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Posts tagged ‘kids’

Jane: Sewing Bee

On a recent rain-filled weekend weekend, we did something completely out of character: nothing. No agenda. Just bits and pieces of things, and lots of laziness. Well, mostly. Both of the kids adore their teachers, and since both of those teachers are expecting their first babies we thought homemade baby blankets would be the perfect end-of-the-year gift. We picked out fabric last week, including a cotton quilting fabric for one side and a fuzzy minkee for the other. We used this simple snuggly baby blanket tutorial. Both kids helped out, little Miss A with cutting, pinning, and sewing, and all-boy Z testing his leaping skills across the width of the blanket. I think he sewed with me for at least 45 seconds, too.

and the other one:

I love this simple pattern and wish I had discovered it seven years ago!

[Cross-posted from Cultivate: Within & Without]

Making Creative Hay Outside

If fair weather has come to your part of the world ~ or if you live in a mild climate and enjoy fair weather more often than not ~ think about using outside resources to your creative advantage. When younger kids are out of school, making outdoor time a regular part of your routine can yield many benefits.

If you have a yard of your own, make the most of this bonus. If you have a fenced-off space ~ even a small one ~ so much the better. Many mothers are able to sit on a lawn chair and write, read, or sketch while their kids play safely nearby. You can peruse that stack of magazines you haven’t read yet ~ any reading material that is easy to put down as needed. Outdoor time is also a great opportunity to take photographs of your kids or the world around you.

To stack the odds in your favor, use this four-pronged approach to outdoor (and indoor) downtime:

  1. Make sure everyone is well fed, watered, and toileted.
  2. Spend some time totally focused on the kids.
  3. When the kids seem engaged or playing independently after having some Mommy face time, turn to your creative work.
  4. Try to remain flexible. There will be days when the kids don’t want you staring at a notebook for even 30 seconds, and there will be other days when they’re happily immersed in their own worlds for 30 minutes. Go with the flow.

If your inventory of outdoor toys seems insufficient, yard sales and consignment shops are great places to pick up a few more. You might also send an e-mail to friends with older children to ask if they have anything hiding in their garages or attics that they no longer want.

Many toddlers and young children love to play with water. Consider filling a small kiddie pool with a few inches of water and a bunch of bath or beach toys ~ often good for at least 30 minutes of interest. For other outdoor play activities, do a bit of google searching and jot down the ideas you like best.

Food always seems to be more fun outdoors, too. Whether it’s just a snack in the backyard or a full-on picknick basket in the middle of a field, eating outside makes everyone happy.

When you’re headed to the park and your kids are old enough to play safely without constant supervision and won’t walk in front of the swings, don’t forget to bring a notepad, sketchbook, or something else to spend time with while you keep one eye on the children. You may find that it’s worth going out of your way to visit a playground that is fully enclosed and is equipped with a good amount of safe climbing structures to keep your kids entertained.

While you don’t want your kids to feel like you’re constantly on standby, waiting to bolt off to your own thing, you do want to be prepared to squeeze in some creative work when the opportunity arises. Over time, you’ll find the middle way that feels best for your and your family.

What works for you? Share your experience!

This piece was reprinted from the last issue of the Creative Times, our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe!

Joyelle: A Toddler’s-Eye View

Yesterday my 3-year-old son discovered the camera. Now, given that his father and I are both photo obsessed (to the point that we have weekly photo dates and are signed up for a photo retreat together this March) the only really surprising thing is that Gabe hasn’t picked up a camera sooner. I do have to put in a little disclaimer here, that the camera he picked up was our point-and-shoot Fuji, not one of our two DSLR cameras. So instead of freaking out and yelling “PUT THAT THING DOWN NOW!” I was like, “Go nuts, kid.” And he did.

For the last day and a half he has been snapping pictures of anything and everything, from the pantry cupboards to our cat (many, many pictures of the cat), his grandmother, his Ikea crawling tube, rocks, and his own shadow. He especially seems to like extreme close-ups, which come out in a cool blur of color. At one point he was closing in on his sippy cup and his grandma said something like “Don’t do that dear, it won’t look good,” and I practically jumped down her throat. OK, not quite that bad. But I did tell her to let him have his experiments. We’re in the digital age, he can take as many pictures as he wants!

After a day and a half of photo taking, he had filled up the memory card. Here is where I thought the hard part would come. I wanted to teach him about the most important part of photography — editing. So I loaded all his photos onto the computer and asked him to give me a “yes” or “no” as to whether he liked each image. What surprised me was how a string of “no”s came out easily. He kept his favourite subjects (the cat, grandma, his Ikea crawling tube) and quickly nixed anything that he didn’t love. I ended up over-riding his “no” a couple times when I wanted to keep an image. After all, it’s my baby’s first photo shoot! And that shot of the cement tiles was really cool!

And what I have now is really priceless. A collection of images, literally from my toddler’s point of view. I get to see the world from his perspective. And it’s chaotic and swirly and beautiful. And it may just be that I am biased because his father and I are both artists, but I think this first venture into photography shows his already acute artistic eye. But then, all children are artists. We only cease to be artists when we cease believing in our art.

So here again I can learn from my son. I can see his joy in capturing the moments of his day, and it is a reflection of the joy I feel when I look at my world through that lens. It reminds me why I love photography so much. Because in that process of re-framing your world, you become child-like in wonder at the smallest thing. That awe, that connection to the world around me, is why I keep coming back to my camera. It is meditation in motion. And I am so excited that now my son gets to have that experience with me.

Jenny: Having Kids Early vs Having ‘Em Later

I had a very enlightening conversation last night — one of many, in fact — with my host here in Sydney, Ms. Jodie Ekert.

I first met Jodie many years back when we were both fresh faces on the stand-up comedy scene (not saying anything about the current state of our faces, mind you, I am speaking purely metaphorically…ehem) — we hit it off and when some many months later she came to town to perform and was looking for an MC, she called on yours truly.

Fast forward x years later and we’re now playing mummy club together in her suitably faboosh child-friendly pad — her bub 15 months, my little dude just a little older — and we found ourselves with a whole new level of common ground over which to chin-wag.

And so it was that the topic turned to the effect that having kids has on your life when you have them early in life versus later. And Jodie’s take on it was an interesting one to me, given that my experience of parenting has been quite different, at least in terms of the timing in my life.

You see, I remember very boldly proclaiming to somebody that “I’m not having kids til I’m at LEAST 33!”, not realising of course, that at that very moment, I was indeed, pregnant.

Ha. Ha.

I was 22.

And once I’d overcome the initial shock of this unexpected twist of events, my first thought turned to all the things I’d wanted so badly to do with my life but hadn’t.

Backpack through Europe.

Carve out a career in showbiz.

Go to Nepal and hire a sherpa.

I was kicking myself for not having taken action before now: why hadn’t I just pulled my finger out and made these things happen when I had the chance? Now that I was going to be a mother, I’d have to just resign myself to those dreams going on the backburner for the forseeable future, if not off the stove altogether.

Then something in me snapped. I resolved — in my traditional melodramatic form — to absolutely NOT let this new stage of my life mean the end of the things I really wanted to do. I was so completely resolute in this, so determined to still make serious headway on even the maddest dreams and adventures in my heart that I think, to be honest, I actually became quite selfish.

I still believe I was a good mother in those early years, in that I cared for my kids, loved them to bits and made sure they were well looked after – but I also recognise now that I became so damn hell bent on achieving what I wanted to with my life that at times my mind wasn’t really present just to enjoy my beautiful babies right then and there, which makes me sad now especially as I realise how quickly those first years really do pass.

Would I change anything?

I don’t know.

The flipside of this, of course, is that my kids have always known (and will always know) a mother who is at least trying — with various levels of success and failure — to look after her own needs and pursue her own goals, as crazy as they may be. Whether this turns out to be a positive thing for them, I can only hope. Time will tell.

Anyway, I am in typical Jenny-fashion, getting rather side-tracked here.

My point is that for me personally, motherhood at such an early age hugely impacted on the way I live my life (duh!) in the sense that it made me resolutely determined to carve out the life I’d barely even begun to live.

Jodie, on the other hand told me that she felt — as a first time mother at 32 — that her struggle was more about dealing with the sense of loss of the life she’d already had. i.e. the career she’d had, even friends she’d had – the difference between her and I being that I’d barely even begun to carve out my life when motherhood hit, whereas she had an established life that then had to change.

Let me hereby state for the record that both of us adore our little ones to bits and are so happy that they are in our lives — but it is fascinating to me the effect that becoming a parent has on your whole world.

It was only last night that I really thought about my own experience from a different angle.

That is, up until now I’d kinda thought at some level that maybe if I HAD done all the stuff I’d wanted to do pre-kids, even if I HAD waited til I was “at least 33” to have babies, maybe even if I HAD backpacked, treaded the boards and found my sherpa before embarking on the adventure that was family life, that the transition to “mother” would have been simple.

It’s now that I realise that’s just not so.

There’s never a “right time” to have a baby. They change your life no matter what.

And carving out a life for yourself is not just something you do in your early twenties — it’s a lifelong undertaking.

What do you reckon?

[Cross posted from Comic Mummy]

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!


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]


Robin: Wish.Play.Create – The E-Course, Week 1

Josey and I were the lucky winners of the fantastic e-course offered by Mindy at The Wish Studio
We tweaked it a bit by used pieces of wood instead of paper for the base of the project.  We just moved into a new place and I saw this as an opportunity to make some art for the walls
This was not an obstacle for Miss Josey who LOVES playing with paint and the MORE SPACE she has to work with, the better!
Shona Cole-Author of “The Artistic Mother” was OUR INSTRUCTOR for Week 1!
Special thanks to Miranda at Studio Mothers for hosting the contest.  We are having SO MUCH FUN!

Cathy: Caught writing

Last week I mentioned my new story idea that came up in the midst of my big edits I need to do on the first book.

Yesterday I had one of those rare creative spells in which, no matter the interruptions, I wrote steadily over the course of about 6 hours on the new idea.

I’m really enjoying it. That spark was what was missing in the edit draft two stage of the manuscript. I mean, I enjoy making the improvements, but it’s a slow road.

But having something else to be excited about is just plain fun.

So I will continue to edit when I have good uninterrupted chunks of time, as in when my writing group meets. But in the meantime, I’m going to have fun over here on this little idea in all the little moments I have between the usual family business.

Making stuff up is so much easier than fixing what I already have. And it’s fun. I feel like a kid with a kite. It’s time to fly.

After my prior whiney blog share, I felt compelled to crosspost from musings in mayhem something more positive on writing that happened shortly after.

Kelly: Memory Making for Mermaids

I was out for lunch today when I pulled up next to an old Ford Pinto. Wow, what memories. I couldn’t help but smile. And I also couldn’t believe that there was still a Ford Pinto on the road! When I was growing up, my mom had a red Pinto. Two particular memories jumped out at me. When I was 12 and my sister was 2, my parents divorced, and Mom, Kim, and I moved to Orange Park to be near my Nana and Granddaddy. We were driving down Blanding Blvd (which was three-lane at the time…one northbound, one southbound, and one turn lane…today it’s seven lanes), and Mom hit a dog that was following a little boy riding his bike. I remember her being devastated, far more devastated than the little boy. She stopped and picked up the dog, put it in the trunk of that Pinto and followed the little boy home on his bike. Kim and I stayed in the car when we got to the little boy’s house, so I don’t remember what happened from there, just that Mom cried for quite some time that day. She would have been 32. Years later, I learned how she felt. A few years after DH and I got married, I hit a kitten coming home from class one night, and I cried for days. I was right about 32.

The second memory was far more fun. I think I was about 13, so Kim would have been 3. Mom was trying to take me to school and Kim to Nana’s for the day so she could go to work, but the Pinto wouldn’t start. She got out of the car, beyond frustrated, and Kim and I followed. She kicked the car and said, and I remember this soooo clearly, “This f*#%ing car isn’t worth a s*^t!” Kim looked at Mom and then kicked the car and repeated word for word what she said. That was the first and last time I ever heard my mother cuss.

Isn’t it interesting what memories stick with us? I honestly don’t have a lot of early childhood memories; I wish I did. Most of the memories I do have revolve around my Nana since I spent so much time with her, like the time we visited Aunt Livy and Uncle Wilbur in Key West when I was 7 or 8 and Nana discovered that I was a sleepwalker. I went to the mall that night, sitting on the end of the bed pretending to drive and then walking down the hallway to Sears, Nana told me. (I still sleepwalk and now tend to move furniture and groceries in my sleep, go figure.) I also learned how to play penny ante poker that week. My Nana and Aunt Livy were card sharks, and I still love to play poker today. DH is a very sore loser and says Aunt Livy and I cheat. And at 88, she just grins at him and hands me a card under the table…naw….just kidding…sort of. 😉

Before my parents divorced, Mom worked all day as a nurse, and Dad often worked two jobs, one of which was at Sears selling appliances. I know they did their best, and I’m thankful for the determination and independence they created in me. I want to create determination and independence in my girls as well, and I’m hopeful that I’m also creating lots of memories for them. I want them to remember these days. Maybe that’s one of the benefits of blogging; hopefully they’ll be able to go back and read these stories and they’ll spark memories.

Right now, the girls and I are taking an online class together called Mermaid Warriors. It’s with McCabe Russell, and we’re loving it. McCabe works with young girls using art to help build self-esteem, and she’s taking us through her class with wonderful videos and a discussion blog. One of the things I want to do with the Purple Cottage is mother/daughter art retreats combined with lessons in self-knowledge, self-esteem and good citizenship, and when I stumbled across McCabe’s blog and class that teaches you how to do just that, I knew the Universe was speaking to me! (I’m slowly learning to listen to her.)

This weekend, the girls had a friend sleep over and we created our first Mermaid Warrior project together, these fun little journals out of scrapbook paper and ribbon. We had so much fun! DH even pitched in where we’d let him. It was a girls-only event after all. 😉 I took some video of the girls creating their books and talking about what they wrote in them. If I can ever figure out how to create a movie, I’ll share it with you (anyone point me to a good tutorial?). They’ve since continued to write in them and add stickers and drawings. They even created journals for their primary teacher and their art teacher and are so proud of their work. I know we’re on to something here. 🙂 More Mermaid Warrior projects coming. Don’t you just love that name? Perfect for us, don’t you think?

Cross-posted from my personal blog….

Cathy: Seek and ye shall find

Crossposted from my personal blog

For this post, I was drawing blanks. Each thought I had shot forth from my brain like I was out clay pigeon shooting, and having terrible aim. I yelled, “Pull!” and fired, and two things would sail quickly through the air away from me, and somewhat toward each other, arch, miss completely, and drop dead to the ground. The clay pigeons fell with a thud and a puff of dust. The bullets lay listless in the dirt. There was nothing left to salvage. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Not that I have ever been clay pigeon shooting. But I have watched it on tv. That’s right. That’s about as exciting as it gets around here. I like watching Dog Shows, too. Although, I have fired a gun and target shot at antique colored glass pharmaceutical bottles in the woods in Vermont. Oh to be 14 and that stupid again. I should have kept them, they were very pretty, and sold them on ebay. But there was no ebay back then, or the internet. It was the dark ages, between Lynyrd Skynard and the B-52s, at a vinyl speed of 38rpms.

So, because it’s a half day of school, for the rest of the week — more on that later – -a Certain Someone kept wandering over and asking if he could use the computer now to… (this is where I tune him out because it’s something long and involved and involves giant monsters, most likely, or funny cats, and he’s told me the particulars or something like them so many times I feel like my face is melting off when he starts again, especially when I am trying to focus on something else, like say, my own imagination and what I want to write from it because, really, this is all about me you know). So I asked him, “What should I blog about today?”

“Write a blog about how I was inspired by the nicknames you gave [Mr. Cynic] and me on Musings in Mayhem and how I’m making a video mini-series called ‘The Adventures of Mr. Cynic and Captain Comic’ to post on youtube,” responded Capt. Comic.

Only problem with this is he has not actually started filming because Mr. Cynic wants absolutely nothing to do with this. His friends might see. This is causing great consternation and Wars of Words that are particularly virulent around when I’m making dinner and everyone’s hungry and tired from a long day of school, toddlering, taekwando or bass lessons, etc. There is much door slamming and stair stomping and MOOOO-oooooming involved, too.

Someday, the boy will be a filmic genius, I’m sure, but his brother will not be starring in the films as the villian. That will have to remain true to life and in the house. My house. Probably in a couple of hours. Yep. I’m pretty certain of that.

So, on three days in a row of half-days: can I just say that this is not how I wanted or expected to spend the remainder of my ‘free time’ *cough, sputter* before I go in for surgery on Monday.

If it rains, I’m a goner for sure.

[Editor’s note: Cathy’s surgery is today. Please send her your hugs and healing thoughts!]

Cathy: No Nanowrimo win here

crossposted from musings in mayhem

I am happy to have taken part in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. It put me into a good lead on a companion book to my first novel, and now both need some serious editing. I lost my momentum between lots of doctor appointments for my whole family, getting quite ill myself and caring for sick kids, then my back went out as we leaned toward Thanksgiving, and I got hung up in word count rather than having fun enjoying writing well.

That last part was what killed the project for me. Not the whole project, I am happy to continue work on this particular piece, but I want to go about it in the way that is familiar to me. I am an editing nightmare to some, but I’ll tell you, that is what I really enjoy about writing as I write, the scribbles and rewording, the back-typing and rewording, the considering of the scene from an entirely different angle, etc. It’s what I enjoy about the middle of breadmaking, too: the kneading, the punching it into form.

I have just a few days left to try to make it to 50,000 words. I am at 19,201 and have my family home, no one at work, no one at school or at senior exercise programs until the thirtieth. I don’t think reaching 50,000 is my personal goal anymore. A children’s novel is typically about 30,000 and I don’t want to just write crap for filler for a contest that has lost meaning for me in it’s final goal. I’ve also lost my thread plotwise and feel like I’m wasting precious word count time doing what I actually love about writing and my process in it. That is indicative that it’s time for me to move on and refocus without the contest looming.

For now, for me, this year 19,201 is a fantastic stopping point. Now I can sink my teeth back into the edits of the first novel and then run right into edits on the second I started because of Nano.

Does this then make me a loser if I am not a Nano winner? Certainly not. I have 19,201 words written that I didn’t have before I started NaNoWriMo. That’s a big win in my book. I’ve never written 19,000 words toward one thing in three weeks time in my whole life, nevermind with a houseful of sickies and also school days off throughout the month.

I may not have hit 50,000, but I did a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t tried.

Miranda: The vortex of caring for young children

You think I would have figured some of this stuff out by now, seeing as I have a few years of experience in the motherhood department. My oldest is nearly 19 years old (freshman in college) and my youngest is 18 months old. Five kids in total: three teenagers, a preschooler, and a toddler. Many people smack their heads, V8 style, when I tell them I have five kids. As in, who on Earth would be nuts enough to have five kids? I don’t usually give it much thought. Well, obviously I didn’t give it any thought at all, or I never would have had five children. Duh.

Just this past month, I had an epiphany about motherhood — something that helped me understand what fuels the “mommy wars” (mothers working outside the home versus SAHMs). I sort of straddle the two groups, as I work from home 30 hours a week. I have a babysitter here in my house three full days a week, so I’m not on duty during that time, but the kids often run into my workspace and I inevitably interact with them throughout the day. They know I’m here. When I was nursing, my babysitter would bring the baby to me for feeding. But I was fortunate to have that luxury. Without question, I get a significant break from having to prepare food and change diapers and be the one in charge of keeping everyone alive. Oh, and I get to focus on something aside from my kids: my work.

While my work has many stresses — impossible deadlines, panicked clients, difficult personalities, too much to do in too little time — it’s still my own domain. I have clients, not bosses. It’s up to me to prioritize and manage my workload. I’m really only accountable to myself. If my clients aren’t happy, then they won’t  be my clients for very long. (And I have the delicious flexbility of being able to run out for a couple of hours to get my hair done or go to a doctor’s appointment without dragging the little ones with me. That’s huge.)

I find that on my workdays, when I step into my office/library/workspace at 8:30 in the morning, a wave of relief washes over me. I don’t always love my work, and it isn’t my reason for living, but I do love being the master of my own domain, and not having to keep anyone else alive. I’ll be honest. On the days when I don’t work, I often look at the clock and think “My God, it’s only 3:00. What are we going to do until dinnertime?” On my work days, I never look at the clock and wish it read a few hours later than it does. This is why SAHMs are like: “You just don’t understand how hard this is. And the women who are earning paychecks are like: “I work my butt off all day for a difficult boss and THEN I get to come home to my second job — domestic life. You just don’t understand how hard this is.”

I get it. Working fulltime outside the house is extremely challenging. (I’ve never done it, so I can only imagine. It seems like an impossible proposition.) But staying at home with your young kids fulltime requires a very different kind of sacrifice, even if you love being there. I hate to say it, because I’m sure some won’t like me for it, but I think that the sacrifice is you.

I recently had several occasions to spend some time away from my little ones. A handful of long days out of the house, and then earlier this month, I went away with two of my teenagers for three full days to visit the oldest at college. The two little ones stayed at home with dad.

I began to notice something interesting. When I am not with my little guys, I am somehow more myself. I found that the way I parent my teenagers was actually different when we were away from the toddler and preschooler. I had the time to formulate a complete thought; I had the ability to focus and connect with the older kids. I connected with them as me, not as a harried mother. I began to recognize myself again. Oh, right! This is who I am. I felt more emotionally centered; less like I might burst into tears just because two unrelated things happened to go wrong at the same time. I had reserves. There is a French phrase that doesn’t translate very well but described the sensation exactly: I felt good in my skin.

I’m fascinated by this discovery. I am not saying that I don’t love spending time with my young boys, because I do. Yes, there are challenges, but there is a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and a lot of cuddles. I have always adored the period of infancy. I will admit, however, that during the weeks when I’m short on babysitting or end up spending more time with the boys than usual, it’s not always so much fun. I am coming to understand that I need my three work days to do my thing. Even though my work can be stressful, it is at times satisfying. And, most importantly, it doesn’t involve keeping anyone alive.

There is something about the intensity of caring for very young children — about up to first grade — that is profoundly draining. They need you. It’s not enough just to be there. They want your attention; you need to feed them; you need to change them; you need to read them that Elmo book — the one you can’t stand — 834 times in two days. You need to pluck them off the bookshelves before they kill themselves in an avalanche.  You need to come up with yet another way to entertain them on a rainy day, when at least one of your kids is too little for the craft project but just big enough to wreck it for an older sibling. The sheer noise factor — shouting, crying, screaming, fighting, talking, jumping off the furniture, chasing the dog, electronic toys, “musical” instruments — is often enough to make you want to poke your eye out with a Brio train. They gift you with moments of independent play, and perhaps a decent nap schedule, but there is nothing that you can really count on.

As the kids get older, you can position yourself to take advantage of those gifted moments of opportunity to do something on your own list, but it isn’t until the kids are at least 3 that you can stall them for any length of time when you’re trying to get something done. There are days — and nights — that are utterly filled with pee and poop and vomit. During some stretches it seems like you haven’t had a solid, uninterrupted night of sleep in years. (Because you haven’t.) Your time is largely spent wiping noses, picking the same toys up off the floor over and over again, and finding ways to be cheerful and support your child’s emotional and intellectual development even though you’re dog tired and really just want to go take a nap. Every day seems to be a variation on the same theme, which at time feels more like Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars than anything Raffi might perform.

Then, eventually, the kids start going to sleep at a reasonable, predictable hour — which you’ve been looking forward to for months years — but it turns out you’re still so brain dead by 8:00 p.m. that you can’t carry on a coherent conversation with your spouse or a relative who calls to chat. Forget about working on your novel or starting a new oil painting. Somehow your time is still not your own, even when you’re not technically on duty. And I assert that you cannot be yourself until your time is once again your own, for more than an hour or two at a time. (Although an hour or two is a great place to start.)

When does your time become your own again? Kids grow. They go to school. They become more independent. You no longer have to worry about keeping them alive from moment to moment. Gradually, you come back to life, sort of like a slo-mo version of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future when his parents kiss on the dance floor and he reappears in the snapshot tucked into the neck of his guitar. One day, you are you again. Sure, now you’re driving kids all over town and trying to lure them to the dinner table for family time, but this lacks the intensity of parenting a 2-year-old.

There are lots of wonderful things that happen while you’re taking care of young children, but I don’t think that you can really see the gravity of what that experience is like until you come out the other side. I was actually OUT when I stepped back in. My third child was 10 years old when I had my fourth. Perhaps that’s why this realization has hit me so hard. That, and the fact that I’m 40 now and I feel a little more selfish about “me” time. I’ve spent my entire adult life being a mother. I love being a mother, but I’m ready to also just be me. From my current vantage point, the energy and focus required in caring for young children makes it impossible to also be myself. The two seem like incompatible objectivesa more all-encompassing twist on our discussion of A Divided Heart.

I imagine that there are many mothers out there who simply love every aspect of motherhood and flit through their days like Mary Poppins and would probably tell me that I should never have had so many kids, seeing as I’m not really up for the job. Maybe that’s true. Maybe those mothers already knew who they were before they had kids, so it’s not as difficult for them to stay in touch with that inner anchor.

In the short term, I’d like to brainstorm ways that mothers of young children can stay connected to themselves, their real selves, while their children are young. I firmly believe that maintaining the creative self is absolutely essential. (Of course I do. I’m writing a book about that.) Finding ways to spend a bit of time alone is also vitally important, although often difficult to accomplish.

Oh, and just for the record, I’m going away again this weekend. Three days. Flying away by myself. And I plan to practice being me while I’m away, as much as possible.

What do you think? Does any of this ring true to you, or do I just sound like a cranky mother in need of Prozac?

Cathy: An update on the progress or not of my nano novel

crossposted from my personal blog

Life happens,
doctors happen,
and this past week, a lot of doctor appointments happened and other sundry bits of attending to sick self, sick kids, etc. So in the interest of pediatrics, Nanowrimo fell somewhat behind and has been having trouble catching back up. also, I really got walloped by news of Brother Blue passing away.

Nanowrimo is an excellent tool to get yourself writing if you call yourself a writer but don’t find yourself doing much of it. It’s an excellent jumpstart, you feel inspired, and even if you don’t, you push to meet that 1667 words per diem minimum. But once you fall behind, it becomes really hard to scramble. but I figured out a a few little secrets today:

1. I don’t have to write 1667 words per day.

2. But it works a heck of a lot better if I do. Otherwise I’m playing a deceitful game of catch-up – which is really very much like swimming against the riptide during hurricane season.

3. Nanowrimo becomes an obsession. Possibly a very unhealthy obsession. I sat in the pediatrics office for six hours on Wednesday thinking not so much of my kids and their various stages of this long, non-h1n1 flu we’ve had, but of how I could be writing instead of sitting in this waiting room, exam room, phlebotomy department, radiology department because when I took my daughter to the hospital the previous week, they didn’t run all the tests they now had to run during Nanowrimo. The boys were with me, too for their wellness appointments, etc, vaccines, etc. I was barely concerned, except when C was crying from getting stuck with a needle for bloodwork or having a big loud machine shoot light boxes all over her leg and hips, while mommy wore a big lead apron. Nano becomes unhealthy when your spouse and you are sitting right next to each other all night long on separate computers not saying a word to each other until he does, and you get annoyed that he’s interrupting your train of thought, but more importantly, your word count. It becomes an obsession when every time your toddler wanders over and whines and pulls to be on your lap, you act like it’s the end of the world because you can’t finish your train of thought or your word count. Same with the preteen mom-mom-momming in your ear and poking you in the arm or the teen mom-mom-momming you on the cellphone until you realize in a half-attention moment you allowed him to sleep over someone’s dad’s house and you don’t even know where he lives, because you were still typing when he was asking and you just wanted him off the phone.

4. But Nanowrimo is important, because you will write a novel in thirty days, whether you make the word count or not, and you will have another manuscript to edit and eventually shop with the other one, because you now can market it to agents as a series of sorts….and you will have two books at the end of this! And at the end of this, you’ll pay better attention to your spouse and your kids and yourself for that matter, and to the fact that maybe the sun is in fact shining outside and oh, yea, there’s an outside…..

5. I don’t have to write the parts in the order in which they come chronologically, but in the order in which they travel through my bleeding brain.

6. Ok that’s more than a few things, but I also figured out it is much better to write about what you know than have to research about something for a novel you’re trying to write in thirty days. Set it in a country you’ve been to, and forget about wildlife, unless of course, it has become a central theme in the book….

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