“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald,
Just a quick stop-by to say that a friend and I went to a free-to-the-public interview with New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman last night, and it was lovely. As a writer, I was eager to hear him talk about his process, his inspiration, the building blocks of his career. All the good stuff.
Alas, the audience (mostly made up of university students) wanted to know when he was going to write more Dr. Who episodes, and their questions are the ones that got answered.
Still, I enjoyed the evening. What little I gleaned from the talk (“Writers don’t just write. They finish things. Then they send their work out bravely. Then they start the next story”) was helpful, if not groundbreaking. And it felt like luxury to do nothing but listen to someone talk about stories.
One thing was clear, though. Neil Gaiman writes like a man and thinks like a man, which is to say, he revels in his scads of ‘free’ ‘creative genius’ time. I, on the other hand, am a mom. I write like a ninja, not like a mad scientist. I cannot afford to stay up all night, smoking cigarettes or…other things, rake my fingers through my crazy hair, and then sleep it off the next day.
So I listened and I smiled and I looked down at my watch. Because my writing day will start tomorrow just like it did today–hopefully before my kids need me.
And I’m cool with it.
It’s officially Fall Break around here. For us, September held birthdays, visits from out-of-town grandparents, meetings, more meetings, and more m…
And now it’s October. We aren’t actually “breaking” from our routine too much this week because to do that feels like bringing a full-stop to our already-wobbly momentum. And, anyway, Christmas is coming soon (yes, it really is–stop denying it).
We take Christmas break very seriously in this house.
However, it doesn’t take much for us to feel that something kind-of special/different/holidayish is happening even now. This week we’ve been lighting fires in the fireplace at night. We’ve been watching Agatha Christie murder mysteries on Netflix in the late afternoon gloom. The other day we ate chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. Several.
And it really is good enough.
So from our house to yours: Happy Fall, You People (because I can’t make myself type y’all)
My kids got an up close taste of death yesterday.
It’s not like they didn’t know it existed before this. We’d seen the lifeless body of a woman floating face down in the river in Nepal once. We’d watched bodies on biers move past us on their way to funeral pyres in India. We’d passed dog carcasses wearing blankets of flies, the smell of them slapping us in the face as we walked to a friend’s flat.
And in the US we’ve been to funerals, stared into open caskets at faces that don’t look asleep.
We’ve had to peel our beloved dog off the road and bury her before her time.
But yesterday was different. It was a shock and, though it’s something that happens every day in the world, it reminds us that we aren’t home yet.
When we become mothers, women who were once carefree or serious or focused find ourselves turning angsty over all that could go wrong in the lives of our children. We seem to stress in direct proportion to how big we feel our job is.
And I think we all agree: it’s big.
In earlier generations, moms cared about their kids but didn’t assume they needed to be their little darlings’ entire universes. Frankly, they didn’t think it was healthy for the kids or themselves. But add busier-than-ever parents plus guilt plus more things to worry about (thank you, Internet. No, really) and you’ve got a recipe for defensive, burned-out mothering from the word go.
Homeschooling does not make a mom immune to inner and outer kvetching. It can help to turn down the temperature on our worries in some ways, only because we’re spending a lot of time with our kids, and we can sort-of take stock of how they’re doing throughout the day. But it also presents a whole new list of things to question whether we (and they) are doing well.
In spite of all that, I’m happy with the way this school-and-mothering year is unfolding. My oldest son turns 14 tomorrow. I have another one who’ll be 13 in the blink of an eye, and an 11-year-old daughter who looks like a freshman. We have had, and will have, our fair share of difficulties, new things about which to wonder, problems that will arise.
Believe me, I know.
But, looking back, lots of my parenting worries throughout the last fourteen years have not come true. Most haven’t, in fact. The kids are doing well, by the grace of God. They’re turning out in spite of my failures both as a teacher and as a mom.
I want to offer encouragement in case some of you have younger kids and are tempted to worry, too. Just keep showing up, loving them, praying for them, enjoying the time you have with them as much as is possible.
Refuse to give in to the temptation to fret.
In the end, most of what you worry about won’t come true. And, honestly, even if some of it does, it will still be OK.
Sometimes things happen that blow you away and you don’t know what to do with the thoughts and emotions that linger long after others seem to have moved on. I know I’m not the only one.
Can I make a suggestion?
Write about things even if you aren’t a “writer.” Write journal entries, write poems and stories, write prayers, write mean, little lists if you have to.
Just don’t let those things (good or bad, but mostly bad) stay inside your mind, cold and friendless. Don’t let events that need words to shape them walk around naked in perpetuity. Wrap them up in verbs and adjectives. Cover them with nouns.
You’ll be better for it and, in some small way, so will the world.
I woke up this morning with a whirling mind and bruised heart so that it felt like I hadn’t slept at all last night.
My mood further plummeted when it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be able to mull over what’s burdening me in order to mentally work it out. I’m a writer and a teacher and I have to be emotionally present and alert to do my job(s) well. And these weighty thoughts are like mental sludge in my brain pipes.
So what will I do in the next eighteen hours?
I’ll pray every time the heavy thoughts come up today. Like a ninja. My problems are beyond me, but not God.
I’ll make a list of the things I have to accomplish in the next several hours.
I’ll follow that list, checking things off as I get them done without trying to decide in the moment what comes next.
I’ll listen to music when I’m not teaching or writing. Few things focus my mind more than hearing songs and lyrics I love.
I’ll exercise at some point, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
I’ll remind myself that today will last for exactly 24 hours like its ancestors before it. It’ll pass. It has to.
Finally, I’ll get on with life because that’s what mothers do.
How do you cope with burdens you can’t seem to permanently offload?