Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Brittany’ Category

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.

Brittany: This Writer’s Life, Straight Out of a Horror Flick

You already know about my thing for vampires. But lately, I’ve been feeling more like Dr. Frankenstein.

You know that scene where the doctor’s monster comes to life and he says, “It’s alive!!!”? Well, that’s me.

I’ve created a monster, too.

I want to go on record again as saying that I had no intention whatsoever of starting another novel. I packed up my previously finished novel into a bin in the attic and decided I just wasn’t going to fool with writing and publishing right now. I was going to be a mommy, and mommy my heart out. It was much too hard to balance writing and motherhood, and darn it, I wasn’t playing anymore. I was packing up my toys and going home.

And then one day in the mini-van, while I was trying to block out the ever-present Wiggles, this character appeared in my head, and then this other character appeared, and suddenly this plot was unraveling, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, yeah…that’s nice. Now shut up.” But they wouldn’t shut up. So I thought, “Well, there’s no harm in writing the idea down…” So I wrote the idea down. And then I started thinking of scenes to write. And I said to myself, “The boys are napping. I have a few minutes. There’s no harm in writing them down…” And I wrote them down. Soon I had so many scenes written that I thought, “I really ought to put these in order.” I put them in order. Then I thought of stuff to write between the scenes. And things to research. And people to interview… And then yesterday, I finished my novel.

Imagine my surprise.

Now, when I say finished, I don’t mean finished. It’s a mess. It’s a monster made up of a skeleton (with lots of vertebra missing), loosely held together by some scraps of muscle and tissue, and, if they ever saw it, mobs of editors and publishers would run it right out of town with flames and pitchforks.

However, it does have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The characters (and their relationship) make sense. Their story is interesting. And, even better still, I’ve written the story I wanted to write.

This was not the case with my previous novel, or any other story I’ve written before.

I used to subscribe to the choose-you-own-adventure method of novel plotting, as well as the write-the-entire-story-chronologically-and-if-you-get-stuck-stare-at-a-blank-screen-and-blinking-cursor-indefinitely method of composition. And that got me nowhere.

I was like that idiot girl in the horror movie who stumbles blindly into the dark basement where the monster is lurking. Or, to continue my monster metaphor ad nauseum, it was like slowly unwrapping a mummy (a stinky undead dude with a bad attitude), but hoping that it was really Brad Pitt under a lot of gift-wrapping. It’s obvious now why writing was so frustrating for me.

I needed to get to know my monsters. (Or, as people who aren’t beating a metaphor to death would say, I needed to abandon any preconceived notions I had about writing and try something scary and unpredictable.)

What’s funny about this is that people who know me would say “scary and predictable” aren’t words in my vocabulary. I am probably the most risk-averse person I know. I am so type-A, that in new situations, I actually plot out several different scenarios so that I’m prepared to deal with every impending uncertainty at any given moment.

Just based on my personality, I should be the extensive-outlining type. I am the *last* person that non-linear anything should work for.

But in a few short months, I have written the framework of a novel that has real potential. And that framework supports my desire to be present for the boys and mother them but still write when I can.

It’s such a great feeling, it’s scary.

Brittany: Unkeeping a Journal

Crossposted from my personal blog.

I’m the sort of writer whose ideas are in a constant state of percolation. I’ll be driving my mini-van, listening to the Wiggles, answering a constant stream of “whys” from the backseat, and all of a sudden a snippet of conversation will pop into my head, where it will sit until I’m in the grocery store, and I imagine a dialogue around that snippet of conversation, where it will sit until I’m in the middle of a debate with Tom about what to have for dinner, when the setting for the dialogue with the snippet of conversation will pop into my head. Then I’ll let it percolate some more while I work out all the sensory details and plot points. And then, when everything finally starts to come together in my own mind, I *try* to write it all down.

It’s not the most effective means of novel writing. Invariably, I lose my momentum halfway through and end up wracking my brain trying to remember what I’d been stewing over.

In this month’s Writer’s Digest, there’s an article that caught my attention about “unkeeping” a journal, and using it as a repository for all those snippets that fall into your head and end up lost to time. Since there are no rules, because technically, you aren’t *keeping* a journal, you can use it to play around with your writing, brainstorm out loud, and amuse yourself by transcribing the conversations around you, funny things children say, and any interesting stories that interest you. All excellent ideas.

Some of the suggestions didn’t really appeal to me. I’m not going to interview myself, pretending I’m a bestselling author, for example. And I don’t see the point in brainstorming titles for a children’s book about two dogs. But a couple of pages into the article, one of the suggestions really caught my eye.

It’s an exercise called Outrunning the Critic. What you’re supposed to do is write 100 short sentences about a character, central concept, or scene in a story, and write those sentences without lifting your pen from the paper. I read that and went, “Huh. I should try that.”

I had a scene percolating in my head — a very pivotal, very long scene that I didn’t want to start yet. It was just too daunting. It takes place at a square dance and it had already taken three hours of watching square dance and clogging videos on You Tube to get the first page of the scene started. But the boys were playing trains in the playroom, and they wanted me in there with them, so I grabbed my new journal, numbered the lines from 1 to 100 and jotted down thoughts as they came to me.

Even though there were times that John was leaping on me and literally swinging off my pen-wielding arm (in danger of getting his little eyes stabbed out, by the way, which I suppose is an occupational hazard when your mother is a novelist) I got my 100 short sentences written in pretty short order. It was surprising to see how truly fleshed out that portion of the chapter already was in my head, and how little I really needed to fill in.

Since I don’t like to “write” until the scene is complete in my head, but 100 sentences feels like a substantial amount of ideas for getting started, I was able to subvert that part of myself that says “Sorry. Not enough here to write it down.” The best part is, in transcribing those 100 sentences into the body of my text, I see it is a hugely substantial piece of writing after all. It didn’t feel like I was making progress because it was too easy, but even so, I was.

This is definitely a technique I’ll try again (there’s a lot of scene left to write, and I still dread writing it).

[Photo courtesy the8rgrl]

%d bloggers like this: