Category Archives: Writing

Month Two: A Good Enough Mom

Since the beginning of our journey, our doula has told us, “Instead of worrying about perfection, be happy with good enough.” At first I did not know what she meant. I had never questioned my ability to be a mom, I figured I’d be good at it because I pour every ounce of myself into everything I care about. Ha. I should have remembered the learning curve in becoming a teacher, hard work does not always translate into greatness…

The first twinges of inadequacy crept in at the hospital, first with nursing that did not seem to work, then with the screaming in the middle of the night, and finally with the news we might have to go down to the neonatal unit, where I would be unable to sleep beside my new baby, in order to treat her jaundice. It turned out we got to go home, but when the tests came back again and we had to return to the hospital because her bilirubin levels were still rising, I fell apart.

I sobbed in the arms of my mother and all the way back to the hospital. The poor intake dude must have worried about me, such a mess over something so minor in the grand scheme of problems worthy of the pediatric unit, but I felt like I was letting my three-day old baby down by not being able to hold her through the night as she bathed in neon blue light, like we were missing a critical moment in our bonding. Thankfully, the pediatric ward is different from the neonatal unit, I was allowed to sleep in the same room, even if my inability to pick her up and soothe her felt traumatizing in my three-day postpartum, hormonal haze.

Minus the near-daily heel pricks and cruel joke of a cold the first week brought, the rest of the month passed without too much self-analysis as I recovered from birth and absorbed the sweetness of my new baby. However, month two has been a different story. Colic. If you don’t know what it is, count yourself lucky. Colic sucks. Screaming, sometimes uncontrollable, almost every evening for hours at a time. I joke as the sun sets that the vampire baby is waiting to emerge. Forget the Happiest Baby on the Block. Baby carriers like the moby and our rocking chair are our only solace, as long as we have the energy to keep moving.

Couple this with sleep deprivation and yet another stupid cold and I often feel like maybe I am doing something wrong. Last month I reported that the sleep deprivation was manageable. After eight weeks, I have changed my mind. It is survivable, but manageable makes it sound easier than it is. If it weren’t for my mother-in-law, who comes and rocks the baby sometimes for a couple hours during the afternoon, or my husband, who stays up until three in the morning rocking her in his chair, I would never get a chance to catch up. It turns out the advice of sleep when the baby sleeps only works if your baby sleeps! Accordingly, I have written this blog entry in 15 minute chunks and foregone the opportunity to do any chores to make this post happen.

She is worth it though, all of it. Her smiles, her little laugh, her intent focus on the world around her, make all the other bits disappear. She has made me the happiest I have ever been. But even with the happiness, being a mom is hard. All the worry and challenges can feel isolating. In the last few days I have let it out and found myself supported with words and hugs from the women in my life. I have realized that while concepts like attachment parenting are beautiful in writing, sometimes in our culture of mom at home by herself instead of surrounded by other baby holders, you have to put her down to survive.

So, find a mom out there and give her a gigantic hug. God knows she deserves it. And, if you are a mom, let yourself find peace in being good enough. Chances are, there is another mom nearby who totally gets it, and if there isn’t, well, I do.

What new motherhood actually looks like. Please note, I resisted the urge to make this picture more attractive in Photoshop.

What new motherhood actually looks like. Please note, I resisted the urge to make this picture more attractive in Photoshop.

The face that makes me question myself.

What our evenings often look like…

And, the moment of peace that follows and makes it all better!

And, the face that makes it all better!

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37 Weeks: Almost Time.

I’m excited for little things, like day trips to Bodega Bay for fish and chips and walks on the beach, baby in her carrier, dogs on their leashes. A drive down the coast to the aquarium in Monterrey, where she’ll see another world underwater. I’m excited for long walks through our neighborhood, first in her stroller, later on a tricycle. Her first Christmas trip to San Francisco with our big, loud family.

I can’t wait to be able to lie on my back again when I sleep, to drink a whole glass of wine or a pint of beer, to go to yoga and bend my body any way I’d like. I can’t wait to move again, in a normal way. I fantasize about putting on my running shoes and running full force down the street, as though I ever liked to run in the first place. I can feel it though, the exhilaration of full exertion, the bounce of a good pair of shoes.

I’m curious about the sensations, the rushes or the pain, depending on who you ask or what you read. I want to know what it feels like. I’m expecting sleepless days and nights, exhaustion beyond anything I can imagine. I’m expecting the hardest thing I ever do, because that is how people describe it.

Mostly, though, I am imagining her in my arms, or beside me in the sleeper next to our bed, or sitting in the swing next to our television, or crawling across our floor with toys strewn everywhere. She is both real and imagined, all there is left to do is wait.

Each day of waiting is a strange balance of rest and preparation, a little writing mixed in for fun. Somehow middle grade fiction is pouring out of my fingers without the promise of enough time to finish before she is here. The change in genre is refreshing, the lower word count a goal I might be able to reach before everything changes. Each non-labor contraction brings it all back home again.

Change is near and I’m excited.

Even the dogs seem to know it is almost time.

Even the dogs seem to know it is almost time.

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Long Live the Thank You Note!

Sifting through the mail this evening, my interest went first to my W2, but then, in between the ads, popped out a stylish little card, unopened, signaling Alex did not recognize the sender. For the life of me, I did not either. Who the heck do we know in Belmont?

As I opened the wax-sealed envelope and spotted the letterpress Gramr gratitude co. logo, I remembered. A few months back, as we sat and waited for our veggie burgers at Sunflower drive-in, we met two recent college grads headed up to Tahoe from the Bay Area. They had made a detour because somehow Sunflower was Zagat rated, a surprise to us, because it’s good, but it’s a total hippie hole in the wall.

We sat and waited and waited for our food, as is the custom, until we fell into natural conversation with these two strangers. They had that undoubtedly cool Bay Area vibe and soon we were exchanging life stories and listening to their plans for a gratitude company. Our afternoon transformed from run-of-the-mill dog park jaunt to feeling like we were on vacation ourselves, getting to know people we would probably never hear from again but had some pretty darn interesting stories.

Flash forward to today and a remarkably detailed little note of gratitude for our encounter appeared in the otherwise boring pile of mail. Such a simple concept. Reach out and send some gratitude into the universe and that gratitude will keep traveling forward. While their website is still in the works, you can follow them on Facebook or instagram and watch for the launch of their high-quality, heartfelt brand of thank you notes.

Truth be told, I have a secret soft spot for handwritten thank yous, so tonight I’m grateful for the inspiration from Matt Richardson over at Gramr gratitude co. He reminded me that writing a good thank you is a craft and of the importance of being brave enough to chase our dreams… whether they be gratitude start-ups or teaching underprivileged children or writing the next great novel.

Gramr

Gramr

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Finding Your Place as a Writer: Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Like most people, the majority of what I read is non-fiction. Conservatively, I would estimate I read half a dozen novels per year and twice as many non-fiction books. This does not include blogs and online articles, slanting the balance even further away from fiction.

So, I cannot help but ask myself, which would I rather write? Shouldn’t I write what I spend my time reading?

True life is tricky. Non-fiction has its own rhythm, requires research, veracity. Moreover, it comes in all shapes and sizes, from blogs, to online magazines, to full-length books. It is hard to know where to start. Then there is the issue of telling other people’s stories. I have thought about writing the stories of my first students, but somehow their histories do not feel like they belong to me, even in those moments where I was present.

Then again, fiction feels increasingly artificial to me these days. I admire those of you who consistently enjoy it, losing yourself in a world you have created. I have been there, but I am having a hard time finding my way back. Every story I begin is a dead end. Expecting Happiness still floats in the recesses of my hard drive, but it too feels stale, like the cap and gown that hang in my closet but I will never wear again. I do not identify with it in the same way I did two and a half years ago.

I know part of my disruption in focus is the transformation my life is undergoing in becoming a mother, but I find myself wondering where I will begin again. I know I will not stop, but I want to put my energy where it matters most, where I am most likely to finish what I start, to write something worthwhile.

So, seasoned writers, I want to know– how have you discovered your niche? Did you dabble in everything? Have you gone through seasons of different genres? Or, has it been a simple love for the same type of stories from the beginning?

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The Girl on the Corner

Years ago, I would watch the same homeless man from my third floor window in Berkeley each evening as he approached people on the street with his book of poetry. Some would stop and look, others would keep walking without so much as acknowledging his hello. His mannerisms fascinated me, his bright purple cap and smile always ready and waiting for the next passerby. I was the voyeur, the girl upstairs with the notepad full of observations.

In the beginning of my tenure as a Berkeley resident, I had a hard time not stopping for people on the street. I knew to be careful, but they were people. Often I planned my routes to work and the grocery store as to avoid certain homeless characters, including my friend with the purple hat. It was too painful to look him in the eyes and tell him I had nothing to give, when really I had quite a bit for a twenty-four year-old.

My compromise was always food. If I had any, I would offer. I will never forget the look of gratitude from the man with the purple hat when I handed him a bundle of ripe bananas from my tote after my weekly visit to Andronico’s Market. I lugged the rest of my groceries straight home and wrote an email to my friends and family to share my story, eager to express myself in writing before I ever had a blog.

However, not all the stories were pleasant, and over the years I collected many that taught me to keep a safe distance. Berkeley is full of mentally-ill homeless people, the remnants of a failed health system and a closed center to help them. I learned where not to look or step in the mornings as to avoid human waste. I watched in disappointment as an elderly man whose bike I had watched with my husband, whose story I had patiently listened to, who even ate dinner one cold night at McDonald’s alongside my husband, scream at us in the street that we were racists for not stopping to give him money.

Of course, there were many others who said terrible things, but that old man was the saddest. We had helped him many times, but he had no memory of it. Others cursed our souls, accused me of anorexia, threatened to stab us in coffee shops. Maybe the worst remark was the strange man who stopped in the middle of a busy walkway and told me he was a serial killer with the kind of laugh that makes you believe him.

Needless to say, I have had my fair share of experiences with homeless people, enough so that our move back to Sacramento has felt quiet in regards to my interaction with them. Until yesterday. I had seen her before, from a distance, a small feminine figure with a furry hoodie pulled over her head, sitting on the median around the corner from my house, begging. This time, I pulled up right next to her at the light, her body in a ball, her knees tucked to her chest, the early morning cold not worth the effort to stand.

I checked my coin tray but then thought better of it. I reached back and rummaged through my lunch to pull out two bags of trail mix, then rolled down my window.

“Do you want food?” I asked.

She nodded as I extended the bags. Her eyes stopped on my hippie offering. My eyes stopped on her black eye, her taped-together boot. In every other way, she looked like a normal high school kid ready to get on the bus for the day, her tight jeans and colorful sweatshirt trendy, her backpack waiting on the concrete.

“I don’t eat that.” Her expression was hard, reminiscent of many of the tough kids who have passed through my classroom.

“Okay,” I replied, our eyes locked. I rolled up the window.

I wanted to tell her she must not really be hungry. I wanted to feel satisfied I did not offer her any money. Instead I drove away haunted by her black eye and taped-together boot. Even if she was not hungry enough to eat nuts and dried berries, something was seriously wrong. She was not begging for fun. Someone hurt her.

Next time I see her, I will call the authorities and hope some group will at least give her an option different from the one she now chooses, on the median around the corner from my house. It is so easy to detach, to decide we should not help because someone is too rough, too ungrateful, too crazy, too whatever. My first instinct was to detach, too. However, knowing the stories of my kids at school, it is easy to imagine how she might have ended up in that spot, angry and alone.

Sometimes, it matters less how people got themselves somewhere and more what choices they have to change. While I understand reticence in offering money to homeless people, I empathize with the reality that I have no idea what got them there, what it feels like to be at rock bottom, to spend the night cold, on the street, afraid. Absent of drugs, abuse or mental illness, I cannot believe anyone chooses this reality over what “the rest of us” have.

As I lay awake contemplating her fate, homeless or otherwise, I realized she touched something in me that only awakens for my most troubled students, my human rights studies, my desire to write. I think it is time to try my hand at writing something a little grittier, a little less about escape. Something true to my heart and all I have seen in the past few years. Something hard instead of easy. Wish me luck.

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Writing While Pregnant

One of my biggest fears about motherhood was I would lose my writing identity. Sure, I follow plenty of women writers who find ways to make it work, but I also heard story after story of how motherhood changes you. No time, little rest, more important priorities.

While true motherhood is at least a few months away, I already feel these shifts I dreaded, as writing has taken a backseat to other activities, such as napping, cleaning, preparing, resting some more. What I did not expect, however, is a calm to come with these changes. Instead of lamenting my lost writing time, I feel more present, still, and content. Time has already gained a sort of elastic quality, where less occurs in more time, as though the minutes are stretched, the actions slowed, hours somehow disappearing with little done.

Other things have fallen by the wayside, too. Yoga now means a few minutes of stretching and breathing at various points in the day, instead of my before-treasured blocks of hours. Again, there is a peace in this. Instead of panicking over a loss in identity, I feel a reassurance that these pieces of myself will return in time, or perhaps just exist in more fragmented but highly-treasured moments.

I realized recently, I write to escape and create a space of contentment. With pregnancy, my urge to escape has diminished, my ability to be content in simple moments has improved. Likewise, my thoughts I used to share so freely suddenly feel much more private, more difficult to share. Even so, I love that feeling of progress, as pages of writing become clean and stronger, blog posts emerge out of thin air, and connections are made across this electronic universe. Today I write to say I am still here, just a little quieter than before.

For those of you haven't hear already, we're excited to welcome a little (human) girl to our family this March.

For those of you haven’t heard, we’re excited to welcome a little (human) girl to our family this March.

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Excited to Share the Debut of Patrick O’Bryon’s Novel!

Follow the link below for more information:

AND NOW FOR ALL YOU eBOOK READERS…CORRIDOR OF DARKNESS!.

I was lucky to be among the first readers and highly recommend it! Patrick offers a unique perspective on Nazi Germany through the eyes of a young American. The pages will turn quickly, a fantastic read.

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The Importance of Stopping

This week is fall break, the glorious light at the end of the tunnel after nine weeks of school. For those of you with the normal two to three weeks off per year, I realize nine weeks does not sound like such a terrible stretch of work, but as a teacher, it is a solid chunk of energy investment, particularly given the first weeks of school are among the most tiring.

Before I became a teacher, I thought the breaks alone would make up for any amount of exhaustion in the classroom. Instead, I discovered that while time off definitely helps, the exertion required to keep 30 children learning, entertained, and emotionally supported surpasses anything I expected.

The upside, of course, is the reward in knowing I am doing something good for others, and the enjoyment I derive from building relationships with my students. So, none of this is to complain, but the truth is, I’m tired. Fall break could not have come at a better time, and I did not realize how tired I was until I finally allowed myself to sink into my couch this afternoon and shut my eyes.

Here is the thing, though, I know I am not alone. Teachers are not the only people pushing themselves to their limits. Most jobs are stressful and we also have family and other obligations that require our time and focus. We commit ourselves to a lot because we care about a lot. I get it. However, there has to be the balance, the time to stop and regroup, and sometimes, we have to let a few things go.

Balance is a big reason I have stepped back from my blog in recent months. Between school and family, writing has taken a back seat. Not because I stopped caring about writing, but because I realized other priorities had to come first. My health and my family are of paramount importance, then my job, then my writing. With less time to write, I have focused on my fiction over my blog. It is all a series of trade-offs. When I have more time, I enjoy blogging, when I don’t have time, I have to just let it go.

I know I am fortunate I get to stop, I get time to breathe and fall asleep on the couch as the leaves outside my window change color and the air is a bit more crisp. But, what about everyone else who is not a teacher? What do you do for yourself to allow for a little break, the time to stop and recharge and take care of just you?

Hopefully you have an answer!

One of the

For the past few weeks, my 17 year-old sister stayed with us, which added to my shifting perspective on life and my priorities. Family has always come first, but I feel myself transitioning to a new level of awareness in how important family is to me and what this means in my quest for balance in other areas.

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Words of Peace in Chaos

“It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.”  -Abigail Adams

The September Bloggers for Peace challenge is to post a quote. I dragged my feet, but realized the quote I include with my email is the perfect one to share. It is my reminder life is not about avoiding challenge, but rather figuring out how to exist to our fullest potential amidst the difficulties and chaos.

Happy equinox-eve.

Happy equinox-eve from Sacramento.

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Finding Words Again

Almost every blog I follow disappears for a period. Days, weeks, months. Usually, the disappearance is followed by an apology. I don’t have one to offer. My disappearance has been one of introspection, hibernation. Oddly, there aren’t words for it, and I’m not sure I’m back in any regular sort of way, but I do miss writing.

So, tonight I type to type. I type to find words again, to reestablish a flow, to commit myself to a life of writing, not just a few years here and there, as it has always been in the past. My disappearance has been more than just going back to my world as a teacher. It has been about life and balance and a space of quiet. Words aren’t quiet.

My truth is changing. What I wrote before was true, but I’m not sure it is my truth anymore, or somehow it feels stale, repetitive. It is hard to write something that no longer resonates, fiction or otherwise. I’m finding a new space, which might mean new words, I’m not sure. A new book, a new perspective on teaching, on life.

Beginning again with a fresh group of students is oddly comforting and stifling simultaneously. When I envisioned myself as a teacher, I always questioned when the repetition would catch up to me. I’m restless by nature. As I write the date on our message each morning, I feel time slipping into a strange blur, is it 2011? 2013? 2015?

This is the first time I am repeating fourth grade on my own. Last year’s batch was fourth and then fifth, two years together. I like the feeling of knowing what I’m doing now. There is a confidence and ease that was not there before, but there is also the eery feeling of the same kids, just different faces, different names, learning the same things again, hitting the same stumbling blocks, celebrating the same successes.

I admire teachers who teach for the long haul. Maybe it will be me, this year is just off to a strange start. I miss the old faces who drop by each morning, eager to hug me, brag about their accomplishments. Maybe that’s the problem. As easy as it is to fall in love with children, it is hard to let them go. Maybe my heart is protecting me as I open up to thirty new souls. It’s easier to find reasons to resist than surrender.

So, there you have it. My first real words in weeks. A few tears, too.  Life is change and the same, all at once. I am learning.

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The Perfect End to An Endless Summer

Tomorrow is the very last day of summer break. After that, two days in Santa Cruz for a teacher retreat, a day to prepare my classroom, and then three days off to celebrate the final weekend of my twenties with friends (and dogs!) at a beach house about two hours north of San Francisco. Life is full and good to the point that I don’t have much time to lament summer’s passing.

Yesterday, a dear friend threw me an early 30th (or second 29th as she prefers to call it), and I have to say it was the perfect farewell to summer. We sat in her parents’ gorgeous backyard, sipped sparkling lemonade, and talked for hours about her life in San Francisco and mine, here. It was the kind of afternoon that does not need to end, filled with organic green clay masks, pedicures, and swimming, exactly the kind I long for whenever summer begins, that existed so freely in childhood, but now only appears here and there, unexpected though always desired.

If only I knew how to create that feeling more often– four hours on a Saturday could always feel never-ending in that beautiful childhood way. Time manipulation will always be my most coveted super hero power. So, as I ramp back up for 31 new little faces and a pile of revisions to my book, I am also determined to hold on to yesterday afternoon in a way that makes all time stop for a moment whenever I would like.

bday bday bday

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Why Beta Readers Rock

I met with one of my beta readers yesterday to discuss my book. He helped me see a couple holes I could fill. I knew he was right because he addressed spaces I had seen myself but not known how to fix. By having someone else see them, I could then push myself to do the hard work of figuring it out.

Last night I sat down and tied together these loose ends. Maybe it is not 100% fixed, but it’s better, and that’s the point. I am so grateful to my readers for their honesty. So far, they have spotted typos, cheered me on, and even explained why they could not keep reading.

While the majority finished with a smile, it helps to know exactly why it’s not a story for everyone, something that sounds difficult to bear but was actually quite reassuring. We all know every book has an audience. Getting to ask a reader why they did not finish is a real gift.

And, last but not least, sharing my writing with more people, including acquaintances instead of just close friends/family, is building my confidence. It is no longer such a scary feeling to imagine unfamiliar eyes on my work. Some will like it and some won’t, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s really liberating!

So, thank you, thank you, thank you to my beta readers. If you’re still reading, take your time, I’m still working. And, if you’ve written a book without a beta audience, I suggest giving it a shot. By no means do you have to listen to everyone, but you may be surprised by what you learn and how it changes your confidence in your work. I definitely feel a lot stronger and braver for it.

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