Won’t You Let Me Take You on a Sea Cruise…

That’s a line from a song. I only know that because my dad used to sing it while he made dinner when I was young. But it’s been stuck in my head a lot lately because my dad (and my stepmom) went with us on a Disney cruise last week. It was the first cruise I’ve ever been on that lasted longer than a few hours. And in true Disney fashion, it was outrageously expensive and completely magical.

Because my boys (and my husband) are big fans of the Star Wars franchise, we went on a Star Wars Day at Sea cruise. It was a seven-day jaunt through the Caribbean with a full day at sea at the beginning and one near the end. The second full day at sea was completely dedicated to all things Star Wars.

I’ve never actually been to a Con, but if that isn’t one big, seafaring Star Wars Con, I don’t know what is. There were character meet and greets, a guest speaker, information about new and upcoming Star Wars attractions at the parks, a cosplay celebration, a stage show, a whole store full of merchandise, etc. The ship’s horn even played the Imperial March before Stormtroopers swarmed the pool deck and began questioning suspected rebel spies. Imperial officers arrested my husband. He loved it. I even got a picture with a Gamorrean Guard while he snorted and sniffed at me.

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As a family, we also got time with C3PO, R2D2, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca. And you better believe I got a big ole Wookie hug. We also caught Bobba Fett checking the vitals on Han Solo who was frozen in carbonite. My older son got to play games with BB-8 and Rey in the kids’ area, where he also got to fly a Millenium Falcon simulator and run the command post (and that was just one corner!). Our dinner menu had offerings from different planets across the galaxy, and you could get drinks or snacks served in droids or AT-AT containers. The festivities rounded out with late-night fireworks and a showing of Solo: A Star Wars Story. There was also a dance party, but my dogs were pooped.

There were a ton of events we didn’t even get around to; like Star Wars Pub Trivia (we did make an appearance at Pub Trivia, just not Star Wars trivia). For my parents, especially my stepmom–who loved seeing my boys be so excited, but never really got into Star Wars–there was a Star Wars 101 class so they could get up to speed and know what the heck my kids were talking about.

I met a couple on the elevator in full garb (and they looked fantastic!) who went on the cruise to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary because on their first date they went to see Star Wars together. Y’all. It was adorable. It was fun. It was magic. It was Disney.

I’ll probably have a few more things to say regarding our vacation, but for now, I have to dig my way out of the piles of laundry that came home with us. And bundle up. We’re not in the Caribbean anymore and have a threat (mild though it may be) of snow tonight. I want to go back to the beach. This reality stuff is for the birds.

An Ordinary Fairy Tale

I was reminded of something my husband did for me back when our oldest child was born and wanted to brag on him a little. So today might get a little mushy.

When I was a little girl, my favorite Disney princess was Belle. She was a brunette and a bookworm. And people thought she was a little weird. Y’all. She was my people. I loved singing along with candlesticks and teapots. And it wasn’t weird to me that she was a human woman in love with what was essentially a living stuffed animal. I was little and slept with a teddy bear every night. It made sense to me.

And what made even more sense in my head was that she began to fall in love with Beast after he gave her a big library. A whole library. With ladders. And three-story windows. Fireplaces and comfy chairs. I would live there if I could. Ever since that scene, I have wanted my own library.

Marie Kondo says that I should probably have no more than thirty books. I have no hate for her, truly. But that goes against my dream. I will choose to ignore that advice. I want to live among hoards and mountains of books.

And now I do. Let me back up.

Clearly, I love to read. I always have. However, when I had my first child, I had a hard time fitting in time for anything that I wanted to do just for me. I think all new parents go through that. It can be difficult, no matter how much you love and cherish your child. I remember telling my husband that I didn’t feel like my own person anymore. He was concerned and did his best to be a supportive partner and try to shoulder a little more of the load. But being that he doesn’t have mammary glands, there were certain limitations.

During late night feedings, I often had to find something to occupy my mind (besides the general and ever-present terror that I would never be a good enough mother) to help keep me awake. I would read. While I pumped, I would read. And the more I read, the more I felt like me. This belonged to me. This wasn’t a Mama activity. It was a Kathryn activity.

For my next birthday, my husband gave me a kindle. It was certainly pricier than we usually go for birthday presents, but he wanted me to be able to download books from the library in the middle of the night as I rocked our son. He even got his mom to coordinate gift ideas with him and get me a gift card to buy books from Amazon to start my–wait for it–library.

It wasn’t three-stories tall. It doesn’t have fireplaces (unless I want to use a picture of one as my lock screen). There are no comfy chairs or ladders. But there are hoards and mountains of books. They are digital mountains, but mountains nonetheless.

My husband. He’s my prince. My fairy tale.

Because he gave me a library.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

I have two young sons. The elder of the two is five. The younger is not quite two. And I will readily admit that I learn just as much from them as they do from me. One of the ways I learn from them is to see my own behavior mirrored back at me in undeniable ways and being able to see it from a more objective perspective.

My younger son, though blessed with a very independent personality, is more dependent on me than my five-year-old. Kid #1 is old enough to dress himself, brush his teeth on his own (though not as thoroughly as I prefer so I usually end up helping anyway), carry his own backpack, read, do simple math, etc. Kid #2 desperately wants to do all that, but is still only a year old and has a lot of skills left to master. As you can probably guess, this means Kid #2 gets a lot of attention. I try to make sure I’m fair to Kid #1, but he usually thinks his brother gets more attention than he does. There are some days that he’s probably right.

Whenever Kid #1 begins to feel like he’s getting shorted on his time at center stage, he begins to do things more like his brother does, thinking this will force me to bestow more attention on him in order to help him. He pretends to not know things, like how to talk (which, I assure you, he does well and with a vocabulary far beyond what is expected of someone his age). This always hurts my heart a little and so I talk to him about it. I remind him that while his brother needs help doing a lot of things right now, the truth is that all Kid #2 wants is to be just like Kid #1 in every way. It’s his goal. And while the attention I give Kid #2 is usually to help him learn new skills and achieve new milestones, the attention I give Kid #1 is different. I get to laugh and listen to his abundance of terrible pun jokes. I get to cheer him on while he plays sports or listen to him tell me all about the newest thing he learned by reading a book.  I cherish that. It’s so wonderful that I can’t really describe it. I remind Kid #1 that he’s fun, kind, incredibly intelligent, and imaginative. I tell him he shouldn’t disregard all of that by trying to be more like his younger brother just so he can feel like he’s the star of the show again like he was when he was an only child. I often say, “Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. Being you will always be more than enough for me.”

And yes, this is a conversation we’ve had a lot. More than I’d like. But I can’t blame him for not being ready to take it to heart. After all, I know plenty of adults (sometimes including me) that struggle with this. In fact, I think we all have those moments where part of us just wants so badly to be like someone else, sometimes anyone else, that we forget about what makes us special to begin with. What makes us unique. What makes us, us.

The next time I give that advice to Kid #2, I’m going to write it on my heart as well. I don’t need to be like anyone else. I just need to be me. And in case you need to hear it, I’m telling it to you too. Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. You are enough just as you are.

 

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.

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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.