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Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

Help! My Baby Stole My Novel

A few years ago, a friend sent me a question.  She was a new mom and she was having a tough time.  The days were long, the diapers were many.  She had grown accustomed to life in the parenting trenches.  But she missed literacy.  Sharpness of mind.  And the friendship of a good book.  What she wanted to know was:  would she ever read again?  What follows is the answer I wrote for her.

Will you ever read again?

The short answer is No.

At least that’s what it will feel like. You will examine warning labels on baby Tylenol. You will peruse pediatric websites at 2 am seeking guidance on teething, green poop, or how to get your baby to leave you alone. You will discover notes to yourself that you do not remember writing. You will read the expression on your partner’s face that tells you s/he is in the mood for love.   S/he will read the expression on your face indicating you are in the mood for cereal. But will you read books? No, probably not.

It is normal that a sensitive, educated parent might miss reading. So, what follows is a 5-step program for reclaiming The Book.

Step 1: Chaucer Coasters

Believe it or not, TV and sleep are necessary pursuits if you ever want to read again. As a new parent, I was wonked out. Despite plans to “revisit the classics” during my maternity leave, whenever I touched a book, I promptly fell asleep. Pick up a book if you must, but then set it down and put a cold drink on it. Books make good coasters. Sip your beverage and catch up with Real Housewives. Check in on The Deadliest Catch. Watch a vacuum cleaner infomercial at 3 am, just to say you have. Slum some with basic cable. When I wasn’t napping, Sex in the City reruns and Ice Road Truckers massaged my brain where literary information had previously been stored. Television helped me hit rock bottom. It is said alcoholics bottom out before seeking help. New parents need to do the same. I once watched eleven cooking shows back-to-back, leaving the couch only to change the baby and toast Pop-tarts. TV saturation gave me the drive to read again.

Step 2: Embrace Kid Lit

A runner returning from an injury doesn’t start with a marathon. A model on maternity leave doesn’t come back for a swimsuit shoot. They stretch, ease in. The same is true of readers. Start slow. Reawaken the memory of simply holding a book. After the birth of my daughter, Katie, my first book had a fabric cover and no discernable title, plot, or, in fact, words. It consisted of three pages – one depicting a doggie, another a kitty, and finally (and always surprising to me), a bunny. It wasn’t much, but those were the first pages I successfully comprehended. We “read” this book often. Before long, legitimately lovely children’s books followed: Goodnight Moon; Runaway Bunny; The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was educating myself with reruns of Gilmore Girls, but at least I read to my kid. It was a start.

Step 3: Forgive Your Brain

After children’s books, I figured grown-up reads were not far behind. However, babies melt brain cells. As a parent, I was dumber. My husband tells me I confuse left and right for about two years after the birth of each child. This makes reading challenging. Whatever you do, DON’T return to something you were reading pre-baby. Unless you start all over, you will not recall even the basics of the plot. Take my experience with what I am told is a gripping tale of historical intrigue, An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. I began this novel when I was pregnant, and picked it up again when my daughter was six months old. Technically, I did complete the book, in that I turned each of its pages. But at the end, I was left with two important questions:

  1. What was the Instance to which the title refers?
  2. What exactly was a Fingerpost?

I do not fault Mr. Pears. His characters performed surgeries and ate dinners in consummate detail. But my life was upside down and covered in baby vomit. I could not summon enough info from my first reading to inform the second. My eyes read words that my marshmallow brain refused to process.

Step 4: Forage in the Bathroom

So maybe whole books aren’t the best way to start. Graze instead. Nose through a Pottery Barn catalog; chew on Disney fliers that will magically appear in your mailbox as soon as you have children. I read magazines instead of cleaning house. And because I failed to clean, magazines were everywhere—clogging kitchen counters, cluttering coffee tables, and decorating every bathroom. In fact, most of my after-baby reading happened in the loo. I was alone there. So I dallied. I bopped from article to article, inching back towards literacy. I studied recipes I did not cook, and learned exercises I did not do. I read eight-month-old news articles that were still news to me. Whether my source was Oprah or Obama, I savored every stolen bathroom minute.

Step 5: Recovery: Vampires at the Beach

After magazines, books are yours. Drag your bambino to library story time and start browsing. Don’t be surprised if your stamina has altered during the months (or years) away. If you previously fancied Victorian novels or tended towards tomes with Russian heft, now, even in the dead of winter, you may crave a beach read. Unfamiliar with the genre? Just find a cover with a glassy-eyed woman staring into the mist. With a title like Love Promises or anything After the Harvest. But don’t laze in the sand for too long. Cultivate new interests. I discovered young adult novels after the birth of my daughter, Lizzie. Teen books aren’t all wizards and vampires. The Hunger Games rescued my neighbor from the brink. Looking for Alaska, a sweet and wry little adolescent romance, set me on the road to recovery. Nonfiction was also appealing. Essays were easy to pick up and put down. I found E.B. White again. Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions helped me laugh about parenting. To escape parenting, anything written or breathed upon by David Sedaris was always a good bet.

 

Eventually, the reader in you will resuscitate. For me, it happened one fall. Six years after my first maternity leave, I finally returned to the classics. I curled up late one night in my favorite rocking chair, and thumbed through Pride and Prejudice on my iPhone, with my baby daughter drowsing on my lap. Elizabeth and Darcy saw me through those nighttime feedings. Their flirtatiousness, their wit, their passion…it awakened in me a desire I had not felt in years.* I wanted to keep on reading. And, for once, I did.

 

*Of course, it also awakened in me other desires. Not long after, I was pregnant again, and right back at Chaucer Coasters. But, for a little bit there anyway, there was hope. And I know there will be again.

dadvmom.com_helpmybabystolemynovel_booktitles

A version of this piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

ReLent

(Originally posted February 19, 2015)

When I was growing up, Lent was bleak. There were no donuts. The Girl Scouts delivered cookies that we could no longer eat. Once again, fish reared its ugly head at dinnertime. We went without things we loved (usually sweets) and were grumpy, or we cheated and felt guilty until Easter came, when Jesus rose, and there were jelly beans for all.

This time of year can be tricky as a parent. The holidays are over, winter is dragging on and on. We could all use a little infusion. A little reminder that spring will come again. Call it Lent. Call it Random Acts of Kindness. Call it Love. But if you are finding yourselves or your family in a slump, try some of these. I’m going to post the list and have the kids check one on those days we just need a little boost.

*Make your own ashes. Let go of old habits, sad stories that no longer serve you. Write them down or say them aloud. Watch those ideas go up in smoke. (Thanks, Glennon Melton, for this idea http://momastery.com/blog/2015/02/18/stardust/ )

*Get bundled up and go for a walk together. If it is daylight, look for signs of spring.

*Call someone you love.

*Exercise together. If you are snowbound, pop in a workout video. Or bundle up and go run around the house. Or have each family member pick an exercise or two and everyone else can try it. Have fun being active together.

*Call a local food bank or meal provider. Donate canned goods and non-perishables. Or volunteer to help prepare or serve a meal to those in need.

*Plan and cook a simple meal together. Let the kids pick the foods even if they don’t “go together.”

*Gather for a compliment circle. Tell one another something you value or admire.

*Bring someone flowers ‘just because.’

*Put money in a tip jar.

*Fix something around the house that has been broken for a while. (For kids, this can even mean changing light bulbs.)

*Have a FREE stand – free donuts, or cocoa, or lemonade, or poems, or art work, or songs, or toys from your house you no longer need. If anyone insists on paying, give the money to a local charity.

*Have a family game night.

*Plant – garden vegetable seeds, flowers, herbs. Enjoy seeing green during the winter.

*Try a new sport or activity – ice skating, roller skating, trampoline, kayaking, library book club, knitting, yoga, swimming, karate, piano. Dare to do something you’ve always meant to do.

*Write a letter or draw a picture and mail it to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Let them know they are special.

*Offer to babysit for another family.

*Visit an animal shelter. Ask if they have a list of needed items. Pick something and supply it.

*Bring a box of Kleenex, markers, hand sanitizer, or glue sticks to school. Teachers often purchase these items out-of-pocket this time of year.

*Snuggle on the couch with the television and computer turned off. Instead, read books aloud or tell stories.

*Have a donation scavenger hunt. Walk around the house and fill a bag with items to give away.

*Look at old photographs. Share the stories they capture.

*At dinner tonight, tell one another three things you are grateful for.

*Bake together. Share some of your cookies or muffins, etc. with your neighbors.

*Sing today.

*Dance today.

*Clean today. Scrub the toilets inside the house. Pick up trash outside the house. It does not matter what, just pick something and make it shine.

*Be affectionate today. Smile at one another for no reason. Say, “I love you” for no reason. Hug.

*Share memories of favorite family recipes. Pick one to try to recreate today.

*Wash each other’s feet.

*Whether it is for church, brunch, or your next family gathering, select a nice outfit to wear. Have everyone know what they are wearing to de-stress the process of getting a well-dressed family out the door.

Revised Feb. 9, 2016 — I started Lent a day early this year. My To-Do List has been growing of late, and I noticed a trend: I notoriously skip appointments related to my own health and well-being. I am 14 months overdue at the dentist. My teeth have begun to feel furry. We have a family history of breast cancer, and I’ve still never been for a mammogram. The dermatologist, my hairdresser, the guy who does the brakes on my car…all received calls from me today. Sometimes, in our desire to care completely for our families, we forget ourselves. Feels good to be entering this season with a modicum of balance.

Also, I ate the rest of the girl scout cookies. It made sense at the time.

3-Beauty-out-of-ashes-600x350 copy

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

ReLent

When I was growing up, Lent was bleak. There were no donuts. The Girl Scouts delivered cookies that we could no longer eat. Once again, fish reared its ugly head at dinnertime. We went without things we loved (usually sweets) and were grumpy, or we cheated and felt guilty until Easter came, when Jesus rose, and there were jelly beans for all.

This time of year can be tricky as a parent. The holidays are over, winter is dragging on and on. We could all use a little infusion. A little reminder that spring will come again. Call it Lent. Call it Random Acts of Kindness. Call it Love. But if you are finding yourselves or your family in a slump, try some of these. I’m going to post the list and have the kids check one on those days we just need a little boost.

 

*Make your own ashes. Let go of old habits, sad stories that no longer serve you. Write them down or say them aloud. Watch those ideas go up in smoke. (Thanks, Glennon Melton, for this idea http://momastery.com/blog/2015/02/18/stardust/ )

*Get bundled up and go for a walk together. If it is daylight, look for signs of spring.

*Call someone you love.

*Exercise together. If you are snowbound, pop in a workout video. Or bundle up and go run around the house. Or have each family member pick an exercise or two and everyone else can try it. Have fun being active together.

*Call a local food bank or meal provider. Donate canned goods and non-perishables. Or volunteer to help prepare or serve a meal to those in need.

*Plan and cook a simple meal together. Let the kids pick the foods even if they don’t “go together.”

*Gather for a compliment circle. Tell one another something you value or admire.

*Bring someone flowers ‘just because.’

*Put money in a tip jar.

*Fix something around the house that has been broken for a while. (For kids, this can even mean changing light bulbs.)

*Have a FREE stand – free donuts, or cocoa, or lemonade, or poems, or art work, or songs, or toys from your house you no longer need. If anyone insists on paying, give the money to a local charity.

*Have a family game night.

*Plant – garden vegetable seeds, flowers, herbs. Enjoy seeing green during the winter.

*Try a new sport or activity – ice skating, roller skating, trampoline, kayaking, library book club, knitting, yoga, swimming, karate, piano. Dare to do something you’ve always meant to do.

*Write a letter or draw a picture and mail it to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Let them know they are special.

*Offer to babysit for another family.

*Visit an animal shelter. Ask if they have a list of needed items. Pick something and supply it.

*Bring a box of Kleenex, markers, hand sanitizer, or glue sticks to school. Teachers often purchase these items out-of-pocket this time of year.

*Snuggle on the couch with the television and computer turned off. Instead, read books aloud or tell stories.

*Have a donation scavenger hunt. Walk around the house and fill a bag with items to give away.

*Look at old photographs. Share the stories they capture.

*At dinner tonight, tell one another three things you are grateful for.

*Bake together. Share some of your cookies or muffins, etc. with your neighbors.

*Sing today.

*Dance today.

*Clean today. Scrub the toilets inside the house. Pick up trash outside the house. It does not matter what, just pick something and make it shine.

*Be affectionate today. Smile at one another for no reason. Say, “I love you” for no reason. Hug.

*Share memories of favorite family recipes. Pick one to try to recreate today.

*Wash each other’s feet.

*Whether it is for church, brunch, or your next family gathering, select a nice outfit to wear. Have everyone know what they are wearing to de-stress the process of getting a well-dressed family out the door.

Revised Feb. 9, 2016 — I started Lent a day early this year.  My To-Do List has been growing of late, and I noticed a trend:  I notoriously skip appointments related to my own health and well-being.  I am 14 months overdue at the dentist.  My teeth have begun to feel furry.  We have a family history of breast cancer, and I’ve still never been for a mammogram.  The dermatologist, my hairdresser, the guy who does the brakes on my car…all received calls from me today.  Sometimes, in our desire to care completely for our families, we forget ourselves.  Feels good to be entering this season with balance.

Also, I ate the rest of the girl scout cookies.  It made sense at the time.   

3-Beauty-out-of-ashes-600x350 copy

 

 

 

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

Resolve to Fail

In 2012, I joined a gym. At first, I even went there. Sometimes to work out. Sometimes for sandwiches. But I grew tired of elliptical machines and turkey burgers, and by 2013, I faked an old track injury and finagled out of my contract.

In 2014, I started running again. I bought plush socks and shoes with impressive treads. I downloaded an app to chart my progress, and figured I’d knock out a 5K by Memorial Day. Or Labor Day. Or Thanksgiving at the latest. According to my log, the last time I jogged was June 13th, and I sustained that run for a total of ninety-three seconds.

And so it goes with resolutions. This year, I set out to lose the baby weight, and by next year, I’m pregnant again. On January 1st, I swear off dairy products, but by Valentine’s, I’m hiding chocolate around the house, and eating cheese fondue for dinner.

I had come to view yearly promises as an absolute waste of time. But something happened yesterday that turned my cynicism upside down. Literally. Because yesterday, I held my first handstand in yoga.

I know, I know . . . yoga. Every time I hear someone ruminate about the virtues of chakra and chi, I feel like running from the room. But as those who know me can attest, my pear-shaped figure and copious rear end do not flex easily into any yoga pose, especially the airborne variety. So hear me out. Yesterday, aided by guilt over the apple pie I ate for breakfast, and urged on by an instructor skilled at breaking difficult exercises into manageable steps, I stood upside down on my hands. And smiled. For a few blissful moments, I ceased to be a middle-aged mother of three. I was a child tumbling in the front yard. I daydreamed about the circus, the Olympics, the moon.

Afterwards, my teacher shared the following tidbit: “It was absolutely impossible, so it took a little longer to achieve.”

It is easy to dog on resolutions. But that is such a cop out. I have been practicing yoga on and off for fifteen years. The first fifty times I attempted a handstand, I failed. I blamed weak wrists and shoulders, and flabby post-pregnancy abs. I failed so often that I gave up trying.

But yesterday, I remembered why I had begun yoga in the first place. In my early twenties, I worked at a rehabilitative program for juvenile offenders. Gang members, drug addicts, kids who had been tossed from school. Failure was what brought them to me. And one of the first things we did was set goals. Goals for the month, the day, the week. Sometimes they were loftily worded psychobabble: Beatrice will use ‘I feel statements’ to express anger and opposition about her quality world. Sometimes they were basic: Jackie will wear clean pants every day. In the beginning, most of those mouthy, broken teenagers screwed up their goals before breakfast.

But every day, we helped them try again. And in the end, after months and sometimes years of failure, many kids ultimately triumphed. They graduated high school, got jobs, had families. I read a note recently in which a young lady named Shannon credited the program for saving her life. One of her first goals had been to brush her hair and teeth.

Maybe the trouble with New Year’s resolutions is that we assume they are to be completed within a single calendar year. Or maybe we have simply forgotten that in order to rise up, we first have to fall.

As I stand on the precipice of another new year, I am tempted to channel Janus, the ancient Roman god of transitions and passageways. He is often portrayed with two faces, one looking forward and one looking behind. I am torn between idealistic hopes of the person I might become, and backward glances at the only person I have ever been.

But this year, I am channeling Shannon instead. And I double downward dog dare you to do the same. Toss the cigarettes. Give that white bread a break. And when you flub up next week, figure out why, and try again. Make New Year’s resolutions and St. Patrick’s Day resolutions and Arbor Day resolutions. Set goals for yourself the whole damn year. It does not matter if you achieve them today, tomorrow, or ten years from Tuesday. Just don’t quit until you reach your handstand.

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Originally appeared in the New York Observer, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2014.