Twelve Easy Steps to Doing Creative Work while Parenting

by renegademama

So I’m doing the National Novel Writing Month thing, only I’m not writing a novel. I’m writing creative non-fiction, what I would call sort of a fusion between Ann Lamott and David Sedaris, only less good than that sounds. Since November 1 I’ve written 27,887 words, which is about 110 pages. And I have written a few blog posts. Basically I’ve been a writin’ fool. Emphasis on the fool.

On October 1 and 6 months ago and last year I would have told you there was no way I could possibly write 1,700 words a day on a book. There was simply not time. There was absolutely not one single spare moment in my day. And that was true.

I have 4 kids from tween to 5 months. My husband works 7 days a week these days. I already maintain a blog. I’m trying to build an online writing/blogging class (for you guys. what? Yes.).

No time. No sleep. No fucking way.

But then I read a quote by somebody that basically said that the writer will write when the fear of doing nothing outweighs the fear of writing complete crap. And suddenly, on October 30, I realized I was there. Fueled in part by the reality that teaching community college next semester would require me to work really freaking hard for below minimum wage (when you factor in childcare costs), and we can’t go on like this, with my husband working 7 days a week, I suddenly saw through my own bullshit.

It’s not that I didn’t have enough hours in the day to write. It’s that I chose to use my time in ways that negated the possibility of writing a book.

All I had to do is lower my fucking standards, A LOT. Like to the ground. I basically had to just chop them off at the knees and move on.

No biggee.

So for those of you “creative” moms who have a hobby or talent you’re just not using because there’s no time, I’ve created a list of Twelve Easy Steps to Doing Creative Work while Parenting. (I’ve written it about writing but I imagine it applies to most art.)

  1. Yeah, you know that nap time that lasts 1.5 hours (maximum), during wthich time you’re expected to accomplish Every Fucking Thing Since the Beginnning of Man? Yeah, you just get to write now during that time. That’s all. Just write.
  2. Forget the laundry. The hallway. The toys in the living room and the piles on the couch. Forget it all. Step over it. Step on it. Sit on it, near it, in it to get to your computer to write. Neglect everything and do the thing.
  3. Put the toddler in front of TV. Feel guily. Feel super fucking guilty but do it anyway becaue only the tenacity of A RABID IRRATIONAL BULLDOG WILL GET YOU THROUGH THIS.
  4. Learn to write absolute drivel. Silence the voices telling you it’s absolute drivel by writing anyway. Always write anyway. Do not read what you’ve written already because you’ll realize not only should you stop writing because you suck and shouldn’t bother, you might want to just off yourself too, because you’re that bad. LEARN TO LOVE THE DRIVEL. Do not off yourself.
  5. Cry on days when the toddler is in preschool for 2.5 hours and the baby decides not to take his only reliable morning nap that day because you realize you’ll probably have to do your writing at 10pm after everybody’s asleep, turning you into a miserable zombie yet another day.
  6. On that happy note, learn to write even though your eyes keep getting blurry. Learn to write when you’re so tired your cheekbones hurt (yeah, it’s a thing apparently. Who knew?).
  7. Fuck homecooked meals.
  8. Consider bathing optional.
  9. Accept help always.
  10. Drink so much coffee you wonder how your blood hasn’t bubbled out of your veins. Crash around 2pm but go pick up your kids anyway because you can’t just leave them there.
  11. Get okay with not brushing your toddlers hair and letting her wear pajamas all day, in and out of the house. While eating mac & cheese. And yogurt, for the 2nd meal in a row. (I said lower your motherfucking standards and I MEAN IT.)
  12. Write anyway write instead write because of write when you can’t write. Write when you have nothing to say when you can’t form a sentence when it’s pretty much all adjectives and adverbs and shit.

Write the shit, because it’s better than writing nothing, and if nothing else, you’ll learn that you can do it. You just have to make it insansely important and get crazy and not complain about it because you’re the one who chose to have the kids, dumbass. Now deal with it.

Or don’t deal with it, but write paint sew garden sing compose sculpt anyway.

We may not have a room of our own, but we’ve got a tiny spot on the motherfucking couch, and it’s calling our name.

my office. it's super excellent feng shui.

my office. it’s super excellent feng shui.

 

*******

The amazing Brene Brown says about Marianne Elliott:

“…She’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever experienced. If you want to do something extraordinary for yourself, I can’t think of a better teacher!”

Now THAT is a freaking endorsement.

Marianne Elliott is offering “Zen Peacekeepers Guide to the Holidays,” 30 Daily Lessons to help you keep peace with yourself and your loved ones. In her words:

You want to enjoy your families over the holidays, but you end up feeling ‘not quite at home’ with the people who you are supposed to be closest to.

You want to lay the table beautifully, buy the fancy wine, give your children ethical, sustainable gifts, and do it all with your hairZen Holidays brushed and your lipstick on straight. But you end up giving into pleas for the new Barbie, don’t even know which is the fancy wine, and never seem to leave enough time to brush your hair before the guests arrive.

You want to feel generous, maybe even a little bit indulgent, but you end up feeling financially squeezed, maybe even a little bit scared.

This mix of high expectations, financial pressure and family tension puts even the easiest of our relationships under strain. We start wishing the holidays would just be over and done with. And they haven’t even begun yet.

We don’t do much for ourselves sometimes, particularly during times when we really, really should.

Like now. When we’re trying to get through the damn holidays, and maybe even enjoy ourselves. Make memories that hopefully aren’t just all “What the hell is all this so stressful and why are my kids so annoying and why can’t I relax and when is Uncle Bobby going to stop drinking?”

Let Marianne help. She knows what she’s doing (somebody better!). Begin next week.

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To my daughter, who’s almost 13

by renegademama

You won’t believe me. You can’t. You show up to junior high and see two sets of humans: Those in and those out. Damn what’s up with those girls, right? How do they just know how to dress and do their hair and flip it just right and smile and talk and giggle? You look at them and are simultaneously star-struck and disgusted. You see through it. You know there’s more. But it’s alluring, fascinating. It seems real and fun. When nobody’s around you wonder if there’s something wrong with you, how come you can’t be one of them.

When I was in 7th grade I had acne. It started in 6th grade. The kids were horrible. They stood around and called me “pizza face” and asked what was wrong with my skin. When I got home I didn’t tell my mom or anybody else because I was ashamed. I thought there was something wrong with me.

I used to lie there and wonder what it would be like to be a CHEERLEADER. Ooooooooo.

I was too out of touch to even know I could sit in a classroom at lunch instead of around them. The boys terrified me. The girls intimidated me. If my one best friend wasn’t at school I would walk around while I ate so people would think I had somewhere to go and not notice I was terrified and lonely and desperately uncomfortable. I scribbled it all in my journal day after day, read Steinbeck and listened to the Grateful Dead and wondered how the hell to wear my mom’s blue eye shadow. (You’re way better off than me, love.)

Things got better in high school, sort of, but junior high? Junior high is bullshit.

I’m still saying the wrong thing and I have a messed-up sense of humor and see normal stuff in odd ways, and I still have no idea how to dress, and YEP I’m a misfit and weirdo and wonder sometimes if I’m alone in all this and you know what? This is precisely what makes me a writer (well, that and that I write).

I’ve always seen the world a little differently. It made me a freak then. It makes me a freak now, BUT IT GIVES ME SOMETHING TO SAY.

And it will give you something to say, too.

It’s all been done. It’s all been said. It’s all been painted and drawn and formed. So be delighted, be freaking overjoyed, that you’re a little off, for godddmanit you might paint or draw or write or form in a tiny new way.

Life is about that, my friend. My daughter. My beautiful child. That’s it. Hit the world a little new. Hit it a little fresh.

Watch the wonder unfold.

You got this.

 

Right now it’s all about fitting in. For the rest of your life it will be about setting yourself apart.

You see, as soon as you get out of junior high and high school it’s the misfits doing cool things, the brains running the show, the jacked-up dorks in the Museum of Modern Art, writing the music and the books, the nerds making the money and the movies and the plans for the new NASA project. Or cooking food people pay bazillions for. Or planting gardens in the middle of town. It’s the people with heart and enthusiasm, the ones ridiculed for caring, for seeing more deeply, for emailing the autistic child and being her friend.

Because it’s creativity. It’s individuality. It’s finding yourself unwilling to act like a fool, to violate who and what you are, to “fit in” with a bunch of kids you don’t actually like. It’s the ability to see through all that, to seek real friendships and real humor and conversations. It’s an interest in life, in the teachers and what they have to offer, in learning. It’s curiosity. It’s talent. It’s reading and ideas and imagination (maybe even a little too long. I played with dolls until 7th grade. DON’T TELL ANYONE.)

I’m not saying you’re better than them. You’re not. Well you’re probably better than some of them. I’m not saying you’ll be rich or go further than them. Some will grow up and realize they were fools in junior high and high school. Others will become Uncle Rico.

All I’m saying is this: The things that will make you an excellent human are not necessarily supported, appreciated or developed in junior high and high school, so don’t let this nonsense suck your soul. Your body image. Your heart. Your strength and sense of humor and love for Greek and Roman mythology that already has your dad and I lost.

Stay weird. Keep reading.

Know it’s bullshit and feel my love.

Say something new.

We’re listening.

 

You, at five years old.

You, at five years old.

 

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34 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | November 12, 2014

I don’t want more kids, but I’ll never be done

by renegademama

There’s something wrong with me. I’ve suspected it before but now I know, fully.

I’m okay with it. I think. I mean there’s not much I can do, really, is there?

My husband, right now, as we speak, is getting a vasectomy. I cleared it with him before announcing this on the internet.

If you’re new here, we have 4 kids. Ava, 12. Rocket (Charles), 9. Georgia, 4 and Arlo, 5 months.

We quite clearly don’t need any more children.

We aren’t like rollin in the dinero wondering which private school we should send our kids to (because none of them quite live up to our expectations).

There is a 5 x 4 foot pile of laundry in the “laundry room” (garage). I haven’t seen the floor of our car in approximately 4 months. It smells vaguely of apples and mold.

But most importantly, every day, at least once, I throw my hands up toward the heavens and cry out “MY GOD WHY ARE THERE SO MANY OF THEM?”

More often, I whisper under my breath “God damnit I’m never having any more kids.” And I mean it, man. I MEAN IT.

Occasionally this sentiment takes new and exciting forms such as “What the fuck were we thinking?” or “Is this really as good as it gets?”

My 4-year-old actually literally frightens me. All of us, really. She comes barreling at us from across the room with this wild look in her eye and every single time I’m sure she’s going to headbutt my groin. I sort of bend over and cover the area and hope for the best. Sometimes, on the way to school, when she sees the donut shop, she demands a donut and when I say “no,” she whines for 10 solid minutes. Then she gets mad and takes the toy from the baby in the carseat as a form of displaced retaliation, so now the baby who was finally not crying is now doing that hold-the-breath-then-squeal thing. Chances are he won’t stop. While he cries and she whines about motherfucking pastries, my 9-year-old makes strange popping sounds and asks about something I can’t follow while my 12-year-old wants to tell me about the new project in history class, which I totally want to hear about, but can’t, because I haven’t slept more than 4 hours/night in the past week and I just realized I forgot Rocket’s IEP paperwork AGAINNNNNNNNNN and the noise the noise the NOISE.

In other words, I have my fucking hands full.

That’s clear, folks. Logically, there should never ever be another baby added to this mix and every single fucking day I am reminded of this fact in seemingly endless forms.

And yet, right now, my husband is getting a vasectomy and all I can think is “Wait. It’s over?”

It can’t be over. I’m not ready for it to be over. I’m 35! I have 5 more years in me! WHAT IF I WANT FIVE????

 

“Janelle, we barely want 4.”

Mac is right.

On every cognitive level of my brain I know 100% that we are done. But the problem is I just can’t seem to GET DONE. To FEEL DONE. To really deeply in my bones BE DONE.

I realize there are people out there who “just know” when a baby is their last and others who say “one and done” and they’re all stable and secure and confident in that decision, or at least they pretend to be. They seem so grown-up and decided, you know, like “This is right and I am unwavering and there is no gray area for me.”

There is always, always, a gray area for me. I am never sure of any damn thing. It all feels a little right and a little wrong. I kind of do things and see what happens. Not because I’m trying to live on the edge. Rather, I can’t seem to do it differently. I make decisions because they seem vaguely better than the other ones.

IMG_1825Look, I’m not recommending this as a life philosophy. I’m merely telling you what’s up.

I don’t want any more children. I can’t stand the thought of not having any more children.

I told you. Something’s wrong with me.

Please don’t give me family planning advice. I think we can all agree (based on my past experience) that I won’t use it. I just want to talk about the side of me that will never, ever be done. The side that will never be done with the moment your baby is placed in your arms and you feel that warm body and lock eyes with this tiny being you’ve known forever but just met. The smell, the tiny suits and sleeping gowns and tufts of hair. The anticipation. The moment of birth.

And then, a little bigger,  the fists.

The smiles and coos and laughter.

I will never be done with that.

I still have it with Arlo. I won’t have it for long.

I know this because I watched it leave me in the dust with three other children.

The Last Baby.

 

The end of him as a newborn is the end of me with newborns. He’s through that now. He rolls onto his belly, pulls his legs up, pushes up with his arms. Soon he’ll crawl. I don’t need to go through this list, you know it already.

And I’ll never be “okay” with it. I’ll never be done.

It’s the end. But I’ll never be done having kids.

I don’t need to convince myself otherwise. It’s alright I guess to hover in this nonsense, wanting it to end but never, ever wanting it to end, dying for the day I get my “life back” and wondering if I may die the day I get my life back, encouraging the little fella to do whatever new thing he’s trying, then turning around and feeling a sting that he succeeded.

I’ll never be done with you, kids. You’ll go, and I’ll let go, but I’ll never be done. These are the days I wish would end but beg never to end. The clock is ticking through my series of “lasts.” It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t need to.

He sat up the other day on his own, as they do.

It felt to me like he did it too soon, but I cheered him on anyway and laughed with the other kids, feeling the firsts and the lasts roll on beneath me, carrying us relentlessly right on through, toward the only end that will never quite come, the finish that will never find me.

 

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All the things I’ve never known (about babies)

by renegademama

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my best friends in the world is having her first baby in a couple months. I feel like I should have some super helpful profound shit to tell her about babies, you know, because I’ve been doing it for 13 years or so, 4 pregnancies, births and babies. Kids ranging from 13 years to 5 months.

And yet, beyond the whole “there will probably come a time when you’re sure you’ve ruined your life” thing, I’ve got nothing. I mean, I know a lot of shit. I know all kinds of shit.

 

For example, I know there’s no better way to wake up a newborn than to drift off to sleep. Or sit down for dinner. I know leaving in a hurry triggers baby bowels. I know there will pretty much always only be one shoe. I know The One Reliable Nap of The Day will not occur on days that you really, really need it to get something done. Particularly if there’s a deadline involved.

I know there is some sort of telepathic communication between newborns and toddlers that allows them to stagger their sleeping, waking, and getting sick. In other words, there will almost never be two doing it at the same time.

I know this will drive me nearly insane. I know I will roll over at least once and tell myself the baby is not crying, or I can just let him cry and fall back asleep, or that I had rather stab myself in the head with a bamboo shoot than get out of bed and deal with these fucking kids.

I know I will get out of bed anyway.

I know when the baby is a newborn, it’s not a cold. It’s whooping cough. It’s something bad. We should get that checked out. Right now. Yesterday. I know I’ll suspect in the recesses of my brain that I’m being irrational and slightly hysterical but I won’t care because this is my 9-pound most perfect baby creation (and part of my soul) and if something happens to him I may not go on.

I know I will not sleep until I know the exact position of my newborn, the face hands and what’s around her. I’ll check her breathing. I’ll check her breathing more than once. I’ll know this is weird but I won’t be able to stop.

These things have not faded with time. I have not become less crazy. I have only become more accepting of my craziness.

My winning moment with Arlo, I think, was when he started sucking his thumb and I determined this was due to parental neglect. You know, he’s not nursing enough. I have too many other kids. I can’t care for him properly! Poor kid has to resort to sucking an appendage!

I realize this is damn near the stupidest interpretation possible, but it’s what came to my mind, and I shared this with Mac, with a bit of a twinkle in my eye, because I know I’m fucking crazy and I’m okay with it. But every time he’d do it I’d wonder “This is my first kid to suck the thumb. OBVIOUSLY I’M FAILING THIS ONE.”

I know some babies let you sleep and some don’t. I know some will sleep in cribs and some won’t. I know this is an infuriating aspect of parenthood that never gets easier. I know some people “sleep train” by letting their babies scream. I know that isn’t something I’ll do. I know mothers need to do what helps them not go insane.

I know I like nursing my babies but hate pumping. I’ll do it anyway but not constantly. I know I may give formula but not in the first 6 months. I know this is alright.

I know this could all go to shit if I had a 5th kid, which I know I’m not.

I know I’ll feel guilty no matter what I do and slightly unsatisfied too. I know absolutely I can’t have it all. If I work I’ll miss being home. If I’m home I’ll miss work.

Sometimes I’ll feel guilty for feeling guilty, which is pretty meta right? Also ridiculous. But I have 4 kids. I should know better. Guilt? Fuck guilt. Be strong. Be secure in your decisions. Be okay.

I know I will only do that sometimes. I know I will always wonder if I’m enhancing or ruining America. I know I’m not that important. I know I want my kids to be who they were meant to be and my main job is to help that happen. I know my flaws will fuck with that process regularly, leaving me wracked and thinking perhaps a different mother would have been better for them. I know that isn’t true either.

I know I’ll think I have something figured out and then it will change. I know I will constantly be schooled by life that I really don’t know shit.

And I know none of this will really help you. Or it might. I would love if it did. But really what I know is that when you’ve had a kid or two or four you’ll write your list of shit you know, and you’ll realize it’s a ton and somehow nothing at all and both totally helpful to others and yet not helpful at all.

It’s all I’ve got and yet it’s a tiny irrelevant corner of an insane universe, and you’ve got your own corner. (With me in it, of course.)

So there. There you have it, my friend. All the things I’ve never known about babies.

I hope it helps.

Neglect from the start right there.

 

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32 Comments | Posted in I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING HERE. | November 3, 2014

I was going to hate Disneyland.

by renegademama

When we walked into Disneyland I looked around and thought “I have either entered the happiest place on earth or the axis of evil, but it sure is clean!”

I’ll admit it. I was skeptical. The price alone made me hate it. Then you add princesses and rides and masses of humanity and I figured the DMV on a Friday afternoon would be more fun.

But my kids really, really wanted to go and Mac and I felt some sort of American Obligation to take our kids to the big D-land. We put it off approximately 12 years, the age of our oldest daughter.

 

The problem is, within moments of walking through the front gate I was having a silly amount of fun. I was embarrassing myself. It was actually kind of irritating, were it not so fun.

I don’t know why exactly. It just was. The kids were walking around on clouds. I got such a kick out of watching them. I was kinda giddy. Mac was too. He may have skipped. We were a couple of kids ourselves.

All the planters were perfect and bright and balanced and shit. The rides were genuinely exciting and amusing. Weird puppets sang catchy tunes. Lights blinked. Things felt okay. I thought it would be a very strange place to drop acid.

I expected the standard amusement park smell of hamburgers, urine, and broken dreams. Instead I seemed to just smell good stuff. And clean. Good, clean stuff.

Yeah, the princesses. The materialism. The consumerism. And the lady yelling “Shut up!” in the face of her toddler, gripping his arm. And the lines. And the stores. And the asshole shuttle driver. And the “red man” (ohmygod) in the Peter Pan ride.

But, my family. My four kids and dad and stepmom and mom. And my brother and sister-in-law and nephews and niece.

Georgia looking up at me yelling “Goofy! He is REAL! He’s right THERE!” Ava and I taking pictures of ourselves on the Buzz Lightyear ride. Riding in the car singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” while Rocket “drove” and cackled. Going on Splash Mountain with my kids and Mac and hearing Georgia roar “That was scary but AWESOME. Let’s do it AGAIN!”

 

A few moments after returning to the hotel, while we took an afternoon break before heading back to Disneyland, I read a post on Facebook stating that my friend’s daughter had passed away just hours earlier from complications from Leukemia. She would have been 3 years old on November 4.

Lucy Selah, November 4, 2011 – October 24, 2014.

Through tears I looked around at that hotel room over there in Anaheim and I saw the Mickey ears sitting on that table and the Goofy stuffed animal I bought Georgia and the Pooh bear for Arlo, because we took him on that ride, and I felt the disgusting juxtaposition of where I was versus where my friend was, mere hours into her living nightmare.

I was skipping about PleasantVille in virtually pure carefree bliss while she was in a hospital, saying her final goodbyes to her baby girl.

The happiest place on earth.

Leukemia.

There’s no way to make sense of that. None. There’s no way to make sense of one day eating Mickey ear ice creams and the next day  watching your toddler crush under the weight of disease.

There’s no way to make sense of it and I won’t try. My thoughts were stupid and trite. I have no better ones now.

I thought about Lucy and cried some more and looked over all the pictures of her, the ones we had seen over the months, as she fought for her young life. I thought about her and her mom and siblings and dad and I was glad I wasn’t too good for Disneyland, that I took it in fully for once, that I let go of my old ideas to just be there fully with my family. I get caught up in failed expectations or exhaustion or just good ol’ self-centered preoccupation sometimes, and I miss it. Life. I miss the bouncing blonde heads around me. The action. The pulse and light and sound. It’s really fucking hard to remember.

But that trip to Disneyland had me in it, fully. I was terribly grateful for those couple of days.

I felt it in my bones as I read those words “Our little Goose spread her wings and flew away home this afternoon.”

 

I wanted to do something, say something, fix something. But I was there, and the only thing to do was keep on going. It all felt silly after that, the lights and puppets and weird sounds. The perfect planter boxes and characters and fireworks. It felt small and ridiculous and false.

But it felt like life, this good, good life – and I saw her face in my mind as I spent $24 on 3 freaking Mickey balloons, just to see the joy in my own toddler, niece and nephew.

I should have bought a fourth, and let it go into the sky, for no other reason than to watch it disappear.

 

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***********

If you feel compelled to help, please consider making a donation to Lucy’s family to help support them through this time.

Her memorial service is Sunday, two days before what would have been her 3rd birthday.

I also want to thank those of you who have already donated. With just one Facebook post on the Renegade Mothering page, over $2,500 was raised. I have long suspected the best humans read this blog. You are proving me right.

THANK YOU.

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19 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | October 30, 2014