Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Brittany’ Category

Brittany Writes a Book

britmirandacropEditor’s note: Brittany and I have been friends for more than a decade. Our friendship started through this very blog and then transitioned to the holy grail of IRL. I’ve read enough of Brittany’s writing over the years to know that I love her work. So when I saw that she’d self-published a narrative chapbook of poetry, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Brittany graciously fulfilled my request for a signed edition and mailed it to me post-haste.

It’s always an interesting experience, reading the work of a friend. I’m a writer and editor by trade and have worked in the professional world of words for nearly 30 years. As a creativity coach, I enthusiastically applaud every passionate, whole-hearted foray into creative work—but that doesn’t mean I admire the work itself. As many of my creative friends will attest, I’m unable to say, “Wow, this is brilliant,” when I’m not of that opinion. I’m preternaturally allergic to even little white lies of artful affirmation. I don’t want to give or receive disingenuous compliments about creative work. With that nugget of context, here’s what I wrote to Brittany after receiving Courtesan

Courtesan

“Brittany, your book arrived on Monday (or was it Tuesday?) and after a ridiculous work day that capped off a 55-client-hour work week, I crawled into bed with it. Granted, I was a little punchy on account of chronic fatigue, but in the dozen pages I read that night, I laughed out loud and—I know this is going to sound like I’m blowing smoke up your poopchute but it’s the truth—I wept with happiness. Some of these poems are So. Damn. Good. At one point I had to explain to Liam (11 years old, who still sleeps with me when he’s home and my man isn’t) why I was making such a racket (‘persnickety douchebaggery’ set me off). I’m bursting with pride for you, Brittany. I truly am.”

Courtesan is an anthem to the contemplative divorcée. This slim volume will delight you, hit you in all the right spots, and leave you wanting a bit more—just as an experienced courtesan should do. These poems confront you with the pain and loneliness of being married to a person who (you are ultimately forced to concede) will never be able to love you in the ways you most want to be loved, even if one day he does stop screaming and throwing shit and raving like the asshole he is. (Apparently you’ll also find a dose of catharsis between the lines.) Despite what hurts, Courtesan is also a tale of hope—and finding oneself, and love, again. Highly recommended.


Brittany

It’s amazing how much can change in 11 years. In the spring of 2008, Miranda discovered my blog Re-Writing Motherhood and plucked me from total obscurity to ask me to become a Studio Mothers contributor. The Studio Mothers blog was still in its infancy, as was my life as a (theoretically) stay-at-home-mom and full-time novelist. That time marks one of the most prolific creative periods of my life. But considering that I’m *still* working on the novel I started that year, it’s clear that creativity waxes and wanes, too. Now in 2019, I’m in another creative period. In addition to the 900 craft projects I have going on, I recently self-published a poetry chapbook titled Courtesan.

Courtesan is a diary told through poetry. It’s an eye-opening, no-holds-barred exploration of social and sexual re-awakening post-divorce. This is the book I never had any intention of writing. Generally speaking, I’m fun-loving, free-spirited, and unabashedly whimsical. Dark, brooding, erotic stories that would cause my southern Baptist relatives to have a collective pearl-clutching stroke were never part of my repertoire. But as I state in the book, there comes a point when the last thread of I-would-nevers snaps, and you become someone who would.

I became someone who would when I got divorced in 2015, after 13 years of marriage, eight of which I’d spent as a stay-at-home mom. There is a reason stay-at-home moms don’t just up and get divorced and abruptly go from full-time mom, to full-time working/part-time mom. It is traumatic on every level, and something I don’t think you can ever be prepared for. I was completely unprepared for the cold, hard smack of reality that awaited me.

And I did this alone. I was in Upstate New York, which was a 14-hour drive from my family in North Carolina, and across the country from my mom in Idaho. Not that my family was supportive. No one could understand why I was willing to give up such a seemingly comfortable life to go back to work and become a part-time parent. They acted like I had selfishly decided on a whim that getting divorced, re-entering the workforce after a 10-year absence, and parenting my children only half time would be a fun thing to do.

Brittany_bouquetI sunk into a horrible depression, a depression deeper and more pervasive than the depression I had already felt in the last year of my marriage, a nasty black pit I couldn’t seem to dig myself out of. For the first time in my life, I experienced panic attacks and constant anxiety. I’d always been an introverted loner, and suddenly, I couldn’t be alone anymore. I would beg my friends to let me come over and sit huddled on their couches, just to hear the noise in their households and feel like I belonged somewhere again. I cried constantly. My relationship with my children suffered. They were angry that I’d left them. My relationship with my ex further deteriorated. My family was as unsympathetic and unsupportive as it was possible to be. And overnight I became a third wheel among my married friends. Suddenly, I had not very much in common with them anymore.

I liken it to throwing a grenade on my entire life and watching it blow up around me. And into this stew of existentialist crisis, I thought it was a good idea to jump headlong into dating again.

Fresh from a bad marriage, I lived in a fantasy land where post-divorce dating was like an island of misfit toys. Divorcées would arrive broken and battered, having seen better days as a result of living with the wrong partners, and there they would magically find a more suitable person and live happily ever after. But my little fantasy couldn’t have been further from reality. Dating post-divorce is an, as yet, unexplored layer of Dantean hell and I realized that for most men, I was merely a commodity. Interchangeable with every woman out there. The transactional aspect of these relationships left me feeling very much like a courtesan, or more colloquially, a whore.

Brittany_mermaidI wasn’t sure how to process any of this, but I started a diary and wrote down snippets, dialogue, things people said to me that angered or inspired me, and all the observations I made, to process it, make sense of it, and ultimately learn from it. I pulled the diary out periodically to add to it, but was mostly preoccupied with other things, like paying the bills and buying groceries.

The worst part of that period was the complete lack of creative spark inside me. For the longest time, I was barely functioning. And when my creativity started to trickle back, it only came in fits and starts. I knew for my own sanity, I needed a creative outlet, so I took a painting class. And a jewelry-making class. I started to dabble at doll-making and embroidery again in my spare time. My friends knew I was their go-to girl if they saw something on pinterest they wanted to try and we started having semi-regular craft nights. I felt better when I was crafting, so I crafted. I felt better when I was painting, so I painted. I wasn’t able to write anything for the longest time, but eventually, poems started forming in my head again. I wrote them down on whatever piece of paper was handy. If they were good, I stashed them away and saved them. They were shoved inside books and drawers, and sometimes fished out of the dryer lint tray.

Fast-forward three years. My life was entirely altered. In the past, I’d thought of myself as a writer, and only a writer. But during my post-divorce journey, I became an artist, too. And after three years, I was more artist than writer.

Brittany_carI bought myself a little green bungalow and painted the walls bold turquoise and coral and purple. I painted the furniture and decorated the walls with my artwork. The dining room table was always covered in hot glue, paint smears, and glitter from the numerous projects I had in progress. I was always creating something, and as a result, I was happier than I had ever been at any other time in my life. My happiness changed the trajectory of my relationships and three years post-divorce, I was living with the man who would become my husband. In clearing away my clutter to make space for him in my house, I started to rediscover the writing and poetry I had been stashing in all manner of strange spots for three years. He encouraged me to do something with them, rather than re-stashing them somewhere new. But what was I going to do with a bunch of mostly unhappy autobiographical poems about my days as a single divorcée?

Brittany_bouquet2One day as I was driving (a time when great ideas seem to arise), and it occurred to me that if I collected all those poems and added the love poems I’d started writing more recently, I had a story there. I imagined calling it Courtesan, as a nod to my former single life and the way dating had made me feel. I mulled the idea in the back of my mind for some time. It continued to grow on me.

This winter I put it all together and self-published my chapbook. People ask me why I didn’t go the traditional publishing route. I self-published because I figured my “weird little book” didn’t have mass appeal. I wasn’t really sure how you’d market a diary that was poetry. And I thought it would only appeal to women of a certain age who’d experienced a traumatic mid-life divorce. Plus, to be brutally honest, I wasn’t particularly confident in my writing. I liked my writing. I had written it for myself, but I wasn’t sure at all if it would resonate with anyone else and I didn’t want to alter it in any way.

Since I published Courtesan, I have been shocked to my core by the feedback I’ve received. Women who are single, and never been married, have written to tell me how much they related to and enjoyed it. I don’t know whether to feel pleased or saddened that so many women can relate to so much darkness and despair.

Brittany_wandsI think that in most stories, and Courtesan is no exception, the main narrative is that a woman’s life turns around when she experiences true love. But the story functions on two levels. While on the surface, Courtesan is the story of the darkest time of my life and how I fell in love with my husband, there’s also the secret story hidden in the pages, about my love of the creative process, how it brought me back to life, gave me purpose, and fueled the creation of the diary in the first place. Ultimately, I rediscovered myself through the act of creation. And I continue to be amazed at what I can do, and how much joy I get from the doing.

 


See more of Brittany’s artistic projects at her current blog.
Order Courtesan at amazon

******

 

Brittany: Making a Mermaid

Sometimes, it seems like cruel irony that me, the doll maker, ended up with two boys. Sewing with little boys around presents some challenges, too. I was forced to guard my sewing machine and its accouterments from marauding pirates, save my straight pins from little doctors intent on giving “shots,” and watch the floor beneath my feet turned into a garbage dump, all the while listening to the following:

-The garbage truck is coming back. It’s my turn to dump it.
-Be careful right here, there are cans here, and you might slip and trip.
-Uh oh, it’s raining, but the garbage truck is going to work at his job and pick the garbage up in the rain.
-I picked it up and said, “Oh, no! Ow!”
-Did you pick up garbage and rain drops?
-Yes, and when I pick up the rainy garbage it will be scary.

As I poured my female, doll-loving soul into my newest creation, I took stock of the reality of my life and had to laugh. My boys couldn’t have been less interested in what I was making (although Sam had some strong opinions about the doll’s hairstyle — he was all for the Veronica Lake look), but they did want to be in the room with me, and were happy to cheer me on whenever things were going well (and clear out whenever they weren’t). Luckily, that was more often than not.

The last couple of days I’ve been in a work-with-my-hands kind of mood, and I’d seen this doll pattern online and wanted to try it out. I love Waldorf dolls, and after many years of doll making, I finally have the skills to make one. Plus, there was a special little girl having a 5th birthday, so the doll would be guaranteed a good home. I ordered the pattern from Margaret Lunn here, got started on it yesterday, and finished her up and got her in the mail this morning.

I’d never made a mermaid doll before, but she was a lot of fun to make. I was really happy with the way her multi-color hair turned out, and had a lot of fun designing her jewelry (with some of Sam’s left over beading supplies). I’m still not 100% happy with my dollmaking technique — I’m still learning and experimenting with machine sewing/type of fabrics to use (note to self — silky fabric is hard to work with!)/following a pattern. It’s considered an “easy” doll pattern, and it probably would’ve worked a little better if I had used the recommended materials for the body. I substituted polyfil stuffing for wool batting (since I am sooo allergic to wool), and some silky polyester fabric I had instead of cotton interlock knit because the cotton wasn’t available when I went to the craft store. The end result looked okay, but had I used different materials I think it would’ve handled better, and the end result would’ve looked a little more professional.

But this doll turned out much better than the last one I tried with the same materials, so hopefully someday I will be good enough to design my own dolls and sell them.

[Cross-posted from Re-Writing Motherhood.]

Brittany: The Anatomy of Change

Sam has decided he wants to be a doctor when he grows up. His latest bedtime book of choice? The Human Body. Tonight we read about the skull and the skeleton. Non-scientific Mommy got to explain that the skull is like a bike helmet that protects your ball-of-Jello brain. I also demonstrated the structural usefulness of bones with a spare sock and the pen on Sam’s Magnadoodle. I don’t know if I’m confusing him more or not, but his desire to know all about the body is insatiable. He’s already made a standing appointment with me for another anatomy lesson tomorrow night (when we’ll read about digestion and pelvic bones).

It’s funny, because when I was little, I said I wanted to be a doctor, too. The difference was, I just wanted to take care of sick people and make them feel better. I didn’t care a whit about how the human body worked. That was of no interest to me whatsoever.

I can see myself in Sam, but at the same time, I’m well aware of the ways he diverges from me, too. In a lot of ways I feel like he is the turbo-charged version of me — the one whose detail-orientation and persistence will propel him toward success I could never even dream of. And that makes me happy. I hope he’s able to harness all his potential into something amazing.

It’s hard for me to believe that his preschool days are now over. I don’t think I have anything new to say on the subject without descending into cliches. Where has the time gone? My baby’s all grown up. I can’t believe he’s so big. I feel so old.

I’ll admit I’m feeling anxious for him. Every time he starts worrying about kindergarten, I can’t help but worry along with him, even as I’m telling him it will be all be a wonderful adventure. He seems to already understand that expectations are about to be piled on him — make-it-or-break-it expectations — and that he’s going to have to grow up fast.

I want to cry with him as he realizes that he’s no longer small enough for Mommy’s arms to shut the world out. And even though he still wants the comfort of a snuggle, he’s getting too big to fit in my lap. I knew this day was going to come, but that doesn’t make now any easier.

My friend Kira stopped by today with a friend and her friend’s three-month-old baby. He was so tiny and helpless. So new. So easy.

His mother sat feeding him in the quiet of the living room, her arms enveloping him, in one of those peaceful, protective moments of newborn motherhood that I still vaguely remember. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Sam and John were underfoot, loudly racing garbage trucks with Tyler and Zachary, while Kira and I threw their lunches together. The metaphor was not lost on me. Those quiet me-alone-with-my-baby moments are over. I live in a completely different world now. Seeing Sam and John in one room, the newborn in the other, it was hard to believe how much the boys had grown, and how far removed all of us were from those sweet, drowsy baby days.

I think Sam understands this. He’s wondering how we got from there to here, too. And his newfound interest in the human body? Like me, he’s trying to wrap his brain around that vast world that envelopes the heart.

[Crossposted from Re-Writing Motherhood]

Brittany: Resolution

In the past, my inner life has been ruled by artsy-fartsy improvisation. I’ve never been much of a goal setter, because I always figured, too optimistically, that if my first experiment didn’t work out, another opportunity would come along. This wasn’t a bad way to live as a single girl in my 20s, but after getting married and having kids, those second and third opportunities grew fewer and farther between. And it left me a shell (albeit, a very overweight one) of my former self. I wasn’t writing, wasn’t crafting, wasn’t sewing, wasn’t reading, wasn’t doing much of anything for myself, really.

And then, this past year, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I made the conscious decision to make some dramatic changes to my life. When I looked in the mirror, I wanted to be happy with the woman staring back at me. My only New Year’s Resolution for 2011 was to focus on my physical health to the exclusion of all else, but the more I focused on changing my body, the more I changed emotionally.

I’ve wanted to write this blog for a while now, but for whatever reason, the words just aren’t coming easily. My life is profoundly better than it was three months ago, but it’s hard to talk about some of the decisions I’ve made, and also hard to describe the difficult emotional journey I’ve travelled.

In January, I started a new diet and exercise program. In order to make it work, I decided to do something radical. I decided to become someone else.

Since then, I have lost almost 25 lbs. The key to my success? Asking myself what I would ordinarily do, and then doing the complete opposite. I love food, but for the first couple of phases of the diet, I turned my brain off and stuck to the diet like a robot. Instead of yoga and water aerobics, I took up body sculpting and spinning. Instead of writing and watching movies in my spare time, I started doing half hours wii runs in front of the TV. If I would typically sit, I stood. If I would typically eat, I drank.

The first few months were tough. Inside I was screaming, “This isn’t me! I don’t run! I’m artistic! Not athletic!” The more I protested, the more I went to the gym. Then I did something that my former self would’ve never ever done and signed up to run a 5K.

Over time, this new reality has become the norm. I enjoy running and spinning and weight training. I like what it does for my body, which is shrinking rapidly. And I also like what it’s done for my head. It’s made me so much stronger emotionally, and able to face that which I couldn’t face before.

Most people know that I’m a huge dog lover, and before my boys were born, my dogs were my entire life. One of my dogs, Sammy, was only a puppy when he developed a lifelong pancreatic condition that destroyed his body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes. When he was a year and a half old, we adopted him in spite of this, nursed him back to health, and then took enormous pride in the way he recovered, his zest for life, and the way he put the T in terrier. For most of his 11 years of life, he was a complete joy to have around. A loveable curmudgeon who’d occasionally show you what a marshmellowy goofball he was deep down. Even though he could be a gigantic pain in the butt at times (he was a barker with a fondness for chocolate), we relished every second with him.

But then 18 months ago, that dog disappeared, and in his place, a grumpy, anti-social, aggressive dog appeared in his place. I could only assume he was sick, although I took him for testing at the vet and they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. His energy declined markedly, and with every fiber of his doggie being, he told us “leave me alone.” We tried hard to do that, and it was much easier in South Carolina to let him retreat to the backyard year round. But once we moved to New York, it grew harder and harder. And over the course of this long, snowy winter, it became obvious that Sammy wasn’t doing well emotionally. I took him to the vet, who couldn’t find anything wrong with him per se, but assumed from the way he held himself that he was in pain. We tried steroids first. Then a narcotic, combined with a steroid. It helped about 90%. Sammy slept a lot. We’d let our guard down, think everything was fine, and then from out of nowhere, he’d become aggressive about things that dogs are not supposed to get aggressive about (like walking into the same room where he was sleeping). By this point, he had bitten everyone in the household at least once, and was biting the boys’ friends with alarming frequency. Luckily he was a small dog with a small mouth, and never drew blood. But my heart broke a little bit after every new incident.

Tom and I made a lot of excuses about his behavior. The boys were loud and excitable. They startled him and kept him on edge. He just wanted a quiet place to sleep. We taught the boys to give him a wide berth and we did as well. But about a month ago, Tom took the boys and left me home alone for a writing weekend (which I found the gumption to ask for, because I needed it) and even though I was the only human in the house, I didn’t see Sammy the entire weekend unless he was hungry or wanted out. That wasn’t like him at all, and it made me think that his issues were totally unrelated to the boys. He was sick sick and having a hard time coping with it.

But I still thought maybe if I just let him rest and gave him a lot of space he could continue to live out his doggie years in relative happiness… until the morning that John walked into our room and Sammy chased him, snarling, from the room. I called the vet the next morning and made the appointment to have him put down. And then I cried and doubted myself, doubted myself and cried.

It took more inner fortitude than I thought I had to make that hard decision, and I was only able to do it because all this working out I’ve been doing has made me strong enough to face this inevitable outcome. I’ve been working through physical pain for a couple of months now, and I’ve learned how to shut my mind to the pain (physical and emotional) and just do what needs to be done. After I called the vet, I went to the gym and did a really strenuous body sculpting class. At times it was so hard I thought I would pass out, but I did it anyway. The old me would have stayed at home, crying, and drowning my sorrows in a bag of Doritos, but now I see that that’s totally counterproductive. If I’m going to be in pain anyway, I might as well be in it at the gym.

I don’t know what the rest of the year will bring, but I already feel like my resolution was a success. I know what it means to have resolve now — physically pointing myself in the direction of a goal and just going for it. But I also know what it means to be resolved — to see what has to be done and following through with it emotionally.

I’m hoping that my new sense of resolution will impact my writing in positive ways. I’m looking forward to the future and can’t wait to see where this year’s journey leads.

Brittany: The Top-Secret Christmas Craft

As you might recall, last year, when Sam was three, I took him to the local paint-your-own-pottery studio where he (and sometimes John) painted several pieces for our family members. You can read about that here.

I did it on a fluke, and had seriously low expecations going in because three-year-olds don’t produce asthetically-pleasing art, right? Well, Sam proved me wrong. Granted, his pottery painting technique was more Jackson Pollack than Picasso, but the end result was interesting, vibrant, and better still, utilitarian.

I love making crafts, and I want my kids to share in that love, but to be brutally honest for a second, most of the kids’ craft ideas out there are just plain stupid. I don’t want a tissue-paper-bedecked toilet roll pencil holder and I can’t think of a single person out there who does. Yes, I’m a strictly if-the-ends-don’t-justify-the-means-I-don’t-waste-my-time kind of person, and my philosophy is that if I or my children are going to put in the time and energy to make a gift for someone, I want it to be something well-received. I like gifts that are beautiful and useful, so that’s the criteria I adhere to before I pull out the craft supplies.

Now that Sam is old enough to make handmade gifts for Christmas, this has become an annual event (or at least it will be, now that I’ve done it twice in a row!). I’ve alluded to our top secret Christmas craft for a while now, and I know some of you have been eagerly awaiting my reveal, so without further ado, here is Sam’s Christmas Craft for 2010!

Beading!

Back in September, I got a wild hair that maybe Sam would enjoy making some jewelry-type gifts this year. He seems to have an appreciation for color and fashion (with really specific ideas about what Mom needs to wear in public), and after several years of manpulating a bunch of magnetic trains around, he’s got killer fine motor skills. So it wan’t as totally far-fetched an idea as it sounds.

But when I went digging around the internet looking for kid-appropriate-jewelry-making tutorials, I got a whole lot of foam, a whole lot of pasta, and a whole lot of plastic. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a macaroni necklace. I began to dispair.

Then, around Halloween, one of Sam’s classmates brought in candy necklaces for the kids to make, and when Sam excitedly told me all about how much fun he had making his, the wheels in my head started turning. I’d seen simple beaded bracelets on stretchy cord that he’d be able to make. How different could that be from making a candy necklace?

I wasn’t quite ready to go into this whole hog yet. Beads–the real things–aren’t cheap, and I didn’t want to go buy out Michaels if this was a one-time thing for him. So I went to Wal-mart and bought a hideous foam bead kit and pulled it out on a rainy afternoon. Sam wanted to make one necklace after another…

So I was on to something… but I still had my doubts.

Before I committed to the project, I emailed my friend (and fellow Studio Mothers blogger) Kelly, who’s an amazingly talented jewelry designer in Jacksonville, Florida (and she’s done quite a few jewelry projects with her girls who are a few years older than Sam). I asked her for advice on materials and bead size/type and basically asked her if I was insane to even consider doing this. She gave me the go ahead. My instincts were correct–Sam could do a stretchy bracelet, especially if we used big(ger) glass beads and a product called Stretch Magic (a stretchy cord–we used 0.5 mm).

So then we went to Michaels and Sam got to go bead shopping. I encouraged him to take his time and really look at the beads. Eventually he picked several types that he especially liked and we came home and got started. There are a zillion tutorials for stretchy-bracelet making on You Tube, so I won’t bother posting another one here.

Sam really got into it and would sit down with me and work with the beads–turning out one or two bracelets a day. He does the beading, and all I do is tie them off for him.

Here are the final products after months of hard work:

The bonus is that he’s learning about measurement, sorting by size and color, and practicing counting the whole time. And he says he’s making “really long trains with lots of boxcars,” because everything Sam does is with trains in mind.

After he made bracelets for all the women in the family, he wanted to make bracelets for all the men, too. Knowing that they wouldn’t be quite as keen on jewelry, Sam and I compromised and made the guys beaded bookmarks. This is how they turned out:

Then I started thinking about how best to present these. I mean, they’re gorgeous, right? They should have packages to match.

I wanted to make come sort of cardstock business card for Sam’s “brand” (because I’m actually kicking around the idea of opening an etsy store for our bracelets), so I had him go outside and I took picures of his hand in the fall leaves (this was back in October). It was just a fluke when he made a four with his fingers, but since he was four when he made these, I went with it.

And then, poking around the web, I found the perfect quote to go with it: Love, with little hands, comes and touches you with a thouand memories,and asks you beautiful, unanswerable questions. ~ an excerpt from a poem by Carl Sandberg 

So, I made these little cards to hang the jewerly/bookmarks from:

And then I wrapped it up like this:

Sam really seems to enjoy beading. He didn’t stop after the Christmas bracelets were made, and still asks me on an almost daily basis to make a bracelet. John even got into the act one day when I left our beading supplies on the table. I walked in and found this:

He likes to bead just as much as Sam (but rarely beads long enough to complete a whole bracelet).

I’m so proud of them.

[Cross-posted from Re-Writing Motherhood]

 

Brittany: The Perfect Present

I haven’t written a blog post here in recent memory. In fact, I haven’t written much of anything recently. A (personal) blog here and there. Two sentences the last time I worked on my novel. And a Christmas letter that I decided not to send when my printer ran out of ink at the last minute.

No matter how you celebrate the holiday season (or even if you don’t), the months of November and December can suck the life right out of you. There’s this feverish expectation in the air that you can make the holiday merrier and brighter for everyone around you. That there’s a perfect gift out there for you to find, that will perfectly convey a bevy of emotions, and reduce the recipient to tears. That if you just spend enough, decorate enough, eat enough, make-everyone’s-dreams-come-true enough, you will fill the gnawing void inside yourself.

And here it is, nearly Christmas, and I’ve hardly bought a thing. I watch all the advertisements on tv and get all the fliers in the mail, hearing all about the latest and greatest new thing, and every store’s once-in-a-lifetime sale and think something along the lines of “pfffffft.” This surprises me a little, because, when I grew up, Christmas-morning-gift-opening was an endurance sport. But I also remember the emptiness I always felt after all the gifts were opened. Not because I wanted more gifts, but because it meant that the season of family time was at an end.

I have very dim memories of the gifts I received as a child. But I remember vividly the family Christmas parties. Sitting in the kitchen with my mom, and aunts, and grandmother as they cooked. Putting up the tree. Watching holiday movies. The family game nights. Traveling and spending time with my cousins each year. Sitting around the table telling stories.

During the holidays my already-close family spent even more time together. That was the part of Christmas that I loved best.

With that in mind, I have spent the last couple of months trying to turn this into a magical time of year for the boys. It’s our first Christmas in New York, as well as the first year that both boys are old enough to participate in all of the things that, as a mother, I’ve always wanted to do with them. We went to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. My train-obsessed boys loved the freight train decorated with thousands of lights. We’ve baked and decorated dozens of cookies, and spent our afternoons making different crafts. I’ve taught them holiday songs. We’ve driven around looking at decorations, and have had fun with our Elf on the Shelf, who frequently oversleeps and forgets to visit Santa, but can always be relied upon to hide in unusual locations around the house. Now that there’s snow on the ground, our family walks through the frequent snow showers have become a new favorite pastime.

I’ve thrown all of my energy into spending time with the boys this season, because to my way of thinking, that’s the only “latest and greatest” gift they need from me. The perfect present is being perfectly present.

Miranda (and Brittany): If these walls could talk….

Last month the lovely Brittany Vandeputte and her husband Tom stopped in for a visit on their way from Salem, Massachusetts, back home to the vicinity of Albany, New York.

Before she left, Brittany wrote all over my wall. Not a display of bad manners, mind you — I asked her to do it. Some of you may remember my half-bath makeover that included a wall of blank “frames.” This wall is a pretty happening place, I have to say. Here, with her permission, is the poetry that Brittany left behind. (Click on the image for a larger view if needed. The frame that Brittany chose was tucked beside the wall cabinet, so I was unable to get a straight-on shot.)

Yeah. I thought you’d like that.

 

Brittany: Fall in New York

This is my favorite time of year. I love it when the leaves change color and the opressive heat (and sun) of the summer gives way to cooler temperatures. I feel energized in the cool (but not cold) weather, and my writing output attests to the fact that I am a seasonal writer — doing my best writing in the fall.

Fall is also a great time to be a mom, since I’m finding so many fun things to do with the boys right now. We’ve done the apple orchards and pumpkin patches — with the farm rides and corn mazes, fresh apple cider, and apple cider doughnuts. And this past week, Kira and I got pumpkins and had the boys paint them.

 

 

You can see one of the painted pumpkins beside John’s foot in this picture. The boys had a lot of fun with it, but honestly, so did I. I love that the boys are finally both old enough to do all of the activities I dreamed of doing before I became a mom. Easter egg hunts, painting/carving pumpkins at Halloween, making gingerbread men at Christmas, all of it is finally possible, for the most part.

I say for the most part because of the mixed success we had with another Halloween project I cooked up. I had some tomato stakes that were just lying around, and it occurred to me that they were the shape of ghosts. A (very ill-defined) plan for making some ghosts with the boys started forming in my head. I was going to buy some cotton or cheesecloth at the craft store, but then I found a huge roll of polyester quilt batting that I wasn’t likely to ever use in the basement, and grabbed the boys, their non-toxic washable paints, went outside, and tried to wing it.

That’s never a good idea with two boys, by the way…

So we went outside, wrapped the batting around the stakes, and I drew a rough outline of a mouth and eyes on each ghost so that Sam could paint the face. Except Sam thought the ghosts should have noses. And John, who didn’t understand the spirit of the project, thought the ghosts needed some random paint dabs everywhere.

This ghost turned out fairly well in spite of everything.

The ghost on the left… well, it looks like it had a bad run in with a Dematerializer. LOL

 

But the boys had fun with it, they expressed themselves (Lefty The Ghost has three noses and two circular arms on his head), the boys feel a sense of accomplishment about the experience, and really, that’s all that matters, right?

In the future, I might try to make different tomato stake ghosts like the ones described here. But that’ll have to wait until the fun of painting crazy ghosts wears off. And who knows? With our twisted sense of humor around here — the Halloween Paint-Your-Own-Crazy-Ghost thing could become an annual tradition.

[Cross-posted from Re-Writing Motherhood]

Brittany: How the Fates Conspire

Here is my situation:

I am a morning person. My energy begins to wane around lunch time, and by dinner time it has completely disappeared. In a perfect world, I would get up at the crack of dawn, write on my laptop until I could no longer ignore my hunger pangs, eat breakfast, and then head to the gym for an hour. But even as I write these words, I know it is a complete and utter impossibility.

I wish I was the sort of person who could sit down in front of a blinking cursor and write, but I need a warm up period first to get my brain in gear. My brain refuses to engage when I have toddlers climbing all over me, demanding waffles and oatmeal and YouTube train videos. And as inspiring as I find The Wiggles, they don’t exactly transport me to 1916 Appalachia when they’re blaring from the TV in the background. So even though I’d like to work on my novel first thing in the morning, motherhood has forced me to readjust my writing schedule. If I get any writing  in at all, most mornings I work on my blog because it  just doesn’t require the same degree of concentration as a book.

This summer, I’ve made a point of going to the gym three mornings a week, to the bright and early 8:15 am deep water aerobics class. The YMCA offers childcare during this time, and I love getting my workout in first thing and having the rest of the day to devote to other things. In a perfect world, I would like to continue taking this class three mornings a week ad infinitum. But again, the fates of motherhood are conspiring against me.

Sam’s preschool starts at 9:00 every morning. Obviously I can’t be in two places at once. But I thought I could easily take a class later on in the morning. Except, the morning exercise classes are scheduled for 9:15 and 10:10. There’s no way I can drop Sam off at his preschool at 9:00 and get to the gym in 15 minutes, even if he leapt from the moving mini-van in the preschool parking lot. I could easily make the 10:10 classes, but my morning would be shot. I’d drop Sam off, have not much more than a half an hour to write/clean/run errands, and then have another 15 minutes to kill after my class before I could pick him up. It’s hardly an ideal situation.

What would be ideal is if there were afternoon classes I could attend at the gym, except there aren’t. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, even if there were, because childcare isn’t available from noon until 5:00 pm. The earliest group classes start up again between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, so in addition to not being morning-person-friendly, it would completely ruin my dinner-cooking-and-eating schedule.

I was complaining about all of this to my husband, Tom, and he told me I was being inflexible. I could write after the boys were asleep (9:00 or 10:00 pm) and I certainly didn’t have to take a group class at the gym. I could hit the cardio machines, or better yet, the weight room.

It was at this point that my brain exploded a little bit.

I can barely construct a coherent sentence at 10:00 at night, much less write novel-worthy prose. And there is no way I’m going to use up 30 minutes of  my precious allotment of me-time to drive to a gym to use cardio equipment when I have an elliptical machine in the basement. I like group exercise classes. That is why I joined a gym. If I wanted to exercise alone, I could do it without the monthly membership fee. And spending my morning lifting weights? I do lift weights. A 30-pound 2-year-old and a 45-pound 4-year-old. All day long. Over and over and over again. I’m not going to volunteer to do it some more.

This is the kind of situation I face as a mother all the time. What I want to do should be simple enough, except that it isn’t once I factor in my children’s needs. My needs (quiet writing time and a group exercise class) get put on the back burner, and instead of sympathy, I’m expected to change my wants and needs on the fly so that my wants and needs become compatible with my children’s.

You can do this for a while, but after a while you realize you’ve hit an impasse. Your wants and needs are your wants and needs for a reason, and you get to a point where you can’t be flexible about them anymore. I should be able to write and go to the gym when it best suits my biorhythms, and hopefully if I just wait it out one more year I will. When John is 3 he’ll be eligible for preschool, and I’m strongly considering enrolling him at the preschool at the Y.  That way I could drop him off at his class, get a workout in, and then head home to a quiet house to write.

But in the meantime, it’s looking like I’ll be doing a lot of exercising at home.

Miranda & Brittany: offline and offroad

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Brittany Vandeputte in person. As one of the original members of the Studio Mothers community (evidenced here) I’ve come to think of Brittany as a friend — but sometimes I wonder if it’s an odd thing to think of your “virtual” relationships as friendships. Now that we’ve met in person, I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t matter whether connections are made on cyberspace or face to face. A friend is a friend.

Brittany generously allowed me to stop in on my drive home from Ithaca, New York. I was in the last leg of a 12-hour round-trip drive to return my oldest son to college, and I was grateful to have a short break with Brittany, her husband Tom, and those two little guys you’ve all read about — Sam and John — in their charming new home.  I should add that I had invited myself over, and the visit occurred smack in the middle of what would have been the bedtime routine — so that just goes to show you the strength of Brittany’s Southern hospitality.

Thanks again, Brittany — see you in October!

Brittany: How to Get a Grip

“Let this become your key — next time when anger comes, just watch it. Don’t say, ‘I am angry.’ Say, ‘Anger is there and I am watching it.’ And see the difference! The difference is vast. Suddenly you are out of the grip of anger. If you can say, ‘I am just a watcher, I am not anger,’ you are out of the grip.”  ~Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

When we initially moved to New York, my three-year-old son, Sam, was all smiles and excitement. It was all a great adventure to him, driving cross country, living in temporary housing, and spending a week without us at the grandparents’ that ultimately culminated in the wonderous, never-to-be-repeated excitement of finally, finally, after months and months of talking about it, coming to live in The New House.

But like most things on the roller-coaster of life, once you’ve reached the highest of highs, there’s nowhere to go but down…

We moved into our house on July 1st and Sam hit Toddler Rock Bottom about two weeks later. (And I hit Parenting Rock Bottom right along with him.) It started with a tantrum or two, over nothing, and then insidiously, over the next few weeks, the tantrums escalated into mega-tantrums, where Sam bit John, and then began biting his new friends, to which I escalated my parental crackdown. My punishments were met with outrage so severe that Sam started having “accidents” — in public and at home. And by the beginning of August, our house was like a police state — justice was intense and swift — and Sam’s behavior was so unpredictable that Tom and I wondered where we could find him a good therapist.

Even when I was pregnant with Sam, I knew that he was going to test my emotional and physical endurance. In utero, he was active, demanding, and always a loud presence. Before he was ever born, I knew him and his moods as well as I knew my own because he projected them to me so intensely.

But things had been fine in South Carolina. After he turned three, the tantrums from his Terrible Twos leveled off, and his intense reactions to everything seemed to have been a passing phase. When they manifested again here it took me completely by surprise, and it took me several weeks to remember that an intense reaction to change has always been a facet of his personality. If I looked at things from his perspective, he’d just experienced a huge emotional upheaval leaving the only home, only friends, only neighbors, only life he’d ever known. He had nothing in his life to compare it to, no sense that everything would be okay after a while, no ability to understand the fear and homesickness gnawing at him. I incorrectly assumed he was too young to care much where he lived, as long as he was with me and Tom and John. By the time I stepped away from my own rage at this wild, unpredictable, irrational child that I was being forced to deal with, and think about the reasons behind it, the damage was done. My child was an emotional wreck. I knew I had to try a new tack, and soon, or things were going to get untenable.

I dug through still-packed boxes of books until I found my copy of the Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and re-read it from cover-to-cover twice.

One of Kurcinka’s suggestions in dealing with intense children is to give them a visual demonstration of their anger in the form of vinegar and baking soda “volcanos.” She suggests doing this with the child so he/she can see the volcano bubbling over and make the connection between it and the way they feel when they’re under stress.

I like to put my own spin on things, and since I knew the source of Sam’s anger, I tried doing things a little differently.

I gathered up the vinegar, the baking soda, a glass, and a quarter measuring cup. Then I told Sam that we needed to fill the glass up with “yuckies” — that for each thing that made him sad or mad, we were going to put a “yucky” in the glass. It took him a while to understand what a “yucky” was, but in no time he was on a roll. He missed his teachers, his school, his friends, our old house, our neighbors, our family members, punishments made him mad, our new house made him sad, and he was mad that this house didn’t have a swing set in the backyard like our old house had. Once the glass was full, I added the baking soda, and narrated a pretend (and ridiculous) tantrum — even by Sam’s standards.

“…What! No waffles for breakfast? Sam wanted waffles! Oh no! Sam’s yelling! He’s screaming! He’s thrown himself on the floor and he’s kicking kicking kicking! Oh no! He’s kicking Mommy! He’s kicking John! Now he’s even kicked the dog! Oh no! He’s kicked a hole in the floor. Now he’s kicked the house down! And he’s stomping stomping stomping on the house! And he’s throwing pieces of the house! Now the garage is flying through the air! And Sam’s still mad!”

Sam thought this was hilarious and so we spent the morning making more volcanoes and having more pretend tantrums. Every time we did it, I noticed that his ability to verbalize how he was feeling became more fluent. I knew he had completely caught on when he was playing with some friends, one of whom was getting very frustrated about something, and Sam called to me, “Mommy, Tyler’s glass is getting full of yuckies! Come help him!” Since then, yuckies, full glasses, and volcanoes have become part of our dialogue with each other. Now I can say to him, “Sam, your glass is looking pretty full. I can see you’re starting to get bubbly like a volcano. Do you need a break?”

After I say this, the expression on his face changes.You can watch him thinking about his emotions instead of feeling them, and then he’ll say, “I’m okay Mom. The yuckies are gone now.”

Yesterday, John was being a royal two-year-old pain in the grocery store, and we had to go past the candy aisle at check out. Both boys began begging for candy and I was feeling harassed. So I said to Sam, “Sam, please stop asking about candy. John is not being a nice boy right now (he was trying to leap out of his seat into the basket of the shopping cart) and Mommy’s glass is really REALLY full.” And Sam, to my everlasting surprise said, “Oh. Let me help you unload the cart then.” And he immediately got to work putting our groceries on the conveyor belt.

Please envision how I must’ve looked — absolutely flummoxed — mouth agape — eyes wide in surprise — as my toddler attempted to diffuse MY tantrum. It was quite the role reversal. Sam was able to give back to me what I had apparently been giving him — the incredible relief that comes from knowing that your feelings of stress are understood, that the burden of keeping it together has been lifted, and you’ve been excused for a moment to sort yourself out. All it took was a little understanding, and the weight of the day lifted from my shoulders. I was renewed and back to myself in seconds.

It was a good week for us. We seem to have gotten a grip.

Brittany: Happy Surprises

It’s been an eternity since I wrote a Studio Mothers blog post. For months, my life has been in an endless state of upheaval. My husband and I decided it was in our best interests for him to leave his job of 10 years, sell our house, and move from South Carolina to New York with all our worldly possessions, two toddlers, and four pets. Had I written a blog post on the subject, it would’ve consisted of a whole lot of whining and weeping, or a combination of the two, as we put our house on the market, freaked out during the period of time it took to sell it, bought a new house, and prepared to move. Moving isn’t fun in the best of circumstances, but Dante left out the layer of hell known as Moving With Children.

I didn’t know what New York had in store for me, but I knew it couldn’t be good — not in the short term, anyway. I was leaving home, and all my friends, and all my sons’ friends, 14 hours (and a universe) away. We would be living in isolation in temporary housing — a two-bedroom suite hotel — for three weeks, and then after that I could look forward to a long, depressing, boring summer. I figured all that solitude would give me ample opportunity to write, even though I didn’t welcome all that free time, and was feeling grumpy at the prospect.

Mind you, I was trying to be optimistic, and was going to try my hardest to have a good time no matter what, but deep down I was steeling myself for disappointment.

And then the happy surprises began.

The first surprise was the drive itself. A 14 hour car trip with a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old can easily become a 20-hour car trip, so Tom and I decided to break the trip up into two days. Since we were driving both cars up to NY, we split the boys up, plugged in the DVD players, and fervently prayed that the drive wouldn’t be too bad. Now, I don’t even like to drive across town, so I dreaded the cross-country drive with a (possibly hysterical) two-year-old. But I put on my complete collection of CS Lewis Narnia books on CD, plugged in the portable DVD player for John, and hoped for the best. And then the miles flew by. I was listening to Voyage of the Dawn Treader when we arrived in NY and felt like my brain had spent a week at a spa. I had not had to think in two full days. It was wonderful, and a welcome relief.

The second surprise happened with a knock on my hotel room door. Our next door neighbor turned out to be the best friend I could’ve hoped for under the circumstances. A mom of 2-year-old and 4-year-old boys, whose husband had just started at the same company as Tom. Both of us were stuck at the hotel until the 1st of July, both of us were a long way from home, and both of us were about to lose our minds. What was supposed to be Part I of my long, boring summer of solitude turned into a whirlwind of little boys out-on-the-town. Kira was destined to be my friend, because we have similar interests and personalities anyway, but it certainly helped that our boys loved each others’ company and wanted to spend every single second together, and that our engineer husbands could hang out, talk, and understand each other, as only a pair of engineers could. They’ve moved to the town right next to ours and even though we’re no longer together at the hotel, we see each other almost daily.

And then a third surprise. I thought our neighborhood in SC was the friendliest, most awesome neighborhood that ever existed. But I was wrong. Our new neighborhood is just as friendly and the neighbors we’ve met so far have all been so welcoming, at times I have to pinch myself because I really feel like I’m living a dream. Our house is cheerful and quirky, and the most “me” of any house I’ve ever lived in. The neighborhood itself is picturesque and charming. The location, absolutely ideal.

And yet Tom and I were this close to losing it all. When our house was on the market, a family loved it, but ultimately chose another house in our neighborhood with an identical floorplan but a larger, flatter lot. At the time I was really perturbed that another house was chosen over ours. But the final happy surprise occurred last night, when Tom and I checked out the MLS listings in our old neighborhood to see what the market was doing. That house, which had gone under contract several weeks before ours, was re-listed and touting its recent home inspection and appraisal. The sellers moved out and then, we’re guessing, the deal fell through, whereas our buyers came along a scant few weeks later, fell in love with our house, and couldn’t move in fast enough. I feel horrible for our neighbors whose house is re-listed, and I feel boundless gratitude that the Fates smiled on us and let the sale of our house go through.

I can’t think of another time things have aligned so perfectly in my life. I’m reassured that the upheaval was worth it and our lives are finally on the right track where, no doubt, other happy surprises await us.

%d bloggers like this: