Mother’s Day: Listen to Your Mother

In 2013, I was cast in Listen to Your Mother Show Austin. LTYM features curated, live readings by local writers on the topic of motherhood in celebration of Mother’s Day. As of this year, Listen to Your Mother shows are in 39 cities and Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now was released April 7 of this year, featuring a number of essays from past shows. Fellow 2013 LTYM Austin alumnae Ruth Pennebaker and Wendi Aarons (who also co-produced the 2013 LTYM Austin show with Elizabeth McGuire) both contributed to the book! (Cool, eh?)

Not all of the writers are mothers and not all of the writers are professional writers (Ahem. Me.) It was fairly intimidating and a lot surprising to find myself sitting around a table for our first read-through with all of these real-life pros. It was realizing you’re at the wrong wedding reception after you’ve already taken a piece of cake. What are you going to do? I sat there and ate the cake.

I ate the cake, but I spent the rest of the party fairly disengaged. Which is a sacrilege since LTYM is profoundly moving and even transformative. But, it wasn’t like that for me. Which isn’t a statement about the show, my castmates or producers – it’s a statement about me and where I was in life.

In May 2013, Cheech was a six month old infant. No. Not an infant – a nursling with a lip-tie. He nursed all. the. time. So he came with me from Waco to Austin for the audition, rehearsals and the show. My husband cared for him in the green room until after I read, I cared for him until curtain call. Yeah. My husband didn’t even hear me read. And I didn’t hear anyone else read except for those rehearsals – the ones where I was caring for Cheech at the back of the auditorium. And forget about any after-parties or meet-ups. Those were just not happening with adorable Leech Cheech in tow.

I was present, but I wasn’t present. I was in the car. I was in the green room. I was hiding in hallways. I was in the ohmygodheneedstonurseagain frame of mind (and thankgoditsaustin as I flashed random strangers out of necessity frame of mind).  The moment I was experiencing just wasn’t the moment everyone else in the cast or audience was experiencing. I didn’t need tissues because I wasn’t crying – I was trying to keep my small human from crying. I was doing what so many of us do – missing out on things because babies don’t keep.

But moments like LTYM don’t keep, either. You don’t get a do-over. Once you’ve done it, you don’t get to do it again. People submit to this show year after year after year hoping to make the cut. And then they don’t. Or they do. And then, some of them end up on their local news and some of them end up in a book – and I am still a lot surprised that my submission, written on a whim as part of a New Year’s resolution – made the cut.

And I know, I know. I did the right thing, the only thing. Cheech needed me. But in honor of Mother’s Day, I get to say that doing the right thing stinks sometimes. I missed out on the full experience of LTYM. I missed out on what was a super big, once-in-a-lifetime deal for an amateur like me because mothering.

I ate the cake, but I don’t know what flavor it was.

So, here is a link to my LTYM video. Note the nursing-friendly, wrinkle-resistant outfit (which coordinated with my baby-wearing gear). I haven’t actually watched it myself – I hate watching myself on video/tv – so they could have dubbed in Vincent Price reading the classifieds for all I know, but I hope you enjoy it. I haven’t posted it before because of all the feelz I have about not really getting to enjoy my 6:52″ of fame. I was just too busy thinking about that hungry baby in the green room.

And maybe I’m okay with that now. Thanks for listening.

* This post includes affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase, I get small change to support my coffee habit.

When I’m Not Stalking Facebook/Writing Drivel

I spend a lot of time on Facebook and quite a bit of time lately here on ye olde blog, writing drivel that very few people will ever read. (Hi, mom!)

However, I have also been working on a more serious project – a children’s nonfiction prospectus for a publisher that focuses on literature for the gifted and those who teach them. It was an open call for submissions (which is great, since I don’t have an agent) and in talking with real writer friends, I think my premise is promising.

My book is about contemporary kids doing awesome sciency stuff. As you might have guessed, Scooter is really into sciency stuff. And I’d love to read to him about other kids who are also into sciency stuff, but there just aren’t that many books out there. The books that are out there? They are almost twenty years old, and I really wanted to read to him about kids doing amazing stuff in STEM that are close to his age. I think it’s important for kids to know that right now, right this very minute, there are kids doing awesome things, don’t you?

So, I wrote my own book! (Technically, I only wrote about 1,500 words of it because that’s all the publisher wants – along with a bunch of other stuff including a detailed outline). Since January, when I haven’t been stalking Facebook or writing drivel, I’ve been reading about awesome, amazing kids from all over the world who have done fantastic, fabulous stuff – and all within the last decade.

And, let me tell you – there are A LOT of these kids. At one point, I had over 60 potential kids to write about! I had to winnow the list because the book is geared for 8-12 year olds which influences word count. Sure, I could have said the absolute bare minimum and included all 60 kids, but I wanted to be able to share something about each person’s process, personality and the impact of their research and discoveries. That’s the kind of thing I think kids will find compelling – details that show that these awesome sciency kids are kids just like them. Kids who play the guitar, fight over the monkey bars, and compete with their siblings for attention.

But, I do feel badly about the kids I left out. I know, I know. It’s not like they know they got left out of my imaginary book, but I know and I still want to tell their stories. So, every now and then, while I wait to hear back from the publisher (10-12 weeks, y’all!), I think I’ll write about those awesome kids who didn’t make it into my outline. Maybe you’ll find them as inspiring as I do.

In the meantime, it’s on to other projects. I have delusions of grandeur other ideas that I’d like to submit – and it’s all part of keeping busy here in the Piney Woods.

Homeschooling and Insanity

There are lots of people who think homeschooling is insane. From the moment I announced I was even thinking about it, I heard, “I could never homeschool!” or “I’d go nuts if I homeschooled!” Then, I decided to quit talking to myself and carry on.

To be fair, homeschooling would be an insane choice for some families. However, we are fortunate to have the time and resources as well as a workable match between parent and child personalities to make it work (at least for now). I would never suggest that homeschooling is for everyone – but it is most definitely not in our case, “insane.”

And I’d like to keep it that way. (And so would my husband and the kids despite their daily attempts to drive me over the edge.)

So right after I looked into the legalities of homeschooling (okay…BEFORE), I thought long and hard about what I would need to maintain this thin veneer of sanity. Because this past year? It has been really tough. And I only recently turned the proverbial corner toward a better state of mental and emotional well-being.

My husband as well as my best friend were also concerned. My husband thought it was the best option for Scooter, but worried it wasn’t the best option for me. My best friend had similar thoughts. So, I thought long and hard, talked through things, asked for ideas, and came up with a plan.

The first thing I realized was that, as much as possible, I wanted to mitigate the enormity of this change by making it as smooth a transition as possible. I didn’t want to completely upset the apple cart by changing our entire home routine. So…I didn’t. I planned our homeschooling day like our public-schooling day. (Except without the part where we took Scooter to school each morning at 7:15 a.m. or picked him up later in the afternoon.) We maintained our morning routine: brain-rotting cartoons, breakfast, dress and brush, chores, then school. And that has worked great for us. I need structure, my kids need structure, and structure has made this change less of a “change.”

I also realized that I had to have daily therapy – i.e. time for creative endeavor. Everyone has their thing, and my thing is creating, most often writing, but sometimes practicing piano, composing, reading, studying something new or occasionally, crafting. (As in very, very occasionally. Sorry about those unfinished slippers from 1998, Mom. I’ll finish them soon.) So, every day, I force my children to have a rest period while I head to our little home office or curl up somewhere and read or study. So far, I’ve worked on new state teaching certifications, a nonfiction children’s book prospectus and some fairly bad poetry. It’s been awesome and I look forward to it every day.

I also asked for and received a gym membership and promises to take care of the spawn in the mornings so that I can go run/walk/crawl and do some strength training. Most mornings so far, this hasn’t happened due to weather and illness. But next week is the week! Really, really!

We also get out of the house regularly. No way was I going to be cooped up all day, every day. It wasn’t going to work for me or for the kids. So, three mornings a week, we go on some kind of short outing or errand. Now that Scooter is starting T-ball and a math club at a local library, we may cut down, but getting out and seeing the big, wide world is essential.

And last, but not least, I asked my husband to please, pretty please take over the morning and evening childcare duties. Let’s be honest – I’ve always been the default parent and I probably always will be. But if I am going to continue to be the parent primarily responsible for their safety, feeding, napping, crapping, social calendar AND their education, he can deal with dress and brush and bath and jammies.

Routine, creative time, exercise, getting out and assistance – that’s what I’ve required to be successful at our new endeavor. If you are thinking about homeschooling, what do you need to stay sane?

Thanks for reading.

Insanity

I Hate Waiting

Today I sent off my first children’s picture book submission. To a real publisher. (And no, it’s not “Robert and Roberta.”)

It’s a story that I think is pretty great. My ninth grade English teacher and my mother concur. It has a quirky protagonist, a dragon who wants to be an organic farmer and a good bit of alliteration (but no rhyming, rest assured). Here’s a sample:

“Good morning, mortal. I saw the smoke from your fire and have come to satisfy my appetite.” Hunwald licked his lips.

“Appetite?” gulped Gavert.

“Yes,” crooned Hunwald, his eyes narrowing. “A voracious appetite! For something…succulent!” and he licked his lips again.

“Perhaps some liverwurst?” squeaked Gavert.

“Hm. I’ve never had liverwurst. I’ll give it a try,” said Hunwald skeptically.

Gavert had some of the gruel left over and Hunwald licked the kettle clean. “Hm. A most delicate presentation with a soupcon of tarragon,” Hunwald crooned appreciatively. “Anything else?”

I’ve spent a lot of time revising and rewriting, tightening up the prose and reading it out loud, agonizing over word choice. Does Governor Floppensnout hoot when he laughs or does he snort? Does Hunwald have gleaming claws or razor-sharp claws? Agony, I tell you. Agony. And, I’ve asked people who know about these things to read it. I’ve read it to children (none were harmed in the testing process). I painstakingly researched the publishing house, combing through their catalogue, reviewing books they’ve recently published. Then, I cyber-stalked the editors to decide which one might be the most receptive. I tore my hair out writing a cover letter, scrounged up a nice (yet plain) envelope, hand-addressed it so that it wouldn’t look like a bulk submission, stamped it (perfectly aligning the little suckers) and now, it’s out there. In the world. Making its way to the desk of Ms. Fantastic Editor. Or perhaps, her secretary/intern/coffee lackey. I’m hoping it gets read. I’m hoping whoever reads it likes it. Enough to bring it to Ms. Fantastic Editor’s attention. Enough for Ms. Fantastic Editor to say, “Eureka! I’ve found it!” and maybe even to yell, “Stop the presses!” (Though I know they don’t actually have the presses at the publisher’s office.)

It’s like waiting to be asked to the dance.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, I hate waiting.

This publisher promises they read every submission and that they respond within twelve weeks if they are interested. I am skeptical. They get a lot of submissions. Forests-worth. I imagine them, like Gringotts goblins, riding high on piles and piles of envelopes like mine, slightly grouchy (from paper cuts on their hind-quarters), working diligently, but with little patience for drivel and slop.

“Oh. Another counting book! NEXT!”

“Vampire book. YAWN!”

“Oh. My. God. If I see one more cover letter saying their style is like J. K. Rowling or William Steig, I’m going to lose it, people! Lose. It!”

I hate waiting.

And I really hope the coffee lackey likes my book. Really, really.

AWOL

Dear Loyal Followers (all 8 of you):

I apologize for the delay in updating this humble blog. I am sure there has been much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth as you awaited my next installment, so send me the bills for your psychotherapy – mama’s feeling generous today.

Please know that I have thought of you often in this past week.

On Easter Sunday as I forced Scooter into a raccoon mask for the children’s spring pantomime at church, I thought perhaps there was something newsworthy there. Things really looked promising when he subsequently refused to sit in the pew and insisted instead on “helping” mommy at the piano. But, when I had to take him to the foyer (and by “take,” I mean carry like a log – a screaming banshee log) my hopes were dashed. No one wants to hear about that.

Then, I played for a memorial service. I had never met the deceased – but after hearing his family and friends reminisce about his life, I really wished I had. There was a lot of deep, thought-provoking material there. But, I’m not a ghoul and writing about that in detail seems indecent and a little too “heavy.”

On a much lighter note, I thought about writing about Scooter’s recent trip to the zoo where he made an instant best friend. I ended up spending several hours at the zoo following him and his new pal around – and making new friends myself with the little guy’s equally amused parents. Everyone loves to hear about how beautiful children are – but my ears are still ringing from Easter Sunday and I’m not in a good place to write about the joys of motherhood today.

As for Cheech, he continues to delight and amaze with his wicked mad skills: scooting backwards and farting large. But, I realize my bar for “delightful” and “amazing” is likely rather low so I’ll save that shiznit for Facebook.

So, dear reader, while I feel I have absolutely  nothing at all to write about, I’m sure I’ll come up with something. In the meantime, know that I am thinking about you and will deliver the goods soon.

Yours.

Hitting it Big in the Blogosphere

badge-2013Well, it’s official: I have joined that hallowed band of writers whose work has been recognized by other writers as something worth reading.

No, I’m not talking about my short story, “Robert and Roberta,” a tale of two robots who find love, chosen as the first place fourth-grade entry in a school-wide contest. And not my piece about life lessons from Kermit the Frog published in my college paper, either. I’m talking about my recent submission to Listen to Your Mother: Austin a national series of original live-readings on local stages and via social media sponsored in part by Blogher. It’s kind of a big deal.

I read about the call for submissions on the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators site in February and decided that would be a great way for me to meet my goal of submitting in 2013. I had no real expectation that anything would come of it, but I was part of the small group chosen to read for the producers and part of an even smaller group chosen for the final show.

My name is going on posters. And on the internet. With a link to this humble blog. People might actually read more of what I write – in fact, they already have. Since the cast announcement went live yesterday, this humble site has had forty-nine hits. Forty-nine, people! This is the BIG TIME!!!

Seriously, though, it’s really cool. Unexpected, who-woulda-thunk-it, spectacularly cool.

And, I should be more excited. I really should.

But the truth is, it’s a little like the dream where you are on stage delivering the valedictory address at Harvard only to find you’re not wearing any clothes. The piece is very personal – perhaps more than it would have been if I had actually thought I had a chance at being included. Without violating the “no spoilers” agreement, it is about my struggle to parent over the head-noise of less-than-ideal childhood messages and experiences. Tough stuff. And while I did write the piece without judgment for the sources of that noise, without even identifying those sources, in fact, just talking about it in such a public forum leaves me feeling more than a little vulnerable.

But perhaps that is what made the piece something the producers thought people should hear. It’s not a “downer” piece. It’s not a “poor me” piece. And it’s certainly  not a “blame and shame” piece. But, it is real and raw and honest. Parts of it are even funny.

And all of it is me.

So, if you are or will be in the area, buy your tickets soon. I understand they sell like the proverbial hotcakes. Check out the producer’s bios (Boy! Am I glad I didn’t peek before my audition! Talk about intimidating!) and the links to other cast members’ pages. And, if you think of it on May 9, message me and remind me to get dressed before I go on stage.