Who needs money, right?

For the second time in a year, I let guilt over the lack of a steady paycheck get to me.
It’s not like I’ve been lazy. I’ve written one novel and I’m nearly done with another. I’ve published a few short stories and I’ve started freelancing again.
Oh yeah, and then there are those four kids who need my love and attention.
But my novel hasn’t sold yet, I got paid for only one of those short stories and I can handle only one or two freelance assignments a month while still working on my fiction. The twins are in school 16 hours a week and the older kids go full-time.
I wanted to make a greater financial contribution.
I wanted validation.
The first time I felt this way, I took a job moderating for a national online moms forum. It was great in the beginning. I was on the site often anyway, so why not get paid for it, I figured. I was the lead moderator only two shifts a week and simply had to help out during other times.
What I had not realized was that good moderators must be fully immersed, especially with this particular site, where the moms could get down and dirty, mean and nasty often. I was cooking dinners with my laptop on the counter, trying to ignore the personal attacks that came my way whenever I intervened.
The hours were long. The pay wasn’t great and my stress levels were high.
Worse, I had no time to write.
I finally gave it up after a few months.
That was in the spring.
I’d forgotten the lessons I’d learned this December when a magazine/publisher I write for asked whether I’d be interested in social networking. I jumped at the chance, but I should have exercised restraint. I should have sat down and thought.
The job is a good one for someone who is interested in a career in social networking or who simply wants to earn a few bucks. It involves creating and posting nearly 50 tweets a day on 14 different blogs. Easily done with tools like hootsuite.com.
But doing it right, especially in the beginning, took me away from everything else.
Within a week, I realize that the job was far more involved than I had first believed. If I continued, in the limited work time that I have, everything else would have to end.
Little or no freelancing.
No fiction.
Less time for my kids.
I gave notice today, but said I’d hang in there until they find someone else.
I hope that next time this type of opportunity comes up, I think a little harder and I look back on what I’ve written here because I need to remember a few things:
I am not a moderator.
I am not a professional social networker.
I am not worthless simply because I don’t produce a steady flow of cash.
None of things describe me.
I am a writer.
I am sometimes a teacher.
I am a mother and a wife, who needs to balance all those things to be there when the people she loves need her.
That’s what I am.
And that’s perfectly valid.

Success: a goal achieved

I did it!
I met my goal for National Novel Writing Month mom-style and I exceeded it by 2,319 words.
My total for the month: 27,319 words.
I even got a little Christmas shopping done on the side.
And thanks to my awesome husband, the house has not fallen completely to pieces. (He cleans. I am fortunate in that.) It’s garbage day again tomorrow and I’ve already remembered to put it out. I’ve gotten the kids to school on time every day and they even still know who I am.
That’s all far more than I anticipated.
Now for the next step.
I hope to finish the first draft of this novel by the end of January, but I want a better balance.
I want to exercise at least three days a week. I want to keep the house in a relatively orderly state. I want to spend some time playing games with my kids, giving the puppy the attention she deserves (So she won’t destroy any more leather furniture) and just hanging out with my husband.
So here we go.
On to December.
About 27,000 more words and a life.
That’s all I ask.

The fourth anniversary of that moment in the Starbucks bathroom

Four years ago today, I woke up feeling pregnant.
I tried to shake it.
It was silly, I thought.
I assumed it was my cynical nature kicking in: I was finally freelancing regularly for a magazine; I had started querying agents for my novel; I was editing a book for a well-respected graduate school; and, in a few months, our youngest would start kindergarten.
Something had to go awry.
But that pregnant feeling only grew stronger by the hour.
By mid-afternoon, I broke down and took a test.
And as I stood there in that Starbucks bathroom, watching that second line grow stronger, I also watched my writing career fade. I was 40 years old and about to have my third child (and my fourth, as it turned out!). I would never get this freelance/novel-writing thing going full force, I thought.
I was ready to surrender.
But my husband, a former journalist/author turned techie, wouldn’t let me. He pushed me right back into the writing battle even though he just as shocked, bewildered, scared as I was. He made sure I was armed with a well-charged laptop. He made me face that Starbucks bathroom, the scene of my perceived defeat, once again.
But not right away.
Tom did allow me a sabbatical of sorts.
He had to.
I was horribly sick and tired that first trimester and beyond. I found out why during my 20-week ultrasound; I was carrying two little guys in there. Two beautiful, perfect and healthy baby boys.
By the time my stomach had improved, my belly was so big, I couldn’t reach the keyboard. My fingers were too swollen to type anyway and I was on partial bed rest with two older kids to care for.
My husband didn’t mention my writing much and neither did it.
The first few months after the twins were born were a sleepless fog of nursing, diaper changing and shuttling the older kids back and forth to half-day and full-day school and their activities. Tom was still traveling frequently then and we had no family here to help us.
It was all we could do to stay awake for another day.
But by that fall, things had started to settle a bit. The twins were sleeping better, my husband’s travel schedule was less hectic, the older kids were both in school for full days. I was getting antsy and, I admit, somewhat depressed. And my husband knew it.
One night in November of 2007, he pulled out my laptop after all the kids had gone to sleep and showed me this site called Blogger. Just start a blog to keep your writing fresh, he said. No big deal, he pushed. Just do it for fun.
And I did.
My first blog, The Boys: Raising Identical Twins, stirred something in me again. That stirring inspired me to pick up the novel and give it a good overhaul. I was surprised by the insight I had gained by being removed from my manuscript for so long. I eliminated major characters, wrote new chapters and deleted others.
I started querying again and one, day, when the twins were two and a half years old, I got the email that led to the happy dance.
I signed with Roger Williams of The Publish or Perish Agency.
Now, four years after that second line appeared in the Starbuck’s bathroom, my novel, Spring Melt, is under submission with major publishing houses; my first short story is due for publication in the fall issue of Aethlon, a journal of sport literature centered at the East Tennessee State University; and my second novel is well underway.
Yes, the twins did affect my writing career, but in a good way. Our entire family dynamic has changed since their birth. The older kids have become more independent and have shown a capacity for love and responsibility that blows my mind. The twins have taught us both to both prioritize and relax. Enjoy life more. (Right now, they are squirting hand soap all over the bathroom. So what? Half an hour of fun for $1.99.)
I have learned to write more efficiently and to concentrate on the projects that are most important to me: no more book editing. I have done all this and they are not even in preschool yet. I am 44 years old, I have three-year-old twins, a 10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, yet I am still writing, and I believe I am writing on a more mature level than I was before The Day of the Stick.
My creativity did not whither the day the twins were born, in part, because my husband encouraged me to nourish it.
So, on this day, on the fourth anniversary of the appearance of those double lines, I thank him.
I thank him for loving me, pushing me and believing in me.
(And I would greatly appreciate it if he would pick up some more hand soap on the way home.)

Twin moms and the psychology of rudeness

The irony was too much.
I was reading a post on an online forum for parents of twins when my 3-year-old identical boys started watching Ni Hao Kai Lan. The theme of the children’s show on Nick Jr. was politeness, always finding something nice to say.
The theme of the forum thread was how to avoid unsollicited advice from moms of singletons. Some posters were kind, but frustrated. However, a few expressed in many words that outright rudeness was not only appropriate, but the right of every twin mom.
One poster told of an incident in a department store in which she commented on someone’s twins. The mother replied with, “Yes, they are twins. Now leave us alone.” The poster was forgiving of her because the other mom didn’t know she had twins herself.
When I responded that rudeness is never okay, I was shot down.
So I paid closer attention and this is what I found:
_ Some women enjoy rudeness.
_ Even more so, they enjoy bragging about their rude exploits.
_ Rudeness is addictive.
_ Rude people eventually drive others anyway,
_ Rudeness is like crack-cocaine: it is often practiced by people who are depressed, angry or have low self-esteem. It gives its practitioner an immediate sense of euphoria, but then it brings her crashing down. The only solution is to keep doing it and doing it over and over to re-live that euphoria, knowing that she will eventually self-destruct.
Twins attract a lot of attention, especially when they are babies or infants. So twins offer moms many more opportunities to be rude. Yes, it can be frustrating to walk into a store for a quick errand only to be stopped two or three times by people who oggle your babies, but that’s why you build in “oggle time.”
I always either gave myself a few extra minutes to run errands or reduced my agenda to only the most vital errands. More often, I hired a sitter for the important stuff or waited until evening when my husband was home.
And it helps to try to have some perspective.
Maybe even some sympathy or empathy for those who approach us.
Most are simply struggling to make conversation.
And most are in awe of twins.
That’s a good thing.
I have healthy twins and two healthy older children.
I am forunate.
Very, very fortunate.
And twins seem to make people happy.
Why would I not want to share them with the world?
Why would I want to be rude?
There were times when I was tempted, like when the clerk from Dillard’s kept jumping in front of my stroller and stopping me every time I tried to get around her; or like the time an acquaintance kept calling one twin “the fat one;” or like the time the older gentleman at the mall insisted over and over that my twins were not identical.
But I stopped myself.
What good would it do?
Another clerk finally helped me out of my Dillard’s situation.
I haven’t found a reason to speak with that acquaintance since.
The older gentleman? Well, what do I care what he believes? I smiled, told him I had to get going and walked away.
As for this whole thing about advice from singleton moms, what’s wrong with it? Singleton moms have plenty to share about feeding babies, getting them to sleep, making baby food, the best diapers, milestones, etc. Why can’t those moms just listen and pick and choose the advice that applies to them?
Why be rude?
Those women did not want to hear it when I wrote that rudeness was unacceptable. Perhaps, I took the wrong approach. Maybe what I should have written was, “Turn on your TVs. Ni Hao Kai Lan is on.”

Distance and the evolution of friendships

A friend and I were chatting the other day when I mentioned a woman I had been close with for many years. First, I described her as one of my closest friends, a friend for nearly two decades. Then I corrected myself. We’re not so close anymore, I said.
Not since I moved.
My friend’s reaction: So when you move, they’re not your close friends any more?
For a moment, I was taken aback. My husband and I are hoping to relocate in the near future and I certainly didn’t want this woman to feel like I would place any less value on our friendship simply because of a geographical change.
Not at all.
But these changes in intensity have not been my choice.
They were, simply, an inevitable effect of moving.
It is a lesson I have learned over the past 11 years as we have dragged our belongings back and forth across the country from New York to Arizona to Cinncinati, where we live now. Each time we moved, I felt that huge void, that loss of the immediate physical presense of my good friends, the people I could count on when I was bummed out, excited or just plain bored.
And each time, I vowed to maintain that intensity from afar with phone calls, emails and occassional visits.
I succeeded at first, especially when we all had young children and craved that adult conversation. There is nothing like a good phone call with an old friend when you are cooing with a baby who cannot converse in return.
But then something happened.
Our babies got older and we were stuck in the house less often. They became little people, engaging us in fascinating conversations about bugs and dinosaurs and Swiper the fox. Suddenly, I noticed that my old friends had less and less to say. Uncomfortable pauses became more frequent. The time between calls grew. The calls were shorter and the emails less detailed.
The babies were one factor.
The other was simple logistics.
In my previous communities, I was just one among of a network of friends. When I left, I damaged those networks–some more than others–but the rest remained intact. I left my friends in the hands of other friends, in familiar surroundings with communities that were familiar to them, open and welcoming. Though I know they missed me, the gaps I left were quickly repaired.
I had left them with everything, but me.
But when I settled in my new communities, I was on my own. I had to cultivate new friendships from scratch, learn my surroundings, learn the cultural temperment of the areas and gain acceptance, in some sense, in the communities. I had to built a network from scratch or find a place in a new one.
It was difficult and it was, at times, lonely.
In the beginning it was easy to tap into those old friendships.
Too easy.
But it wasn’t easy for my old friends and it wasn’t healthy for me. Maintaining intense friendships from afar requires a great deal of energy and a denial of that which is physically present. If I focused all of my efforts on the old friendships, I left little for the people who were new in my life.
I had to reduce my dependence, especially since they had done that long before.
That does not mean that I love the old friend we discussed any less. I would still do anything for her, fly out there to be with her in a crisis, call her with news of any major event in my life. She still means the world to me and our years of “best” friendship can never be undone.
It means simply that we no longer share the details of our everyday lives, what I like to call the minor big things. I don’t call her when all the kids are sick and I need to vent. I don’t call her when my kids reach particular milestones, when I’m thinking about whether to cover my emerging gray, when I am annoyed about a particular situation in my life.
And I no longer get upset when she fails to share those things with me.
I did not lose friends. The nature of my friendships simply changed and I welcomed new people into my life, like her, the woman I was chatting with. And I have no doubt I will remain connected with this newer friend for many years to come regardless of the miles between us. We met through a mutual passion for writing, something that can be nourished from afar, no matter how quickly our children grow.

I used to be a better mom

I used to be a better mom.
My first two kids had my constant attention except when I was cleaning.
I got online when they were asleep.
I worked on my novel when I had a sitter.
They had it good.
Then came light-weight laptops and wireless networking.
Now, I keep my laptop on the kitchen counter most of the day.
When it’s in the basement at my desk, I sneak down and check my email hoping my 3-year-old twins won’t notice.
I let them watch too much TV. I don’t read to them quite as much as I should. I let the older kids stay up an extra half an hour while I finish one last blog entry, a couple of emails and take a quick peek at my Web stats.
I have excuses.
_ I recently started working as a moderator for a popular online forum.
(I have to become more familiar with its culture–the posters, the topics and the general tone of the community. Right?)
_ My agent might email with an offer.
(Okay, so he’d probably call first. Enough already. These are excuses, remember?)
_ Some horrible ailment might befall a friend I haven’t seen in 20 years and the only way I will know is if I check Facebook. (How will it look if I miss the wall post and fail to send a “get well” card?)
Yes, I have excuses.
But today, it started to get to me.
I wondered whether I was cheating the twins.
(I rarely touch my computer from the time the older kids come home from school until just before they go to bed.)
I looked at them.
They were feeding each other pretzels.
Five books were scattered across the living room floor, books I had read to them earlier. Books they had pulled out again and flipped through, pretending to read them aloud.
In the midst of the books was a length of railroad track I had set up for them this morning. Thomas was towing Annie and Clarabel. Diesel pulled a Troublesome Truck. They had played with those off and on for hours.
The television was off .
And they weren’t bothered.
No, Matthew and Jonathan were happy.
And I was getting some work done on my laptop.
I had even cleaned the kitchen.
So maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe it’s not such a bad thing, this portable, virtual world in my kitchen.
I am not glued to it.
I still get down on the floor with the boys several times a day, flipping them, lifting them and letting them climb on my back and shoulders. I still scoop them up and cuddle them individually for several minutes at a time. We do puzzles together. We count our fingers and toes. We color. We sing the alphabet song.
We dance.
We try to get out of the house for at least a few hours each day.
Perhaps the difference between the mom I was before wireless Internet and the mom I am now is that I am connected, connected with other adults and connected with my work. I am not going crazy for adult interaction or intellectual stimulation while I’m home with my children.
This time around, I have my laptop.
I have my email.
I have Microsoft Word.
I have it good.
But when I power down and take a look around, I realize this:
So do they.

Big Purple Mommy

For the past few months, I struggled to breathe.
I was under water and I’d lost my focus.
I couldn’t find the surface and I was running out of air.
I was dying.
As a writer.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic.
But that’s how it felt.
Like the daily duties of life, the needs of everyone in my life, the needs of the household, mine own less glamorous needs (dental visits and doctor visits and a glass of red wine at the end of the night) were closing in around me.
Confusing me.
I had lost my focus.
I couldn’t find my laptop.
I couldn’t breathe.
I couldn’t figure out how or when to write.
I thought maybe I was getting too old, wearing down, losing my creativity, losing my mind.
Then I saw it.
Sitting right there on the bookshelf in the basement across from my desk.
Big Purple Mommy by Coleen Hubbard.
And I remembered the last time Coleen Hubbard saved me from drowning.
We were living in Arizona.
My older kids were 18 months old and almost three.
I had written a few chapters of my novel, but not much.
I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to write any more.
Somehow, I stumbled upon her book.
I read it and, a few days later, hired a sitter.
Two actually.
They were sisters (Thank you Andrea and Amanda!) and they insisted on coming together.
Two days a week for four hours a day, I sat in a study room in the local l library and wrote, finally completing the first draft within a few months.
I went back to teaching as an adjunct when I finished, something else I enjoyed, and I didn’t worry about my writing. I knew it needed a rest, I knew I need some distance from my novel and I knew my creativity would come back.
We moved, we settled into our home in Cincinnati and I picked up the novel again a few years ago and revised it.
It felt good.
And it was all because of Coleen Hubbard’s book.
Big Purple Mommy is all about balancing creativity and motherhood. She helped me realize, with lots of testimony from other creative moms, that I needed to, first, give myself a break when my kids were young, and second, make a huge effort to carve out time for creative work without guilt.
I did that and I was happy.
I began rereading the book again the other day.
And I found myself in its pages.
I’d lost my focus because the twins have stopped napping and because the twins are 2.5 years old. But time will pass, they will get older and they will be less demanding on a minute-by-minute basis. I will not lose my creativity during that time because stuff is always swirling in my head.
If anything, I might just mature as a writer because of it.
The twins will start going to a sitter three days a week for three hours each time next week.
I’ll need some of that time to do ordinary things I can’t do when they are around–clean, doctor appointments, run errands–but at least one of those days will be mine, all mine.
And I will write.
Thank you Coleen.
Thank you Big Purple Mommy.
For rescuing me again.

Everybody’s dancing but me

This is the week of the happy dance in the Cincinnati area.
School starts Aug. 24 in our district. Some schools started last week. Others start this week.
Parents all over the region are clicking their heels high in the air.
They are doing jigs, popping their joints, sliding gracefully across the kitchen floor.
Not me.
I haven’t even bought school supplies yet.
I’ll be dancing away Sept. 9 when my twins start preschool. I adore those little guys and they are a blast, but I get nothing done when they are around. They will go for only four hours a day, two days a week.
We’ll all benefit from that.
But I’m finding it hard to let the older kids go this year.
I’ll be honest.
I have great kids.
My oldest son is nine and my daughter will be eight this month.
Eightty percent of the time, they get along beautifully. They are each other’s best friend. When they do argue, it’s never because one was intentionally cruel to the other.
They don’t do that kind of thing.
And they are really smart: book smart and people smart.
I can talk to them about grown-up stuff and they understand. I can explain the impact of their own behaviors and they understand. They are sensitive and empathetic, so much so that I often have to remind myself that they are children.
And when they are gone, I miss them.
Two weeks ago, they went to Pennsylvania for seven days with my husband for their grandfather’s funeral. I’d never been away from them for so long before and I quickly came to appreciate how much they help me around the house and with the twins.
Yes, they have their moments.
Sometimes, they are so whiny I just want to scream.
Sometimes they decide to do “experiments” and they destroy my kitchen.
Sometimes they find every reason possible to avoid going to bed and when 9 o’clock turns into 11 o’clock, I’m ready to tear my hair out.
But there is one other thing that tips the scale in their favor, no matter what else my older kids might do:
When their friends ask them what I do, they don’t say, “She makes us dinner.” They don’t say, “She drives us to school.” They don’t say, “She cleans the house, takes care of the twins or does the dishes.”
They say, “My mom writes books.”
My mom writes books.
That’s what they say.
Nope.
I just can’t feel the rhythm of that happy dance.

Writing

Originally posted Nov. 8, 2008

I am a mom.
I am a wife.
I am a stepmother, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, a niece, a cousin, an aunt, a great aunt, a friend. I’m sure I am even an enemy to a select few.
But no matter who I am to others, I am always a writer.
It is as a writer that I see the world even when I am too steeped in laundry and dishes to reach for a pencil and paper or to tap away on my laptop.
There was a time when I didn’t believe that, when I didn’t believe that writers perceived things all that differently than others and I didn’t believe in myself. Even during my years as a full-time journalist.
But I was over-thinking, and isn’t that what writing is all about?
Writing is about thinking. It’s about perception, analysis and vision. It’s a constant craving to understand the complexities of the world and of human nature and to convey that understanding through written words in a way that excites, energizes and entertains.
When I finally understood and accepted the distraction of that craving and the strength of that lure, when I finally caved in and called myself a writer, other things became clear to me and I began to accept them as well:
That’s why my house is a mess.
That’s why the walls need painting.
That’s why I have no garden and the flowers by the mailbox always die prematurely.
That’s why my older kids roll their eyes when I try to explain the dynamics of their friendships and the various points of view in their arguments.
That’s why my toddler twins grin, cackle and run when they see my laptop.
That’s why I can’t bake a decent cake, knit Christmas gifts, wrap a present with style or learn the art of scrapbooking.
That’s why I don’t get enough sleep.
So I’m sorry PTO.I’m sorry Dr. Sears, Martha Stewart, Suze Orman.
My house is a mess, my desk is a mess, my bills are a mess and I don’t dress well.
It’s not my fault.
I’m a writer.
I write to think; I think to write.