That sick feeling is normal.

This morning my son traipsed off in a taxi toward LaGuardia Airport with a handful of my family. He’ll be in Texas for a week, at which point my husband and I will follow to spend the holidays. I wasn’t hesitant in the least about allowing him to stay with family. It was his idea. Even with a cold this week he was still game for the journey. The night before he was supposed to fly arrived, and with it my own hidden anxiety surfaced. It began with him, very normally, saying he didn’t really want to go. Why?, my husband asked. Because I don’t want to be away from Mommy. 

Crack! The sound of my rapidly breaking shell of composure.

We talked for a bit about his feelings, my loving feelings toward him, and ultimately, the fact he wouldn’t feel that way once the opportunity had passed. I explained why I wasn’t going (I have engagements this week in the City). He understood, and then, just like that, he was over his reluctance with a kiss.

My composure lay in pieces on the ground he walked on with his cousin.

I spent the better part of Thursday evening pretending I was fine. We had dinner, started gathering his stuff, played, watched Spiderman. By the time I was laying him down for bed we were all tired. He passed out in my arms, and I proceeded to cry. I cried for about fifteen minutes. This morning when he happily left — still a little under the weather, but in good spirits — I cried again.

This is not my first time away from Sam. Before we moved, Nathan and I came to New York twice on our own. Once was for almost five days. I’ve spent nights away from him. I’ve had a few days in New York away from him. This is not our first major separation, but it is our first initiated by him. It’s first time he chose to go.

When I threw myself into drafting my manuscript last October, writing became a huge presence in my life. Sometimes an even bigger presence than Sam. I’m not apologizing for this, but want you to understand something from it. For anything to fill my mind more than Sam means that something has to be of incredible value to me. Sam has been the mark by which all things are judged since he was born. Should I do this? I think of Sam. Is this best? I think of Sam. He is the excuse and reason for a lot of my decisions.

Writing is important to me, sometimes so important it feels most important. But it’s not. I write this blog post now because my heart is being wrenched away and carried to Texas. I write in general because nothing will ever be as important as Sam, but there must be more to me than him. He just got on a plane to Texas without me at three years old. Someday, it may be a plane to another country, or to college away from home, or a spaceship to the moon. I savor him now, this time so short and sweet, but I follow my own path too.

As mothers, we find a lot of fault within ourselves for the pursuit our own desires. Or, for the pursuit of any desire that doesn’t directly benefit our children. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way and I don’t think it’s easy to admit. I think we all sense it within ourselves when we make a choice that looks selfish, or one for our career, or one to feed another part of us other than mom. It’s a tightening in our chests, or a sick spreading through our stomachs. It wells up like a geyser, or festers like a wound. It is essential to the art of motherhood, just as it is essential to every other art form. We must feel it all in order to produce anything of value.

I intend to produce a child and a novel (many!) I’m proud of.

There is no happiness when in pursuit of something worth pursuing, only the joy of the journey, the heartache of the pilgrimage, and the belief that it will be worth it. Even if we have to steel ourselves as our baby says goodbye with a smile. Even if we cry the moment we shut the door. Even if we enjoy the time apart a little too.

Hold on…

Yesterday, upon waking from his nap, my son went about his normal routine. Cuddle in his bed with mom, wander into the living room, beloved blanket nigh nigh trailing behind him like a train, couch flop and request to watch “a little bit of a movie”. The exact order. My husband and I don’t have cable. Now, we’re not pretentious or anything, nor are we destitute, but my husband can’t watch commercials without launching into a rant, and I don’t like TV enough to pay for variations of the same mediocrity spanning hundreds of channels. Our solution is a little box which we stream Netflix and Amazon On Demand through, where we avoid commercials, and where my son dominates the “suggested watch list” with Nick Jr. and PBS shows alike.

Yesterday, he saw in the suggestions a film titled A Cat in Paris. This film — which I knew nothing of until yesterday — looked harmless, read like a silly romp about a cat burglar who was an actual feline, and featured clever animation reminiscent of the classic children’s tale “Zin Zin the Violin”. Fine. I put it on for him, sitting on the couch for a couple of minutes until he sent me off to our kitchen for a snack and milk, with the requested “pweease” and grin.

When I returned, there was nothing at all alarming on the screen, but Sam was no longer reclined or docile. He turned to me and very simply said, “That man killed the little girls father.” I was understandably thrown by this statement and those words leaping from my three year olds tongue. I asked him if we could turn the movie off, to which he gave a bored nod and crunched a graham cracker. I tried to broach the topic over the course of the afternoon, but was met with tempered indifference and requests to put on his Spiderman mask “so he could be Spiderman.”

This morning, as if sharpened somehow by sleep, Samuel (sitting pin straight on his alphabet mat with his Superheroes strewn around him) said, very cooly, “That man killed the little girls father?” And I was at a loss for how to answer him. I considered a few approaches, ranging from feigning ignorance to telling him death wasn’t scary, to trying to ascertain what he knew of death at three years old. I settled on promising that man and that little girl weren’t real, just a cartoon, and therefor he didn’t need to worry about them. He shrugged and handed me Iron Man, but confusion still flickered in his eyes.

My response was in no way a brush off, but merely my acceptance that this subject is too big to sound byte. Ultimately, as a three year old, his grasp of life and death is still very fuzzy. He has never been exposed to great loss, and even if he were, I do not know how concrete a concept ceasing to exist is or how capable he is to hold it in his mind. Those are questions for someone else to answer professionally, with fact and science that tells us when we are able to measure the missing of someone with the memory of them existing and the knowing that they no longer do.

In the span of that moment, watching him fiddle with Iron Man’s moveable limbs, I saw that he had glimpsed something real and confusing and he was not sure why it didn’t make sense. So young, he touched a truth he will someday (because this is a fate none can escape, even if we wish our babies could) face head on, or sideways, or in great heaving breaths. That is a fact, it will not cease because we wish it to. Even after I held his superhero — cast in invincible metal and warding his own mortality away like a plague— I wanted for him to hold onto the time of not knowing. And isn’t that what our heartache, as parents, is built on? Not will they run the car into a ditch when their sixteen, or will they get drunk and end up on YouTube mooning a cop? Because aren’t those very tangible — though no less controllable — concerns born from this very place? This place of knowing the road. And isn’t that why we do it to begin with? Why we keep on doing it?

For me, the time of not knowing ended at four years old, when my mother gave birth to twins who never left the hospital. I do not remember the time of not knowing. I cannot. For Sam, for now, the understanding of true death is still a distant dark cloud on his vast horizon. He is still without the knowledge. For now, that is something for us both to safeguard. Him by his ignorance and me by my understanding. I will keep holding on until the glass shatters, then I will hold him, and tell him what I know, and know someday that will become an answer worth remembering.

(*An aside about the movie: it was an Academy Award nominee, and I actually want to watch it on my own at some point because I think I would rather enjoy it.)

Rainy Day Sam

I love rainy days with my son. Not all rainy days. There are the inevitable rainy days when Samuel refuses to engage in imaginary play, or do a craft, or read for large chunks of the morning. Those rainy days fill me with dread. When you’ve been a mom for a little while, you learn to pick up on the cues in your child’s demeanor that warn you’ll have a long day. One filled with arguments, then weighted down by unreasonable requests, and ending in the bedtime battle. When those days also fall on a rainy day, being trapped with your child inside can lead a person to drink in the afternoon.

Today, as slushy rain falls from the sky above Brooklyn, is thankfully not one of those days. Today he woke with wide eyes and eagerness. He discussed the finer points of Spiderman’s origin story with me over a banana and pb & j. (I had oatmeal. If I’m to survive the holidays without a meltdown, dry oatmeal and raw veggies have to become my new best friends.) We read through a plethora of books and sang. We made a birthday card for our upstairs neighbor, Sophia. He dictated a message to me with enough inflection to warrant this — !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— type of punctuation.

And for the first time in a while we just reveled in the pleasure of each others company. Sometimes I am not the best about this. I can be either too involved, or too distracted, too aloof, or too emotionally available. Striking a balance with my son is sometimes harder work that writing 3,000 words ever thought about being. So when it happens, it’s something to treasure.

However, capturing the moment on camera has mostly illuded me.

Filling time

Lately, (and by lately, I mean, since Wednesday) I have been faced with a dilemma. Patience is a virtue I am usually bankrupt in. It is also something I must do as I wait for feedback from early readers of my manuscript, including an agent friend of mine. The first couple of days I felt like my skin was being picked at by tiny, flame fingered trolls. I could still feel my narrator inside, running parallel with me, screaming that I couldn’t leave her that way. I know this sounds insane, but truthfully most writers are a little bonkers.

I also began to balk at the idea that this book I had written with ambitions for publications and widespread distribution (lofty goals in this market) was being read by very close, and trusted friends who wanted me to succeed. There reaction will be real, but they are kindly invested in the future of my work. (I hope, I don’t generally run with backstabbing b*tches.) How will it be for me when others with no care for my well-being or knowledge of who I am, read this.

I know what you’re thinking, “You will suck it up and be thankful they read it at all.” I think you’re right. If you aren’t thinking that, and are giving me a virtual edifying kiss on the cheek, I would like to thank you for the sentiment and promptly cry on your shoulder.

In the whirlwind of writing my manuscript I have often been captured by the narrator, drawn in as prisoner by the world she lives in and the fight she fights. Now that the bulk of the work is behind me — unless the consensus is that my book is not worth reading  at all, a reality writers are faced with everyday — the next step will be much different than the last. There will be times when I will have to actually participate in my life without thinking about my book.

It’s been nine months of solid work. Some authors work years on a manuscript, some spend a decade writing one huge story arch (see JK Rowling), while others still pine away on unfinished projects with no hope of an end. In the grand scheme, this experience so far has been relatively smooth. Though from the inside it felt very messy.

So…what am I doing to alleviate the stress of being patient in earnest?

  • Reading
  • Blogging
  • Gathering knowledge about my genre
  • Watching movies! Finding TV shows on Netflix and harping on about how nothing on TV is as good as Mad Men.
  • Playing with Sam — he has had to endure a lot of Zombie-Mommy since I began writing my book. He has handled it with great grace and piles of new superhero figures.
  • Crying. This is involuntary and not at all helpful.
  • Relaxing. Getting brows necessarily waxed, toes painted, back massaged, hair highlighted. All things I let fall during the mad dash.

Now I leave you, but not empty handed. You can ponder with me the cuteness of this pig. (Where do I get one and how can I sneak it past my landlord? ) Also, what makes a person wear stilettos? And should we petition for Pluto to be a planet again? (Ah, the things I think of when I am not working…)

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Confusion Querying

The time has come for the next step — the Query step. I will not pretend this step will be any easier than the step of constructing the manuscript. This step could be the part that induces me to drink. To see a riotous breakdown of what writing a query letter on gin looks like, follow this link. The first time I read this, back well before I was going to write a query letter, I laughed so hard a little coffee came out of my nose.

The internet is ripe with tips on querying. What to do. What not to do. How to look like an amateur. How to look like a pro. How to be a pretentious snob no one will ever want to work with. There are different styles, different do’s and don’ts, some incredibly helpful, others complete nonsense.

It’s actually amazing how much contradicting information you can get on one subject, but then, isn’t that the problem with researching on the internet in the first place? My sister-in-law and I just had the same discussion about pregnancy advice. One article said yes to chamomile tea, the other a firm no. I told her valerian root (which is found in Sleepytime Extra) is a no-no, but I drank chamomile through my pregnancy and never heard any different from my doc. My son did come out a little sleepier than expected, but what the hell?

Apparently, writing a Query is harder than drafting a novel. Some even describe it as an art form. I don’t really get that. It’s a letter. It requires that you can compellingly summarize your novel in a few concise paragraphs. OK, this is harder than it sounds. To summarize, as defined by the infinite wisdom of Webster, means to give a brief statement of the main points. This should not be too hard for the author, but authors are notorious for being fluffy headed and wordy. Those qualities make summarizing a lofty goal.

There’s also the mysterious question of do you or do you not compare it to other books on the market in your chosen genre. This requires a skilled hand, a dose of humility, and a knowledge of the many possible books you could be compared to. As a YA reader, I know a few, but since I have been writing my own novel, I have been remiss is my duties as reader. This leaves me wondering what the hell to compare it to and if that is a good or bad sign that I can’t?

Finally, the author bio. Some say you must absolutely include a brief history of you as a writer. Others think this is superfluous as they are hiring the book, not you. I say, let my material speak for itself. Plus, I’m unpublished, so I have very little bragging rights. Unless I can include this pic of my son:

 
But I don’t think that is the kind of accomplishment they are looking for.
So, therefor, the choices are endless and the likelihood of being rejected even more vast than that. (More vast than endless? Hyperbole.) The choice is mine as the writer, and the right is theirs as the agent to say no. Ok, bring on the gin, and lets get crackin’.

Space

There are some moments I hope I never forget. Tonight, Samuel gave me one. We were watching Despicable Me — a truly genius animated movie about a super villain who finds love through adoption — before bed. The main character, Gru, has a flashback to watching the moon landing as a child wearing a cardboard space suit. He tells his mother that he will one day go to the moon. His mother degrades this dream.

Samuel turned to me and said, “I want to go to the moon. To be an astronaut.” I turned and smiled.

“You have to go to NASA.”

“You can come, we can go to the moon together.”

“I think the opportunity for me to be an astronaut has passed, but you still can.” He nodded and looked back at the TV.

Despite the obvious tenderhearted sweetness of wanting to take me to the moon, this moment surprised me with it’s clarity. My son could be an astronaut, this is not a fantasy but a reality because his whole world is laid in front of him unformed. I really could not. I never could have been, even if I’d wanted to (I have a recurring nightmare about floating in space above the Earth. I’m serious, one of my worst and deepest fears. That and the vastness of the ocean. And bugs in food. Not bugs as food, bugs in food.) and that is truly OK with me. That possibility will never be.

We spend a lot of time wasting away in a future we could never have had, or one we believe we could have, had we made a better turn somewhere. Right now, at 27 years old, I am finally tapping the well inside that had been waiting to give water. I could regret not realizing it sooner. Or, at the very least, doing things in an order that makes a little more sense. But, alas, that is not the route I took. I took the route where there are certain dreams that will never be, and certain ones that will be better than the dreams I lost.

When I was pregnant with Sam, I went to NASA with my family. I love NASA. My grandfather worked for them as an engineer during the Mercury and Gemini programs. But it also holds a certain darkness for me too. My grandfather died young, an alcoholic, destroyed by this weakness with much unrealized potential hanging from him like shackles. My mother talks about him, not as the man who died, but as the guy to lived a dream. She doesn’t romanticize his disease, or pretend he didn’t make the choices and walk the bad path, but she doesn’t ignore all that he was or could have been either.

We all need that I think, especially when we examine our lives and wonder what the hell we will ever have to show for it. If you are lucky, you will have more than one thing, more than one dream realized. And likely, more than one dream let go.

Later, when I went into labor with Sam, I was wearing the t-shirt I had gotten on that trip. It wasn’t consciously premeditated, but when I think back on it now, it was slightly serendipitous. Samuel will most likely do something that has nothing to do with space (though, in our family, science fiction is held in high regard as the only true form of entertainment available) and he is absolutely free to do that. But I will never forget a moment where he decided to go to the moon, or what that decision meant to me.

Sample Writing

As I have said, I am working on a Young Adult novel. It’s going so well right now — even though I’m sleep deprived (more on that later)— that I felt compelled to share a little bit with you. It’s not a deeply revelatory passage, but I love it, have edited repeatedly, and love it still.

Lately, my son has not really been sleeping much without my input. This is not something I have ever really responded well too, and I think it’s because I refuse to nap. Even when Samuel was a newborn, napping for me was nearly impossible. I could have been falling asleep at the kitchen counter whipping eggs, but still, no nap. I blame my brain. My brain says, “Night is for sleep, not day.” So, even now, I find myself sitting on my couch in front of the computer writing to you all, and not sleeping an extra wink. That’s OK, that’s what coffee is for.

Now, without any more rambling, here is my little sample. Have fun reading and, as always with a blog, feedback is greatly appreciated:

I look down the long, narrow room and out the window. Earlier this summer,  I helped my cousin cut and haul wood from the surrounding acreage to feed the stove in the basement that heats the entire house. There’s no other heat source since electricity was banned, which makes my room maybe the coldest of all. I hate this job more than milking the goats because it means being alone with him, and being alone with him is generally something I try to avoid.

 My first time into the woods with him was only a few weeks after arriving on the farm. He walked in front of me, taking long strides that I couldn’t keep up with, an axe hung precariously over his shoulder. I kept stumbling over the unfamiliar ground, and I swear I saw him chuckle once or twice. Finally, we stopped and he dropped the axe to the ground. It hit the rocky earth with a thud, sending a tremor of protest through it.

“You ever cut wood before?” he asked, still not meeting my eyes. I shook my head. He lifted the axe, bringing it to the tree with such force I stammered away.

“Eventually you’ll be doing this on your own.” His voice was solemn. I nodded again as a reflex, knowing I would never do it alone. Knowing I would always wish I could.

A few days ago we ventured a little deeper into the woods— as close to the sign post as we could get without touching it. My cousin was lost in thought as we walked, his body not swaying with its normal swagger, his pace easy for me to keep up with. Then he suddenly stopped, slumping his shoulders and turning his eyes to the sky. I watched his face, the scowl he always wore was absent, and I wasn’t sure if I should remind him that we had a job to do. Then he pulled his eyes away from the sky and trained them on my face, searching it slowly.  I saw the hint of a smile light the irises as they met mine. It was so faint that I spent the next days wondering if I had actually seen it at all. 


So, even though I look like this—

Yawn.

I hope you enjoy this post.