Tag Archives: motherhood

Writing Without Regret

Today is the release day of my second book, and according to all marketing logic, this is the day I should be posting some big announcement about how awesome my book is and how you need to buy it because it will forever change your life. I should be smothering you with photos of me opening up my newly minted novels, saying things like “here is my sixth baby!” while I lift up the book, pose, and give it a kiss for the cameras.

But today I am going to break all rules of book promotion and tell you that as great as I think my book is, it is not why I breathe. It  does not hold my hand, it does not sing silly songs, nor make me cry, nor make me laugh. It does not crawl in bed with me early in the morning and commandeer the sweet spot between me and my spouse. Besides, I have always been uncomfortable when people kiss inanimate objects like trophies, medals and books, because I don’t kiss things. I kiss people.

A person in the United States can expect to live about 80 years. Raising a child takes 18 of those years. But they are really only a “child” for 12 years, and they are only a young child for five years. So out of the 80 years I will be alive, I have only five years to mother this young child. Five years out of 80 does not seem like much time.

Here is another way to look at it:

It is always tragic when a child dies, but in a way, all children die. They die every year, at every age. I adored Naomi as a three-year-old. She was so spunky and fun and quirky. She and I would dance to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue until I would collapse on the couch and she would tug at my arm to get me to stand up and dance again. (Rhapsody in Blue is a long song.) But the other day Naomi (now age 9) and I were in the car when we heard Rhapsody in Blue come over the radio. I asked her if she recognized the song. She said no. I reminded her that it was the song we used to dance to over and over. And over. She smiled but she could not remember. My three-year-old Naomi had vanished.

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But now I have a 9-year-old Naomi, and she bounces around the house singing jingles. Anytime anyone says anything she makes up a jingle on the spot. When she finishes she says “Woot!Woot!”, makes two kissing sounds, and then strikes a pose. In her spare time she goes out to the garden and belts out Broadway songs to the tomatoes to help them grow. She doesn’t even eat tomatoes. I’m pretty sure she won’t be doing these things when she’s 13. How sad will that be!

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But when she is 13 she will be doing something else interesting . . . and on and on. So there is loss, but there is also such great discovery! How wonderful children are! Yet how fleeting!

It was always the great dream of my heart to have a family. But hearts do have room for more than one dream, and when I got the idea for my first book I knew that it had to be written down, and I had to be the one to do it.

So I started writing, and right away my imagination took me to places that were far more interesting and exciting than laundry, sweeping, diapers, repeat. My mind was electrified with ideas–ideas that turned doing the dishes into brainstorming sessions and vacuuming into opportunities to solve plot dilemmas. Everything around me was punctuated with meaning and symbolism, from the feathers of a bird to the perfect swirl of hair at the back of my baby’s head. I certainly knew my life had “meaning” as a mother, but now I had a dazzling new purpose. I had become an idea volcano. If someone had hooked up a brain scanner to my head during those first few years of writing I’m sure the machine would have exploded.

Mothers need kids. But mothers also need something to keep their minds from petrifying. My antidote was writing, and wow, was it effective. I could easily sit in my room and write for hours a day, oblivious to the world, and I would be as happy as bear at a boy scout jamboree. It was my husband who stepped in and made me realize that my writing had become my drug. He reminded me that the real stories are happening outside my bedroom door. And if I am sitting in here typing away while they are out there, I will not be in their stories.

Scccrreeeach, went the brakes.

After that I restructured my writing schedule. I did everything I could to not write when my kids were around. I wrote early in the morning, while they were at school, and while they watched tv. I sacrificed my free time, not theirs, and I never wrote on Sunday.

What this means is, my progress was very, very slow.

But that was okay, because I was consistent. And ultimately it all worked in my favor. You see, I always got interrupted before I could conclude my writing sessions, so during dull moments (folding clothes, driving, loading the dishwasher) I would re-work the scene in my mind, and in the meantime my kids were constantly giving me new ideas to spice it up. It was the perfect writing environment: I was surrounded by inspiration yet I was kept away from my computer. Then, when I was finally able to get back on my computer the ideas poured from my fingers like Niagara Falls.

And now I have two books and five kids and I don’t have regrets about the time I spent because I did everything I could to put my kids first. I didn’t let writing bewitch me into slicing away time from my kids. I was part of their stories, just as they were part of mine. Plus, they had a mom who was energized and happy because she was in the midst of creating something extraordinary. And when Mom has a skip in her step and a sparkle in her eye, the kids are the first beneficiaries.

I went to LDStorymakers conference last spring. It was bigger than I expected. There were 700 writers there! Who knew that many Mormons liked to write? The conference chairperson was Jenny Proctor, author of several books and mother of six kids.  I was not acquainted with her and wanted to introduce myself (since we are both from North Carolina), so after the opening ceremonies, as people drained from the room to go to their classes, I followed her, waiting for my chance.  As she was finishing up her conversation with the conference photographer, I couldn’t help overhearing what she was saying.

“I want you to take a picture of me when I am up at the podium. Only, I want you to take a photo of me from behind so that you can see me and the audience. I really want to my kids to see what I do. I want them to see how big this is.”

She didn’t say “I want to post this on Facebook so people will see what I do and how big this is,” or “I want to post this on my blog so people can see what I do and how big this is” but she wanted to show her kids. Because kids trump everything.

My favorite characters are not the ones who live in my head, but the ones who live in my home, and my favorite stories are the stories they are making for themselves. They constantly surprise me with their plot twists and cliff-hanger endings, their unpredictable, entertaining, laugh-out-loud fun. I want to keep turning the pages of their stories for as long as I live. They are books I never get sick of (though they DO make me tired) and books I want to keep reading over and over again.

When you have the opportunity to choose between your child or your muse, always choose the child.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Buy my book if you want. It really is good, and it gave me a lot of joy to write it. But if I accomplish anything of importance in my life it will not be writing novels. That is why you will never see me kiss my books, and you will never hear me call my book “my sixth baby” because my baby are sacred words, reserved only for the choicest people I know, with whom I have the privilege of sharing my home, my life and all my stories.

 

 

 

 

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What Every Mother Needs

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When I was a little girl I used to love to creep into my parent’s bedroom when my mother was busy and open up her lingerie drawer.

Inside were all kinds of beautiful, silky fabrics, but what was most wonderful was the smell. My mother would stash fancy soaps among her delicates and it made the contents of the drawer smell like whispering flowers. Then I would peek over the dresser at the mirrored tray that held the exquisitely shaped bottles filled with gold, pink, and amber-colored liquids. On the bottles were printed names like Sand & Sable, Youth-Dew, and Beautiful. I remember watching my mother dab a little perfume on her wrists, neck and behind her ears. I loved hugging my mother and getting a whiff of some blossomy, botanical scent. She always smelled fresh and flowery, like an angel holding a bouquet. Sometimes I would secretly squirt some on myself when she wasn’t looking, so that I could smell like her.

Fast forward twenty-five years. I am a mother of five, and my clothes are constantly covered in some sort of human slime. I spend my most of my time cleaning up after dogs and children, three of whom are male. Do I need to elaborate?

Sometimes I feel as if my day is just a series of cleaning up different varieties of poop. My room frequently smells like a recently changed diaper. My laundry room smells of mildewed rags, and my garage smells of the cat litter box. And then there is the van, a graveyard of dirty socks and half-eaten bananas. Much of my life as a mom is spent battling one odor after another.

I know I am not alone in this, since as mothers, we (meaning our clothes, our hair and our bodies) are literally the catch-all for every type of unmentionable fluid in a variety of viscosities.  Our bodies are loved, battered, climbed on, lunged at, and we are our children’s most favorite pillow, punching bag, pacifier, dish towel and jungle gym. Sometimes it feels like our bodies aren’t even our own. But such is our glorious plight: we are not frigid, far-off, oxygen-deprived planets. We are mini Mother Earths . . . giving, nourishing, replenishing, and also getting polluted upon by all the little inhabitants that depend on us for survival.

One day I went to help in the nursery at our church. I believe I was pregnant at the time. I was with two other women and we started talking about smells. Good smells, bad smells, intentional smells, cover-up smells. We discussed the scents of different types of gum and finally we concluded with the memories of our mothers’ perfume. Instantly I found myself as a seven-year-old again, opening my mother’s drawer and inhaling.

It was then that I realized I hadn’t worn perfume since college. I didn’t even own perfume. And for good reason. What was the point? After you have kids it seems like such an extravagance, and all for nothing. Who is going to smell you? Who is going to appreciate it? No one really cares. Your husband will love you no matter what you smell like . . . right?

I chewed on this thought for a couple days.

After thinking it through, I went to my husband and made a proclamation.

“I’m going to buy something completely frivolous,” I said.

“What is that?” He asked.

“I am going to buy a bottle of perfume,” I said. I let the thought soak for a moment. Then I added, “Expensive perfume.”

Interestingly, my announcement went unchallenged.

And I knew exactly what fragrance I wanted. I had breathed it in on a friend several years earlier and when I asked her what it was she said, “Poeme.” Could there be a more peaceful, blissful name?

So I went to the fragrance counter in a glittery department store and asked for a small . . . no . . . a medium sized bottle. The woman rang up the price. I gulped. I could buy a lot of things with the amount of money it cost. Several days worth of groceries. Four huge bags of dog food. Three boxes of diapers. I have always prided myself on being a practical person. Scott calls me his “low-maintenance beauty queen.” What was I doing, spending all of this money on something that had no purpose? How had I become so materialistic?

I swiped my card. The woman behind the counter put the golden perfume box in a glossy bag and included some free samples of cosmetics. I took the bag from the store, clutching it to my chest wondering if I had just exchanged the family farm for fool’s gold.

That was over two years ago.

I am on my second bottle now. I wear it almost every day. Sometimes I catch a whiff of it on my daughters, which makes me smile, and I have my own ways of knowing that my husband does not regret my purchase, which makes me smile even more. But mostly it is for me, to help me–as the cleaner of children and dogs and toilets and garages–to feel at the very least human, and at the very most a beautiful one.

Every mother needs something that makes her feel human. When your world is in constant chaos, when every day is just a repeat of the last, when you wonder if you have accomplished anything of worth, and when your efforts in civilizing the next generation are shredded like cheese in a grater, you need to have something within your control. You might not be able to control the wild little primates around you, but you can still lift yourself up to some level of refinement, with the hope that eventually the primates will evolve and follow your example.

For me, this means splurging on a bottle of perfume that is slightly more expensive than I can afford. But for you it might be different.  It could be as simple as a shower. Or a fluffy towel that is only yours. Or trimming your nails. Or getting a haircut. Or having time to run in the morning.  But you must have something, even if it is just making your bed in the morning, so that you can prove you are a lady and not a mountain man.  Because sooner or later in your day–it will happen, you know it will–all hell will break loose, and when that happens you can take a deep breath and say, “at least I made my bed this morning,” or “at least I exercised,” or “I know things are crazy right now, but I smell darn good.”

I have a good friend from college. We worked together during the summer at an outdoor camp. We rode horses, we climbed trees, we slept in tipis, we canoed, we dug latrines, we cleaned outhouses. We went days without showering, and we slept the whole summer under the stars. Now she has kids of her own. Once she called me out of the blue and we caught up on each other’s lives. “You’ll never believe this, Chelsea,” she said, “but now, I wear pearls.”

I can believe it.

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To the Mother of Young Children

Part 1

You have only so much love

In your cup.

Most of it goes to your children all day

but you share some with neighbors

and their children.

Sometimes you save some love for yourself

but not very much, because you’ll need love for

older parents

teachers

friends

strangers

and the family dog.

By the time your husband comes home

you only have a little love left.

You could drink the last bit up yourself or

you could give it to him.

Of course you give it to him

because that is the kind of person you are, and

you know that there will always be more in the morning.

Sure enough, when you wake,

your cup is full again and

you pour out your love again

to all those thirsty people around you.

 

Part 2

One day

you use up all your love

for the people around you and

when your husband comes home

there is no love left in your cup

for him.

So instead you go to sleep

because you know

there will be more in the morning.

And there is.

And as long as your cup is full every morning

you know you’ll find a way to make it last.

 

Part 3

Then one morning you wake to find

that your cup is empty.

The children clamor for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your husband yearns for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your friends and neighbors and teachers and

strangers and family dog need your love.

But you are empty, empty, empty, empty.

Everyone depends on you.

Everyone is thirsty.

You want to say, I need a vacation!

But everyone knows there is no such thing

as a vacation for mothers.

This is a problem.

So you try to fill up your cup with your tears

but that is hard

and besides, no one wants to drink

your tears.

 

Part 4

This is when

you come and find Me

and hold out your cup.

(Please be sure it is not upside down.)

I will then fill it with My Love.

And when you know your cup is filled

with Love from Me

it will fill your heart

and your heart

will become a fountain.

And then you will not need a cup

anymore.

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I Just Wanted You To Know

Today I woke up to the sound of a trumpet, a violin, a clarinet and a piano playing a version of Happy Birthday that also could have doubled as a Halloween movie theme song. It was all to celebrate my freshly-turned-five-year-old boy.

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There was a from-scratch breakfast to make, presents to open, a diaper to change, a puppy to let out in to the backyard, a cat to feed. Daddy is 2000 miles away, bringing home the bacon. But even though he’s gone we still read our scriptures and say our morning prayer (offered by Dan whom I promised could say all the prayers today because it is his birthday). We have our normal scoldings (“You are not done practicing the piano yet, young lady!”) and as usual it takes us fifteen minutes to get from the door to the car since the cat always finds a way to slink into the house and someone always forgets a lunch or a coat or an instrument. Once we are in the car everyone fights like tigers about who is getting in the back seat, even though we made a van seating chart called “The Great Van of Happiness” which doesn’t seem to be working.

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One of Levi’s favorite things to do. Sit at a little table reading a little book.

I take them to school, say I love yous and come home to find the dog piddled in his crate. Then I have breakfast to clean up, a shower to take (“Dan, make sure Levi doesn’t get into the knives, play with plastic bags, drink clorox, open the front door or put anything small in his mouth. I’ll be out in ten minutes”). Once I am clean I spend time with Dan, mounting his new license plate and discussing the other license plates he has on his wall. He asks me what it says on every one. When we get to the Idaho plate I tell him that it says “Famous Potatoes.” He gets a funny look on his face and starts laughing. He doesn’t stop laughing for five full minutes.

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We call Grammie to thank her for the gift she sent. Dan talks her ear off telling her about every second of his day so far. Then it is time for Levi to go down. We play peek-a-boo for a minute so we can leave him happy in his bed. Then Dan goes in front of the t.v. and it is MY TIME.

I write my nanowrimo novel.

It is a ghost story.

Before I know it Levi is awake. It is time for lunch with my boys. After lunch we wrestle. Actually Levi doesn’t wrestle, he just lays on you and rolls around like a walrus. This is pretty much the best part of the day.

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Then it is time to pick up the girls. I pack their piano bags (3 note books and 10 other music books) and dozen chocolate chunk bran refrigerator muffins that I baked during the wrestling match. I get to the threshold of the door and find out I need to change a diaper at the exact moment the cat slithers passed me and Dan is demanding that I bring him a snack for the road.

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The dog is whining in his crate so I take him out again just before we go. Fifteen minutes later we are in the car.

I want to listen to NPR but Danny wants to listen to an extremely annoying CD of scripture songs set to rock and roll music. We listen to that because, after all, it is his birthday. Tomorrow it will be back to NPR.

We pick up the girls at two different schools. This takes an hour, so in between we make a run to the library and check out a few books. Books about cars, of course.

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We pick up the girls. We ask them about their day. They munch on the muffins. Then we drop them off at piano.  (The girls, not the muffins.) We go to a park and play a game called “Don’t Touch Blue” which Danny thinks it is hilarious. We make up more rules to make it even more hilarious. We leave the park smiling.

We go to the grocery store. I let Dan get a book with mazes since it is his birthday and since he is aMAZEing. By the time we are done shopping it is dark outside and Levi is crying. He is ready for bed. We pick up the girls. We come home. The dog piddled in his crate again. Boo hoo.

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Naomi’s hair on her baptism day.

I make dinner. Pizza for me and Dan (a birthday promise) and mac and cheese for everyone else. No surprise there. Grandma calls. Daddy calls. Then it is homework and bed. There are arguments, as always. Naomi is mad at Dan who is mad at Sophie who is mad at the world. There are last minute stomach aches and headaches. Dan gets five extra kisses cause he’s five: one on his nose, one one his forehead two on his cheeks and one on his neck to make him laugh. Will you let me do this when you are sixteen? I ask. Yes, he says. Now it’s my turn to laugh. Syrena gets a reminder about practicing piano in the morning. Tears are wiped. More kisses given. Lights out.

Dog needs my attention. Curse you, dog. Where is your master?

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Against my will I play with the dog and teach it to fetch his toy.

I tidy the house. It is my turn for Joyschool in the morning. It will be another wild day.

I write this post. As I write I can hear the baby in the room above me. He is waking up for some reason. I cross my fingers that he will go back to sleep soon, but I will probably have to go up and change his diaper and give him another bottle.

I still have to take out the dog one last time. Is that rain I hear?

This is my day. No one took a photo of me. No one patted me on the back. No one gave me an A or a medal or handshake or money. I got paid in kisses and hugs, and I got lots–and I mean LOTS–of attention. And all throughout my day I thought about how much I love doing this. I LOVE it. I love being a mom. Motherhood is so hard and it is so not glamorous, but it is the greatest job in the world.

I just wanted you to know that.

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A Day In The Life of A Kitchen

We GoPro-ed our kitchen. Here is my day in 3 1/2 minutes. You can see it best if you watch it on YouTube so that you can see it full screen.  I’m interested to know if this is as fascinating to you as it is to our family 🙂 .  Make sure the volume is up!

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