second child, we knew we eventually wanted a third, and, even if we somehow could shoehorn three carseats across its back seat (which we did when the time came), we knew there would be no further room for anyone besides our family.

But we bought the car anyway. It would get great mileage. We found it in a great bright blue. Our nephew got a Forester the same year for use during the cold winter months at his Midwestern college. I even put my college alumni license-plate frame proudly up on our new Subi. Now, two babies later, we know we never can return to our Subi mindset. Every decision that we now make has to secure the best outcomes for all parties, least among which are mama and dada.

In defense of our decision to buy our Subaru, we didn’t know when our third child would come. We didn’t know then, as we do now, how important carpooling would be to my ability to cope with the endless commitments of mothering. It’s time for our family to start building connections outward from our nested center now. Our new minivan is a crucial survival tool. For the kids and hubby but, most of all, for me.

So many little joys and sorrows were lodged between the Subaru’s two bumpers. It was the car we drove to the hospital when I was in slow afternoon labor with Toddler and then lurching night-time labor with Baby. Girlie contemplated the first boy to have a crush on her during one drive home from preschool in it. She was delighted.

How many hours did I spend in that car, circling between our house, the preschool, the library, and all the parks in town? How many minutes of sleep did the kids log in it, with their strawberry-tinted heads nodding and their thumbs hanging limply from their lips? How many oaths did I utter in it? How many prayers?

Before we finally pulled the trigger on the deal to buy our new minivan (it’s white) hubby begrudgingly voiced what we both probably had been thinking for weeks.

“It’s just a car,” he said, wincing. Even he had come around to a religious perspective on giving up the Subaru. We know we shouldn’t be attached to things.

But we were.

Really, it’s our former selves that we didn’t want to give up. With deep breaths we are facing this new life, this adulthood, every morning.

Oftentimes we face it with a prayer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Date with Steve Nash

The game was penciled in on our home calendar. March 29. The night Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns were coming to town to play the Sacramento Kings (yes, it’s a basketball team, not a hockey team, Dad) at what used to be ARCO Arena, now Power Balance Pavilion. There were more than a handful of reasons I wanted to go to the game, but the primary one was to see Steve Nash. In the flesh.

No, I’m not really a groupie. Steve Nash is the first – and probably only – basketball player I will ever have a crush on: Those pesky brown locks (curiously similar to my own), that soccer-player physique, darting here and there through defenders with the confidence of one who literally is at the top of his game. Of course, he’s about a foot taller than a soccer player.

In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons ranks Nash number 36 out of the 96 players in his Hall of Fame Pyramid. Nash is a legitimate athlete. Eighth in career assists… What girl doesn’t melt over a selfless guy? Please don’t tell me about his personal life. Let this tired and graying mama have her crush.

Hubby and I were overdue for a date night and although the prospect of the game was alluring we knew we couldn’t really afford it. Then somehow the stars aligned. Our babysitter was free on Tuesday nights. I figured out that I could make dinner at home and pack it up to eat in the car on the ride to the game. Hubby’s transit subsidy reimbursement check arrived in the mail.

It took only a few quick mouse clicks to secure tickets in the lower bowl at Power Balance (even upper bowl seats would have been acceptable in the small arena, hubby said). It had been 14 years since hubby, who grew up in this area, had been to a game there. It would be my first time. A lifelong fan, hubby had been grumpy about the Kings’ poor play and the prolonged discussions over whether or not, and eventually, how, the Kings would make their departure for Anaheim. He was glad now that the move seemed almost certain. Stem the heartache for good.

As soon as we sat down in our seats, the wood floorboards at our feet and Nash sinking threes in easy view, I knew we were in for a great time. We began the game rooting for Nash and the Suns. But the Kings gained confidence as the game minutes flew by. During warm ups it had looked like it would be another half-hearted outing for them. But no, the Kings realized that despite Nash’s best efforts they could win the game – and they did, 116-113. I was so caught up in the excitement I couldn’t bear to leave my seat to try to get Nash’s autograph on the chintzy Kings program, like I had planned.

The Kings fans embraced the unexpected win with the loving arms of a family welcoming home its lost pet. The guy in front of us videoed the entire last quarter of the game, he was so thrilled about the win. We chatted with the couple next to us who had traveled here from Lynchburg, Virginia expressly to see the Kings play at home before the team moves. Really.

As we walked back to our car clutching our free taco coupons like they were signed jerseys my husband and I even contemplated trying to make the Kings’ final game of the season against their nemesis, the Lakers, tonight. Our budget can’t take the beating. But it’s too bad Kings fever gripped us just when it least matters.

As for me and Nash, I think I’m gonna order a photo of him and mail it to the Suns PR department. Maybe Nash will have time to sign my picture now that the Suns season has ended. I’ll put it up in my sons’ room. It wouldn’t be proper for me to hang it over my night table.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Encouraging Words

The weeks are slipping by with no blog post. I have been scrapping around writing newspaper articles though. I’m taking a nonfiction research and interviewing class that has kept me nearly wholly in the mindset of newspaper writing.

I had recent encouragement of my newspaper writing from a prize I won for one of my articles. My article on the demise of a local moms magazine won second place in the Sacramento Press Journalism Open. The prize brought me $500 closer to my laptop and was my first actual payment for writing, if you consider an award a payment.

I mentioned the award to my grandma, “Nanny,” in a telephone conversation recently. She’s 99 and dealing with a mental condition called “aphasia,” a disorder of language comprehension and production. She seems to understand the gist of a conversation but then when it’s her turn to respond she gets it not quite right, using vocabulary incorrectly, or responding about a topic that is related but not on point.

Talking with her about the prize for my writing roused her. She clamored to communicate that she too, was a writer. She too, had stories for telling. This is a well known fact among her large family. She’s a gifted storyteller of her own imagined tales as well as of family stories. She has told me stories in her darkened living room that conjure a picture as bright as a television. I believe she has written down some of her stories. Relatives have also tape recorded her telling stories.

Through and despite her aphasia Nanny was hugely encouraging of my writing. She told me to keep doing it. She said I should get hubby to watch the kids for me so I could do it. She was regretful that she didn’t write more herself.

I gained the impression that despite the differences in our situation she understood exactly my wish to do something outside and apart from my mothering. Perhaps she felt that too. With her mind not able to accurately express itself these days, I can’t be sure. I didn’t take notes during our conversation and I wouldn’t venture to quote her.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tell Me a Story

My Girl Scout day camp was situated in a tall, dense Virginia woods, in a remote corner of one of the further flung Washington D.C. suburbs. It was about a half hour’s bus ride to the camp from a church near my home where my mother dropped me off each morning. We girls bounced along on the bus, glad to be together and without parents, clutching our camp bags packed full with our brown-paper nestled lunches, our sit-upons, and extra changes of clothes. We wore bandanas as head coverings to keep off deer ticks. The “swaps” safety-clipped to our bandanas swayed as the bus rounded the final turn before it swung into the camp’s tree-shrouded parking lot. …

My daughter has gotten into the habit of asking me to tell her a story every night after hubby and I have prayed with her and kissed and hugged her and she is all tucked into bed. At first I thought she was stalling. I thought she wanted a few more precious minutes with me or hubby - whoever got stuck that night telling the story.

I shouldn’t say “stuck,” of course. Girlie lights up our days with her jumpy breathless inquisitiveness, but at 8:00 or 9:00 at night we want to be done. DONE. We want to have our time together and separately, to decompress, to tidy the house for the night, watch a little TV and surf a little Internet. We even actually talk a bit.

So at first the storytelling was a chore for me. I would hang my head for a few moments, trying to compose something: “Once upon a time…” I struggled, reaching out into nothing, into my tiredness, where no words introduced themselves to me. Then finally I remembered. I remembered that the stories my mom told me mostly were true stories about her growing up. She told the same stories over and over to me: how her parents planned and executed the family’s annual camping trip each year; how she and her brothers and sisters saw scuba divers on the beach one night and thought they were monsters. She also told me older stories that her mother had told her: how her mother’s mother had sewn a penny into the hem of her dress in case she ever needed it…

In the past year I have started to think of myself as a writer. I am writing non-fiction, essays and newspaper pieces, not fiction. Writing true stories always has been easier for me than making something up. I returned to writing this past year through the comfortable entry point of writing true stories about my mothering. There weren’t any frozen fingers over the keyboard. Writing about my mothering just poured out.

Now, in telling stories to my daughter, I realize I am training my writing muscles. The more Girlie asks for stories and I try to tell them, the more I remember of the stories that are mine for telling. All the details well up in me as I grasp for them in Girlie’s softly glowing room, details that perhaps would have forever gone missing if she hadn’t pleaded yet another night, “Tell me a story.”

The storytelling benefits Girlie too. I trot out words she may or may not know and she asks me what the words mean. She asks me questions about what happened in my stories. She adds her own stories where they dovetail with mine. She learns listening skills. She learns the art of storytelling.

The telling of the true stories, of when I was girl, of my courtship with hubby, of our days before kids, of last year, helps to orient me in my new role of mother/teacher and, I think, helps to orient Girlie too. It gives her the map of a girlhood.

I have re-read this wonderful quote at least a dozen times since I found it in Lisa Garrigues’s book Writing Motherhood (The book deserves an entire post.):

“Writing can be a crucial skill, like cartography. Everybody lives in the middle of a landscape. Writing can provide a map.” (Phyllis Theroux)

The same is true for storytelling.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pizza Time

Ever since I stayed up way too late to watch a food network program about New York versus Chicago pizza this hungry mama has been craving pizza. P-I-Z-Z-A!!! It has become our go-to meal on Friday nights when we are too broken down by the week to prepare something complicated. Sometimes I put together my own pizza from store-bought crust, sauce and toppings, but more often I order delivery. One by one we’re trying every pizza place in our area. Our weekly taste test is another welcome chance for me to declare that California pizza just does not compare to East Coast.

One recent Friday the kids and I were too restless to wait around at home for delivery. We needed a change of scenery and I couldn’t bear herding us all to the park, our usual late-afternoon activity. I decided… gulp… that I would take all three kids out to eat pizza at a restaurant.

Here’s a blow by blow:

4:30 I call hubby to check to see if he is interested in eating out. Of course he is but he won’t be able to meet us until 6:30. Fine. I estimate that if I start getting everyone ready now, we likely won’t take our first bites of dinner until around then anyway. I click to a tivoed episode of computer-animated educational programming for the kids so I am free to nurse Baby without interruption before we leave for the restaurant.

4:55 The kids program ends and I begin marshalling Girlie and Toddler. Find your shoes. Where are your shoes? To Toddler: Let’s put on your shoes.

I smell something peculiar while putting on Toddler’s shoes... What is that?

In honor of the special occasion of going out for dinner Girlie insists on donning her favorite outfit. She ecstatically twirls around in her rainbow colored, peace-sign printed mesh skirt.

5:05 I hustle everyone out to the car and chase Toddler around it. He always wants to play with the old toys “stored” around the edges of the garage. I really need to move those. With a big ragged exhale I hoist him into the middle car seat and strap him in. Girlie goes into the pink flowered car seat next to him. Toddler starts crying, frustrated for the delay when I dart back inside for my purse, the diaper bag, and oh, Baby. I lug Baby over to the car in his bucket. He is just too big for that thing now.

5:15 We pull out of the garage.

5:30 We arrive at the pizza place!

The knowledge that I have loaded Toddler into the car with a poopy diaper now moves from my subconscious to my conscious mind. Good. Having to change Toddler’s diaper will eat up some time. I lay him down in the opened hatchback of the car. Girlie lies next to him. We pretend we are camping. Baby nods off to sleep.

5:40 We can’t stall any longer. We troop into the restaurant. It has quirky wall decorations that I hope will entertain the kids at some crucial juncture. The hostess greets us cheerfully. Stay positive, I bet she thinks, seeing a lone adult with three kids. “Hi!” Girlie and Toddler chime, their eyes wide.

From our table in a corner of the restaurant I spy over my shoulder furtively. A few super-organized families are quietly eating already. There’s a childless couple sitting three tables over from us. They have just ordered beers and are starting the weekend early. How lovely for them.

The kids and I buckle down on our coloring assignment. Toddler makes one scribble with a yellow crayon and is done. We both have trouble finding the scribble to show it to Girlie. She is momentarily entranced with her first game of connect-the-dot.

5:45 Our server introduces himself. He wears a beard and earrings. He can’t wait on us just yet but will be right back to answer questions we have about the menu. Questions? I have decided to order a pizza after briefly considering the a la cart options. Ordering a pizza instead of individual entrees will halve our bill. Pizza it is. I wonder how long it will take for them to make a whole pizza… I resist the temptation of insisting that the waiter take our order right away and try to relax. Try.

5:50 A hostess comes by and takes our drink orders. Lemonades all around. Of course she has the cups with lids for the kids.

5:54 The kids long ago stopped coloring, or playing with the crayons, I should say. Toddler then moved on to banging the small metal pail that held the crayons. Our lemonades arrive. Phew. Banging ceases for the moment.

5:55 Our server lopes back to our table. I give him our pizza order. How long will it take to make a pizza? Only 10 minutes? We shall see. I look at the clock: Hubby won’t be here for over half an hour. I force myself not to panic. Baby still is asleep. Toddler and Girlie still are upbeat, excited at the rare evening outing. They scope out the arriving families.

6:00 The hostess refills our lemonades, astutely understanding that drinking and playing with his straw are all that are keeping Toddler from escaping from his high chair in a Houdini maneuver.

The hostess returns and seats a family at the table right next to ours. Really? There’s a mom and dad and three girls, the youngest of which is a couple years older than Girlie. It seems like she is light years older than Girlie, who is having real difficulty sitting still. She didn’t nap today.

6:05 Our server comes by with – a basket of bread. He promises the pizza will be out any moment.

6:10 Our pizza arrives.

The sauce is fruity and thick. There is the requisite oil on the top of the cheese. The crust stands up but is not overly stiff.

My stomach gurgles but I select slices for Girlie and Toddler and begin carefully dissecting them.

“Pizza? Pizza!” Toddler is relieved to have the discrete project of eating.

“There’s your pizza!” I place it down in front of him triumphantly. He looks at me blankly. Apparently he has filled himself up on lemonade and bread. It can happen to the best of us.

6:15 I happily munch my pizza. Toddler and Girlie move around on their plates the tiny pieces I have sliced for them. Toddler resumes playing with his straw.

“Out! Out, Mama!” Toddler implores.

“But you haven’t eaten your pizza.” My voice lilts several notes higher in the middle of the word “pizza,” highlighting the incredible taste sensation awaiting Toddler when finally he takes a bite of his dinner.

Toddler nonchalantly picks up a piece.

6:20 I grab my second slice, half-knowing it will probably be my last. Girlie and Toddler are quickly popping and chomping their pizza bits now and likely will want seconds that they won’t finish.

Mmmm. I decide the sauce really is tasty. My grandma and mother made their own sauces so I fancy myself a connoisseur.

6:25 I assure the server that hubby still is on his way. I hope! As predicted, Girlie and Toddler hardly have touched their second slices of pizza. Genius that I am, I have split a single piece between the two of them, so hubby will have a full three pieces for himself.

We resume slurping lemonade.

6:30 Hubby arrives! He graciously insists that the scant three slices of pizza remaining are enough for him.

6:40 Hubby is finished with his pizza and we resolve to leave.

We squirm in our seats as our server takes his time cooing over Baby. He has a baby of his own at home and is smitten with the experience. I realize that the night’s success partly is due to his good management – and the bread. The bread saved us.

I squeeze my daughter’s shoulder on our way out of the restaurant. I’m proud of how she behaved. I’m proud of how I behaved.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My essay featured in kidaround!

Check out my essay about our family's trip to a snow play area in the mountains last winter. It's featured in the November/December issue of kidaround, a culture magazine in my area. My essay is on page 7.

Thanks for all of your encouragement!!

Here's to taking the kids on adventures despite the near insurmountable logistical challenge of getting out the front door!

And here's to getting published! I was told I could expect a small payment for the essay. I'm excited because it will be the first contribution to my "laptop fund." I've made a promise to myself that I will only use writing proceeds to buy a laptop. It's great motivation to keep me stalking the computer at 5:00 am.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mind vs. Body

“It’s so cold in here tonight! Are you guys cold?”

There’s no answer from the upper-middle-aged women (and one man) lying on their sides doing leg circles in the rec center activities room.

“We have to finish these warm-up exercises so we can warm ourselves up already!”

From the bivouac of my yoga mat I had not noticed that the room is slightly chilly. I could be on a beach blanket.

I pulled out my yoga mat and block a couple days ago. After another tearful breakdown last week, hubby identified the source of my malaise: no exercise. I’ve of course been consumed with caring for Baby since he was born three months ago. Actually, I can’t say I’ve been consumed with Baby. I’ve been consumed with managing our new family dynamic; I’ve been frantically trying to adapt to how our newest member has changed our relationships, and most importantly, our schedules.

I’ve also been consumed with writing. (Can a person be consumed with more than one thing at once?) I can’t remember ever feeling as compelled to do something as I lately have felt compelled to write. I’ve been sneaking off to the computer during any spare moment, cramming words in like forkfuls of the decadent German chocolate cake I ordered for hubby’s birthday. It’s exciting that I finally am doing what I have dreamed of doing. It’s exciting that I finally feel compelled to write, like I guessed I would if I were to ever really “become a writer.” Childcare and writing – only – do not a happy Laura make, though.

Part of the problem is I’m not taking care of my body. People say I look fantastic. I’ve lost all my pregnancy weight, but I’m very weak. Both knees feel like they are about to give way. I have a condition called patella femoral syndrome. It may be due to too much diapering while kneeling on the floor - or poor anatomy. No matter. I desperately need to strengthen my leg muscles so I started a two-week trial membership at the rec center that is just about a mile from our house. There’s a yoga class on Monday and Wednesday nights and Pilates on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Just go,” hubby said when I questioned whether he could put all the kids down to bed himself.

At the end of my class I’m lying on my mat trying to think about nothing as my instructor spritzes the air with the scent of lavender.

Aaaaahhhhhh.

Back in my car I feel better than I have in months, perhaps since before my pregnancy. I feel refreshingly light-headed. My yoga breathing has brought new air into my body. I am filled with “breath.”

I took a hiatus from writing last weekend. An essay I wrote was selected to be published on a website, but once I was notified I no longer felt confident that I was ready for the piece to be publically consumed. I had used a real event involving myself and another person as a device for communicating my message and realized that I did not feel comfortable with how the other person would interpret the essay. After talking with the person and considering the situation for several days I realized that the piece didn’t need to include the event in question. I had included it by way of shorthand. For a quick emotional impact. Through better crafting, I could have communicated my message without including it.

I had lost perspective. Why am I writing anyway? I only mean to write things which ultimately may be helpful to someone. I do not mean for my writing to be a cheap form of psychotherapy.

I have struggled with the idea that writing is too passive of an occupation. That’s partly why I didn’t go into journalism or magazine writing when I graduated from college. I wanted to do real things in the real world. Help people.

I’m going to continue thinking about how I should be using this precious time of my kids’ young childhood, of my young motherhood and wifehood, of my mid-thirties. Should I be using this time to write? If so, what?

In the meantime, I’m working out. I need a breath of fresh air.