Adios, for Now

Two months
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You all deserve a more eloquent, writerly summation than that. It’s not you, really. Remember that leaky boat, the water sloshing over the gunwales, the frantic bailing? Writing this is really fun, but it turns out that when there’s about an hour every couple of days for writing, there’s no room in the boat for both this and that novel I’ve been talking about for the past four years.

My hat’s off to those who can keep a blog going day in and day out for years without starting to sound like a whiny imitation of themselves (another risk I’m afraid of running). Blogs are crafted writing, artfully artless, and fascinating.

But breaking down that fourth wall… maybe I’m just too old, and old-fashioned to take a sledgehammer to it on a regular basis. Is this self-indulgent? Is it mean-spirited? Is this the best use of my writing time? Those are just some of the questions that I’ve found myself asking over the past two months. Who knows what the answers are. Just asking the questions makes my brain hurt.

Wow, and I can delete everything here with the push of a button. Such power! My brain is really hurting now, so I’ll just say: Adios, for now. And thanks.


We’re nothing if not predictable around here, and right on time, along with the very first second of cooler weather, we have contracted the first cold of the season (this isn’t “we” in the royal sense, but “we” as in the entire family). Let’s see … what day is it? October 12? Yep, you could set a watch by us. From here on out until May, it’s unlikely that we’ll go longer than three weeks between bouts of upper-respiratory crud.

For about a month, my new-found combination of extremely strong iced coffee and the fact that Elder Girleen is now in school five days a week fostered the delusion in me that I might actually become a productive member of society again. Laundry would get folded, dishes washed, life lived, each and every requirement of the Girleens’ upbringing/schools/social lives would be a cakewalk, plus the novel that’s been on the back burner for the past four years would finally be slid to the front one. Oh, and the 14 books that have been on my bedside table for two years would get read, the yard would get landscaped, my wardrobe refurbished, and the ten extra pounds I’ve been calling “baby fat” for almost three years would be lost.

And now, here I am, back to bailing out our leaky boat with a sieve. And as always seems to be the case, when water starts slopping over the gunwales, I jettison what seems most expendable, which is basically…everything …except putting food on my family and getting them to bed at a fairly close to a decent hour.

It’s a state of affairs recounted in just about every motherhood blog out there, a page out of every motherhood book.

If nothing else, parenthood teaches you how to prioritize.

(This was all an elaborate way of informing anyone who might stop by that we are up to our eyeballs in dirty dishes and unfolded laundry around here).

Setting Foot on the Shore of a New World (Happy Columbus Day)

For reasons that escape me now, I spent the approximately 43.6 free minutes I had on Sunday afternoon making things with pears. They were actually edible things, not cunning little outfits, but all the same, this is about the point when those reading this who knew me back in earlier days when I was a “real” person with a “real” life may consider jumping on a plane and heading here to stage an intervention.

Remember those beautiful pear trees in the outdoor classroom at Younger Girleen’s Preschool? Remember, weeks before, the way the “OC Team” was summoned to a “special meeting”? At the time, I preferred to discuss metaphor (Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole in particular), but facts are facts: one of the reasons for the special meeting was that pears from the pear tree were falling on the ground and the OC Team was not picking them up on a regular basis.

Let me be the first to testify: you actually can spin straw into gold. I didn’t plan on it, but wow, here we are. Even this blog tells a story of sorts.

Being the girl that I am and the daughter of the woman that I am, I couldn’t stand to see all those pears chucked in the compost. End result: I spent the approximately 43.6 free minutes I had on Sunday afternoon making pear-pecan bread and something called perada that, according to the recipe Googling gave me, resembles membrillo and will really impress your friends and neighbors when you pair it with manchego cheese.

I’m making all these things for a Preschool event, of course (nudge nudge, wink wink).

Way back when Elder Girleen was first born, when at least three-fourths of the time I felt like crawling in a hole and pulling the hole in after me, I went to an acupuncturist. She was a wise and lovely person, and I wish I could say that acupuncture rid me of the urge to crawl in a hole, but it didn’t, but she and I spent much of my first appointment talking about who I was at that point in my life and who I had been before I had children. She asked if I was okay about the fact that I seldom wrote anymore and I looked at her like she had asked me if I was okay about the fact that I had just pulled the plug on my own ventilator, so at that point she beat a hasty retreat and asked me if I was able to find any time for anything else that I considered creative.

Anything else creative? You mean, there was something else? For years, I’d made most major decisions, including where I would live or what job I would take, based solely on my assessment of how much those decisions would affect my writing time. For example: the guy who would become The Husband would to ask me out and I would turn him down because I had to work on my novel. Thankfully, five minutes later, I would realize how stupid this was and call him back. The rest is history.

At the time the acupuncturist asked me this question, I figured she was asking if I had found a way to make motherhood creative, and I recoiled in disgust and every single fiber of my being screamed sell-out at such a thought. Writing was real legitimate art (or at least creative). Anything “creative” I could even begin to imagine about motherhood was simply lowly domestic art. Engaging in the mental smoke-and-mirrors that would render it as creative as writing was the grossest self-delusion.

Five years later, here I am: growing a garden, making a pear-pecan bread that perfumes the house with the cinnamony smell of fall. What I don’t have: that third (or second for that matter) published book under my belt, as do many of my peers.

Contemporary motherhood writing (blogs in particular) are chock-full of a phenomenon involving a new mother who gazed down at the little miracle in her arms and rushed over to the computer and started writing like nobody’s business.

I’d read these accounts during the crawl-in-a-hole days, and they’d just give me another thing to add to the inadequate mother list I was keeping in my head. Not only did I wish that I was off on a spun-sugar beach somewhere in the Caribbean all by myself, but motherhood was not getting my creative juices going. I was a failure not just as a mom but as a writer.

Can the essence of pears, concentrated, its backbone stiffened with sugar and an hour’s occasional stirring, be art?

The tiny Republican in my heart, whose motto is always pull yourself up by your bootstraps and whose job is to keep me on-task still whispers sell-out — and maybe I am one.

If pears can be art, it’s a fleeting one, here and gone. No one praises what I’ve created but me — I do it solely for myself, for the joy that comes from making.

Halloween Grist

Back in that misspent youth I’m so fond of mentioning, I usually spent Halloween night babysitting friends. No, no typo there, I wasn’t babysitting for them, I was babysitting them, their chosen Halloween recreation leaning toward situations requiring nursemaids. (And I thought I had no experience mothering until I had children!) This didn’t really endear Halloween to me, though over the years I forced a number of roommates to sit through movies I decided were suitable for the season (Note: The Old Dark House, made in 1932, is not scary and will drive even the most tolerant of roommates out of the room).

Given such an ambivalent history with Halloween, I’m astounded I’ve managed to squeeze as much blood from that particular turnip as I have in terms of blog entries. But Halloween looms so large in the lives of my children — how could it be otherwise? Most years, Halloween begins for us about a week in advance: there are school Halloween parties, neighborhood Halloween parties…. Basically, by Halloween itself, The Husband and I are wiped out, and bicker over who will do what on Halloween night — is it better be the one at home passing out candy to teenagers whose “costumes” consist of peach-fuzz mustaches and cigarettes (and sometimes infants with their own trick-or-treating bags), or traipse through the neighborhood with two exhausted, overly-sugared fairies?

Due to a great stoke of luck, we’ll miss most of the auxilary Halloween celebrations this year. Elder Girleen is crushed — only the fact that she’s missing them to be a FLOWER GIRL gives her any consolation. I’m thrilled though — at least I don’t have to scramble for a costume the afternoon of the preschool Halloween party. Usually I put on a cowboy hat and my boots and leave it at that, but after five years of attending, I’ve noticed that most of the moms at this particular event show up as … witches.

This morning, when I took Younger Girleen to school, the front yards we passed were not just dotted with inflatable ghouls and pumpkins, sadly deflated (last year’s fad), but gravestones have popped up like toadstools.

These might be the end times, indeed. Our houses are built upon graves, and motherhood resembles a coven.

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor…

This could be perceived as a throw-away (it’s harder work than you would think to come up with something worth saying on such a regular basis), but it’s heartfelt all the same: thanks much to all who’re reading, linking, commenting or forwarding…. Since most of my readership in the past few years has consisted of The Husband, who could probably channel anything I might think of saying in his sleep, the notion that a few more pairs of eyes might see this has proved energizing.

Little Children

My “office” — at least that’s what I call it when I need to make myself feel (slightly) important; it’s also the girleens’ art room and bike and trike storage, and general all-around junk room — is housed in the glassed-in sunporch of our house. Built in 1929, the house is an architectural style sometimes referred to as “stockbroker tudor,” a term I love, particularly when you put it in the context of when the house was built. (Poor stockbroker, if only you could have seen into your future!)

In any case, the location of my computer out on the sun porch (which is what I call the room when I don’t need to feel important) means that I get a great view of sky through the upper curve of window.

Yesterday that blue bowl of sky was completely undiluted by clouds. It felt almost like fall yesterday morning, but that turned out to be a tease: by noon, when I was on my hands and knees trying to help a class of preschoolers plant broccoli (no easy trick, let me tell you!) the weather had shown its true colors.

One of the lovely things about XXXX Preschool is its Outdoor Classroom, a space with raised beds for each class, a lovely swatch of grass, pear and crabapple trees, and picnic tables shaded by a grapevine-draped arbor. Spring and Fall Planting Days are a part of the “curriculum” and today, as member of the school’s outdoor classroom committee (it’s a cooperative, which basically means that we pay tuition money so that we can spend the time when our preschooler is in school with them at school) I spent a lovely fall day assisting six classes of preschoolers as they attempted to plant flats of lettuce and broccoli and kale, then dug up what had just been planted and “watered” themselves while the plants languished like accident victims in need of blood transfusions.

It was a nice motherhood moment, or maybe I should say, it was a nice motherhood moment in theory but it was also exhausting, especially since Younger Girleen had absolutely no interest in planting anything and spent most of the morning trudging around the space saying “I’m VERY hungry.” But one of the things I was most struck by was the realization that up until today (I’ve had kids at the preschool for five years, so that means 10 planting days) I actually thought the kids planted stuff on Fall Planting Day. I had no idea some poor parent who probably had not had time to drink their morning coffee had to spend their morning creating a gardening assembly line.

Oooofff! Hoodwinked! I (sometimes) think of myself as a fairly — cynical might not be the best word, let’s say savvy, instead —parent, hep to the sentimental traps of parenthood.

But we are all Little Children, to borrow the title of Tom Perrotta’s recent novel. It’s long been said that people have kids because it gives them a chance to be a child again… to play. The problem is, the way grown-ups approach “play” is actually sometimes kinda twisted. Not only that, a lot of times, what it mostly resembles is work.

A couple of days ago Elder Girleen switched on the radio and out poured Madonna’s “Lucky Star.”

Being too cool for school back in the day, I never really realized how propulsive and danceable “Lucky Star” actually is. Elder Girleen started dancing wildly, with such unconscious grace and instinctive rhythm — I knew I was blessed to see it.

Now that’s play.

The Third Circle of H-E-L-L

…has got to be Payless Shoes at 4 p.m. on an afternoon when one child had a truncated nap and the other, due to extracurricular activities, has not been home for 8.5 hours.

Older Girleen pirouettes happily in the “flower girl shoes” I’ve suggested for an upcoming wedding (they should be white to match her flower girl dress, but the white ones don’t fit, so they’re black, what the hey), while her younger sister (clearly the pop culture maven of the family) makes a beeline for the only shoes in the store that hit high on the unsuitability index on all counts: they’re sandals (the wedding is the weekend before Halloween), they light up, AND they are covered with disney princesses.

Nooooooo, she wails. I NEED princesses… Wails as we try on a nice pair of dress up shoes, wails as we cram her feet back into her original shoes, wails as we walk down the aisle and back to the register.

—Oh, the salesclerk says, addressing Younger Girleen and nodding wisely. I know why you’re crying! Well, you just tell Grandma to come back on Thursday when we have two-for-one, and she can buy them for you then.

I have just been mistaken for my children’s grandmother.

State of the Short Story Union…

Those of us who obsess about this kind of thing have probably already read the essay in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review lamenting the health and well-being of the short story, which has been limping along on its last legs for decades now. The essay (with which I mostly I agree wholeheartedly) ends with a plea that people read Best American Short Stories. Uhh… shouldn’t they be reading the magazines the stories originally appeared in? I know it’s idealistic and/or naive to even think so.

Which leads one to another question — which is, does the traditional short story publishing route— publish in the little magazines, work your way up to the slicks and anthologies, land an agent and then, a book deal — even work anymore, for anyone, whether they be writers, readers or small-magazine publishers? As I’m so fond of saying, that (meaning the traditional stort story publication route) and three bucks will buy you a cup of coffee.

This blog, with its two or three loyal readers (thank you!) has probably had more eyes cast over it than the last three or four short stories I published. I know this should be my punchy, wrap-up solution paragraph, but I can understand why, after such a strong start, the NY Times essay ended with such a milquetoast plea (read Best American Short Stories? He might as well just have begged the world to read, period). Let me know if you’ve found a viable solution.

Dispatches from Fairy Land

For those of you dying for the latest installment in the Fairy Saga (I’m sure there are many!), I’ll just say that it’s really hard to beat $9.99 fairy costumes from Target and leave it at that. The horrifying thing is that these costumes, which cost about what two lattes do, actually look pretty good, which indicates that those who made them, who live in a country that will remain nameless, must receive about -3.2 cents an hour in wages. So not only did I rob my children of the opportunity to explore their creativity by making their own costumes, I made a decision with global implications I can’t bear to examine too closely.

But as far as that creativity thing goes, I’ve got to save mine for really important things — like this blog.

Due to our parental slight-of-hand (fairy costume + plastic binoculars = “Dora Fairy”), Younger Girleen now thinks that Dora the Explorer and fairies are interchangable. When she got a glimpse of her fairy costume, she shouted “MY DORA!” She is, however, quite happy with it.