Why I don’t write about my children

Right now, the most commonly-asked question I get from people–besides “What do you write?”–is whether or not I write about my children. This could be due to the fact that I spend a lot of time around other mothers. My children are very young (almost 5 and 18 months), so our days are spent doing preschool runs and making play dates. But still, I find it interesting that this question comes up so often. There’s even been a bit of a nasty twist to the tone when a person or two have asked this question, raising their eyebrows and laughing as if I can get some sort of revenge on my kids by writing about them. I don’t write about my children. Other than very minor anecdotes in an otherwise larger story, I’ve chosen to exclude them from my writing. And this is not an accident. Years ago, when I was in college as an older student (I went back to finish my bachelor’s degree when I was 30), I had a wonderful professor who taught creative non-fiction and also published essays. Shannon Lakanen gave a reading one night at my college while I was taking one of her classes. Her essay…

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Wonderful news: Now is the Hour!

I have an agent! Almost a year ago, I was contacted by three agents after one of my essays was published in Slice. They wanted to see my novel manuscript (which I’d mentioned in my bio). I was working on my seventh (yes, seventh) complete rewrite of the damn thing, and it wasn’t quite finished yet. When I finally sent the full manuscript out to those three agents last December, two took a pass (historical fiction not being their thing) and one said she wanted it! Brandi Bowles of Foundry Media gave me a list of revisions, telling me she expected these to take 4-6 months (she was right; it took exactly six months). I got the manuscript back to her about a month ago and we spent a few weeks doing some fine-tuning….line-editing and brainstorming a new title and working on a pitch letter, among other things. And finally, a week and a half ago, Brandi began sending out Now is the Hour to New York publishing houses! I’ve worked on this novel for so long–I started it in the fall of 2010, just before I got pregnant with my first son–that this has all felt a little heady, like I’m playing pretend. My…

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Damn the baby-holders, full speed ahead

I was talking with a friend recently about baby-holders: the people who show up after you give birth and want to do nothing but hold your baby. Oh, did we have a good and bitter laugh about them! She had gotten into an online discussion, voicing her opinion that it was perfectly acceptable for new parents to put a sign on their front door that said, essentially, “Our baby is sleeping and we are resting. Feel free to leave food and we’ll call when we’re ready to see you.” Apparently some people were having a fit about this, because they considered this sign and this behavior “rude.” And it brought back a LOT of memories for me. When I had my first son, we had so. Many. Visitors. It was a nonstop stream of people for a solid four or five months. My oldest was not an easy baby. He screamed a lot. Like all night long, unless he was walked in a loop through our kitchen, living room and sun room; walking in that loop was the only thing that soothed him. I tried to nurse him and couldn’t because it was horribly painful–I didn’t find out until he was…

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Oh, the places we’ll go

I camped a lot as a kid. My parents started us off tent camping as babies (can you imagine?), but when I was ten or eleven, they bought a pop-up camper. We went everywhere with that thing bopping along behind my dad’s truck. We drove up and down the length of New England, all the way up to Maine and down to Key Largo (from Toledo) multiple times, to the Outer Banks, to northern Michigan. My mother planned all our trips, and recently told me that they often set out with only a few hundred dollars and a destination in mind. We found some of the most lovely campgrounds, and saw a good bit of the country this way. My fondest memories of my childhood all come from our camping trips. My husband and I bought an RV a couple months ago, and I am so excited that we now we get to continue that tradition with our own children. The first trip–only an hour and a half away–wasn’t easy. It was 90 degrees, a thousand percent humidity, and the campground was in a rather bare state park with nothing fun for the kids to do. The baby had a…

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Why I don’t watch TV

I read a really eye-opening statistic last night, courtesy of A.C. Nielsen: by the age of 65, the average American has spent nine years watching television. Nine years. Four hours per day adds up to two full months of TV-watching every year. Two months! I don’t know if I can adequately describe how those numbers took my breath away. At the risk of sounding extremely sanctimonious, I don’t watch television (not online and not on my regular TV). Very occasionally I will indulge in a few episodes of something, but that literally happens maybe twice a year. I also don’t let my children watch TV shows. This is not because I want to be a holier-than-thou mother who looks down her nose at the common folk who let their children rot their brains on cartoons, but because I don’t watch it myself. My oldest is almost five years old, and I’m glad that he doesn’t have any “regular shows” (they always ask this when we get his hair cut, so they can put one of his “regular shows” on to entertain him, like they do with all kids). It doesn’t even occur to me to turn on the TV or…

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The fire drill of life

Life is getting in the way of writing lately. This past week alone, we’ve dealt with or are dealing with the following: buying a new couch (the old one has a broken frame, and the baby has peed on it too many times to count), the babysitter quitting with less than a week’s notice, hiring and training a new babysitter, made reservations for our rental apartment in Italy, our dishwasher catching on fire and necessitating a call to the fire department at 10:30 at night, my National Piano Guild auditions the morning after the dishwasher fire, and hiring a new housecleaner. Each of those events involved a constellation of their own mini-events (for example, once we discovered that the dishwasher was the source of the fire, then we had to turn the power off in the kitchen for a day. Then we had to take the dishwasher out of the wall and try to find out exactly where it was burning. Once we found the loose rubber gasket that rubbed against the heating element and caught fire, we had to take it out, then put the dishwasher back, then run it to make sure nothing was leaking and nothing else would…

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No talent required

My piano teacher has this posted on a bulletin board in her studio. I noticed it today during my lesson; she told me she wrote it up because she was tired of people telling her how “talented” her students were. Talent in music, she said, means little; mostly, success comes through hard work. I can’t count how many writers–professors, authors at conferences, authors in their books on craft–have reiterated these same tenets. Talent is MADE, not born. Everyone thinks that anyone successful in a creative field–artists, writers, musicians, actors–has been born with some sort of innate talent or gift that the rest of the world wasn’t lucky enough to get. Dustin Hoffman said something like, “I worked half my life to become an overnight success,” which pretty much sums it all up. All of this–talent, effort, hard work, success (whatever that is)–has been swirling around in my mind lately. I began writing in 2000, and I wrote in complete privacy and silence for ten years–TEN years, a full decade–before I could admit aloud to anyone that I really wanted to be a writer (never mind that every day I wrote, I already was a writer). I just told a friend…

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Practice practice practice

I recently finished a mindfulness-based stress reduction class. I’ve been a spotty meditator for years but have never been able to commit to a daily practice because, well, meditation is hard. I also knew that the originator of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn, requires his students to meditate for 45 minutes a day, six days a week during the class. Frankly, that scared me. I have so little time as it is–especially time when I am not being interrupted continually by children–that the thought of sacrificing nearly an hour a day to doing NOTHING just frightened me. But I also knew that when I meditated, I felt better. And I want to be able to do hard things, things my brain tells me I can’t do. So I signed up for an MBSR class as my birthday present to myself. The class, which I took through a local hospital, ran for eight weeks. We learned a variety of meditation techniques, including the body scan, mindful eating, yoga, walking meditation and traditional sitting meditation. We also learned informal practices that we could use all day in our daily lives. We started off only doing formal meditation for ten minutes a day in the first class–very…

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Wooden spoon survivor

I’ve seen this image floating around on Facebook lately. Whenever anyone shares this, it’s in the vein of, “Haha, isn’t this hilarious?” and “Yep, I survived, and look at how GREAT I am because of it!” As if they belong to some private and wonderful club. I don’t find it funny at all. I find it repugnant. Many of my published essays center around the topic of my childhood, specifically my mother’s rage and how it manifested in abuse. My mother and I have shared a long and rocky road in our relationship, but I’m proud to say we’ve come to a good place, and I’ve forgiven her for my childhood (thanks in no small part to my own entree into motherhood. It’s a real humbling experience, folks). I understand now why she did what she did; she couldn’t help it, she didn’t know better, and she was a mere child when she got pregnant with me at seventeen. (Seventeen!) She knows all about my writing and was bighearted enough to tell me she understood that it was my story to tell. How lucky am I, that she has given me this gift? Still, it should not be a surprise…

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