Saturday, December 29, 2012

Random Thoughts

I had a wonderful Christmas and got a lot of nice gifts, though the nicest was the chance to be with family and to watch Edwin get passed around from Grandmother to Uncle to Cousin to Great-Aunt. It reminded me of the description of the !Kung people in Harvey Karp's book The Happiest Baby on the Block. In tribes like the !Kung, infants are constantly being passed between family members and fellow tribesmen and women. In fact, in some tribes, babies aren't even allowed to touch the ground until at least one year of age. Talk about attachment parenting! Although I don't think this is feasible in our society, a recent article in Newsweek reported that children in hunter-gatherer societies, where the village raises the child, grow up to be much more confident and independent, with stronger social skills and better formed personalities, than Western-society children do.

This post just got away from me. I had meant to write about charitable donations, and how I find it difficult to choose a pet charity to give my money to. Does anyone have any charities that they are particularly devoted to? Why that specific one? My parents give a lot of money to charity, and they sometimes ask me where I'd like a donation to go in my name. I usually say the Make-A-Wish foundation or the American Cancer Society, but I know there are other wonderful foundations out there. It's hard to decide what I'm most passionate about. Curing cancer? Cleaning up the environment? Promoting music in our schools? Literacy programs? Saving animals? How do I choose when everything is so important? How do you choose?

Lastly, for those of you waiting for the Wallaby Christmas story sequel, it may be coming soon. I got several pages of good material and then kind of burned out with all the holiday hoopla. I know I'll finish it at some point, but if it takes me awhile I might wait until next Christmas to publish or post it. Just to give you a little preview, it's about a character who is only mentioned once in Sugar and Spice, and her secret obsession with a popular book series.

I can't think of another random topic, so I'll sign off here. Enjoy the last weekend of 2012!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Miracle

My son is playing baby Jesus in the nativity scene at church this evening. We really don't know whether he'll smile or cry, but either way, it'll be a memory for Christmases to come, and we'll always be able to tell him, "Hey, you better behave- you were Jesus!"

As the holiday approaches, I've been thinking a lot about faith. I was raised devoutly Catholic. Both of my parents were (and still are) very involved with the church, and we did many church-centered activities as a family, including prayer, saying rosaries, performing music at mass, even participating in family retreats. I found comfort in these rituals as a child and young teenager, but after I got cancer, I had much more trouble with my faith. I still believed God existed, but something major had happened to shake the belief that He was watching out for me. I'm sure this happens at least once in everyone's lives, even the most devoted. Tragedies, heartbreaks and deaths tend to have that effect. But I never really recovered from it, even after I went into remission. It didn't help that in college, especially grad school, I became interested in politics and picked up a lot of liberal ideas that didn't mesh well with the Catholic church. Not knowing how to reconcile the religion of my childhood with the social beliefs of my adulthood, I stopped going to mass altogether.

However, something happened last December that has slowly brought some of that faith back: becoming pregnant with my son. I'm a natural skeptic, especially about religion, but even I believe that Edwin's conception was an absolute miracle. I had to make adjustments to my thyroid medication in order to start trying to conceive, and the most recent test I'd had showed that my levels were still much too high. According to my doctors, I shouldn't have been able to conceive. Moreover, even after additional adjustments, my levels were high enough that there was a real risk of miscarriage in the first trimester. And yet, Edwin was conceived, unexpectedly but blessedly, and he thrived. It makes sense that he came when he did. Christmas has always been a significant time for my husband and me. We started dating, got engaged, and bought our first home, all during Christmas seasons. It's only natural that our baby would have originated then as well.

A baby is a miracle no matter what the circumstances. But I feel like the gift of Edwin during an unexpected but special time made him an extra-big miracle. Since his birth, I've seen so many positive changes in my life. He's made me a better, more patient person and given me joy far beyond my expectations. He's brought my husband and me even closer together. I've seen new sides of my parents and parents-in-law as they've become grandparents for the first time, and the whole extended family is lightened when he is in our midst. It's not hard to believe in miracles, or God, or the Christmas spirit, when something so transformative as a loving, charming, sweet baby comes into your life.

God bless you all, if you believe in God, and if not, may the spirit of the season inspire you and give you peace and joy.

And God, if you're listening, my Christmas wish this year is for a night of uninterrupted sleep. Please?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reading Your Fears

I'm not sure why this happens, but occasionally I find myself reading books that mirror my life in odd ways.

For example, I just finished reading Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand, and am now reading Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner. Both books (spoiler alert) contain characters who have recently lost babies to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Coincidentally, the babies in both books were ten weeks old. My son is almost fifteen weeks and has been perfectly, beautifully healthy thus far, but I can't read these books in sequence and not walk around with the fear that something so terrible could happen to him, too. The thought plagues me every time I put him to sleep, much more now than it had before I read the books. If I had known about these plot points, I wouldn't have started the books in the first place, but I didn't realize it until I was far enough in to be engaged with the other characters. So I'm just sticking it out until it's over, and the next book I read will have absolutely nothing to do with babies or mothering at all.

Incidentally, Little Earthquakes, other than the SIDS-affected character, is a great book for new mothers. Each of the three new mothers in the book has different parenting styles, marriage situations and life challenges, and it provides a good perspective for those who think there's only one best way to raise a child.

Do you sometimes find that books you read have eerie connections to your life, or hit a little too close to home with a fear or an insecurity?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I did it.

I finished my historical fiction novel!

87,026 words. 214 pages (1.5 spaced). Thousands of hours of writing and research.

I began it during the school year a couple of years ago, working from 5:15-6:15 AM most days of the week. Then I put it aside for awhile to work on other projects, but I kept up my research, since I was interested in the time period and event I fictionalized. I finally picked it up again a few weeks before Edwin was born, editing the 32,000 words I already had and deciding how to continue it.

There were times that I didn't know where the novel was going and what the characters would do next, and I dreaded sitting down to write for the day. But I kept at it, 1,000 words a day, as many days as possible, and just over three months after Edwin's birth, it's finished. Finished! I can't really believe it's true.

There's still a lot of work to be done, of course. This is only a first draft, and I have many things to fix and change, many revisions to make, many more drafts to go through before it's ready to see the light of day. (Though I will probably ask for friends and family to step in and help me read and edit after a few more drafts.) But the hardest part is over. All the paint is on the canvas; now I just have to keep it wet and move it around until it's picture perfect.

12/12/12 is a very special day for me! I hope it's special for you too!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Valued Opinion

I recently had the pleasure of introducing my father to a series of books he now loves. It made me feel really good to do this, and I started to think about why. The obvious reasons are that:

1. In a small way, I made my dad happy
2. I can share my enjoyment of these books with him.

I go out of my way to do things like this. I recommend TV shows, sometimes even pushing DVD copies into my friends' hands. I recommend magazines and cookie recipes. Mostly, I recommend books, because my friends and family know that I'm a voracious reader of varied styles and subjects. Therefore I am more of an "expert" on books than I am on most other things. (Except perhaps teaching elementary music, because I actually have a degree in that. But the correct way to crow on a reed is not something that often comes up in conversations with "normal"- that is, non-musical- people.) And I obviously enjoy recommending books, because that's what this blog was about for an entire year.

But I think the main reason I like recommending isn't the altruistic one of making my dad or others happy, or the warm-and-fuzzy one of sharing a love of something. It's because, like every human, I like it when my opinion is valued and validated by others. If someone likes what I recommended, I take credit for my opinion. I am given the pride of knowing that I correctly assessed what someone else would like. This reflects positively on both my ability to evaluate art (books, TV shows) and people (like my dad).

This is the kind of thing my ego needs more of these days, as my professional opinion is not being utilized, and my opinion as a mother is pretty much limited to conversations with my husband. I guess that's why I have this blog!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Stay Tuned...

This is just a quick post to let you know that I'm working on a few things that might preclude new posts for a little while. I'm so close to the end of my novel that I'm making that my highest priority, but I'm also working on a new Christmas story, possibly a sequel to last year's Sugar and Spice. Read it so you're familiar with the Wallaby Women when the time comes!

I'd like to post the new story in the next few weeks. So if you're not seeing new blog posts, it's because I'm working on other big things! Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mothers, Take The Time You Need

I accomplished a lot of great things this November. The most important, of course, was taking care of our baby. We finally taught him to take a bottle and figured out the food that caused his acid reflux (smoked salmon, weirdly). I stopped getting sprayed when I changed his diaper, which improved the laundry situation. Occasionally I even got 3-4 hours of sleep at a time.

More importantly, I watched Edwin learn to knit his fingers together, start recognizing the cat, roll most of the way over, and laugh uncontrollably when his Daddy makes fart noises. We also had a successful first holiday where I was able to eat a whole Thanksgiving dinner (thanks, Nanna!) and enjoyed many other family gatherings. Now we're enjoying introducing him to his first Christmas milestones: first tree, first stocking, first viewing (of many) of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

However, I also set and met two other goals that were very important to me:

1. I exercised at least 4 times each week and managed to lose another 4 pounds, which means I've now lost more than 2/3, almost 3/4 of my pregnancy weight.

2. I wrote 20,000 words of my novel. It's almost finished! This is the accomplishment I'm most excited about. I started with about 35,000 words before Edwin was born. Now I'm at 79,000. To give you some perspective, most first novels are around 80,000 words. I think I have between 10,000 and 15,000 left to tell the story, and then some editing down to do. I'm so excited for the day I get to say, "I wrote a novel," not, "I'm working on a novel." Barring any major disruptions, that day will come before Christmas.

I also managed to keep my house clean and our laundry baskets from overflowing.

I'm not writing about this to toot my own horn (though I am proud of meeting these goals). I want to make a point that even with an infant at home- even with the countless hours it takes just to feed him, get him to sleep, keep him from fussing when awake, and even with the extreme unpredictability of time- it is possible to do things for yourself.

The narrative of motherhood in this country, especially of stay-at-home mothers, is that of complete martyrdom: spending every waking hour (and the sleeping ones too) taking care of the child, and taking no time for yourself. I believe that is both unhealthy and unnecessary. I know I can take better care of my baby if I'm healthy myself, which means taking care of my body and my mind, equally. If I don't exercise, I won't feel good. If I don't write.... well, I can't not write. It's like not breathing for me.

So I exercise in the morning while Edwin plays on his activity mat, happily squealing at his friend Ocho, the blue octopus. I write on my laptop with one arm circling his head, propped with a pillow, while I'm nursing him. I don't count on his sleeping time because it varies so much day to day, but I usually use that time to clean and do laundry. Edwin doesn't miss this time with me, because he's otherwise engaged. And even if he wasn't, he likes to watch me do things, and it's a learning experience for him to see me exercise, fold laundry or bake cookies. (I doubt he gets much out of watching me type, which is why I don't do that when he's awake and not eating.)

Things would certainly be harder if I didn't have the time off from my teaching job or helpful family members. But since motherhood of an infant definitely takes up more hours than a standard full-time job, I consider myself a working woman who is still meeting her personal goals.

So mothers, take some time for yourself. Don't wait until New Year's to make a resolution! Set some goals for this month that don't involve your family, the house, or holiday planning. You may not be able to do everything, but if you prioritize and look for the time in your day, you can achieve something meaningful to you. I promise you, at the end of the month, meeting that goal is going to feel fantastic.