A Family Library

Earlier this summer, my younger child took his first steps. He’s one. It was a big moment. As every parent would be, I was beyond proud of this milestone. I took pictures. I called dad at work. I gave him a big hug and lots of mommy kisses. But I wasn’t the only one cheering him on.

Let me back up a little.

My older child is four years old. During the school year, he attends preschool twice a week. If he gets a good behavior report, I take him to the library as a reward. He loves it. There are toys, games, puzzles, and books. It’s an air-conditioned playground filled with magic and stories. Sometimes when the weather is nice we will also visit the city park’s playground. But his first request is the library.

All throughout my second pregnancy, I marched into the library with my older child and the librarians would give me knowing and sweet smiles when I was a tired, bedraggled mess. When I didn’t show up for a few weeks, but my older child made his appearance with alternating grandmothers, they commented that they couldn’t wait to meet our newest family member.

And then, for months, they let me break the “no food or drink” rule as I brought everything I needed to be prepared for feeding a hungry baby. Granted, it was usually just a bottle of water, but it’s still a rule and they still purposely ignored the fact that I was breaking it.

As he started crawling, the staff would each come to coo at him and cheer him on. And then one day, he did it. Right there in the library, with one of the librarians in the adjacent aisle. He walked. From the fire truck activity table to the bookshelf filled with toddler favorites. Three steps. His first.

Once again, I was allowed to break a rule. This time it was the “no cell phones” rule. I called my husband and in very excited but hushed tones told him that our little munchkin could walk. The librarian spread the word to the other staff members and by the time we made it to the circulation desk to check out my older son’s selection for the week, everyone knew. And they congratulated him (and me). And they asked to take his picture.

They got my permission to use that picture on the library blog. They didn’t tell me when exactly it would happen, but I gladly granted their request.

Well, now the day has come. It wasn’t just a happy moment to add to our library’s specific page. They made my son Patron of the Week for the entire regional system, which covers a lot of our state. The post points out that a library can be a place for a lot of firsts, “first library card, first storytime, first “a-ha” moment, and…your first steps.”

It is such a silly thing to be proud of and excited about, and yet I am. My son’s first “award” is (tangentially) related to books and my book nerd self is loving it. It’s sweet and fun. And it makes me feel more connected to my community in a way. The library staff isn’t just a group of smiling, kind faces that we see each week. They’re almost like extended family. They want to celebrate life’s big moments with us.

They noticed when my older son moved into the “I can read alone!” books. They cheered him on with gusto. And when my younger son started walking, they got out the camera and shared the news like proud grandparents. That’s special to me because my family lives several hours away. My husband has cousins a little over an hour down the road, but most of his family is more than a hop, skip, and a jump too. And it takes a village to raise a child. Knowing that we have people seeking to be a part of our village, at a time when it is easy to feel alone, is a blessing I can’t describe.

So don’t you ever tell me that books don’t bring people together. Because that post is right. The library can be a place for a lot of firsts, including the first time you realize that you’re home, you belong, and you’re a part of something bigger.

Becoming a Soccer Mom

At the beginning of the summer, I had grand writing plans. I would sit out in the backyard whilst my children splashed around in our little inflatable kiddie pool or ran through the sprinklers and I would write. Plot holes would get filled, edits would get finished, new stories would blossom.

None of that happened. I’m not the writer version of June Cleaver.

No, our summer consisted of water play, baseball games (of the minor league variety mostly), yelling at the World Cup on TV, trips to see family at the beach or the lake, and a lot of exhaustion. It’s August and I promise that if you let you me, I could sleep until October.

Alas, my nap is not to be. We started a new adventure today. One that will dominate our schedule for the next couple of months, but one that we’re excited about. My four-year-old attended his very first soccer practice.

corner field football field game
Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro on Pexels.com

That’s right, ladies and gents. I’m a soccer mom. A full-fledged, SUV drivin’, uniform cleanin’, family calendar coordinatin’, picture takin’, loud cheerin’ soccer mom. And I have zero shame.

My son begged to play soccer from the moment the sign went up in the city park declaring that sign-ups had begun and you only had to be four to play. Because he can read now, so even if I wanted to ignore those signs and keep walking, he knows.

He begged to play soccer. And, to be honest, he didn’t have to twist my arm or my husband’s either. We let him sign up. And all summer he has been pumped up for this moment. He has played soccer in our front yard at every opportunity–though at four that consists mostly of him dribbling the ball across the yard and then flinging himself down in the grass just for kicks.

But today, he got to practice. He got a jersey, met his team, and ran drills. This kid could not be more thrilled. The unadulterated joy in his eyes would make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes.

Before we ever left the house, while I was helping him get on his shin guards, his socks, and his cleats, we had a chat. I told him that just because Mama and Daddy like soccer doesn’t mean he has to. If he doesn’t have fun, that’s okay. If he doesn’t like to play, that’s okay. If he loves it, that’s wonderful too, but I would love him either way. Whether he was the best player out there or the worst one on the team, it would not change how much I love him.

He nodded and gave me a hug. And then asked if it was time to leave yet.

Practice went about how you would expect for a team of four- and five-year-olds. There was a lot of tripping, short attention spans, and at least two children stopping midfield to turn and say “Mom! I have to go potty!” In other words, it was adorable. It was also a bajillion degrees, but it was adorable.

In the car on the way home, my child re-capped every moment as if his father and I hadn’t been on the field with him the whole time. He had a blast. But being his mother, I needed full, unequivocal, indisputable confirmation.

“Does that mean you had a good time?”

“Mama, I really really loved it!”

The amazement and wonder in his voice, the reverence–it elicited more emotion from me than I expected. So, that’s it. My fate is sealed. I’m a soccer mom. I might as well buy a sticker family for my car and start monogramming sports bags.

Soccer mom and proud.

Finding a Balance

For most of us, writing is not our primary job. It is something we love and work hard for, but it isn’t what pays our bills. Or cleans the house. Or the other million and one things that make up daily life. For the majority of writers, writing is something we have to make time for before, after, and/or in between the other necessities of life. It can be difficult and daunting.

We give up our nights, weekends, lunch breaks, our children’s naps, anything that will give us a little more time at the keyboard. That doesn’t mean we don’t have families, friends, jobs, hobbies, chores, or special events that we can’t and won’t neglect.

And it doesn’t mean we should neglect ourselves either.

My writing is important to me. It’s a part of who I am. But it is only one part. I’m also a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, etc. Beyond that, I am also someone who loves sports, board games, learning–and teaching–self-defense through mixed martial arts, and volunteering with local groups/organizations of my choice.

If I abandon the other things in life I enjoy, or my other responsibilities, I feel guilty and my writing suffers. If I neglect my writing, I feel guilty and my sense of self-worth suffers. I have to find a balance. It’s not easy. If ever I perfect it, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I have to be intent on carving out time for writing and for the other parts of me. Because my experiences fuel my writing. And, frankly, sleep is non-negotiable. I’ve tried.

A lot of writing blogs I’ve read in the last few months have stressed the importance of taking a step back from your work during editing. Walk away from the project for a short while so your eyes are fresh when you come back and you’re more likely to notice things that escaped you before. Use that time in between to do something for yourself. Rent a movie. Run a race. Play a game. Take a long bath. Read something with no intent to critique or edit. Go to the gym. Do whatever it is that helps you feel human again.

You write, so you’re a writer. But it will never be the only thing you are. I’m sure even the overwhelmingly successful authors would say that they are more than their job. Don’t forget to let yourself be more. It’s okay to give yourself a night off once in a while. Your writing will probably be better for it and so will you.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t dedicated. You don’t have to be superhuman to be a successful writer. Nobody will doubt your dedication if you go on a date with your significant other, go see a sporting event with your kids, or go to bed early. You’re allowed to be human. You’re allowed to be you.

Your writing will still be here when you get back.

 

Keeping Motivated

I’m a list maker. When I sit down to get things done, I prioritize by making a list of everything I need to do, most important goes first.

Spoiler Alert: I’m a mom, so sometimes the list doesn’t get finished. Kids need naps, snuggles, lunch, kisses for boo-boos, trips to the doctor’s office, outside play time, emergency toy surgery, etc. So the most important tasks get listed first because otherwise, I might not get to them.

I’m a writer. Being a writer means more than sitting at my keyboard hacking away. It also means I’m a reader. I have to read in my genre in the industry to keep up with the trends and find good comparative titles. I also read for my critique partners, because, well, it’s a partnership. If I want them to slog through my hot mess drafts until I can beat the prose into something palatable, it’s only fair that I read their wonderful works of art in return. I do book reviews, usually posted here on Thursdays. Thanks to NetGalley, I also do some ARC reviews so I can get a sneak peek at what’s debuting this year. And last, but not least, I do some beta reading too.

It may not sound like a lot, especially since I love to read, but the time adds up. And I still have to find time to get my own writing and revising done–not to mention all of the pesky things my non-writing life entails, like being a mom and paying bills.

It can get a little overwhelming sometimes. Perhaps I’m the only one who has ever felt it, though I doubt it, the feeling of having so much to do that I don’t want to do anything. When my to-do list is so long that my brain refuses to function and I end up stuffing my face with bad snack food and watching Netflix. Or falling asleep sitting up. Maybe both.

Eventually, though, I have to crawl out of my haze and get my rear in gear because that list isn’t going to finish itself.

In the last few weeks both my kids got the flu, so naturally, I got it too. My husband had to travel for work, so it was just the three of us in the house, sneezing, coughing, and fever dreaming up a storm. After we got better, the kids were on Spring Break–which isn’t saying much when they’re in preschool, but it still meant that I didn’t have my usual quiet work time during the two days a week that I usually do. Then my parents came for a surprise visit. And then my youngest had his first birthday so everyone came to visit. It’s been a whirlwind.

Now, we are all well, sanitized, and living on the leftover cake, so it’s time to get back to business. But the problem is that while all that was going on, my to-do list in the writing world didn’t get any shorter. It got longer. Things piled up. A lot.

But it’s time to crawl out of the haze. So what do I do?

I have to find the right motivation. I can’t get on my daily chat with my writer friends until after I finish [insert acceptable number here] pages of the reading I need to do today.

I finished that critique? How about a bite of cake!

Wrote the blog post that was due three hours ago? That deserves a cup of coffee at least. Even if it’s just Folgers.

I reworked the outline of my manuscript and found a way to up the stakes while fixing that character who wasn’t quite working anymore? I’ll take a fifteen-minute break and do something mindless so my brain can rest before it shuts down and resets to factory default settings.

You have to find whatever it is that works for you.

Also, remember to forgive yourself when life interrupts and you don’t finish what it is you were in the middle of doing. Writing is work. It’s work we love, but it’s work. You have to find a good work/life balance. Don’t let your guilt over not finishing that chapter rewrite by today suck all the joy out of the new character arc you just came up with.

If you succeed at keeping the guilt at bay, write a blog post that gives me your secret. Maybe it’ll work for me, too.

The Chore I Hate the Most

baby shoes

I hate to do chores. Well, that’s not really true. I hate the need to do chores. I procrastinate with all the other things that I need to do before I will resort to chores. Call it being messy, a slob, whatever. My step-mom even calls it “But First! Syndrome”. As in, I need to do the dishes, but first I need to answer emails. And then, I need to answer emails, but first I should really make that vet appointment the dog needs and check in on Suzy Q from church who just had her baby to see if she needs me to bring her dinner tonight. It usually ends up meaning I have a whole lot of half done chores and nothing to show for it.

However, once I really get into a chore, I love the productive feeling I get. That sense of pride that something is getting done. That’s what really drives me. Because when I’m done, I take a deep breath and feel better. And I don’t just feel better about my to-do list. I feel better in general. I accomplished something. It feels good.

So while I really dislike scrubbing the pots and pans, I feel good about it being done. I really don’t like to do dishes. Especially since it’s a never-ending cycle of scrub, dry, put away and then a few hours later, get back out, used to cook, and then have to scrub, dry, et cetera all over again. But I do it because, in those few hours between the new cleanliness and the start of the new mess, it feels good. Although, I might have, on occasion, gone out for dinner just to preserve the clean state of the kitchen for a few extra hours. Don’t even pretend you can’t relate.

I dislike doing the dishes, I dislike this particular chore on a level above the others. Still, it isn’t the chore I hate the most. The chore I hate the most is one I only have to do every couple of months. It’s one I’ll have to do every few months, sometimes weeks, for the next several years, and then one day, I won’t have to do it anymore.

I hate cleaning out my sons’ closets. Like all other chores, I love the feeling I get when I know I’m being productive. Unlike the other chores, I don’t procrastinate on this one. As soon as it’s time for one of them to move up to the next size because he has several other things that don’t fit, it’s time for the small stuff to make room for the bigger stuff. However, the feeling of pride over my productivity is often overshadowed by another feeling altogether.

With every piece of clothing I pull out of the drawer, or off the hangers, I realize just how quickly my children are growing up. I realize that those days that seemed long, were shorter than I thought. Those moments that seemed like they would never end, when one of them would cry and reach for me because he needed me to do every little thing for him, are getting fewer and fewer every day.

I get more chores done around the house now. I can scrub pots and pans, do laundry, and even cook simple meals without either of them having a conniption that I’m not standing or sitting right next to him every second. My house is cleaner. My to-do list reaches completion more often. They don’t need me to entertain them at all times because they have learned to entertain themselves and each other.

We still have play time together. We still have reading time together. They still need me to make meals, give baths, kiss boo-boos, and do all the other things that a small child needs a mom to do. But they already don’t need me all the time anymore.

With every pair of pants that is now too short or too snug, with every shirt that isn’t long enough, with every pair of socks that no longer completely covers little feet, one of my children has hit milestones that mean he is becoming more independent. He needs me less.

They are my sons. To some degree, they will always need me. Even if it is just to love them. But one day, that’s all they’ll need from me. And that is so very bittersweet. One day they will be grown. They will have jobs, homes we don’t share, possibly families of their own. They will have these things because each day we (I’m not in this alone, after all) teach them new skills. We teach them right from wrong. We are slowly, each day, teaching them not to need us. Not to need me.

There are still days, usually when I am carrying the youngest into church or the store, when I think, “Little man, you need to learn how to walk because you are getting heavy.” And then I know that one day he will be able to walk, run even, and I will chase after him and wish he was still small enough to carry. It’s already happened with his brother.

I open the box the old clothes go into and look at all the other outfits in it. He was so small once! I remember when he wore this. He woke up every three hours to eat and I felt like a zombie. I prayed he would sleep through the night so that I could, too. I remember when he wore that, he couldn’t crawl yet and would just roll across the floor to get to his destination, which was, more often than not, me. Now I put a new batch of clothes in the box. Ones that I will long for a few months from now. Ones that I’m sure I will weep over someday when I clean out the attic and this is not the only box of things they have both long since outgrown.

As a mother, the days can seem very long. You have laundry to wash. You have dishes to clean. You have floors to sweep or vacuum. You have shelves to dust, towels to fold, toys to pick up, and bills to pay. You have food to cook. You have emails and phone calls to answer. You have a million little things that you need to be doing and you have this little person, this beautiful, wonderful, adorable, hugely needy little person pulling at your pant leg. You wonder, will this phase ever end? And then? It does. It’s over. You still have a million things to do, but that little person isn’t as little anymore and is off doing something without you. It makes your to-do list easier, but your days are shorter. The years are shorter. And that breaks your heart.

I’m proud of every milestone my sons hit. I’m proud of every new thing they learn how to do. But I know just how fast time is going by. I know because those deep, wide boxes of clothes I have for each of them are almost full. I’ll have to start new boxes now. Another box to pack memories into and close the lid on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have chores to finish. I need to do the dishes, but first I think I’ll play with my sons a little longer.