The Year of the Mother

In October I joined a writing workshop called “Writing Your Life as a Woman”, led by a lovely soul named Dean Lofton. These workshops are, as I termed, ‘improv for the writer’. We show up, we get prompts, we write, and then we share. Just like that. We empty our souls onto paper, which is what writers do, and then we share. It was intimidating for me at first – obviously I have no problem sharing my soul publicly – and have been doing so through this blog since last March. But to share with this intimate group, without any editing whatsoever, was a little unnerving at first. It turned out to be an amazing experience and incredibly therapeutic. As I close this year of 2009, I thought I would share one of these ‘improvs’ with you, though I will not resist the urge to edit a tiny bit, for your benefit, of course. I feel that this one is symbolic of what 2009 was for me – a year of figuring out what motherhood is for me. It is easy to become a mother, well, if one considers childbirth easy. I became a mother when I had a baby in 2006, and then in 2008 when I had another. 2009 was the time for me to dawn into a deeper realization that I am a mother, what that means to me and my children, and to figure out how to be the mother I want to be. I always felt like motherhood was a part of me, now I know it is all of me, it is who I am. And so much more.

Prompt: Describe your happiest and most satisfying time (ok, I lost the actual prompt, but it was something like this).

About six months ago, I could never, ever have guessed that I would be writing that the happiest, most satisfying time of my life is…right now. Really. Not in my Buddhist, “live for the moment” kind of way, but in a really, “I can’t believe this myself” kind of way. I was then trapped in a downward cycle, laden with resentment towards my husband and, quite frankly, toward my two small children who were sucking every bit of energy from me that I felt I had. Then the guilt, oh that awful, awful emotion. Is guilt an emotion or a poison wrongly named? I felt so guilty for resenting the people that I loved the most that I buried myself in that muck while I smiled at the world and thanked the universe for my perfect life.

In a similar, though upward cycle, with the help of a wonderful therapist and friends, I found the strength to truly fill my cup. When my cup became truly full was when I went away for 6 days. I slept, I wrote, I worked, I talked for hours with my loving sister. I didn’t think about anyone else’s needs but my own. Since coming back, these two energy sucking spirits have transformed into little lights that bring me gifts of love and energy! My cup floweth over with that love and they in turn lap it up like kittens given fresh cream. My 3 ½ year old’s screaming does not evoke another screaming beast, but a compassionate one, wondering what he is screaming about. This quickly stops the screaming. Some days I don’t even want to leave them, but the sitter has arrived and I know that the cycle of love and happiness that we all bask in at this moment is best propelled by more love for myself and keeping this cup full.

What I really want to say is that I did not know life with children could be like this: the joy, the immense, indescribable joy. The beauty. The high of life as I take care of those around me. The clarity that comes to me at this time is more than I imagined enlightenment to be. I had to find myself to get over myself to really give of myself. And the giving is good. Very, very good.

Saved

Tonight we had a little incident in our kitchen. I have been home alone this week because Mark is on a business trip. When I am home alone, dinner tends to be even less structured than when mark is here.  We generally try to have a “family dinner”, although this notion with kids at these ages is almost laughable, but still, we do try. But when I am home alone, well, who knows who is going to be eating what and when. Tonight Eliana had already eaten because she was clearly hungry early. Max did not want to eat anything and I only started making my dinner when Eliana was already eating. By the time I sat down to eat, both kids had eaten but then decided that they both needed to sit on my lap while I tried to eat, thus having to juggle two children, a knife (just a butter knife, don’t worry, this isn’t involved in the incident) a fork and couple water glasses, one of which ended upside down in the chair next to me. None of this made up ‘the incident’, I am only setting the scene of loving chaos that the incident took place in.

The kids have a small child’s table, which is small and square, big enough for one child to use. This table happened to be sitting close to where I was sitting so somehow that table was pulled over to the table and both kids ended up standing on it. It is extremely stable, so I wasn’t worried about that. But then Eliana fell off. The table isn’t very high, but we have concrete floors, so I, of course, panicked. My mommy reflexes kicked in and I caught her leg just in time to keep her head from hitting the ground. It was like a cartoon where the character is free falling off of a cliff and then whatever is wrapped around their leg stops them an inch from the ground, and then there is that moment of still, just before they get sprung in the other direction. But this wasn’t so funny because in my reflex to catch Eliana, I knocked Max off of the same table. He is almost 4 and anyone with kids knows, a kid who is 4 falls differently than a kid who is 1 1/2. Eliana was diving towards the floor with her head while Max has natural reflexes to protect himself and he ended up falling on his bum. But also at the very instant that Eliana fell and I reached out to grab her, something snapped inside of me and anger spewed from within – anger towards myself for having let them stand there on the table like that. So, in the most bizarre fashion, I started spewing “God Damn It!” (sorry to all Christians – I’m just reporting here what spewed) over and over again. I was simultaneously saving one kid, knocking one kid over and reprimanding myself. This was our incident. This included the aftermath of Eliana sitting safely, albeit scared out of her wits and screaming, on my lap, and Max sitting on the floor next to me, rubbing his bum and crying, reaching out to me, who was fully pre-occupied investigating every inch of Eliana’s head and body to determine the damage (unbelievably, there was just a minor red mark where her back had hit the table after my grabbing of her leg kept her from hitting the floor). When I was done investigating, I held her tight to my body, kissing her head (I felt that she really had had the more traumatic experience), and I stroked Max’s head with my other hand. It was only at this point that it dawned on me that I may have actually knocked him off the table. After everyone calmed down, we all headed upstairs for bath. We all just needed to move on and bath is always a mood booster.

Later, I was tucking Max into bed and we started our ritual of talking about our day. This is an exercise of us replaying the entire day in summary format with brief stops at important parts of the day, particularly to focus on emotions that went along with different events. It is so we can discuss, outside of the actual events, any learnings or reminders for the day, how we felt about something and what we needed to learn. For example, “and remember today when you got mad at me because you wanted to play trains and I wasn’t playing and you spit at me? Then we had to take a break together because we don’t ever spit at each other. And you know that. That we don’t spit at each other”, and then he’ll nod and smile. This way I know those lessons aren’t lost in the heat of the moment of upset and very important, he can, in a rational moment, remember how he was feeling at those times and connect the dots of his feelings and his behaviors. Anyway, sorry for the parenting talk. So, tonight, we brought up our incident as part of the recap of the day, and I said, “and you know what Max? I think when I reached out to grab Eliana, I knocked you off, didn’t I?” And his eyes got so big, and he nodded and I could tell that he was SO RELIEVED that I realized what had happened. He probably had thought I was angry with him somehow, due to the anger that I was displaying towards myself. So I added, “I am so very sorry that I did that to you. I think that probably hurt your feelings even more than it hurt your bum, didn’t it?” and the eyes got bigger and the nodding even more pronounced… he was clearly so understood! “I am so sorry honey, for knocking you off the table and for hurting your feelings. I was so scared in that moment when I realized Eliana was falling that I just reacted and I am so sorry that you got hurt. I didn’t handle that very well and I am sorry.” And then he reached out and gave me a big hug around my neck.

A wave of relief passed through me in that moment because I realized that I had caught one. I had caught a moment where so much went wrong (even though, ultimately, I saved my child from falling on her head, so in a big way, it also went right!) and so much could have been mis-interpreted and so much could have been internalized (my mommy loves my sister more than she loves me or my mommy must have thought I pushed her off because she got mad and was yelling at me or WHO knows what he thought), but it was clear from his expression and his hug that in this one moment, I saved the day. Though I knocked him on his bum, I saved him from an emotional wound.

I am ecstatic that I caught this one and have been busy enthusiastically patting myself on the back this evening for being a great mom. This may seem a strange feeling to have, given I allowed my children into a dangerous situation, narrowly escaped a head wallop to who knows what degree, knocked my other child over and blurted near profanities all the while. But if motherhood has taught me one thing, it is that I am not perfect or anywhere close. Admitting this to myself has highlighted the importance for ‘clean-up’ – apologies – admitting this to others – admitting this almost daily to my children. But even with the excessive back-patting, it does have me thinking about how many of these moments I may have already missed. Or how many I could miss or will miss in the future. Like I said, I already know I am not perfect, so I may not even catch every time that I am not. Or I might catch it but be too busy – running out the door to an appointment or meeting, intending to apologize later – then forgetting. I am a great mom, and I am human. And so is Max. So I guess I can not shelter him from me or from being human himself. I can not thwart all emotional wounds and I can not keep him from suffering. But I can love him unconditionally and I can listen and I can give him the self confidence to not thwart emotional pain, but to handle it on his own. It would be way cool to save the day every day, but that probably isn’t realistic, necessary or even very healthy. But for today, it was cool.

Write a novel? That is so last month.

There is a scene in one of the Seinfeld episodes where Jerry and George are at a party in a women’s apartment watching the NY marathon out her window. In the scene, they are debating who is the king idiot between the two of them, given the recent screw-ups they have both had, and then the owner of the apartment yells out the window, “You are ALL Winners!”, and George quips, “ah, but there is another contender”. Well, I am a winner of this sort. The kind where “we are ALL winners!” –  please note the 2009 NanoWriMo Winner banner on the side bar. I could not resist. Yes, this means that I completed the 50,000 word novel within the 30 days. If I may pat myself on the back, I even finished 5 days before the deadline. My prior relationship with deadlines (see former post) was, effectively, blown to smithereens. It was definitely an adventure. I have not re-read my ‘piece of work’, which is what I am deeming it until I deem it anything else, e.g. ‘piece of art’ or ‘piece of ca-ca’, but intend to do so. Strangely, I am having more trouble finding the time to read it than I did finding the time to write the whole thing. I thought I would share a few of my learnings from having taken on such an adventure. This way, you don’t actually have to do it yourself. Or you still can so that you can tell me that my learnings are also a load of ca ca. It might be worth noting, that I started this document in my 4th week of the novel adventure when I was doing some heavy-duty procrastinating. But I recognized that, so I left this behind and finished the novel instead. Now I share…

The first thing that I learned is that writing a novel is hard. A LOT harder than reading one and somehow, after reading so many novels, I thought that perhaps writing one would also be sort of easy. In fact, after some novels, I would turn the final page and think to myself, ‘huh, I think I could have written that’ (these were usually novels I did not care for so much, so I was not actually giving myself too much credit here). Now I realize that I probably could not have written any of them – not even the bad ones. Even the bad ones are one person’s original creative work, so I could never have recreated that. And even beyond the creative originality, I have to give every published novel writer credit for having gotten that far – because it is just not easy. I was stumped on day one just trying to figure out what narrative to write in. I could not start typing until I decided, so I literally spent my first hour browsing some of my favorite novels, figuring out if I should use first or third person. As it turned out, all but one (The Kite Runner) were in third, so I settled on first, and dove in. It just felt more natural. And it worked for back-ground and set up, but as soon as I got into present and things had to happen, then I switched to third. I never really decided and the novel flips between 1st and 3rd several times. I hope this gives you an idea how rough this first draft is.

As mentioned in my prior post, this is my first foray into writing fiction, so this has been much like learning a new sport – using muscles I didn’t know I had – and it was often times painful. And it’s not just making stuff up, but making stuff up that is interesting, and more importantly, making stuff up about different characters that is both interesting and has to tie together in some relevant way. My “novel”, while I don’t want to demean my work, but this first draft really can hardly be called a novel – that would be an insult to the genre – is very, very simple. It lacks both characters and action.  Writing words has never been my problem, as you might expect after reading my lengthy blog posts. The reader gets to know every thought, in detail, that each character is having. But I really had a hard time making anything happen. I feel like I have 50, 256 words spread out over 5 months – the length of time that passes in the novel – and yet there are only 3 or 4 significant moments where anything actually happens. For me, writing dialogue and looking into a fictitious characters brain has been fascinating and a great exercise, but I have a feeling someone reading this might end up banging their head against a wall, waiting for something to happen. Much like ‘Waiting for Godot’, actually. See – this was not even original.

The second thing I learned is that worrying about writing something good will, indeed, hinder all writing. The “instructions”, or guide, that went along with this exercise said to check the “inner editor” at the door. The inner editor, in case you are not familiar, is that voice that tells you, while you do something, “oh, that’s not good. Oh, that’s not right. Your spelling is like a 3rd grader. You know, you are not very interesting, so what makes you think you can write something interesting?”, etc. etc. And it was true – whenever I did feel stopped in my writing, it was because I was worried about writing something good. Worrying and free-spirit creativity don’t really get along very well. So while I think I might have a handful of good ideas or sentences in this draft, overall, it is not good nor was it meant to be. Now that my inner editor has been unleashed, she can’t wait to get her hands on this thing and rip it to shreds. She has been pent up and is now gnashing her teeth, clenching her fists…ready to tear into the story with all her razor sharp words of judgment and good sense. She will leave a trail of blood and tears. I think this is why I am not finding the time to actually sit down and read it.

Many people are interested in what the novel is about, so the summary is this: 29 year old female takes 5 months off from her advertising career to go on a ‘spiritual journey’ to India, a trip lead by her French friend/spiritual guru, Francois. But Francois ends up being diagnosed with Cancer so the group chooses not to go on the trip without him. Our main character then decides to head to Paris first to help care for Francois and then head out on a ‘spontaneous journey’ after that with her remaining time. BUT in the airport on the way to Paris, her mom calls and says her father has been diagnosed with Leukemia (which had been in remission since he was in his 20’s) and that it is not a good idea to fly to Europe. So then, because her father is sick and she has no place to live (she had sub-let her San Francisco apt), she returns to her small home town to take care of her father. Francois ultimately dies toward the end of the novel, and so does her father. So she ends up having her ‘spiritual journey’ anyway, through the death of these two characters. And before you think it’s all gloom, before her father dies, she starts a romance with a guy who is staying in the Bed and Breakfast that her parents run (if you don’t know – my parents run a bed and breakfast – clearly the parallels between the main character and my own life are pretty tight – a phenomena that, I have heard, happens with everyone’s first work of fiction). It is light – the romance – due to the turbulent time in her life, but it provides for the glimmer of hope, the ‘life goes on’ message in the book.

Since I checked my inner editor at the door at the beginning of the exercise, I am going to release her now for just one moment to let you know all the things that are wrong with this novel. 1. Way too wordy without enough actual description. Somehow I made it to the end of the book without describing almost any of the characters, physically 2. Too few characters – with my first journey into tying people into a story, I didn’t venture out very far. The main character has parents, one set of grandparents, one sibling, one friend and one semi-romance. I introduced characters in detail like they were going to be a part of the story and then they never show up again. There’s a woman she meets in an airport that I swore was going to reappear somewhere, but it turns out she flew off to Paris and we never saw her again. She had one single friend (and an ex-boyfriend) in San Francisco, but we never hear from her again once she leaves the city – not a very good friend evidently. 3. Not enough action or conflict. The only noticeable antagonist is death. The main character sort of wanders through the novel, experiencing a few things, dealing with some heavy feelings, and that’s pretty much it. I’m even amazed that I churned out this many words without anything going on, just proving once again that, anything is possible.

And there you have it – the learnings, the synopsis and the review – all in one tidy-ish document. This document contains 1,629 words. This is ~ 37 short of the daily quota, just to give you a feel for what 1, 667 words / day feels like.  And so to fairly check the daily quota box, I would write 37 more and then I sing a little tune, “fa la la la la la la la la”.  What? La is a word. In French, anyways. And that is how one gets to 1,667 words per day. 1,678.

Thank you and good night.