Tag Archives: writing

Downtime

 

 

These days it’s crazy easy to pack our schedules. To fit in two and three outings a day, an art class or two, and heck, why not stop at the park with friends because, you know, it’s a good chance to get energy out (for our endlessly moving kids) and what’s a few three or four hours of fun before bedtime?

And it’s not just a packed physical schedule either, but mental ones as well. Like for me, every moment of free-thought time and filling it with audiobooks or podcasts (a favorite pastime for me while driving) or if I’m desperate for a TV show and story, propping up my laptop on the counter during the ridiculously, time-consuming process of cutting veggies and washing, I swear, the endless supply of dirty dishes (to the point where I had no idea we actually had that many dishes!).

Well, turns out, all those events and outings, and stuff my brain’s chewing on, that’s kinda a lot. And it really starts to add up.

Not that there’s anything wrong if that works for you and your family. But what I’m learning is that time at home is critical, especially for my family.

We’re a bunch of introverts.

If I schedule both weekend days with socializing everyone is getting ready to have their own personal meltdowns and not just the two-year-old (he just gets the distinct advantage of it being, mostly acceptable, to stomp and cry and scream). So, I already look at my schedule with more awareness than most folks. Yes, I could have swimming with friends the same day as we have a play date at another’s house… except I’m gonna be exhausted, and yes, my kids will be having fun (but exhausted, and hence, cranky)… but then I still need to handle those pesky details like bedtime and teeth brushing, and of yes, you kids do need to get fed three times (or more) a day.

Then, of course, there’s my goal of being a patient and empathetic parent with my kids. They’re constantly moving in and out of their own BIG emotions throughout the day. If I’m barely hanging on by a thread, it’s a good chance I’m probably gonna lose it and yell (and then immediately regret it).

And yet, even with my awareness, I still make mistakes.

Or maybe not mistakes. Really, they’re just choices.

Sometimes I am quite aware of what I’m walking into and what situation I’m setting myself and the kids up for, while other times it’s a straight-up opps! And then other times, I still push us a bit more.

Maybe it’s a once in awhile thing, like visiting dear friends up in Montrose one day and the next have my three-hour hair appointment, which while wonderful and desperately needed (I got some super cute pink highlights, by the way), it also meant I was socializing for three-hours and I’m now freakin’ exhausted. Oh, and it’s not like I can go home and kick up my feet. Nope. I’m full aware that I’m on kid-duty because poor Sean has dealt with a distraught Eric because his mommy abandoned him in his complete and total, utmost need. Meaning: I left him… at home… alone… with daddy. a complete and total toddler tragedy, yes? Anyway, soon as I walked in the door I told Sean to check out and take a nap. He needed it.

But the point here, is we need downtime. Your family will certainly have different mileage than mine, all four introverts that we are, and for us, we need that downtime with a capital N!

Every week I almost feel like some kind of battle-planner, marking in the large events, from going to Disneyland or the Aquarium or driving through downtown LA to visit my parents or friends. The next day needs to be like nothing. Maybe we can handle a short afternoon stint, like swimming and invite some few friends over (certainly something physical for the two-year-old). Or, maybe not. And really, if I want to do stuff like playing board games or reading or art with my kids, especially Kate, well, when’s that actually going to happen if we’re always on the go? If we’re always up and about?

Plus, I still got those damn dishes to do.

And the endless snacks for all these outings to get prepared, along with the backpack and Eric’s necessary change-of-clothes (I bring several). Then there’s me, doing this crazy (or, it feels crazy at times) gig of trying to run my own writing and publishing businesses, and I’ve got to get those things in the schedule too.

Turns out, there’s only so many hours in the day. Even more important, there’s only so much brain computing power this mommy-me has.

By the end of the day, I’m shot. Just, done. Brain’s working on its low emergency mode and to do anything creative at all? Or heck, even read a book? Wow. Sometimes that’s a feat! And do some giant mental exercise of playing a board game (and against Sean no less)? Yeah. Not happening.

So… downtime.

It’s critical. Probably more so for my family than yours, but I think we when we find ourselves on the go so much, visiting with all these wonderful, exciting people in our lives and all the opportunities we’re continually faced with, all the choices we have… and I think we actually start missing out.

On the little things.

Like cuddling on the couch with me on my laptop getting in this blog post, somehow managing to type with Eric sprawled on my lap watching Wall-E and Kate, pressed against my side, asking for my help as she does the puzzles in, “My Monster Can Read” app. Or when Kate sets up her board game, Unicorn Glitterluck from HABA and says to me, “Mommy play? Come here, Mommy, play.”

I need to be able to close my laptop, with no worries or stress — what I was working on can get done later (because I’ve scheduled downtime into our week meaning I can get it done later), and then, just play with her. Then play again because she had such a great time, and now Daddy’s up so we can all play together!

We’re starting to move into art because Kate’s interest in this area is growing, and this is part of the self-directed, homeschooling journey we’ve chosen for our family, to follow their interests… so I certainly can’t ignore her when she’s giving me this big ol’ hints in bright pink My Little Pony drawings, now can I? Or when Kate starts writing out numbers as her auntie rolls a bunch of dice for her Dungeons and Dragon character (hmm… I guess we’re gonna start those game sessions early so Kate can join in too!).

And it’s not just about Kate or Eric either.

It’s me too.

When my brain is stressed, trying to gauge the timing of everything, the endless little lists that need to be complete before I can walk out the door with my kids (teeth? clothes? shoes? hair brushed… well, no one will notice and we’re seriously running late). It’s overwhelming. So overwhelming that I can’t possible be creative at that moment.

And that’s what I need to start protecting, as well as making time for.

Being creative.

Or more to the point, daydreaming.

I used to be so good at this day. Boring day at school? Boring office job? Oh man, I had the coolest, craziest adventures going on in my head. But it also helped me fall into the stories I was writing… thinking about the characters… hearing their distinct and personal voices.

I know darn well that I need this quiet. If I want even a shot to tell a story I need to give myself the quiet time to simply let my creative voice come out and play. I need to turn off the podcast, because while informative and fun, I need to be bored. Bored enough to start hearing and seeing the story come to life.

And I’m really, really bad at this part.

I mean, there’s so much I want to do and so very little time I actually have, and this whole daydreaming thing? Oh, it’s so easy to put it off as “less important.”

Big ol’ sigh right here.

Which is about when I get stuck on a story. The words flowing out my fingers ground to a halt. I mean, sure I can keep typing, and with every darn word it just feels wrong. Like the story is starting to spiral in some direction that I can’t see, or even where it needs to go.

That’s one of my first clues that I’m missing something. That I lost the story or the character did something that they wouldn’t have done. Or I didn’t jump to the right place in time.

All I’ve got is this feeling, this creative gut-thing and it’s little (quiet) red-flashing light.

If I’m to busy, if my brain is overwhelmed and overworked, I practically miss it. Then I have to go and cut about 7,000 words of the new novel and redraft cause I was kinda missing the real important character emotion in there, or, at least the one that this particular story needed.

But, I’m learning.

Really, I am.

It’s taken a lot, of trying and trying again. And I’m constantly looking back at my weeks and days, looking at everything I’d like to accomplish and just what I and the kids can realistically do. Also too, that I need to be flexible. Sure, I’ve got some staples, like every Friday I host a Nature Day outing that’s open to all ages of homeschoolers, and while I used to never miss, I’m feeling the need to be flexible again. To go to Disneyland with Grandma or some friends (especially when it’s a hit-or-miss with people showing up). But that means I can’t stick in a whole lot in those mornings (or expect to do a whole bunch when we get home). I usually get in my fiction writing for that day and that’s it. So, Thursday can’t be over packed with outings or visits, or as I’ve learned, even short Disneyland trips (we tend to not want to move much the day after).

I just got a new scheduler that allows me to pencil in the week’s activities and goals. It gives me space to write and I can flow through the week, even write in times for when something needs to start and can it, really, fit in? That’s helping. It helps too to see across the top what my goals are cause if I fill out the whole box chances are, I’m not exactly being realistic.

Like I need to start getting videos of Kate and Eric to send to our speech pathologist. I’ve got a 2-week block to get it done, and it’s important. It also takes a lot of time. I can plan for that now. I can go with the flow if one day it doesn’t go well (or the actual video got messed up).

But I think the biggest part is really looking at yourself, at your family, and being aware. Temperaments, energy levels, driving time and do you honestly have enough time to make dinner from scratch and get everyone to bed before the sun actually rises and you’ve got to start the process all over again? And how about your own daily movements, hmm? Do you have time during the week to get in your hour-plus yoga session or go rock climbing?

I think this goes double for us homeschoolers.

I mean, there’s so much we can do! There’s so many opportunities, places to visit, classes to take, and why not jump into as many as we possible can?!

Well, you can.

And then it will either work for you and your family, or it won’t.

Or you’ll find yourself craving some of that quiet at home. Of maybe just taking the afternoon to bake some cookies, letting your two-year-old playing in the flour, measuring out cups to his heart’s content (and knowing full-well that’s not going in the batter if you actually plan on making, you know, actual yummy tasting cookies). Or perhaps cracking open some books, sitting and reading and seeing if your kids come wandering over because they want to cuddle and be read to.

If we’re constantly on the go, constantly moving, how can we allow for these quiet times when the real magic can happen? The real special connection when it’s just you and your kids.

Or, for me as well, me and my creative voice?

We each need some amount of the quiet, of this downtime, and it’s really, really hard to see it for how valuable and how precious it is. And it’s hard to look at the schedule and start saying “no.” Start crossing off visits or memberships (because then you feel this need and responsibility to use it).

Allow yourself, and your family the quiet, and then just wait and see what kind of magic happens.

Because really, it’s something truly special.

Like noticing that Kate had drawn butterfly and rainbow marks from Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash (if you don’t know, they’re My Little Pony characters). At that moment, I had no idea how well Kate knew them, even picking out the exact colors from the chalk to match the character’s colors (and without looking to double-check). And yet, when I stopped moving, when I gave us all this moment of quiet, I got another glimpse into her amazing little mind.

This, right here, is why we homeschool. This, right here, is why I’ve chosen to be a parent — and this particular kind of parent.

And I’m so glad to have paused long enough to see and experience this joy with her. (And then she asked me to take a picture and send it to Daddy, which, we did.)

So, think about your busy, busy days and remember to sometimes pause and see just how many rainbows and butterflies your young one is dreaming up.

 

Parenting: A Roller-coaster Ride

There really is no question about it: parenting feels like you’re getting strapped into a rollercoaster, shoulders pressed firm and hard to that rubber-plastic chair, and then just holding on.

Sometimes, for dear life.

Sometimes, in utter and complete enjoyment.

And within all that, all those curves and loops, those corkscrews you barely saw coming, you have these wonderful moments of pause, as you catch your breath and continue to climb higher (with the telltale ‘click, click, click’ of the track), and you finally get a chance to see where you are.

How high you’ve climbed…

And how far you’re gonna fall next.

Then, you get to do it all over again.

But even that analogy doesn’t quite work because it means that us, as parents, have no control. And while there are a ton of things we can’t control such as… my dear children, can you please sleep through the night? Or, is this really the time to get chicken pox and be housebound for two weeks (or four since Eric’s probably getting it next)? When in fact, there’s actually a ton that we can control, even if it doesn’t feel like it at times (especially with the younger ones).

My little Eric still isn’t a great sleeper. It’s better, though. I mean, I’m getting a solid couple hours of sleep as opposed to six months ago when I was lucky to get 2-3 consecutive hours. I can’t control his sleeping. At all. What I can control is me. It’s my choosing to drink less coffee, eat dinner earlier, finish my wine two hours before bed. I’ve started a bedtime routine, complete with candle, nature music, and an acupressure mat. Oh, and bedtime? Yeah, I’m heading into bed, lights off, by 8:30 these days. I have to. My little guy thinks 4:30 a.m. is a perfectly acceptable time to start the day.

This new bedtime means I’ve had to cancel plans with friends, to say no to dinner dates and Moms Night Out.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely.

I’m getting a solid four hours of sleep in, and when I do wake up to take care of Eric, I’m falling asleep easier. I’m also not as angry because I’m no longer living on that edge of being crazy and desperate for sleep. I feel good, mentally, physically, and I can tell my body is finally healing from the years of massive sleep deprivation.

I’m a long way from being done with the sleep ride, some nights are still just bad, and when both kids tag-team me? Oh, dear lord, meet Zombie-Chrissy the next day. But overall, it’s creeping towards better. I’m focusing on what I’m eating, on daily movement, and overall, it’s hitting my big reason for wanting to do all this… to be a patient, calmer, person with my children (and to be honest, with myself as well).

The new changes are working. I’m not yelling as much, I’m in a better position to be present and centered during those times when even the holiest of saints would have their work cut out for them (and you know exactly those times in parenthood I’m talking about).

I decided to focus on what I could control, and then, got creative.

Not that I’m always successful on the creative part. In fact, I’m still on this rollercoaster ride when it comes to fitting in board games with Sean and and my friends. And fiction writing? I’m still figuring it out.

With the writing, what makes it challenging is because I’m facing a high-ass brick wall filled with stuff that I truly can’t control. Mainly, my son. I can only fall into my worlds, into my storytelling, my writing, when I’m away from him. Why? Well, he has some pretty strong beliefs about being separated from me and has zero issue letting the whole world know about it (so locking myself in the bedroom with ear buds in ain’t gonna cut it; my poor subconscious spends half the time shaking her little head saying, “it’s not safe to come out yet.”)

I would love to write while the kids are sleeping. Except… I’m a morning person. By the end of the day I am dead-tired exhausted. Okay, then, that means I’ve got to wake up early… you mean, earlier than 4 a.m.? And wait a minute — I can’t do that, I’m working like mad trying to recover sleep!

I know of other writers who drop their kids off with other moms and take turns with this co-op babysitting. Kate is almost ready for that, especially if she trusted the mom, but Eric? Oh hell no. Nope. Not gonna happen. A huge part has to do with language; I am literally Eric’s foreign translator in this big scary world of rules and people who can’t stop talking. The other part is just his temperament. He is very, very attached to me these days and not even his dad looks forward to those times when it requires me to leave the house. (Translation: so everyone joins me when it’s time to get my hair done.)

I’m writing this all out, sorta like thinking out loud, and I’ve realized I’ve only been focusing on the reasons why I couldn’t write or couldn’t use the same methods of writers can with their young kids. I mean, there’s no doubt about it, my language-challenged son can’t be treated the same as others his age, but I really need to start shifting my focus…

And moving it back into the realm of what I can control.

I can make the effort, physical and mental, to grab my laptop, get dressed, and head outside to write while Sean’s still home in the morning before work. An hour, or maybe just 30 minutes. Let’s say I don’t even write, but just the act of getting up and getting some actual alone time… that’s gonna go a long way to helping my subconscious feel safe again.

And I throw in that part about “you don’t have to write” because there are days when I can’t.

I mean, straight up, we’re going through the intense middle of living with a two-year-old. Eric can be very opinionated, stubborn, and has zero patience. I’m gonna make that real clear: very. And it’s not like you can even attempt to reason with the guy (again, language issue)! There was straight up one morning, I’d gotten about 3 hours of sleep, been up since 2? 3:41? There also poop involved in the bathroom sink, while I was trying to make breakfast (and hence not able to respond to Eric’s crying). It was not a good morning. I lasted as long as I could but eventually burst into the bedroom bawling my eyes out. Sean got up, watched the kids, and I locked myself in the bedroom and just played with doing some book covers.

I played. And I got a bit of myself back.

I was able to finish that day, and then the one after that.

Some days are just not easy. (Not kidding… I ended up walking out of Disneyland with a crying, screaming toddler, who was trying his best to hit me in the face, all because he couldn’t have the French fries he saw some lady carry out on a tray. Didn’t mattered that I offered him other food or to go to a place that didn’t have a line. Didn’t matter one damn bit. He was upset and the only choice I had, after being present and calm with him, was to walk the whole mile to our car.)

Then some days are totally fine and chill. Those are almost the worst because it’s so deceptive… like, you think this is what the new norm is like, the new routine, and then you start having these grand plans, gonna pull out my story and write, get back into publishing… which is about when the two-year-old decides to skip his nap.

For three days in a row.

Yep. We’re in the nap-skipping stage too (imagine me crying in sadness right here).

It’s also one thing for me to tell this to you and quite another to see it. My mother-in-law just saw the tiniest glimpse of The Eric Meltdown, and we were actually having a good day, and she was like… no, I’m not real comfortable with you and Kate going on a ride at Disneyland and leaving me with him.

Sigh.

It’ll get better, I know. Heck, every day it’s getting better.

But then some days are straight-up like that roller-coaster. I’ve been strapped in (maybe?) and I’m just holding on, trying to keep breathing and not lose my shit.

Some moments I’m successful, some moments I’m not.

I’m trying hard to forgive myself, to be patient and gentle, especially on those days when I really, really need it, to not strive for that completely unobtainable goal of perfection (you all know that doesn’t exist in parenting, right??).

I’m not perfect.

But I’m trying to be a good parent.

I’m still working on being a writer, and because I worked on those covers, it got me interested in this one series I hadn’t written in awhile, and I’m pulling out and updating the world glossary for it, and there’s this little voice inside me, my own little two-year-old, that really wants to jump out and splash in the mud naked.

One of things I can do, one thing that is in my control, is going with the moment when I feel it. Not putting it on hold, but just jumping right on in and playing.

Just, playing.

I’ve realized too, the more time I give Eric before I leave the house (or disappear into the bedroom behind the locked door), the more connection he gets from me, the joy of playing one-on-one, he’s better able to handle these short moments of separation.

So together, as parents, let’s flip the lens and look at what we can control.

What can you do to help promote your own self-care? To get the sleep you need, the food and exercise? The autonomy and creativity? For me, this is what my writing gives me. But for you… your kids, your family, your life, all of that will have a different line up then mine, especially in terms of priority. And only you (and your family) can figure that one out. I urge you to do the work, to sit down and think creative, to shift your focus and put the power, this control, back in your hands.

And also, take time to acknowledge those in your life who are trying to help out (especially when it comes to your sanity). I realized I hadn’t done this enough with Sean. We’d played a board game and everyone was having a really awesome time… except for me (mostly because of the worst combination of random elements possible). The next day, he listened to me and heard how upset I was, especially since playing the game meant I didn’t go to bed until 11:30 (it was his Father’s Day board game event). Later that day, I thanked him and told him how much I appreciated him just listening to me. I needed that support, and I needed that hour without the kids because I was at my wits end.

Thank the people in your life, thank yourself for doing everything you can, even though you’re not, and never will be perfect. And then, shift your focus. Look to what is in your control, because seriously, it just feels better to focus on the positive and what we, ourselves, have the power to change.

I may not have any control over the chicken pox, but on the bright side it’s meant I’ve had to completely free up my schedule. I can take this opportunity to connect with my kids, do painting and board games, or roughhouse on the floor, all those little things that are so easily pushed to the side when I’m focused on cooking meals or getting everyone out of the house. And another added benefit, we’re connecting with friends and getting some one-on-one play in. I hadn’t expected that, but we’ve all benefited. We’re enjoying ourselves and having fun. You know, all those moments of why we choose to be parents in the first place… those moments when the coaster clicks on up to the top of the hill and you’re looking around in breathless wonder of how really cool your life is…

Right before you plunge back down into the next parenting adventure.

Needing Space

 

For me, personally, one of the most challenging obstacles of parenthood has been space. Space where it’s just me and my thoughts. Quiet time that I use to think, reflect, and daydream.

I’m an introvert. I need this.

I also need it for my writing because this is when the ideas and those ‘what if’ questions come. It’s when characters perk up their heads, I hear their voices and their opinions, see how they move through a world I’ve recently created or one I’ve been writing in for years.

It’s this quiet, this downtime that has been, absolutely, the most difficult to achieve after choosing to be a parent. I mean, hearing a character’s quiet voice is pretty darn impossible when I’ve got a toddler, tugging on my leg and crying every 30 seconds. And then when he’s not needing help or attention, his sister is.

And some days it’s just constant.

Constant.

Now, we all go into this parenting gig knowing it’s not gonna be easy (I don’t know about you, I certainly knew it wasn’t). Of course, I just didn’t know how challenging and in what ways. Not to mention each kid has their different quirks and opinions and really, as parents, half the time it feels like we’re up a creek and the only paddle we’ve got is this tiny twig that’ll snap if you look at it wrong!

So yeah, sleepless nights? Diapers? The constant need to feed the little angles, and oh yeah, the endless amount of dishes? I got that. Not that it’s all-covered all-the-time (especially the dishes), but I pretty much knew to expect it. Sure it’s exhausting, but it’s part of the deal.

What I hadn’t expected though, at least to this degree, is my need for space. Like personal space where it’s just me and my thoughts, and when I don’t have my mom hat on.

That one came as a surprise.

Like, I always knew after I had Kate I would still be writing. There was never any doubt in my mind. I need to write. So, I knew I would.

And, I did.

But what I was missing, and am still struggling with, is the quiet. That time to let my thoughts go and stories work themselves out. To sit back and simply watch the world around me or think about some interesting story or idea question and see exactly where it takes me.

Let’s just say this quiet, contemplative time where I’m really focused on my thoughts doesn’t go over so well with two-year-olds. Especially ones going through massive separation issues. Meaning: the only breaks I consistently are when Eric’s sleeping.

Also, life with Eric right now is intense.

Intense.

I mean, at least I’m sleeping again (if I wasn’t I have no idea the level of crazy I’d be right now). But it’s hard too because Eric’s needs are so constant and so intense. He also has the patience of a typical two-year-old. Which, means zero. For Eric, this usually leads him to smacking or kicking me. When Kate was this age she’d run off crying to her safe place (we lovingly called this her “crying castle”).

So. Every kid is different. Every kid has different needs and at different times (so it seems, anyway). And everyone in our little family is feeling Eric’s intensity right now, including Sean and Kate.

Poor Kate, who watches me constantly deal with her brother and his BIG emotions and then when it’s time for her needs, I’m tapped out. Like, all I want to do is prop open my laptop and veg-out on feel-good TV shows. Kate’s needing attention from me and me, well, I’m just needing a bit of quiet for myself.

Some days it feels like none of us are getting our needs met.

I’ve been struggling with this for awhile now. It’s on my radar. I’ve been aware of it, thinking it through. I’ve done journaling, especially on my intense reactions to how Eric’s acting and then my own responses to it. And, just as important, I’m focusing on how I don’t like my reactions to his behavior. But it wasn’t until I reached out for help with a friend, Michelle Charfen (who teaches the amazing Centered Parenting classes), that I realized exactly what the issue was:

My need for space.

It was like, the moment I identified my need as an actual, tangible thing, the rest really started to make sense. Like, I had these feelings of frustration, anger, of being short-tempered, of closing off emotionally… but while I was aware of these feelings, I couldn’t actually fix or change them. I couldn’t because I hadn’t actually addressed what the problem was.

Think of it like going to the doctor for back pain and being prescribed some pain medication. That’s all fine and good, unless the pain doesn’t actually ago away.

We need to treat the actual problem and not the symptom.

Which… is what I’ve been doing, looking only at the symptom (my reactions and feelings) rather looking at the actual cause of those feelings (my unmet need).

And it’s not just this “I need space either.” My particular temperament, my empath abilities, means that as Eric’s living his HUGE frustrations I’m soaking it all in myself. And then trying really, really hard not to act on both our emotions. Phew. Once I put that into perspective it really made sense what was going on (why I hadn’t figured that out sooner, I haven’t a clue).

But really, all this has been occurring because this one simple need of mine was not being met—my need for space. It didn’t matter that I was actually getting six hours of straight sleep most nights (shocking!) because I still wasn’t in the emotional centered place that I wanted to be.

Now, though, with my new perspective I can actually move forward and start addressing the actual problem.

I need space.

And just at this time, Eric needs more of me.

He’s hit some stage in his development where his anxiety has sky-rocketed when it comes to being separated from me. It’s so bad that I can’t even leave the house without him running after me, crying and screaming down the hall, with complete and absolute abandonment tears running down his face. And it’s hard too on the person who’s caring for him when I’m not there (generally, it’s Daddy).

And I respect Eric’s need.

I also respect Sean’s frustration when Eric is so very clear that he wants nothing to do with him and will cry for the three hours that I’m gone (as what happened when I disappeared to get my hair done). And yet… I still have my own sinking ship and I’ve got to take care of myself. I’m no use to anyone if I’m underwater with zero resources for anyone else’s needs.

So… I now know the problem… but what the heck can I actually do about it?

Well, first off, there’s no way I’m gonna figure this out in one try. Or, which will most likely happen, every day and every moment will be a bit different from the next.

Come to think of it, I’ll be working through this question for a long, long while.

If you’re a parent, especially you’re one of the toddler variety, then you’re really going to understand what I mean about needing space. Like, even five minutes to myself, on the laptop, writing an email or even calling up a friend on the phone, would be a blessing. There are days when I can’t even get thirty seconds of quiet within my own head.

And that’s rough.

And tiring.

And it really, really starts to grate on any patience and calm that I’ve stored up for the day.

I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to — nor can I ever — be a perfect mom (or writer, or whatever). Not only that, I’m not alone. I can and I will ask for help. Sometimes it’ll just be for emotional support, other times it will be for ideas and strategies, thoughts on how I can get creative to finding a way to meet my need for space.

That’s what I did with Michelle, and the first thing she did was remind me of how amazing it was that I had this clarity. That I already did some of the work to even know what the heck the real issue was (rather than just me losing my cool and getting mad at the toddler). Even that little bit really helped: I knew myself, I knew I was on the right track. That’s immensely powerful.

So too was her reminding me that it’s okay if Eric feels this way, about being separated from me, and that it’s still okay to have this separation.

If I need to leave, to give myself the space to be a better person and a better mom, he’s not always going to be happy. He won’t be okay with it, certainly not at this point in his life. And, that’s okay that he feels this way. Someone else can be loving and present with him as he works through those feelings of sadness. Because as he’s doing that, I’ll be recharging and when I come back I’ll be in a much, much better place to help him.

I need to practice my own self-care.

That also means having a conversation with Sean too, telling him how much I appreciate that he’s taking on this hard hour while he’s alone with Eric, and how much I need it. Like, “you take this hard hour and I’ll take the other 23.”

It’s not going to be easy for anyone as we work through this hard time, but I can’t allow myself to feel trapped, to feel like I can never leave the house without Eric in tow, or how I can’t meet another mom for coffee so we can connect about our parenting or homeschooling styles.

And the great thing too about having this conversation is I can find what needs of Sean’s aren’t being met. I mean, I know what mine are, but what about his? He might not even know himself and I’m sure there’s something we can do, as a family, to meet some more of his own self-care needs.

After we have this conversation, we’re gonna need to start thinking creative. Maybe it’s hiring a babysitter or doing a child-swap with another mom (who’s also willing to take on the crushed-heart of Eric) or maybe asking the grandparents for more help. But there’s definitely ways for me to find my own space within the restraints unique to my family. For example, the language part means they need more support compared to other kids and their temperaments mean they need to fully trust this person to be left alone with them.

Lots of questions and thoughts to consider, and while I don’t have direct answers yet, I feel like I’m finally on the right track.

Because this too isn’t just about the longer-term goal. Some days I won’t get that space. That’s parenthood for you. Some days it’ll feel like I walked through fire, barefoot, and then hop-scotched back out the way I came without even a chance to breathe. Those days will need some more in-the-moments tactics to keep me grounded and emotionally connected with my kids.

Focusing on breathing always helps… unless of course I’ve got the toddler pulling on my leg and crying (or hitting said leg). I swear, try to do meditative breathing when that’s going on. Maybe we just get outside and get some fresh air. Simply move and keep moving. There’s of course calling a friend or texting when I’m at my wit’s end… though that’s hard for me to do personally. It’s just not easy to call someone up on the phone, breaking down in tears, telling them how you feel like you’re the WORST PARENT IN THE WORLD while the toddler is pulling on the arm, doing everything possible to get the phone away from you.

Or maybe I can just sit on the floor, with my hand over my chest and acknowledging my feelings, letting myself cry and that it’s okay. Okay to feel this way. Okay… to give myself a little bit of forgiveness and love.

It’s hard.

Really. This parenting thing is not easy. There are days when the world is wonderful, when my little boy is my cute cuddle-bunny resting on my lap.

And then a switch flips and he’s all-intense, all-the-time.

And through this all, here I am, still working at being a writer. And you know, every time I sit and put words to page, whether as these blog posts or in my fiction, I feel a bit of my spark come back. That shining bit of light that’s me and only me. Not just the mom me, but… me. Something that is really, really hard to do when I don’t get that space I so desperately need.

Then there are times, like the one I’m currently living, where I acknowledge that I can’t write right now. At least not fiction. It’s those times when I go to sit and it feels like work. Like, the very idea of sitting down and making up stories feels like getting my teeth pulled—

Then it’s time to put the writing down for awhile. At least until parenting-life let’s up on me.

When my creative voice feels like that, I’ve learned to listen and let go. For now. We are right in the middle of some pretty big developmental milestones for Eric, what they are, heck if I know, I can only guess what’s going on his little head, but there is something going on, some pieces of communication clicking into place. I can see it. I can feel it. So the rest of the stuff he’s got going on… intense emotions, limit testing, oh man is that sky-rocketing right now.

Oh. And for whatever reason, Eric’s got it in his head that 2:30 in the morning, is a perfectly acceptable time to start the day.

I knew parenting would be tough, but there were some surprises I hadn’t counted on. The need for space was one, so two was both of my kids being late-talkers. And yet… here I am, writing about parenting, writing, late-talking children… this was something I’d ever envisioned to write. It was never in my plan, to reach out to other parents for help, guidance, support, and yet… here I am.

And I know too that there are others out there, just as lost and sleep-deprived as me, trying our best to be good parents.

And I know that we are because every day we try, and then we try again.

Trying to be good, really, is good enough.

Living Dual Lives (The Writer. The Mom.)

 

The last time I went to an in-person, writer’s workshop was when Kate was 18 months old. She’s now four and a half, well on her way to turning five. Two years of not getting my cup filled of just being with other professional writers, the energy, the vibes and all the craziness that ensues. And the learning? The reading so much great fiction?

My God do I miss it.

Yet, as much as I miss it, I knew without a doubt that this was another year I had to bow out of the annual Anthology Workshop hosted by WMG Publishing and Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It’d been the first Oregon coast workshop I’d signed up for since Eric was born, but I did it knowing that I very well might have to cancel. Well, turns out I did and I’m really, really glad I was honest enough with myself, and also accepting of the life I’m living right now.

Or I should say, the season of my life.

All well and good, right? But why’s it coming up now?

Well, the Anthology 2017 Workshop recently ended and I’m seeing so many of my friends posting about their victories (and misses too). How many stories they sold and to which editor, how many were a miss and some, possibly, are in that hopeful ‘maybe’ spot. This workshop in particular is a great opportunity: a chance to sell six different stories to six different editors. To see these editors fight over stories, of what was liked and what wasn’t. And the networking opportunities? Off the charts. Seriously. There’s like 40 to 50 professional-level writers that go to these things.

It makes me tingle just thinking about it.

And this year, again, I had to miss.

But what was different this time was I didn’t feel any regrets. I wasn’t saddened by, and I’ll call it here what it felt like for the past few years, like a burden to be a parent. That I had to put my dreams on hold for constant sleepless nice, constant motion and chaos (because what young kids don’t come with chaos, I ask you?).

Not this time, though, and I really wanted to celebrate that.

Instead of feeling sadness, I felt content. Happy, even. I was beyond thrilled for my friends and I didn’t have a single, wiggly thought of, “Gosh, I wish I’d been there too.”

You see, I’d taken a look at my life about eight months previously and seriously asked myself: Can you do this? Can you write six short stories in six weeks? Right in the middle of the Christmas holiday craziness (and a slew of our own families birthdays, mine included)?

And let’s not forget Eric, who would be turning two, and if you’ve got kids you know darn well what two means (and not the terrible twos, but those are there too). Nope, I’m talking teething. The two-year-terror-molars. And Eric’s sleep being as crappy as it is from like the second he was born, we could pretty much guarantee sleep would not be happening.

Turns out I was right.

On all of the above.

The one thing I need more than anything, especially when it comes to writing fiction, is a clear head. A mind free to dream and play and simply dive into stories.

That, was not my life.

Instead of feeling saddened, this year, I accepted it.

I mean, yeah, I was sad, I really, really do miss being with other writers, seeing my own craft explode upwards, let alone a chance to sell stories to anthologies. But… it was more a passing thing instead of a feeling that rocked me through my core and made me long for a time before kids.

What’s changed?

I’m not sure, honestly. Maybe I’m just maturing as a parent. Or maybe, truthfully, it’s because I’m coming out the other side of this really intense season of parenting. I’m starting to get sleep again. I’ve picked up writing fiction and I’m going strong with another writing streak.

That’s a huge success for me.

But so is this little understanding that the life I’ve chosen, even compared to other parents who have kids this age, my life, is so very different.

I used to look at other writers around my age, and as much as you’re not supposed to, I would compare myself to them. Both being at the same level, with our first few pro sales to magazines, and then watch as this other writer shot skyward with more and more sales, more books she was publishing because her career and her writing was the path she’d chosen, while there was me… who I might push hard enough to write a handful of short stories a year.

I was jealous because I knew I would be exactly where she was… if… I didn’t have kids. If I hadn’t decided to give my life to two young human beings, to nurture and care for them.

I’m not saying I felt this all the time, or for even very long, but I’d be lying if I said I never felt this at all. I did, and it was one thing that used to shake me right to my core, to make me long for the life I’d passed up on when we decided that what we wanted more than anything else, was to be parents.

This year, that feeling didn’t hit me.

Instead, it was just sort of a nod and an acceptance in our differences, in the different life paths we’d chosen. I wouldn’t give up mine in a heartbeat.

I know my writing will always be there. I know I will get back to it, bit-by-bit.

It’s not easy. Heck, it’s hard as hell, especially when my writing feedback is so few and far between. The progress I see is at a snail’s pace compared to others because that’s all I can manage with the season I’m living in.

Even among other parents, I’ve chosen a different path.

I mean, my kids don’t go to preschool so I don’t get this huge block of time to simply write. In fact, my kids won’t go to regular school at all. Instead, we’ll be life-learning with our homeschool group, going on adventures like camping trips or staying more local and just swimming at our pool or playing at the park. One day, I’ll be in a place where I can sit off from the group with my laptop and just let the words pour out (in between the usual request for snacks and such). But I’ll never have that chunk of time other parent-writers enjoy and I’m okay with it.

It won’t be easy but it is still the right path for our family.

And yes, while Sean and I did chose to be parents, one thing we didn’t chose is what that would look like.

Both Kate and Eric have language delays. With Eric, we don’t really know how much or what exactly (he’s still too young to know), and that’s brought an extra level of parenting we hadn’t planned on. When Kate was Eric’s age I was working through an incredible amount of fear. Fear at the darkness, all the doom and gloom everyone was pushing on us. I knew they were wrong, I knew they weren’t right about Kate, but they were the professionals. They were the experts.

Me?

I was just a mom.

I worked through all that, I found my way, through fiction no less, to get an incredible amount of strength and resilience I never knew I had. Or, maybe I did but I’d never before had the chance to live it. (And then I just got pissed off and well, if you read this blog regularly you know how I feel about that.)

And while we’ve come out the other end with Kate… which isn’t entirely true as she has a long, long way to go before she’s “normalizes” we at least know what the heck’s going on… but I’m now starting over with Eric.

This is a journey I’d never asked for, but one that I have, and I can say for a fact (at least at this moment), that I don’t know of any other parent-writers living this particular journey. And more than that, I’ve chosen to take on the speech work and play on my own. Not sending them off to our local school district for services or even through our insurance to get another speech pathologist to possibly “work” with them.

Nope.

Just me.

Living at home, living our life, getting guidance from someone I know and trust as an expert on these different kinds. (Experts, which I’ve learned, at least my experience, are sadly few and far between.)

So while other parent-writers can leave their kids at home while they go on off to workshops and I know without a doubt, that this will be a long, long way off for me. My kids are very attached to me, they need me around. I mean, they’re around me all the time. Me suddenly being gone? Oh man, talk about a freak-out. And truthfully, with who they are and where their language is, and they wouldn’t understand if I up and let them for a week. Not even Kate could understand that concept of me being in another state, or what days are, or when I’d return.

I’m not someone who would put them through that trauma, so, they’d just come with them. And that’s what I’m planning on. I’ll have Sean or my mother tag along, to babysit while I go and learn and network.

That’s my plan, anyway.

And right now, we’ve got a fifty-fifty shot about Eric being ready. He’s having a hard time being separated from me for an hour, so an all-day workshop, several days in a row? Yeah, well, that’ll be a problem. Maybe he’s just going through something developmentally right now and it’s causing this extra anxiety. Or maybe it’s just him. So, I’m very aware that we might not be *there* yet. It might be next year that’s my first real chance to get back to workshops. And, if I have to cancel again, I’m okay with it.

That’s just what my life is right now, the needs of my kids, which come before anything else, including me and my dreams. But even that’s not entirely true because I am still doing what I can, working towards my dreams and goals. I may not be able to attend in-person workshops and conferences, as much as I want too, but I can take online ones. Or I can crack open a book by a long-term, bestselling author and study what they’ve done. So, it’s not really a me vs. them issue, just… certain pieces of those dreams need to be shelved from the time being.

And that’s who I’ve chosen to be as a parent.

I really am walking a different path. I can look at myself, then look at another parent-writer and honestly say: their life is not mine. The choices they’ve made are not mine. And that’s perfectly fine.

Personally, I could not send my kids to any kind of preschool because of who they are, language issues, temperament, and also just my own personal beliefs are as a parent and a life learner. I just couldn’t.

We’re all different. We all make different choices. We all have different families.

And I’m okay with my little bits and snippets of success. I’m okay with sitting on the couch, Eric literally tucked besides me as he watches Toy Story 3 and here I am, typing away at this blog like a mad woman. I only have a certain amount of time before the toddlerness in him kicks in and he starts doing the usual: kicking me, tugging on pants or fingers.

I’ll take what I can get, these little moments of quiet.

Every little bit.

And somehow, over time, those little bits add up to something bigger. A finished blog post. A short story. And right now, a novel. It might take me the whole damn year to write the thing, but I am working towards it… every 30 minutes, each day, and it will add up in the end.

I’ll get there.

And along the way I’ll get little reminders of the success I am having, like this one: Allyson Longueira, of WMG Publishing, has chosen my story, “The F Factor,” to be included in Fiction River: Legacies.

It’s the only story I’ve sold to Fiction River, the last Anthology Workshop I went to before Eric came along. Kate, was who 18 months old at the time, and me, working as hard as possible, for six straight weeks and writing six stories.

This is the one I sold.

This is the one that was nearest and dearest to my heart.

It’s also the one that sparked a whole series of short stories. Ones that I haven’t published yet (see the comment about Eric above), but ones I know are inching ever closer to another professional sale. Only time, and my continued learning and writing, whenever I can, each day and each moment, will get me there.

My writing is my legacy, and so are my kids. So is this journey they’ve set me on. It’s so very, very different from anyone else’s and one I wouldn’t change for the world. I never planned on blogging about being a parent-writer, or homeschooling, or about my kids being late-talkers and all the emotions, all the ups and downs that have come with it.

And yet, this is the path I’m on. It’s one I wouldn’t give up or change, not for a second, not for the world.

One day soon, maybe this October or maybe the next one, I’ll see my fellow writers in person. Even if I have two kids in tow.

Regardless, this is my life, mine and no one else’s. No one’s will ever look like mine, and that’s how it should be. We’re all different, as writers, as parents. For me, though, this is the path I’ve chosen to walk and I know in my heart it’s the right one.

 

Because life with toddlers is a wee-bit intense, I’ve decided to post a blog every other week. This allows me to take on more online workshops, more time to study long-term, successful writers, and just as importantly, finally getting back to the publishing side of my business.

Restart the Writing (After a Parenting Life Role)

 

So, I’ve got to say, I’m getting to be pretty good about this restarting thing. Ever since Kate was born back in August, 2012, I’ve had to put the writing on hold for many, many different reasons over the years and it’s pretty much been for family reasons. The birth of our first kid, our first of many sleepless nights to teething, to toddlerhood and potty training.

Then, along came Eric (and boy, when you bring another kid into the mix life really gets interesting).

We had even more sleepless nights and discovered that Kate was a late-talker. There was a good chunk of time, of several months really, where I was living in a pretty dark, mentally, scary place. I had a lot of fear and uncertainty during that time, and ironically (or not so ironic if you, yourself, are a writer), but it was writing about that experience, first in fiction and then later in these blog posts, that helped ease away those fears and find the true joy in one, important fact:

She’s my daughter.

Wholly and completely, mine.

Words, or no words.

We got through it. Not only did we get through it we’re a closer, more connected family because of it. The trust that we needed in Kate, for her to be who she was and to find her words when she, and she alone, was ready, was huge. Huge. And probably one of the greatest gift she taught us.

Through it all, I would pick up the writing and then put it down again, as parenthood demanded. Well, I’d thought I’d gotten through all the really big hurdles of parenting small kids.

Turns out, I was wrong.

No surprise, really. Parenting is all about the twists and curves that you didn’t see coming. Not to mention I’ve got not one but two late-talkers, both who I’m their speech-play partners. Well, at least I skipped the scary, dark-part this second time around.

What I didn’t get to skip was the crazy, busyness of the holidays (and for our family, throw in a ton of birthdays and anniversary celebration), and then the bigger issue was one I really, really couldn’t control:

Not sleeping.

Like, barely at all. (Which, you all who read my blog know about).

Most of my days were me just trying to survive, and trying not to lose my temper, to not get frustrated with my kids for being a two-year-old and a four-year-old.

It wasn’t easy.

Especially when I couldn’t do the one thing that gave me more energy and more self-care than anything else:

Writing.

Pretty much at the brink of me going crazy, we had to make some changes. So, we did. We put the kids in the same room (which apparently they just love) and Sean takes the first shift with Eric (meaning if he gets up Sean puts him back to bed and not me). I get the second shift and start my day when Eric decides it’s time.

And you know what?

It’s working.

While our sleep (and therefore Eric’s) aren’t perfect, the change has made a huge difference. I’m getting around six hours of solid sleep before Eric needs help, so I’m no longer this raving banshee I’d been for four months straight.

Now though, it’s time to get back to the writing and that in of itself has it’s own hurdles.

I mean, you’d think I’d be an old hack at this. That I could just sit on down and let the words flow and then bam, here’s this super-cool story on the page and then sending it off to magazines, right?

Yeah. Not so much.

I’ve done this a half-dozen times (or dozen, really) since Kate was born. I do know, without a doubt, that I can do this. That’s not the issue.

The real issue is fear.

Fear to start writing again. That what I write will just be this awful, uncomprehending mess (which my brain still feels like most of the time).

Fear that I won’t do whatever story I write any justice because all of my series characters and world-based series… well, they’re just to important and I’m just gonna mess them up so why bother trying?

And writing a novel?

Dear God, I can just feel my inner creative voice shrivel up at that thought. Never mind that I’ve already written several, so I know I can do it. The issue is really one of focus, and again, parenthood. I mean, there’s just no way I can stay focused enough to fall into a world and characters, and flat-out, just a story, long enough to actually write a novel.

Translation: life being a parent couldn’t possibly leave me alone long enough to start and finish one of these damn things.

Each one of these issues are fear-based, plan and simple, put there by my critical brain to stop me from writing. To take the easy way out, to not put myself out there, to not set myself up for failure, to simply just not try.

And yet… I know how to combat this.

I’ve done it, time and again. (Too bad I just couldn’t skip over this fear stuff and get to writing, huh?)

Well, this time, like all the others, I’m not gonna let it stick. Screw my fears and insecurities. I’m going to try, and then I’m going to try again. One story may not work, I may need to redraft along the way, tossing out perfectly fine words because it just doesn’t fit the story. (Stories that I’m slowly teasing out of my subconscious, creative voice.)

You see, I know how to do this restart.

I know the tricks, I know what works for me, I know how to succeed. So I’m just going to jump, with both feet in, and see where (and how) I land.

If, at all.

I know, without a doubt, the greatest power I could give my writing is two-fold:

First, as Dean Wesley Smith likes to say, “Dare to be Bad.

I can do that. I shrug off all those negative words from my critical voice. So what if a story doesn’t make sense? So what if they all feel (to me) like this rambling mess as I slowly figure out what the story I’m writing even is?

The point is I’m writing. Period.

Some readers may like it, some may love it, or maybe it will never get touched at all because I still haven’t gotten around to the publishing part of my business, but hey, baby steps here.

The second is much easier: write every day.

That’s it.

Write something. Five minutes, five sentences, whatever, just write. (Fiction only, though; these blogs don’t count.) I discovered last year that a writing streak is the single most powerful motivator in my arsenal for writing. I could manage the sick days. I could manage the days where I’d barely slept at all because that five minutes was a goal I could hit.

My ultimate goal is writing an hour per day.

I know I can’t hit that every single day, but I can try. (In truth, when I wrote out my goals list for 2017, I had scheduled this hour for only five days a week, instead of seven.) And even if I don’t hit it, even if I “fail” to write for an hour, I will still have succeeded because I will have written.

The other part of this, one that I’m not so great at because there’s just so much I want to do, so much I want to listen to or watch or read even for the moments of quiet I get from the kids… is quiet time for myself. Quieting my mind. Stop thinking about my to-do list or what needs to happen before we can possibly leave for park day or Disneyland or adventures out in nature.

The quiet time where I let my subconscious peak out and think about stories… about characters… about worlds. Stepping back and thinking, what if

For me, this is hard.

If I’m doing dishes or cutting vegetables I might prop up my laptop on the counter and watch NCIS or turn on my phone and listen to one of the many podcasts I follow. Those are all important to me, they fill my need for stories (watching TV shows) or learning (listening to podcasts), but I’ve just got to make the quiet in my mind a priority.

When I do, the act of writing itself is much, much easier because my subconscious has already tapped into my stories. At that point it’s just a matter of quiet time alone, just me and my laptop, to put those stories onto the page, word by word. Instead of struggling to find my way to the stories, to leave parenthood and all its worries and the constant needs behind, I can simply step from one to the other. Like changing coats or putting on a different pair of pants. It makes the writing process easier, and truthfully, more enjoyable, even.

I have a long ways to go towards my yearly goals, but I’m not going to worry about them. The only goal I have, right now, on this day, is to restart my writing.

I’ve done it before, and most likely in the future, I’ll need to do it again. That’s just part of parenthood. It’s how us parent-writers make it work.

And you’ll notice, I always put the “parent” part first.

My first and primarily responsibility is being a parent. My kids won’t be this young forever. Eric won’t always be a nightmare when it comes to sleeping (which, as I said, is finally getting better — ya to the kids sharing a room!!). And as I’ve said in previous posts, I won’t be shipping my kids off to school when they finally hit school age. I’ll be homeschooling, following their leads and their interests, so really, I’ve got to find a way to make the two work: parenting and writing.

Every day, every month, what this process looks like will be different.

For the past few months it meant putting the writing on hold as we dealt with potty training and sleeping and the final bits of teething (woohoo!!).

Now though, I’m ready to get started again and that means conquering my fears. To let my creative voice come out, play, and simply tell stories.

Good or bad, all I need to do is sit, write, and tell stories.

That I can do… even if I’m still cleaning up poop off the floor or the constant vacuum-fight between me and ants because toddlers are notoriously bad at keeping food in their mouths.

I can still write, though.

One day at a time, one word at a time.

 

I wrote this blog post two weeks ago, and just let out everything I was feeling, everything I was struggling with. I’m happy to say that for two weeks straight, I haven’t missed a day writing.

I finished one short story and started another.

Some days are crazy, like me writing a 1,000 words in just under an hour. Other days were only five minutes or eight. But I get the writing in.

I’m also tuning in more to my creative voice. The quiet time to let the stories and characters come to me. This, turns out, is the bigger struggle. It’s hard to put life (and all its distractions and needs and worries) on hold long enough to think about story, to get in touch with my characters, to figure out where the writing is going next…

But somehow I do.

Each and every time.

Self-Care for Parents

 

 

Last week I wrote a pretty open post about the challenges I’ve been living with for the past few months (everything from massive sleep deprivation to potty training), all while fighting this ridiculous inner battle between being “perfect” and what I was actually, physically and emotionally, capable of.

And I realized I wasn’t quite done.

See, while I came to the realization of screw being perfect, there’s still more to the story.

Like how the heck I handled my own self-care when I wasn’t sleeping (and hadn’t been for like five plus months… or to be really honest here… ever since I was pregnant with Eric).

See, I wanted to focus forward. I wanted to improve my life. How I was feeling, my body, my health, all of it, and yet there was only so much I could add to this overwhelming full plate I was living.

You see, my life has, pretty much, been in the hands of my kids. Every waking and sleeping moment was controlled and dictated by them. I had zero say in the quality of my sleep, how long or deep. I didn’t even have a say in the amount (if any) of quiet time my poor introverted self required for me to continue to function as a halfway-decent human being.

Heck, showering by myself? Pooping without someone bursting in and crying or wanting an apple cut up right at that moment?

Yeah. Nope.

Also, I was frustrated with the weight I’d gained from the holidays (and Eric’s birthday, and my birthday, and Sean’s birthday… and, you get the idea). My poor body, with its massive amounts of sleep deprivation that had gone on for months, was pretty much acting like a diabetic so any time I ate sugar or sweets (things that I absolutely love), it would Freak. Out. It had no idea how to handle it, my insulin and hormone levels and all that, just kept going bonkers.

And yep, you guessed it, I couldn’t lose the weight.

I recognized my issue was one of sleep and that yeah, I needed to be eating as healthy as possible these days. But how could I get back on track with my health? My sleep? The only things I had control over were exercising, what I ate and the quality of the food, and my own thoughts.

That’s pretty much it.

Instead of spiraling down in depression and negative thoughts, I asked for help.

I explained to my health coach, Kevin Geary, the situation I was in. And, what was really cool, was he got it. He understood what it meant to be a parent. He understood I couldn’t devote crazy amounts of time and energy in making these super-healthy meals that took you know, like 30 min or more to prep (as if I had that kind of time dedicated just for prepping lunch — HA!). See, Kevin had been living his own life with lack of sleep due to a young child, in trenches himself, so to speak. He didn’t offer me advice that was just plan silly.

Instead, he offered me something that I could well and truly handle.

Here’s what Kevin Geary offered:

Focus more on food deposits than withdrawals (meaning, put in the good, healthy food and eat fewer of the sugary goodness), keep my thoughts positive (which I was already doing), and finally self-care. He asked me to identify three things that were the utmost importance to me, when it came to self-care, and to prioritize them.

This, this right here is the part my last blog was missing. Or not missing per say, but needed adding to.

If you’re living any kind of situation I had been, you need tools to help you through it. Tools to help you survive your situation, your momentary life bump, until things, finally, finally start changing. (This is especially true when you’ve got zero control over what’s even happening to you.)

Here’s what I did:

I came up with my three things that would help me feel whole and happy, each day. I didn’t need to do all three in one day, and some days I did none, but I could recognize those days that had a ton already piled on, and make time in the evening, or definitely the next day. That flexibility really helped.

For me they were: writing (not fiction, since that required a rested, working brain, but writing these blogs), learning (dear Lord do I love to learn, and this could be anywhere from researching history to craft learning for fiction), and finally, play. Play was video games or reading books or watching a favorite TV show.

Before, I had regulated play to: “can only play when your work was done.”

Which, wasn’t necessarily a problem. Unless you’re like me, who has a never-ending to-do list.

I’ve since corrected that line of thinking.

Play is vital to my health and happiness. Some days I’ll play video games first thing in the morning, with my cup of coffee, a kid cuddled up on either side, while they play on their iPads and we’re just hanging out together. Or it’s during Eric’s nap. Or, it’s at the end of the day when they’re both in bed.

Sounds really simple, right?

Totally wasn’t. I mean, if it was you’d think I’d have figured it out before now. But I couldn’t even get to this place until I shifted my way of thinking; that play was important. That play was a part of my own self-care and happiness, and not just this reward for getting through my day or checking off all the boxes on my to-do list.

Kevin’s suggestion worked because it kept things simple.

Three things.

That’s it.

And even me, with my tired, exhausted brain, could still hold those three things. In my head. At once. I didn’t need to look at my list. Or my calendar, to remember. In fact, at any moment during the day I would stop and ask myself: have I done one of my self-care items yet?

Easy to remember.

Easy enough to accomplish.

Most of the time.

But it really worked.

I chucked everything else that I “needed” to do. I focused on my kids and what they needed (like baths — at least every couple a days — you know, stuff like feeding them). Anything that wasn’t essential was put on hold. Trying to do more, even the designated speech play our speech pathologist wanted me to do, I just put it aside. I would get to it.

Once I started sleeping.

And you’re not going to believe this, but I’m starting to. Sleep, I mean. Actual real sleep. It’s actually and truly happening. Anywhere from five hour stretches to gasp! Eight hours.

Okay, eight hours was only once but I definitely don’t want to jinx the upwards progress we’re making here.

If you’re curious (and if you’re living in your own child-induced sleep-deprived-nightmare), two things made it possible. First, we moved Kate and Eric into the same room, and for whatever reason, it was like magic. Magic. They love being together. Apparently, her presence is soothing, even if she’s talking and playing while Eric’s slips into toddler-dream-land. The dim lamp light and the noise machine helped too, I think.

The second big thing is because Eric’s out of our bedroom, and dear mommy isn’t so accessible, Sean can take the first shift if Eric wakes up before midnight. He can get to Eric before he gets to me, and Eric… doesn’t freak out. That’s right. He doesn’t see Mommy, which is like a bull seeing that big-ass waving red flag, so now he’s okay with Sean helping him back to bed.

And me?

Me, I get to sleep.

Wow is it glorious. And as I regain sleep I’m picking up other parts of my life. I’m writing fiction again (first short story of 2017 finished, go me!). Eric’s two-year-tantrums are easier to handle because I can pause and be present with him (compared to wanting to scream and yell right back). I’ve added our speech play back to the list, which I really just call ‘connection.’ Times where I focus and play with my kids. It could be a short game of tickles and running into my arms, or sitting down and doing a puzzle or a board game with Kate.

Bit by bit, I’m adding more back in.

And every day I’m feeling richer and wholer.

I’m still far from being perfect, and I have zero desire to be that perfect parent. No thanks. I like living in happiness, where some days my dishes sit until the end of the day before I get to them. If it means I’ve given myself some “me” time or connection time with my kids, I’ll take it.

Besides, it’s not like the ants have discovered the house.

Yet, anyway.

The more I move forward, bit by bit, day by day, just doing what I can… life is actually improving. We’re coming up for air again and things are coming together. Eric and his potty training has had some big successes this past weekend. He actually went up to Sean and tugged on his leg, before Sean put him on the potty and he actually pooped. I know, some of you probably can’t understand the big deal, but for some reason, with these late-talkers (at least mine, anyway), this bridge… of needing to go and communicating this need… it’s huge. Huge. It’s a super big step for them, one that just takes longer for the pieces to click together.

Well, the pieces are clicking. It just took our own (and really, mine) stubbornness and patience, but hey, we’re getting there.

Progress.

That’s what matters.

So if you find yourself stuck in the crazy intense times with young kids (or… older ones for that matter, you’re just not going to have the poop issues I have), start prioritizing your self-care.

What can you do to take care of yourself?

And make it a priority.

Fit it in.

Somehow.

Some way.

We’ve got to start taking care of ourselves if we want to remain present and patient as parents. Not only that, but it’s an amazing lesson to teach our children, that taking care of our own selves is important.

For me, I’m able to really enjoy life and being a parent again. I’m able to take deeper pleasure and just plain joy in my kids, seeing their smiles, hearing the new words and phrases Kate is putting together every day with these amazing leaps and bounds. And I’m seeing my little Eric grow as his language comprehension starts expanding.

And sometimes, often, it’s just sitting on the couch, with Kate tucked against my one side and Eric sprawled completely on my lap, and just… enjoying them.

Enjoying this moment.

Every day, as parents, we do our best with what resources we have. Let’s remember that,  let’s forgive ourselves for not being perfect but doing our best anyway, and instead, let’s just focus on the joy.

No Such Thing as “Perfect”

 

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably clued in that I’m not sleeping much these days (read: At ALL). And yet… life doesn’t stop because my day, technically, started at 3:30 in the morning. The laundry still needs to get done. Food chopped, prepared, and cooked because we all know feeding our kids (and ourselves) real food is key to being healthy and just plain feeling good. Oh, and let’s not forget the endless wave of dishes.

You know, all that normal stuff that comes from living with kids.

So too comes the normal stuff when potty training a two-year-old… I’ll just let your imagination fill you in on that one.

But on top of all that parenting stuff, all the normal pieces that come with having kids, if you’re like me and have got a late-talker (or two), you’ve got even more on your plate. You might be organizing and driving them to speech therapy appointments, or maybe you’ve decided to just take on the speech work and play yourself because it’s what works for your family.

That’s right. You. The person who both kids aren’t letting sleep.

And yet, moments when Eric does actually take a nap, instead of sitting down and playing My Little Ponies with Kate, a game that, if it were up to her, would go on for hours, I’m pulling out a book. Or playing video games. Or working on a online writing workshop.

I’m choosing, in those quiet moments, to focus on my own self-care. To fill my own cup so I can get through the rest of the day, evening, and chances are, probably well into the next day (or two) before I get another peaceful moment of downtime.

I’m choosing to take care of me.

And I’m feeling pretty darn guilty about it.

Correction: I’m feeling imperfect. Because there is so much more I can and should be doing.

Should… right?

I should be focusing more on Kate when I have those quiet moments. Playing with her and connecting, doing the one-on-one time our speech pathologist wants us to do, activities that are ones of my choosing rather than Kate’s.

Wow. Such a loaded statement for me — and a lot of negativity hiding behind some reasonable sounding words.

Absolutely I should be having one-on-one time with Kate, but not for speech therapy work. Instead, they should be so we can connect. The more we connect the easier the rest of our day goes. Her cup is filled. She’s feeling my love, so when I do ask things of her, she’s more willing to listen and follow along. So yes, that is important.

But… she also needs me to not be a raging banshee and these days, that’s getting really really hard. Massive sleep deprivation with maybe a teensy little end in sight (maybe?). Also, a little boy who only wants mommy and will scream, nonstop, until his needs are met by me (this includes all hours of the day). And here I am, working as hard as I can to keep my steam from flooding out my ears, to remain compassionate and empathetic. To not immediately jump into fight or flight mode but to stay present and connected.

To do all that, that means I need to take care of me.

Just like the flight attendants tell me every time I board a plane: I need to put my own mask on first.

And yet… it’s still hard.

See, I’ve got this little voice in my head and it’s constantly whispering and nattering, pointing out all the things I’m not doing and how things would be so much better if I were. I’ve got a list of activities and goals our speech pathologist wants me to work on with both kids and yet here I am, barely getting through the day as it is. Even when I told her what we were going through (potty training and zero sleeping) her reply was for me to get help.

And the comment just made me madder.

Are you kidding? Seriously?? Going through the system, whether school or insurance, to get my kids seen by a possibly halfway-decent speech therapist who understands the difference between a speech disorder and a language disorder and how to help her. And we won’t even talk about the emotional fallout that me and the kids would go through as I fight for them, fight for others to understand who they are and their unique differences? All for the effort of getting in actual, routine speech work time?

Sorry. No.

That math there, not to mention the time while at a facility and driving there, certainly not the emotional piece, is worth it.

How about I trust, to try and do my best at home, and trust in my kids? That they understand what I’m going through and that I still love them?

That the little bits we get in… like with Eric at the park, snuggling on my lap. How I started kiss-tickling him and he started laughing. I would stop and he would look at me, right in my eyes as if to say: I want more!! To which I said, “more,” and kept on going.

Until I stopped and waited for him to look at me again.

Do you know what that was?

That was living. Living a life, connecting with my son, while at the same time practicing the speech techniques I’d learned from our speech pathologist. Is it not better to have these little tiny moments, dozens and dozens throughout the day, compared to some arbitrary time that goes for another arbitrary amount of time?

In a way, it’s silly (for me, personally). Because except for a brief period, I was never strict with the routine speech time with Kate. It just… it just fell away from our day because it felt too much like work. And what I wanted to do with her, instead, was play.

Play.

And not only is my worrying, my fears of not being perfect, silly because I’m clearly not doing so bad. I mean, I have walking, talking proof here that I’ve got this. Yeah, I still need support, yeah, I’m still learning with each new stage of the game, and that’s why I’m getting support from someone who truly understands my kids and late-talkers. And yet… I’m still the one who understands *my* kids the best and what I know, what I truly, truly believe is we’ve got this.

Heck, the other day, I about fell onto the floor (thankfully, I was sitting on the floor to begin with) when Kate looked at me and said a full sentence in front of her grandma.

I didn’t fully understand what she’d said, so I told her I didn’t, and asked her to say it again. She did. She trusted her words enough to repeat them, even clearer this time, and then she did it in front of another adult.

“May I have the iPad now?”

Again, just picture my jaw smacking into our play-doh crusted carpet. And you better believe, I told her yes.

For starters, did you just see that sentence??? And second, we don’t “teach” our kids manners. I mean, with our language delayed kids, we don’t tell them, to say “please” or “thank you.” Those are meaningless words to kids who rely heavily on visualization. For example, the word “apple” has a clear picture to it, right? But “please?” Not so much. So, we never bothered with manners… except… that’s not fully true. We model it in our own interactions. Constantly. When Kate tells me she went potty (by saying “poo poo”) and then we go and I help her wipe, I always say, “thank you” (I mean, she did go in the potty and then came and got me for help, which is certainly what I want so you’d better believe I’m telling her thanks!). Or when she actually does put her used bowl in the sink, I always show my gratitude (I get real tired real quick picking up 20 barely used bowls off the floor).

But the word “may?”

Wow. That one surprised the heck out of me. Tells me right there too that I’m not doing halfway bad with this manners thing because clearly she’s getting it.

And yet… here I am still facing these moments of feeling like I’m a terrible mom.

Because I’m not perfect.

The other day, Sean and I were sitting on the couch while Eric was actually napping and Kate was quietly content with the iPad. I told him that part of me felt like I’m a terrible mom because she’s on it so much these days, because I don’t use these quiet moments to be with her, to connect with her, to play a board game and teach her further things like turn taking (and like our speech pathologist wants her, to do something I want her to do rather than always her).

And then I told him, as soon as I let those feelings become words, that I’m not a terrible mom, the other half that I knew was even more true:

That I truly, truly need this quiet time.

I’m not perfect.

There will always be something more I can be doing. Something I want to be doing. You’ll notice I haven’t talked about my fiction writing or my publishing at all… even though I desperately want to get started on both, I know I can’t. At least, not until I start sleeping.

And it’s extra hard too to hear from someone else, this speech pathologist and professional we trust, someone who was a mom a long time ago and clearly remembers this stage, tell me that I should just get help.

As if it’s that easy.

Well, it’s not.

Even Sean commented, with Eric, he doesn’t want anyone else’s help. He wants me right now and he’s pretty darn vocal about it.

Now, this isn’t to say her advice was all bad. We’ve been asking for more help from the grandmas, and on days were I’ve gotten almost zero sleep, have asked the uncle and aunt for help. I even had a friend and her kids come over to play with Kate so I could rest. And I’m setting up help with our mother’s helper again.

So, we’re trying.

But… let’s also be realistic here.

When you’ve late-talkers, chances are you’ve got some pretty opinionated and stubborn little kids on your hands. Whatever you decide, how to be help or not, it’s not going to be some simple or quick fix.

And really, let’s just be honest here.

Parenting is hard work.

Parenting late-talkers is even harder.

And parenting is also about seasons. There are times when life is good and fun and maybe a tiny(?) bit easy. And then there are times like I’m living through right now when surviving the day is the goal. When getting to bedtime without losing my shit (ok… at least not too much) is considered success.

And I truly believe whatever the right answer is, it’ll be different for you than it is for me. And my answer right at this moment will be different now than it will be later or even tomorrow.

But let’s just be kinder to ourselves.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart, both for the amount of all-consuming love we feel, and those moments when, really, the last thing we want to be is a parent.

And you know what? Doing my best, doing what feels right, every day, every moment, and somehow… the words still came for Kate. Even being my, often times, inadequate and imperfect self, the words still came. And they’re coming even more, day after day, from asking, “Can I have chocolate now?” to “May I have the iPad now?”

We don’t need to be perfect. Our kids don’t need us to be perfect.

All they need us to do is try, and try again, every day. And to love them.

That, I think I can do, my imperfections and all.

Surviving Taxes: Cold, Hard Numbers and the Story They Don’t Tell

 

I think, straight-up, the most challenging time for a business person, who’s also a parent (especially being the primary caregiver of two crazy-young kids), is just after the new year. I’ve already done the fun and exciting, the shiny newness, of this year’s challenges and goals I’m gonna do my best to tackle. I even looked back at 2016 and saw just how much I did accomplish.

It’s exciting.

It’s empowering.

Then, for me here in the United States, it also means tax time. And that… oh man… it’s enough to pop my excitement-balloon faster than my two-year-old full-body-squashing it.

As I said, I’m the primary caregiver for my four and two year-old, and you better believe that most of my days (and nights) means I’ve got my hands full. Showers by myself? Ha. Some days I’m lucky to get them in. Quiet, introspective time where I can think… Wow! Wouldn’t that be cool for a story idea? Or when we’re calmly walking around Disneyland, to have the time to actual study different people, to wonder who they are and what they do based on how they’re dressed, how they walk. What kinds of characters they’d be??

Yeah. Right.

Get back to me in a few years and I’ll let you know how that’s all going.

Writing, right now, means me squeezing in moments throughout the day. It’s carrying a notebook in my already fully-loaded purse (snacks and water bottles, anyone?). It means being very much separated from other professional writers and the little feedback I get is from my effort on continuing to learn, whether studying books by major bestsellers or taking online workshops.

My growth in writing is tiny. In fact, you can’t really even see it unless you get out a magnifying glass and squint your eyes… really… hard. Funny enough, it’s pretty equivalent to where Kate was in the beginning with her language, and now Eric. All we had were these tiny little nuggets, so small that to most people it was invisible and yet, we treasured them because it meant she was moving forward.

No, I couldn’t say, “Oh boy! She said a new word today.”

In fact… it would sometimes be months in between new words and then we’d be lucky if she continued to say them (the stubborn, control-orientated girl that I have). But when Kate would look up at us with a smile on her face after doing something cool with her toys (called visual referencing, if you’re curious) or her listening while I explained how another mom was going to get her jacket since I had my hands full with, at the time, baby Eric.

That’s all success. All of it. Each little tiny bit.

I’m doing the same with Eric now. Making notes of how he’s sharing these looks of excitement, not just with me, but with other moms. Of his very clear understanding when I say the word “more,” and then his continual babbling to get me to continue this tickle-fun game again.

Again, all precursors to words and yet, when most people see me playing with him like this, they have no idea what’s really going on. Sure, I’m playing with my son and he’s laughing like crazy, but I’m also “working” on “language” with him. All at the same time.

Who knew, right??

And right now, that pretty much feels like how my writing is progressing these days. So tiny no one can see it. One word at a time. Or, just getting my thoughts and life back into a place where I can write fiction (please, please, please Eric… only two wake-ups a night, okay? I can handle that!).

But tax season, though, it really, really puts my whole life, my whole progress forward, for my writing, in a hard, cold light. And it’s really hard to not get discouraged.

You see, when I look at my revenue for the previous year, look at my expenses… it breaks my entire life down into these cold, hard numbers. Numbers that, truly, don’t even begin to showcase what I’ve accomplished. Or even, what I could have accomplished if given even an hour or two a day of actual writing or publishing work.

What I did do in 2016 was write nearly 90,000 words of fiction. Plus another 29,000 words of nonfiction (basically, these blogs).

Right now, that’s a whole bunch of words just sittin’ on my computer, not making me any money. Cause… I haven’t actually published anything new in a really long time. At least… since Eric was born? I’d have to check and wow, do I not have time to check.

I also started re-doing a whole bunch of my blurbs for my previously published stories, but I haven’t actually gotten to those changes, or even the price changes, or my poor Chrissy Wissler name with the most god-awful, unbranded covers that just screams amateur

And I haven’t gotten to because I made being a parent, a priority.

And after that, with the stolen bits of time I had, I made my writing a priority.

Which, it’s totally cool that I’m getting this great list of story titles with new worlds and new characters, just waiting to get published (meaning I can also brand them correctly, and all at the same time rather than doing it piecemeal), but it still doesn’t make this process any easier.

To look at my 2016 numbers, my end of year earnings, and see… wow… that’s a really low number.

It feels pretty shitty.

Not that I’m placing blame on anyone else other than myself. Or on my kids for taking so much of time (which… they should.)

You see, I do deserve such a low amount because hey, I haven’t actually put the time or effort into the publishing end of my business. I mean, yeah, I’ve been doing some learning and behind-the-scene stuff, like finally getting the bones of my websites in order (okay… not even the bones, more like the outline of bones). And I did take this fantastic 6-week course on blurbs. But again, it’s not stuff you can even see yet.

In fact, it’s also true of my writing.

All the stuff I’m learning, all the pieces and growth I’ve done in the past few years, you can’t see the effects of it. Certainly not in revenue (again… I gotta actually publish this stuff first).

I also haven’t landed any new sales to traditional publishing magazines, though I do have a reprint of a short story coming out, which is pretty cool. So… no sales… but I’ve been getting almost immediate, personalized rejections from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (and for you writers out there, you know it’s a big deal when an editor with possibly less time than me, goes out of his way to write you a nice note about why your story “missed”). I didn’t get any of those when I first started writing short stories, back in 2011.

Progress.

Little, itsy-bitsy steps.

The only problem is sometimes it’s just incredibly hard not to cave under all the negative, awful words of my critical voice. It’s always waiting, like this five-toothed shadow in the creases of my mind, to tell me how bad I am, that I’m not improving, that my stories are slow and boring, and heck, I should just toss in the towel and give up because what’s the point?

I mean… just look at my numbers! I’m barely selling at all. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong. Clearly, I’m just not good enough yet.

Except… I don’t give up.

Instead, I (somehow), pick myself up.

It has a lot to do with my stubbornness (where do you think my late-talker kids get it from?), a lot too because I just can’t not write. The minute I start getting a half-decent amount of sleep, the stories just flare back up in my mind and I can almost not sleep because they are just so cool and is sleep really all that important?

But still, fighting this negativity, fighting against these cold, hard numbers that only tell a fraction of the truth…

It’s hard.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I do it either. How I don’t just fall into a gooey, icky mess even thinking about all the work ahead of me. All the work that needs to be done to put me where I know, without a doubt, I can be as a writer and a publisher, if I just had the time to do it.

Except… I chose to be a parent.

And not only that, I chose to stay at home with my kids, and heck, I’m even choosing to be at home and follow their interests in learning and education. I’ve chosen to be their primary language partner since both of my kids have a language disorder (well… Eric’s still up in the air but he’s definitely got a delay).

I know. And here I am, with my grand ‘ole dreams about being a professional writer and independent publisher. That’s probably on just this-side-of-crazy (or, to be honest, falls dead-on the crazy spot).

What keeps me going is this drive.

This complete desire to learn, to keep improving.

I know time will be easier to come by. Probably not this year… Eric is, after all, two years old… but I can look at Kate and see how independent she is, how I can get in my quiet time to my work (like right now… in between typing up this blog and adding up my 2016 revenue and expense totals with a piece of paper, my phone, all while sitting outside of Eric’s door making sure that kid stays in there to get the damn nap he so desperately needs. Oh. And did I mention I’ve also got the laundry going too?)

Yeah.

That’s my life.

The life of a parent-writer.

At this moment, a parent-business-woman and believe me, my yearly revenue is very, very far from the truth of where I actually am. Of the time and energy and love I’ve put into my businesses, on the very little amount of sleep I’ve had in these past two years (or five if I’m being really honest here).

I have to keep in mind that each time I write a word of fiction, it’s a success.

Even here, sitting outside Eric’s door and doing a small snippet of my writing business, is a success.

And I think that’s ultimately, how we make it work as parent-writers. Or parent-artists. Or parent-real-estate-agents. Or really, just add in whatever you’re trying to do that involves making some money.

We fit it in.

We squeeze it in.

We have to.

Sometimes we cry (I cried a lot today… but being kept up since 1:00 a.m. two nights in row with a giant pile of laundry to tackle… yeah, crying, that’s pretty much a given).

Sometimes we even have these clear moments of success, like every time I got an assignment back from my writing mentor telling me how I nailed it.

It’s tiny successes that means everything.

All those cold, hard numbers? Well, I didn’t make a whole lot last year but that goes a long way to helping out with deductions because I do have my writing business set up as a business. I just have to get these things added up and done, off to our accountant, and look forward to what I can do and what is in my control.

A lot of my energy levels will depend on what I can’t control, at least for right now (I’m talking to you sleep… and my two-year-old). But hey, I can keep learning and I can keep writing, even if only in little bits. The rest of it, the big dreams I have for my businesses, for all the stories I’m itching to write and to tell, those will happen to.

At some point.

For right now, I’m just going to be this scrappy little mom-fighter kicking every ounce of negativity and critical voice as hard as I can because… because it’s the only way I know how to keep on going, to keep even these small successes going.

And not matter what, I’m not going to stop.

Even if at times, like today, I need to pick up the phone and cry to my best friend or husband, about how hard it is facing these numbers and the real truth of being a parent of little kids.

I’ll cry and then, I’ll pick myself and keep moving forward.

Here’s to another year down… another year of raising a toddler and Kate, both late-talking children… another year of small revenue but some really, really big successes.

Like teaching Kate the days of the week because she really wants to make cookies today and not Saturday… which I’ve written and circled for her. Yet still… she keeps on asking… “Need more cookies now?”

And I’m smiling and enjoy every single word. (Even if I keep on repeating myself.)

The Reality of Little Ones

 

What’s amazing is I just wrote that last blog post, all raring to go, hopeful of the future, and really, just ready to get my writing going and off the ground for 2017. I can practically hear the cheers and pink pom-poms behind me. All I need to do is start the writing and then…

Then, last night, I got about four hours of solid sleep. My day started at 3:15. In the morning. I will probably stay in my PJs all day, maybe I’ll even brush my teeth, and hoping to God that I will not be a screaming banshee because I really just need some peace to myself for a whole five minutes, please

Teething. It sucks. And thankfully Eric’s on his last set of molars (though how long it takes until they’re freakin’ finished requires more than a crystal ball, maybe a sprinkling of fairy dust and a good-size glass of wine, not to mention the required chocolate). Thank goodness they’re super cute (I firmly believe, and many other parents of toddlers have confirmed, that this is the survival super-power of two-year-olds).

And this pretty much sums up the life of a parent-writer. Certainly for kids under three.

It’s all about flexibility. And acceptance.

I can try and force myself to do some learning, to take the notes on the Research Lecture I’ve got geared up and ready to go, or I can just say my goal, for today, is to keep breathing and keep myself as centered as possibly because even I don’t like being that crazy banshee with the hair sticking up like Doc Brown.

Plus, I know darn well from past experience if I try to do any kind of writing work or studying and the kids are interrupting me, oh man will I lose my shit. It’s like my ability to be calm and roll with them kid punches is long, long gone. Just a distant memory.

Throw in the whole not-sleeping thing and it’s really a day set for disaster.

I’ve learned it’s better to just accept that today (or even just this moment) is not the time to focus on my writing or learning or whatever, or maybe even just the dishes. It’s better for everyone for me to accept the interruptions and leave it for another day.

And I know too, this crazy-hard time won’t last forever. Yesterday morning I felt fantastic. I felt energized. We even had a board game session with friends planned for Sean’s birthday. Then… we had to deal with five Eric poops… in a single day… and only one which ended up where it belonged (on the potty). One was out at farmers market and me, silly me, choose not to bring an extra pair of pants (I’ve got no idea what I was thinking… perhaps that he’d already emptied his system of all upcoming poop and it was just a short walk from our home… or the lack of sleep thing). Oh. And Eric insisted on being carried so I ended up tossing my shirt and jeans into the ‘Desperately Need to Wash Pile’ (yeah, I also forgot to bring the toddler carrier too).

After that adventure, Sean and I were stressed-out zombies. Whatever energy we had was zapped away, just like that.

One day, I swear, I’ll write a nice, fluffy-bunny post about how great it is to have kids, to connect with them, watch the world just open up before their eyes… but this moment is not that moment.

And that’s okay too.

But really, to the people who I see in the elevator, who coo about how cute and adorable my kids are, who, after I say I haven’t slept in five years, still tell me to enjoy them because the time goes by so fast…

Fuck You.

No, really.

Don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think I see and enjoy those beautiful little moments? Because I do. And they’re wonderful. It just doesn’t carry over for the whole 24-hour period because this thing called life and toddlerhood enters the mix.

Hmm… perhaps that’s a bit harsh but my filter for these kinds of things is gone (remember that whole fours of sleep and a wake up that began at 3:15, despite my utmost attempt to get Eric back to bed).

But really, we’re doing our best. Our best to be the kind of parents we want to be.

The kind who listens and understands and respects our kids feelings. Who can empathize with their feelings even though they’re still going to get in the car-seat and go to the park with all their friends because really, they’ll love it once they get there but can you please not scream or try and hit my face because the idea of the car-seat is simply not acceptable to your cute little mind? (Gee… think I’m channeling Eric right there?)

We won’t even mention the whole ‘keep our home mostly free of dust and the food that, regardless of our herculean efforts, still ends up with bits and food and Play-Doh stuck in the carpet like a hot pink mess.’ And the real food we take the time to chop and cook and make — which you then just push away the plate because what you really want is fruit and potatoes and the best steak Costco can buy.

It’s tough being a parent.

It’s tough being a parent of a toddler, who’s got a very clear idea in his mind, yet has zero ability to speak that mind to get those exact needs met. And unlike Kate who liked figuring out the puzzle that were her parents, Eric’s more inclined to stomp and cry and hit.

It’s tough being a parent with some crazy dream of, you know, being a professional writer. (And you can just about insert that with anything you like — musician, artist, anything at all that involves reaching some dream you have and your cute little kids don’t seem to give a shit about.)

Yet, we still love them.

We still, even when all we need is just those five minutes of quiet, can’t help but reconnect when they wiggle their naked butts into our lap to cuddle.

It’s truly amazing how forgiving kids can be while us adults can hold onto our frustrations for hours (if not days, in some cases). But our kids, they’re ready to cuddle. They need that. They need that attachment to heal, feel like they’re loved and not alone (even if we are still rip-roaring mad). I like to remind myself of that (actually, I’m constantly reminding myself). Those times when all I want is them to go away and I’m about to just let it all out in a flood of tears, that’s the moment I most need to reconnect. To pull them into my lap and smell their hair. To feel their absolute trust and love for me and somehow, like magic, it eases my own feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and really, just being overwhelmed.

It’s not always easy (actually, I think it rarely is), but I’m glad I can at least be aware of it. I may not always act on it (or heck, sometimes I flat choose not to), and that’s okay too.

Just like it’s okay if I hold off on my writing plans and goals for 2017 until my life levels out a little. Or really, until I start get some decent amount of sleep. Even if the fiction writing hasn’t restarted yet, there are other things can do. Like my online workshops or research from my historical novel in Butte, Montana.

Or, just picking up a good book and reading for pleasure. And then… studying it.

Because my life is pretty intense right now and there’s only so much a human body (and mind) can handle before it shuts down. Lights out. No one’s home.

And the other half of this is admitting I can’t do it right now.

Because I’m not perfect.

Instead, I’m only one person trying her best, every day.

That’s been my focus for these past couple of weeks, and even from the day when I first let loose all these feelings and words onto the page (and pretty darn unfiltered, I’ve got to say), it’s actually gotten a little bit easier. We’ve gotten a little bit more sleep. Our life is leveling out, bit by bit.

But still, I’m not perfect.

There are still only so many things I can do at any given moment. Like canceling my plans of hanging out with other moms and instead choosing to go to bed. Or skipping an indoor playground outing, because the stress would be too much for me (and I’m still waiting for the day’s poop for Eric, and trust me, he’d have no issue going right there, right in his pants).

Instead, I stayed home… and I played with my kids.

I connected with them, playing My Little Pony with Kate, and then throwing Eric onto our bed. We had our speech-play sessions while simply living our life. It wasn’t anything special, not part of any routine, just… our life. And Grandma came over, and after a month of her being gone, I think everyone needed that re-connection. It’s especially important for my introverted kids (and one who’s talking, the other who isn’t), to get that one-on-one time instead of being at a super-stimulating playground on steroids. This physical connection, this straight-up play, is so very important for them, more so than other kids, and I think, because of their language delays. It’s the way they express themselves, their love and their joy, their connection. They don’t have words so they use their play, their hugs, their smiles.

And I’ve got to be aware of that, I’ve got to be in tune with that. Turn that dial on up to a 100 because that’s how we do communicate.

That also means that this part of my subconscious, instead of thinking up some cool story or idea, is focused on my kids. It needs to be. Of course, I can’t say for sure since I don’t have normal developing kids, but it sure feels that way, and since my feelings and my gut haven’t let me down yet, I’m gonna go with it.

Trust it.

But… I also feel better too. After having these moments of connection, of play, I feel less like Doc Brown’s hair and more like myself. And with each moment of feeling like me, the urge to write, to tell stories, is coming back too.

The key, I think, to being a parent and a creative is to not force the creativity. It’ll be there, when I’m ready. Because, right now, there’s a reason I’m not writing (life being a whole bit intense, remember?).

Writing and storytelling, it’s supposed to be fun.

Enjoyable.

The more I’ve let go of my expectations, of circumstances out of my control (like sleep), the easier it’s been for my life to actual level out. To find peace in where I am in these moments.

I started writing this blog when I really, really wanted to tear my hair out, but now… I can feel it again. The writing stirring. My little storytelling voice peeking it’s head out and taking a tentative look around. Are we ready to start? Is it safe?

I think so.

Or, if not at this exact moment, then soon.

And more than that, I feel myself returning to center, to being the kind of person I want to be. Patient and empathetic. To being my kids’ speech partner again instead of wanting to lock myself in the bathroom. Alone.

That’s what my gut’s telling me. All because I gave myself the permission to be a parent first (and survive!) and let that take as long as it needed. I know it was the right call.

Especially when Eric grabs hold and hugs me in that tight way only a toddler can, which is with his whole being and love… and realizing that I do feel better. Certainly, I’m not gonna be no saint or super-mom today (or tomorrow or like, ever), but maybe I’ll do something drastic… like actually put some normal clothes on. Or read a book just for fun.

Besides, I’ve gotten a good look at Eric’s molars and dear lord, they’re nearly done, so I guess that means there is a light at the end of this tunnel…

Days like this, any itsy bit, is a serious success.

The writing, and all my big dreams for the future, will be waiting for me, patient, like always. And patient in a way that my two-year-old toddler can never, ever be. But that’s okay because that’s part of my role as a parent.

To be patient.

Or, at least, do my very, very best.

Let’s Get This Year Started: 2017 (My Goals as a Parent-Writer)

 

 

Well, January’s over and I’m crazy happy because the urge to write has bit into me hard and good. And it feels great.

I mean… it will… once I start writing. Which actually means… when I start sleeping again.

Okay, I’ll back a minute here about this strange thing of wanting to write (really, really wanting to write)… and not being able to. For now, though, I’ll start from the beginning (or the sorta beginning). You see, to survive the holidays and our crazy mess of birthdays and events (which, pretty much, makes up all of December, plus a bit of November and January thrown in as well), I had to walk away from the writing.

There really wasn’t a choice.

Not with my just-turned two-year-old son. And not sleeping. And all the teething.

Seriously. There were just too many days that started for me at 4:00 a.m. and I had to, somehow, get through the day with my two kids (and not kill them). Okay, not that I would actually kill them (I truly, truly love them), but running around like a raving, angry banshee was not the kind of parent I wanted to be. And some days, that’s exactly what it felt like.

So, for December, I put everything on the hold. Except the kids and holidays.

I, sadly, hung up my writing streak of 160 days (yeah… you heard that right… 160 days of writing, straight, even with my two young kids).

Now, however, I’m raring to get going.

Mostly.

Because… I still have a two-year-old. My cute little angel, who, even right now, is attempting to single-handedly take down the gate surrounding all of our electronics and game consoles. I might also mention that I’m a month into potty training. Which, while it’s going well, it was also pretty crazy (yep… had a couple of those banshee moments, trust me). Just imagine that the diaper is gone completely and I’m watching Eric like a hawk to catch all the pee and poo until he learns where it belongs. Ok. He knows where it belongs but actually using it like he’s supposed to… well… he’s two. And stubborn. Very stubborn. He’s also a late-talker like his sister, which means I get no nice verbal warning like, “Pee!” or “Poo!”

Fun times.

Yet here I am at the start of a new year (okay… sorta start) and am thinking about getting the writing going again. Part of me is like, “you’re freakin’ crazy.” The other part acknowledges that I need to do this. This is one of those core, self-care pieces that I need to keep going.

Yet… still. Goals? For this year? Stuff that might be even slightly in my control. Slightly?

It’s almost laughable, but heck, I’ve done this before. The writing and having a two-year-old part. And I’ve got a little mantra that pretty aptly defines the year I’m facing:

The year I won’t sit down.

And considering Eric is now capable of climbing up the barstools to get to our kitchen counter, and is even more capable of pushing said-chairs to the counter to get to the stuff he’s not supposed to get (after we, so smart that we are as parents, moved those stools away from the counter)… yeah. It’s gonna be interesting.

Somehow though, somehow, I’m still gonna get words written. Specifically, fiction words.

How do I know this? Well, heck, I actually looked back at 2016 and added up my totals, and it was pretty darn amazing considering the hurdles I faced. A house move, Kate still not trusting in her voice and there I was, just a mom, beating back the world with my mighty stick, and…. oh, yes, that’s right. Just having two young kids fits the bill.

So, in 9 months of writing I wrote…

29,121 words of nonfiction

89,449 words of fiction

Also, I completed 7 online workshops (6 weeks each) with Dean Wesley Smith and WMG Publishing. (I did not count all the fiction words from those assignments, and there were a ton.)

Wow. Crazy, right? I’m shocked. But there it is. And it all happened because it was just me, writing away bit by bit. Some days I got an hour, most others anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. Some days it was only 5 minutes.

I saw 2016 as the Year of Learning. It was also the Year to Restart My Writing. I certainly hit on both accounts. I’d really wanted to amp up the publishing front, actually deal with some of those god-awful covers and blurbs back when I started this venture in 2012. Yeah. That didn’t happen. But boy, boy did I learn a ton about being a writer with two small kids, especially having one with language delays and the other just learning to how crazy-fun it is to get into everything.

And really, if you’re a parent you know darn well that the first year of a baby is way easier than toddlerhood. Light-years easier. So, I had a lot of false starts throughout the year, with me trying something new (or even the same thing, again and again), until I figured out how to write with my kids around. And really, this is a question I need to figure out since we have decided to homeschool. Yeah, it’ll get easier as my kids get bigger (and way, way easier when Eric actually puts his poop in the potty instead of running to me first and we do a funny rush-over to get him there in time). But really, I still needed to figure this out.

And I am.

Piece by piece.

If you’re a parent of littles and you have this crazy-ass dream of being a writer (or anything creative, really) and that, regardless of how little you’ve slept in… I don’t know… five years… you still want to write. Well, here are a few tips and lessons I’ve learned along the way. (And I’m sure these will only continue to be refined and tried again and adjusted and flat out thrown-out as the month, or heck, weeks progress.)

Here’s the thing: when it comes to fiction, I truly, truly need to be away from my kids. That’s when my subconscious actually comes out, when it feels safe enough to dive into a story, to lose itself with the characters.

I will also say, that this isn’t forever. In fact, with Kate I managed to write in the next room while she was watching her all-time favorite movie Frozen or when she was playing the WiiU and jumping on those little mushroom-like dudes in Yoshi’s Woolley World. My point: if she was sufficiently occupied and not trying to climb into the cupboard to get the (no longer) hidden chocolate, I could write. But with Eric, as young as he is, forget it. I need to be alone and away from that kid to keep from triggering all manner of my mommy-senses.

Now, when it comes to nonfiction and learning, I’ve got a lot more leeway. I mean, I can keep going with this blog even though I’ve already been interrupted seven times since I started writing this. Which is great because it can mean that my precious alone time is reserved only for fiction writing.

So in 2016, I learned I needed to be away from the kids. I also learned that I’m a morning person and if I have any dream of writing, this is when it’s gotta be (by the end of the day my mind is zombie-mush).

How about you? What are your sort of parameters?

Once you’ve got your baseline, whatever those are, these little pieces that simply need to be in place for you to make writing happen, you come up with the next bit: a plan.

Easier said than done, I know.

I worked it out with Sean (ok…. make this eight Eric-led interruptions now… sigh) where he watches the kids for an hour and I leave the house.

That’s right. I grab my laptop and head outside to sit by the pool (or on rare days where it actually rains down here in sunny CA, the common area of our complex). I’ve got my headphones to drawn out any annoying sounds, and I’ve got the clock.

This has been huge for me, a real piece of the puzzle that I was missing. It’s allowed my subconscious to feel safe again with the storytelling. And it worked, because I kept getting the writing in, even on days where the last thing I felt like doing, was writing. It wasn’t always easy, but words were written.

I’ve also come to understand another critical piece I’m still missing: time to just think. Time when my mind is free to come out and just have fun with ideas, to live with the characters… what might happen next? What kind of world would that be?

That part is still a struggle for me because there’s simply so much clamoring for my attention. Any downtime I have, any ounce of quiet, and I have this need to fill it with something… from listening to podcasts about publishing or health or board games, or watching a TV show while doing dishes because it’s one of those rare moments where I can do something for me.

The idea of just thinking and letting my subconscious have some fun, it’s not nearly as powerful as those other distractions. I’m still working on this and it’s one of my big goal areas for this year (giving myself time to think, and really, to daydream).

But really, it’s also a matter of recognizing myself and putting a finger to my own creative pulse.

If I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed and my resources are low, this is not the time to expect myself to easily slip into this creative-thought stage. But maybe if I can’t do that, instead, I can grab one of my research books on the west and Butte, Montana that I love to read. And maybe just reading those books will start sparking some thoughts, take some pressure of this need to create and by doing that, oh look, there’s a story idea peeking it’s head out…

And that’s how I’m going to handle 2017.

Get a goal in place. Get a plan. Then, be flexible… and more often than not, sideways. I need to focus on what I can do (rather than what I can’t).

What I can do: write every day. Even for five minutes.

This daily goal became so so so powerful for me. On days where I was sick and just plain exhausted and wanted to melt into a pile of mush… it actually pushed me through and got me to the keyboard. I’d always heard of the power of streaks but I’d never thought it could conquer the utter exhaustion that (often) comes with parenting.

Certainly parenting a toddler.

In addition to a writing every day, I actually have a goal of writing for one hour, five days a week. I say five days and not every day because that would be totally unrealistic for me these days and I don’t want to get discouraged. In fact, I’ll schedule it out on the calendar for an hour, being flexible, depending if we’ve got a Disneyland trip planned or driving up to visit the grandparents or friends. This is not a hard and fast goal because the last thing I want is to feel shame or guilt. In fact, the only reason I’m committing to an hour is because, darn it, I’d like to write some projects this year!

Like a novel.

I really, really want to write another novel. That’s been a challenging one for me, mostly because my subconscious is very wrapped up in my kids and keeping them safe and alive (and, to be honest, standing up for them to develop and grow at their own pace and not what society has deemed ‘normal’ and ‘appropriate’). In fact, the last novel I wrote was when I was pregnant with Eric. Granted, I’ve written some long-ass short stories in 2016 that are really more in the novella length, but a multi-character novel? Haven’t done that in two years. And those are the stories that are more my natural length.

So, I want to get to writing that again.

I sat down and did some math, figured out how I can actually, physically, make this happen. I estimated 100,000 words is a good length for me. I also want to write a couple of short stories. And do these blogs. I know that my usual pace is 1,000 words an hour, so I went and did the math for the year, for each month (and because I’m expecting life to be what it is, I’m scheduling only for 10 months), and then broke it down further until I got to days… which came out to 500 words a day.

And you know what? I can totally hit this.

I see that number and I know it’s doable. Some days will only be five minutes of writing, but it will hit my daily writing goal. Other days I’ll pound out 2,000 words because the story’s gripped me and I can’t type fast enough.

I’ve also got plans to do more online workshops, to keep the learning going and have even signed up for two Oregon Coast workshops… and bringing the kids (and another adult) with me.

And if I fail? If I don’t make it out to Oregon or I don’t hit this overall goal of writing 200,000 words for the year?

Wow, will it still be a success because any writing with young kids is a success.

I’m gonna keep trying, I’m gonna keep plugging away because as I’ve learned, when I write, I’m happy. I’m a whole, more complete person. And that means I’m a better, more patient, more compassionate parent.

Because first and foremost, who I am is a parent.

I am a mother.

That is my primary job and role and it’s one that’s 24-hours and I love it. Yet somehow, I still want to keep the writing going. I still want to be a professional writer. I want to be a healthy person who eats real food and gets plenty of movement. I’m also the primary speech partner for my kids. You heard me, both kids. We may not do something structured and routine, because that doesn’t work for our family, but I’m still aware of the work, weaving it in throughout our normal lives.

So I’ve got a lot of roles, a lot on my plate (and we haven’t even talked about my publishing business, one which I hope to at least get going by the end of 2017). And I’m still just one person. There’s only so much I can do when I have two young ones getting into all manner of fun.

But here I am, looking into 2017, and I’m going to do what I can. I’m going to try and then try again. I’m going to get up and keep going. I’m going to keep learning and keep writing.

So in addition to The Year I Won’t Sit Down, this will also be: The Year of Writing and Learning.

Whether you’re a writer or artist, or some other business dream you’ve got cooked up in your heart, something that you still want to make it happen in between the pauses in parenthood… what kind of year will you have?

Create your own pauses.

Don’t wait for those moments to come to you. If it’s important, find a way to fit it in. Trust me, you’ll be happier for it.

For me, I’m excited. I’m ready to get going. I’m ready to tell some stories.

(Or I will… as soon as my days don’t start at 3:30 in the morning.)