Monday, January 27, 2014

I think I just got put in my place

I just read a fascinating article by a woman about how she feels sorry for young women with husbands and children.
And as I studied my life (a wife at age twenty and a mother at age 23) I realized that I just can't argue with her. I think she has me pegged.
She points out that getting "knocked up" or "hitched" to a man are no reasons to celebrate. After all, those things can be done by anyone, and have been for time immemorial. They are average.
We should have showers for women accomplishing real goals like job promotions and backpacking across Asia.
I think she has me there. I've never backpacked across Asia. I haven't backpacked much of anywhere, really. Probably because I got hitched to a man and knocked up. I've taken some really great hikes through the ozark mountains and Florida everglades, but I don't think those count because the entire time I had little girls following me and picking up feathers and pinecones and distracting me by pointing out the miracles of nature and the wonders of the world.
And I couldn't fully enjoy the sunsets over the gulf of Mexico because there was a man sitting in the sand next to me telling me how much he loves me. So that was pretty much a wash.
Who wants to spend their life with a person who lives and dies for them, loves and adores them? I think that might be co-dependence or something. Maybe there's a medication for that.
But if I had put on a backpack and walked across Asia that would have been spectacular. My friends could have thrown me a shower. I think I might leave my average life and try that.
If I am going to be really honest Asian people have been carrying stuff and walking around Asia for a long time. There might be some people who mistake my incredible journey for something average. So maybe backpacking across Asia isn't actually an amazing feat, after all.

But if I went to another country and fed hungry children and gave naked children clothing and nursed the sick then I would definitely be contributing and accomplishing.

Now that I think about it, I do that every day. I feed hungry children and clothe naked ones and nurse them and teach them, so maybe I can check that off my list. Unless it only counts if you go around the world and do it to another mother's children. I'll have to look that up. I'm not sure my human beings count.

But job promotions... that's something I've been missing out on. I scrub toilets and make beds and catch vomit in bowls but I've never been promoted. No one gives me a raise or recognition. And the last time my daughter laid her freakishly soft cheek against mine and kissed me and told me that she loved me more than pink markers I think I was subconsciously wishing that I was sitting in a cubicle doing data entry really well so someone could come and move me to a bigger cubicle with a longer spreadsheet.
Or the time my husband told me that our daughter had my eyes and sounded like he thought that was the best thing that could ever happen to a person.

I think I rolled those eyes because I was wishing that I was midlevel manager working my way up the ladder and deciding who to fire during cutbacks. Because we all know that the hand that completes the spreadsheet is the hand that rules the world. I think I heard that once.
She also says that being a mother and homemaker will never be equal to being . . . say, an engineer. 
photo available through Seattle Municipal archives

I usually get embarrassed being around engineers, which is a problem because there are so many of them! I mean they're almost average nowadays. I listen to their stories about ductwork and humidity levels and how to lay out a parking lot just so and I feel foolish having nothing to show for my days' work other than my children. I mean they are only the most complex organisms known to man. They have beating hearts and lightning fast neural systems and self-healing outer layers, along with cognitive and emotional abilities. They will grow up to continue life on the planet, heal broken hearts, mend bloody knees, appreciate art and nature and change the world, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't know the thermal properties of cement versus concrete.
To be totally honest, I'm not even sure if cement and concrete are different things.
It's really embarrassing.
Which is probably why I hide away in my home and paint and scour and decorate and make it look beautiful and smell beautiful and feel beautiful so people can feel loved the second they step inside. Because I'm not traveling the world or putting in overtime at work I have to fill up my day with meeting emotional and intellectual needs of those around me.

Sorry, but there's really nothing better to do.
And backpacking would require that I go buy a backpack and you know... I'm just a lazy housewife.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Cricket in Our House

Six years ago when I was told I probably could not have more children, I thought, "That's fine."
Because I was holding the cutest baby I'd ever seen and my heart was full and life was wonderful.
And now that baby is getting bigger.
And she left me to go to half day kindergarten.
And I started feeling lonely in the afternoons. Yes, I have my stories and my characters to fill up my thoughts and my time, but they aren't warm.
They aren't fuzzy.
They aren't adorable.
I needed a cat. A cat to sit on my desk while I typed and sit on my lap when I watched the news.
So I started looking.
And the Artist kept saying, "We're not getting a cat. You're stressed out enough as it is. It's just one more thing to clean up. It will scratch the furniture."
Intelligent and valid points, but I was too busy scouring petfinder to listen.
For weeks I took the girls to shelters where they promptly fell in love with everything with fur.
"That's not the one," I'd tell them. "We don't want a cat. We want the cat. The perfect cat for our family."
Last weekend we finally made the plunge. As we were driving across the city to rescue a special shelter cat the Artist pointed out, "Did anyone ask me if we could get a cat?"
Good point.
"Darling, can we get the cat we are driving to get?"
We are now the proud owners of a Rex/shorthair mix who is two years old and weighs only six pounds. She sleeps on the girls' bed every night and didn't meow once on the forty five minute drive to her new home. She is currently curled up in the Artist's studio while he works because she loves him. And the feeling is completely mutual.
She is even kind to the rats. One scurried into the same room as her unattended and she didn't take the smallest taste. She is one of the tamest, best natured cats I've ever met.
Friends, meet Cricket- the newest addition to our family.

I don't charge admission if you need a snuggle. Just bring a piece of tuna.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The kids I can't forget...

I just got home from one of the biggest literary adventures of my life.
I went to the Chicago area to be on a panel for Anderson's Bookshop YA literature conference.
I was invited alongside hugely successful authors.
Authors whose books are movies and have their own shelves in bookstores.
For two days we ate together, worked together, laughed together, and talked to many, many people  about young adult literature together.
And now that I am home and the exhausting blur of the weekend in behind me, do you know who I keep thinking about?

The kids.
The kids in the schools that I was fortunate enough to go visit.
The kids with their big eyes and smart-alec comments and loud laughter and wiggling bodies.
The kids who listened and contributed and made me want to sit down and just listen to them.

The ones who said they wanted to be writers.
The ones who said they hate to write.

The ones who stole the show and the ones who never said a word.
They were, by far, the highlight of my trip.

Every author I met was funny and successful and sharp and talented, every publicist committed, every speaker captivating. Truly I was humbled to be grouped anywhere near them- but the kids...
The kids made me feel the sheer joy of words. They reminded me how hard it is to get words right and how okay that is. They know you just keep trying and keep learning. They accept imperfections. They laugh about them. Maybe even prefer them.
And speaking of kids, my two favorite girls came to the schools with me and listened to mom, but during the conference when I was on panels and working hard they went exploring around Chicago with my favorite guy.

They now think business trips are nothing but awesome!

So after five exhausting days of travel and work and play, I want to say to every teacher I met who gives his/her all for the children, to every librarian I met who inspires the children, to all the students I met who opened their ears and their minds and let the words in-
I say to each of you, Thank you for letting be a part of your life for just a window of time.
I truly think you are magical.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Day After

Not talking about a hangover.
At least not from alcohol.

It is the day after one of the busiest weekends I can remember. I taught two classes at the Midwest Storymakers writers conference and had the honor of being a keynote speaker, along with Janette Rallison. It was thrilling. And depleting. As most of the best things are.
To add to the fun my writing partner, the author Jaima Fixsen, came all the way from Alberta Canada to stay with my family and attend the conference.
What's that? You're writing partner wouldn't do that for you?
I'm so sorry.
But with all the compassion I can muster- You can't have her. She's mine!

We spent all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday exploring our city with our daughters, eating the best hamburgers on earth, staying up too late and talking writing, life, society, family and fountain pens.
And today- today when I need to get back to work and finish all five loads of laundry that managed to sneak up on me in one tiny weekend, and send emails and prepare for the Anderson's Young Adult Literature Conference in Chicago this weekend, all I really want to do is sneak into the backyard with my copy of Moby Dick:

And I am trying to edit and write and work and be a grown up, but the Dancer emptied her backpack for me this morning and made a pile of stones on my desk as she told me about each one.
"This one is speckled and this one is smooth and this one is pink and this one is broken..."

And now, in all honesty, all I can think is how beautiful those little rocks are.
Except for just now. I thought of how you can't end a sentence with "are" and that totally wrecked the moment.
I'm not sure that there is anything I can write more special than that haphazard collection.
So maybe I'll just go grab Moby and meet you outside...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My 9/11 promise

The hardest post of every year is always September 11th.
I vowed never to let a year go by without recording my feelings of that day in a journal. That was back before we had public journals.
But a promise is a promise.

So short and sweet- because this day is not about me. It's about them. All of them.
The man who tried to cling to the window sill, but couldn't.
The fireman who vowed to find his men, but couldn't.
The wife who waited for her husband to come home through the smoke, but he didn't.
The child who wrote a letter to her mother, and had nowhere to send it.

I will simply say that that twelve years ago, in this very hour, my belief turned to absolute knowledge.
I always believed we were children of God.
I always believed I loved my neighbors.
And in a moment, what I always thought I knew, I suddenly knew I knew.
When those dust-caked faces with baffled eyes ran past the cameras, my heart screamed, "My brother! My sister!"
When the tower of rubble echoed with the locator beeps of hundreds of fallen firefighters who gave their lives for strangers, I knew there was a power deeper, stronger, better, purer than mere mortals.
There is something that changes people into angels. There is One who elevates us above ourselves and our circumstances. This I know.

To my brothers and sisters who are not here, but should be- I would have wept with gratitude to trade places with just one of you.
But you wouldn't have let me, would you? Which is why the world will always honor you.
Which is why I will never, never forget you.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dear children, be total rebels!

Dear Child of Mine,

I am writing this letter to encourage you to be an all-out, no-holds-barred rebel.
A person who doesn't give a second thought about someone else's judgement.
A person who defies the entire world and walks their own way.
A person who is startling brave about being different in every way.
I want you, my child, the work of my life, to be the best rebel that you can be.

I want you to be the ultimate outsider. 
A leader who needs no followers.
A person that doesn't just march to a different beat, but to an entirely different drum.

I look back on my childhood and everything I did to try to be a rebel and then I take a moment to snore at myself. 
I wasn't rebelling. I was picking up the playbook and following it word by predictable word.
I was doing everything possible to be exactly like every idiotic person around me.
I was not a rebel. I was a lemming.

But you- I want more for you. No running over a cliff into the cold, raging ocean for my child.
You are in every way too awesome for that.

Pierce everything?
Curse like a sailor?
Parade yourself as sex object?
Spend eight hours on youtube laughing at morons?
Get drunk with your friends?
Shoplift something you didn't even want from Walmart?

Snooze fest.
Cookie cutter of every 
wannabe who tried to be a rebel.
If you did everything on that list
 it would make you like millions of other kids.
You are describing a coward. 
Someone so scared to be different
 they go straight to the middle of the pack
 where they get trampled.

You don't fit that box.

A rebel shocks people.
A rebel is something they are not expecting.
Something they can't stomach or accept.

I look at the people around me and I see the rebels. I notice them.
They stand up in a crowd, never knowing if anyone else will stand with them, and say what they believe.
They don't laugh and nod at a story that makes them uncomfortable. They express an opinion.
You know, an opinion is one of those things that brave people, and only brave people have, even when it is monumentally inconvenient.
They don't spare themselves ridicule or take the easy way.
A rebel believes in something.
A rebel stands out from the world.

Today a rebel is a young man or woman who puts down his/her phone and talks to someone who looks lonely.
A rebel is a student in a class who asks a questions when they don't understand because they want to be smart.
Or who answers a question when the protocol is to look bored and make the teacher feel stupid.
You want to see a rebel? Find me a young person who respects his parents. Find me one who helps at home. Who protects his siblings. Who serves his community.
Find me a kid who isn't in bed holding his phone, but kneeling beside his bed saying a prayer.
Can you imagine the stares? If people knew?!
Can you imagine the faces of teenagers if one of their friends said, "I love my family. My parents are great."

A rebel today is a clear face, intelligent eyes, and hands busy with meaningful work.
A rebel is someone who questions their motives, examines their heart, and tries to do what is good, even when it feels very bad.
A rebel believes that they have control over their life.
A rebel owns their choices.
A rebel doesn't care what they are handed- only what they make out of it.
A rebel won't be a victim.

Dear Child of Mine,
I've trained you to be one thing. From the time you were little and I wouldn't let you watch the Disney channel because I didn't want you to learn to sassy and sarcastic.
Since the moment I told you that I knew everyone else was going to the skating party but we were still going to church.
Or that you couldn't wear a short skirt even if every other girl had one.
I was giving you the tools to be a rebel.
Not a shallow, stupid, rebel wannabe.
A real one.
A strong one.
A life-changing one.

And then in kindergarten, when you left the pack of cheerleaders to walk with the girl who had Spina Bifida because you didn't want her to walk alone, and it took so long to get around the block that all the popsicles were gone by the time we got back to the school parking lot, I knew what I had on my hands.

A rebel.
You go, Child of Mine. You show 'em. 
They will laugh at you, exclude you, pick you apart, and in the end-
wish they were you.
My rebel.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Motherhood needs no subsidy

I'm driving down the road of my life, pretty certain of the route and destination until a roadblock, a street not on the map, a detour.
For the past year I thought that I was helping to inspire moms by showing them that I could love my job as a mother and chase big, creative dreams at the same time.
I thought that my book popping up on bookshelves would make mothers feel bigger or more possible.

I think I got it wrong. Maybe just by a little, but by enough.
Motherhood doesn't need a subsidy of "other" accomplishments.
I don't need to say I am a homemaker and an author.
You don't need to say I am a mother and a caterer.
Or I am a mother and I volunteer at the hospital.
You are a mother.
I am a mother.
And the world had never, ever needed us like it needs us now.
It has never needed us to stand more proud of our roles as mothers.

So many mothers conquer so many mountains. So many fight the battles alone.
Find me a stronger person than a mother who weeps in loneliness at night and wakes her children with a smile in the morning. I defy you to discover the equal of her courage.

While some people gather medals for their victories in careers and accomplishments, a mother never leaves the trenches.
She doesn't have time to tack a badge to her uniform because she is working.
I don't have time to write out a fancy resume of everything I can do and everything I am worth because I am busy holding up the entire world.
The entire world.
The weight of disappointment, discovery, knowledge, rejection, self-worth, self-doubt, faith and skepticism is crashing down on my children every day.
Every day they see the news and need to understand why the people are crying, why the children are hungry, why their friends got mad, why their homework is hard, why they can't have the lead in the play, why we all believe different things, why someone is poor, why someone is famous, why the bad people seem happy, or the good people don't get the help they need.
Huge, crippling, exciting questions. Crashing. Crashing down on their tender, innocent heads.
And I am their mother.
And it is not just the tough things. They need me as desperately for the wonderful things. They would fight their way through jungles and soldiers to show me what they painted. They yell for me to come look whenever something is cute or funny or beautiful. They need my smile, my nod, my comment, my approval. Not want it. Need it to understand what is great about life.
I am their tour guide through this madness.

I must teach them to fight for  joy because it is a struggle.
I must be an example of courage when I am scared.
I must stay calm when they need stitches and stay in control when the toilet overfloweth.
In every situation, at every movie, every conversation, every interaction, their little faces turn to me and watch for cues. Is this good? Is this bad? How does Mom feel about it?
And I must pick up this entire world that I don't understand and I must keep it from crushing them. I must hand it to them answer by answer, moment by moment until they are strong enough to carry it themselves.
When the confusion and exhaustion overwhelm me I cannot quit, retire, go on vacation or take time off.
I am a mother.
We are mothers.
I am not a writer who followed her dream and caught it when I published a book. I am a mother who followed her dream and caught it when I first held my children.
I am a mother who wrote her daughters a story.
I am a mother who will keep writing her daughters stories.
How wonderful for me that a few people have joined our storytime and let me read to them, as well.
And when they drift away and lose interest, that is all right because I have two little girls and I am their coach and we have a lot to get done. Every day is non-stop, intense training as they learn how to lift up the entire world.
They will need it someday soon when they are mothers.
I am not an author raising two children.
I am a mother telling stories.
I am a mother.
Destination reached.