motherhood

The Sunnier Side

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As is always the case with this space I’ve created, it’s been too long since I posted. It’s always in the back of my mind to come back here and vent, but then life gets in the way and I’m banging out pages for short story, an essay, or my memoir and this lovely place gets put on the back burner.

While it’s the middle of October–how the hell did that happen by the way–a lot has happened since my last post which was over a year ago.

In the fall of 2016, I hit the academic market hard. I was still restricted by geography and working full time at the high school, trying to get stuff published, being a mother, trying to be a decent spouse all took its toll. I had one interview, and it did not end with me getting the job.

Another major event happened, I left my high school teaching job at the behest of my wonderful husband. I was reminded with an ever-clear action that I was not respected or valued despite my students having increased their test scores–the only thing that matters in education right now–being nominated for teacher of the year, having high marks on my evaluations, and staying 3 hours past my contractual obligation to write engaging lesson plans that were proving to be effective to students in both affluent and not-so-affluent home. Yes, I’m tooting my horn because I was a damn-good high school English teacher. Damn good.

So after some shit hit the fan, I went home in tears. My husband gulped me up in his arms and said these magic words: Why don’t you leave?

I had been at this job for five years and had some hard times, which is the case at any job in any industry in any place, there were also fleeting moments of joy, and I really loved the folks I shared a hallway with. They made the daily shitstorm bearable. We talk and talked and when it came time to give the school my 30 days, I decided it was what was best and my husband agreed.

For the first time in my life, I am not in the classroom at 11 a.m. during a weekday. At some point for the past three decades, I have either been a student or teacher in a classroom. This August came and went and my time was spent (gulp) writing.

While I miss some elements of the classroom, I don’t miss any of them enough (yet) to warrant a return. And with things being up in the air with my husband’s career, for the first time since I graduated with M.F.A., geography may not be an issue.

So, for the past month, I’ve begun to hit the academic market even harder. I’m no longer limited to a commuting distance. Now, I’m looking at places all over the country. I can actually see it happening now. The dream. It feels so much more real. More tangible than ever.

In the past, I’ve been known to get my hopes too high. I will apply for the job and suddenly my mind has decorated my office, my work wardrobe for the next year is planned, I can see my name on the door. I’m doing a lecture at this college and walking my jolly-tenured ass to class. I’ve planned which audiobooks I’ll listen to in the car on my drive to work. This makes those rejection emails so much more painful. How can they not hire me? Don’t they know my nameplate is already on the door in the English department building?

While I still let my hopes run wild because if anything I’m an idealist, I’m trying to temper the decorating and audiobook planning. I have looked on Realtor.com and Zillow.com to see what the housing markets look like in the neighborhoods of the colleges I’m applying for, but I’m totally justifying this by thinking it be smart to have an idea of where my kiddo might start kindergarten.

In addition to hitting the academic market hard, I’m also looking for non-teaching jobs in my area because–money. We need money. Those student loans won’t be paying themselves off neither will our mortgage. That too has been frustrating because I’m over-qualified with no experience outside of teaching. I have faith something will happen and if doesn’t maybe the book I’m writing will be the silver bullet to our “good debts.” I told you I was an idealist.

I started somewhere with this post and now I don’t know how I ended up where I’m about to but whatever.

I will close by saying I know how f***ing lucky I am to have a spouse that can support our family financially while I spend my days writing and job hunting. I’m lucky my husband isn’t an asshole who holds this over my head. I know I’m blessed that he understands my happiness is just as valid as his and his support means I’m able to pursue my art.

When I decided to leave the classroom for the world of the starving artist who isn’t starving because she’s married, I told him I felt guilty because had we not been married and in the situation we are in, I would have to just suck it up and keep teaching high school. If I were single, I’d still be in the classroom not having time to work on my book and look for jobs in academia. Was my depending on him for money, anti-feminist? Was I hurting my gender with this decision? Should I try to keep doing what I was doing? Shouldn’t I be able to hold down a full-time teaching job while looking for one, be a decent mother and spouse, and still find time to write because it was important to me? Don’t people do that?

This is when I realized my problem. I have been comparing my journey to wherever the hell I’m going with others. I don’t know how those professors listed on those English department pages got to the point where they were the one selected by the committee. Their struggle was different mine, and I really needed to stop worrying about everyone else. Everyone gets to where they are going in their own way. The stops are going to be different, the type of snack they stop for is going to be different. The road bumps that will affect their ride will be different. Maybe there are some folks who are able to do it all, but I’m not one of them.

Last May I was in a dark place. I had reached the same weight I was when I was 6 months pregnant except I was sans baby. I was struggling to enjoy time with my husband. Most evenings were spent with us on separate ends of the couch joylessly watching TV then crawling into bed. I was pulling into the parking lot at work and sitting in my car trying to hold back tears of sorrow and pain because I was giving all of myself and not feeling valued. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t exercising. I don’t know if this is what depression looks like because I’ve never been diagnosed with it, but I definitely felt like shit.

Flashforward to today, things are way better with my husband, I’ve been writing every day. I have finished a few books–nothing to write home about but reading is reading–and I’ve lost some weight. I feel great, and I’m scared.

Every morning for the past couple of months, I’ve been waking up early and working in my office on my memoir, job documents (one of these days I’ll post about the ridiculousness of those documents), and job applications. I’ve been exercising and have even taken to mid-day walks which do not count as my workout but do amount to one of my favorite times of the day.

I can’t lie and say life is great. It’s better. I’m still scared as hell because I don’t know if this risk of losing my full-time job with summers off and benefits is going to pay off with my getting my memoir published and my achieving my end goal of being a writer with a tenure-track job, but it’s sunnier over here, so for now, I’ll take it.

 

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Spiders Eat Mosquitos

spider-595301_1280Last night Mini-One Mean woke up in the middle of the night. Mini is usually a great sleeper, rarely waking in the middle of the night. Even as an infant, I was blessed with a baby that slept like a baby. I am probably one of the only women who in the first few months of motherhood was “well-rested.” Okay, enough bragging.

Last night was different. Mini was shouting from the crib, “Get you! Get you!” and of course, like the paranoid woman I am, I thought someone was in his room trying to kidnap him. Is it me or is the fear of kidnapping something that you always think about as a mother? I literally worry all. the. time. that my kiddo is going to snatched up by a stranger never to be seen from again, and you’ll all see me on the news trying to fumble through sentences of “Bring back my baby!” It’s probably super melodramatic of me, but the fear is real.

Mini was also screaming, “Scary!”Convinced a kidnapper was in our home (and of course the husband is traveling for his work, so I was alone in the house–this clearly only amplified the fear), I jumped out of bed. I didn’t even bother with my glasses, which in retrospect was fucking stupid because what if I was going to be asked to describe the perpetrator? I am blind. Like severely blind. My contact lens prescription is a -9.0. I take my glasses off and colors merge into one another. It’s madness.

I went into Mini-One Mean’s room. I held my kiddo in my arms and could feel Mini shaking. Mini is generally pretty fearless so the shaking made me nervous. I grabbed Mini’s favorite stuffed animal and blankets and marched back to my bedroom. The bed had extra space given Mr. One Mean was traveling. I generally do not believe in co-sleeping. I am not going to get into it here. This isn’t a Mommy Blog. I think it if works for your family that’s great. It’s not for me or my husband. As a result of our no co-sleeping policy, Mini-One Mean does not get into our bed at night. Last night was an exception.

The shaking got to me, and I caved. I let Mini calm down and then the child was returned to the crib. As we lay together, Mini-One Mean–who has recently begun to call me Momma, which I don’t love (I’m a fan of Mommy as a name), chatted me up. At one point, “Give Mini a kiss” was uttered and my mother heart melted. I had to be firm and so I reminded Mini it was time for sleeping.

Turns out the child thought there were spiders in the crib. Once I had convinced Mini-One Mean there were no spiders, all was good.

An hour passed between the initial crying and my return to an empty bed. Of course, I was unable to sleep so I picked up my cell phone and began to peruse social media. It was then that I saw the shooting in Dallas was occurring. Mini had woken me up as the trauma was starting, startled by something scary.

Earlier that day, I had seen something on Facebook or heard something on the radio–I can’t recall where I heard it–about being afraid to go to sleep for fear that he or she would wake up to more violence–and there it was on my little screen. More violence.

I’m not going to use this space to get political. Though is this really political? It shouldn’t be. Still, the violence of this week has been politicized, which is maddening. So many lives are being lost senselessly, and my social media feeds are filled with ignorance and rage.

When I had my daily text chat with the husband, I confessed my inability to focus on job applications and writing.

“I cannot concentrate today.”

“Why?”

“Slept like shit.” I told him about our kid not sleeping and continued, “Then the news…” I couldn’t really type. I explained my being upset over the violence and didn’t get a response. I’m sure the Husband wasn’t sure how to respond.

It reminded me of when the Paris shootings happened in November. I sat in front of the TV staring at the news. I did the same today. I just sat there (both times) crying. When I got in the car to pick up Mini-One Mean from daycare today, I cried the entire drive to the school–it’s a 30 minute drive. I had to gather myself before going into the building.

While I’m not part of either community whose been under attack this week, the violence is too much. Two weeks before there was the massacre in Orlando, and that was too much too. For the past month, it seems me (and the rest of the country) keeps waking up to horrifying news of violence. Human on Human killings.

Enough.

As nighttime approaches, I now echo the same fear that I heard the night before. I don’t want to go to sleep only to wake up to more violence. What’s even more wild is that I feel guilty for being upset. I think about how lucky I am that generally I’m safe pretty much every where I go–except maybe work because let’s face it, school shootings are a reality in this country. I can go to church or the grocery store or the mall and for the most part, I am not concerned about my safety. It’s a non-issue. Meanwhile, around the world people are trying to escape war. In my own country, there are groups of people who do fear for their lives. This is not okay. It has to stop.

I almost kept Mini-One Mean home today. I debated spending the day playing and hearing Mini’s little voice around the house while I folded clothes. It felt selfish to keep the kid home given the today the school had water play, which is like every kid’s favorite thing ever. I was grateful for the hour we spent snuggled together as I soothed Mini, assuring there were no spiders in the crib. “Spiders are good. They eat mosquitos,” my child whispered back to me.

 

Building Endurance

running-573762_1280Sometimes it feels as though my M.F.A. is just this title that I have earned. I earned it, but then haven’t done what is necessary to keep it. The M.F.A. taught me to be a writer and an academic. Since I’ve been teaching high school full time, I feel like I’ve lost my writer identity.  In fact, I feel as though I’ve lost much of my identity. At one point in my life, I was a runner too.

After I had mini-One Mean, I got a little lost. I lost track of a lot of things. Really though, I can’t even blame mini-One Mean. After I got married, I stopped running to the extent that I was running before getting married, and even my clothes got frumpier and my appearance began to wane. After the child was born, I struggled to get back into shape and even now, I am almost as heavy as I was when I was in the full throes of pregnancy. It’s disgraceful.

Since summer has begun, it’s been really awesome to have the time to reestablish who I am. I have begun to wake up early–I’m such an early bird–to run and then I’ve been bringing mini-One Mean to daycare so I can write. While the writing is rusty and the running is a sludge, it feels so good to rediscover me.

I’ve always worried about not being enough. Not being enough in my classroom for my students. Not being enough for my husband. Not being enough for my kid. Not being enough for my sisters, my parents, my extended family. Not being enough for the world of academia, a place I so desperately want to be a part of. And maybe that’s the issue, maybe I’m too desperate. Too pathetic.

I remember being in middle school and my sister–who is younger than me–being way more popular. She is, by far, the more beautiful of the three of us, and has always had this exotic appeal to both girls and boys. I remember she was invited to some birthday party by a girl in my grade–my sister was a year younger. I was so upset. I asked this girl, who I thought was my friend, why I wasn’t invited. I may not have been cool, but I sure as hell was brave. I would never do that today. Now, I’d just fester as pictures of an event would be posted to social media. She told me I tried to hard to be friends with her and that it was annoying. You’ve got to love middle schoolers and their candid abilities.

That moment always stuck with me (and stung). I didn’t want to come off as pathetic, as too interested. I even played games like this with my now husband. At the beginning of our dating, I would pretend to be unavailable to seem more desirable. The fear of not being enough is one that drives me and as the years have passed since getting engaged, that fear has returned.

Am I enough for my husband? Does he still see the ambitious (and fit) woman? Of course not. She’s been long gone. Though, she may be resurfacing.

This morning I was running along our street. We live away from it all, and I have a perfect 3 mile loop in my area with a mile long street composed of brutal hills. The road with the challenging hills has not been incorporated into my running path, but it will be soon. As I ran, I had to stop to catch my breath and could feel every ounce of extra weight. I could feel the weight on my hips, thighs, and back. All the excess had buried me. My heart was beating hard and trying desperately to keep me alive, getting blood to my organs. It would have been easy to just stop, give up, and walk, but I’m building my endurance. In a week, I’ll begin to incorporate the scary hilly road, and forcing myself to stop less. I also (and I’ve always done this) sprint at the end of my run, so when I entered my house I was panting.

“Are you going to alright?” Hubs asked. He is in great shape. He is very devoted to his fitness because of the line of work he is in, so I’m always a little embarrassed when he seems me after yoga or running.

“Yes, it’s going to be while, but I think I’ll be fine.”

I realized, I really am going to be fine. Maybe my ability to focus and write for hours on end will take awhile to return, but it will as will my ability to feel like the first 3 miles were the warm up.

Before I got married, I trained for a half marathon. I never ended up doing it (cc: my ability to follow through), but I did train in beast mode. I had a buddy who did long runs with me and at my peak of fitness, I could run 8 miles without needing to stop and without feeling like the grim reaper was chasing me. For many, 8 miles is a breeze, growing up as a chubby and unfit child, 8 miles has always felt like a major accomplishment. At one point, I had the endurance. I would get stronger the longer I would run.

I had a similar experience with writing. At one point in my writing life, I wrote a novel. Again, for some writing a novel is easy. I don’t know who these writers are, but they must exist. For me, it was difficult. I too would get stronger the longer I would sit and write.

In the first draft of this post, I was going to ask for tips, and I guess I still am asking (I’m always open to ideas and suggestions about building discipline. I’m not a disciplined person–hence the insane weight gain.) Though it seems maybe when I lost myself underneath the pounds of fat, and lazy evenings with my husband, and the stressful days at work, and the endless hours of being a mother, all I needed to do was keep up my endurance. Keep on digging. Keep on working.

It seems so simple. Doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a Moderately Personal Note or (Shut the F*** up and Write)

Disclaimer: I don’t think my husband knows about this blog, and while he helped me come up with the title (I seriously suck at titles;it’s a curse), I don’t think he’ll ever read this. Babe, if you read this, please tell me.

Okay, I have the best husband. No, seriously. I know this sounds like bragging, but he really is awesome. First off, on a non-One Mean MFA career note, the man is an incredible father. He loves our kid a lot. I can see it in his face, in the way he holds our little one, and in how he wishes our kid will learn to walk quickly so he can chase the Mini-One Mean in the yard. It’s amazing.

As far as my career is concerned, he is even better. I knew he would be a great dad; it’s one of the reasons I fell for the guy. He loves unconditionally. When he loves, he gives all of himself. It’s something I wish I did. I don’t love like that. I’m guarded. I don’t trust. I worry and am not confident that I can be loved unconditionally. I love him unconditionally now, but it has taken me years to learn to love in the way he does. Even when I f*** up (which is often), he forgives and does something incredible. He reminds me why I love writing. I love writing because I love people, and he is the people that I love.

Okay, I know you’re thinking, “Shut the hell up, One Mean. No one wants to read a stupid lovey-dovely bullsh** story–and right before Valentine’s day. You stupid whore. Shut. Up.” Well, I won’t shut up. I love him.

I.

Love.

Mr. One Mean MFA.

A few weeks ago, Husband and I had a huge fight. I hadn’t been writing, reading, and my agreed upon house commitments were falling wayside (don’t worry, our kid was still being well taken care of, and I was all caught up with my television shows). I was in a deep rut. I had abandoned myself. I forgot who I was before marriage and Mini-One Mean.

Since we’ve gotten married (strangely enough), it’s been rough. I think losing my mother didn’t help with that. When you lose a parent, you lose yourself. You’re angry because your mother was young and wonderful and now who the hell can you talk to when you’re having an existential crisis. Whose going to talk you off the ledge when some teenage son of a b**** cuts you to your core, and vodka feels like the only solution? You remember you are mortal and that sh** is real. Anyway, I was in a rut. Things were not great. Since we’ve been together we’ve always been great at communicating, and we’d both shut down. We weren’t interacting with each other. We had good days, but mostly they were blah days.

This past weekend I spoke a conference for the first time in a long time. It felt so good to be an academic for five minutes (I’ll be writing about this sometime soon). I was excited, Missy and I were about to get into some trouble (again, don’t worry Missy and One Mean MFA will have another reunion in Minneapolis at AWP this year!). Husband was upset because he felt like (rightly so) that I wasn’t doing enough to get out of the high school job that I’m still at. While conferences are part of this, it’s not enough. I need to be publishing.

I got upset that he was upset.

“Speaking at conferences is important.”

“And publishing isn’t?”

“It is, but this is part of the academic stuff!”

“One Mean, you’re not writing.”

“When am I supposed to write?!”

This has been a challenge for me (as it is for all writers–I know perspective and all that jazz). Being a teacher at the high school level limits my time to do anything, including parenting. I often leave work many hours after the official school day ends and then it’s mom duties, wife duties, and before I know it, it’s bed time. Of course, I was also squeezing in a ton of TV, not reading, and not exercising.

“Do you know what I’d give for 30 minutes a day to just f***ing write?”

“So do it!”

“When?”

It seemed like the best time would be after dinner when our mini-us was sleeping and we’ve had dinner.

“What about the kitchen? Oh God, it’s like never-ending the crap I have to do!”

“If you were writing, I’d be okay with the kitchen being a mess.” I thought he was bullsh**ing me, but he wasn’t.

Since this horrible fight where I cried and got super upset, he’s helped me with the wifely duties, but and the biggest thing I’ve had to give up was television. I’m really behind on all my shows, but for the first time since grad school I have a routine. I’ve even managed to squeeze reading a book into the week AND have been writing more than ever.

I always wonder how the successful writers do it.

There are a million articles about the habits of successful writers. It seems they all skirt around two issues.

The first being, you have to fucking write.

Shut the f*** up and write.

The second is being single helps. I don’t want to blame motherhood or wifelyness on my lack of writing because those things are not the reason I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t writing because I had found other things to make a priority. I have serious guilt issues and sometimes feel like I need to abandon everything for my husband and child. This is not the case. In fact, my husband fell in love with me because I loved to write. He loves the writer version of me, not the version who is all caught up on Downton Abbey, yet she doesn’t have a writing project she’s working on. It’s so easy to let that version of one’s self go after marriage and children, but I’m not happy teaching high school (more on this “revelation” soon).

I’m blessed to have a husband who actually believes in me. He sincerely believes there is talent in my fingertips waiting to reach the page. Needing to reach the page. He believes in me way more than I do. I often hate what I write. In fact, this feels self-indulgent, and I probably relied to heavily on curse words when I could have inserted more humor. Regardless, he loves me so much he’ll let the clean-freak version he knows me to be go to the wayside if it means I’m being the nerdy writer he met in college plus a few pounds.

I’m lucky.

I know this. I thank God every day, even when I’m in rut.

So my advice to those of you who are in a rut, maybe you’re single and maybe you’re busy as hell. Regardless, you can find 30 minutes, hell maybe you can start with 15 or 10 minutes. I know I started writing over an hour ago. I got lost in the words and the story and here I am, still writing. It happens. The first day I committed to 30 minutes, I struggled; 30 minutes felt like a lot, but today it seems it may not be enough. Cut something out of your life you’ve been prioritizing and writing.

Shut the f*** up and write.