What The Eff Did You Just Say?

Catchy title, right? There’s a reason for it.

This morning I read an article from an Australian website called Mamma Mia (www.mammamia.com.au) – originally published on YourTango.com – entitled “Dear Stay-At-Home-Mums, Shut the Eff Up” and I’m sorry but it pissed me “the eff” off.

Maybe she caught me on a bad week. Maybe if I weren’t sick, if I hadn’t watched a dream job get flushed down the toilet through no fault of my own, if my husband and I weren’t stressed out and scraping by financially, I would have just laughed it off and kept on scrolling after reading it. It appears, though, that this author did catch me on a bad day and I’m inclined, as she clearly was, to pen my own open letter.

And this is it: How dare you?

The path a woman follows leading up to – and during – motherhood is lined with those who will judge her. From the moment that little strip turns pink, everyone and their sister will judge a woman for her decisions. You’re gonna eat that? You’re eating organic? You’re working? You’re not working? You’re breastfeeding (in public?!) You’re formula-feeding? You’re co-sleeping? You’re letting him/her cry it out?

The list continues.

Every single move a new parent makes is scrutinized by those who claim to possess far superior knowledge for mistakes and judgements are passed, either to that parent’s face or behind his/her back when s/he leaves to change the umpteenth diaper blowout or to sooth a bad dream.

And this woman sees fit to add another cause for judgement to the list: Venting. The fact that a woman – after having gone through the extremely traumatic physical act of bringing another life into this world and then adjusting to the daunting fact that this small person’s existence and survival in this world relies entirely on her – breaks down on occasion and phones her best girlfriend to vent about (gasp!) the dirty dishes that won’t clean themselves or the laundry that regenerates as soon as it leaves the hamper. Admitting that she is not Superwoman and confiding in a friend, a neighbor, a fellow mother or a family member.

I realize that choosing to be a stay-at-home parent is a choice we’ve all made. And we’ve all made it for the same reason: We want to be there for our child. We want to be there for all the milestones – great and small – instead of receiving reports about them from a daycare teacher or a nanny. Yet no amount of second-hand knowledge gained from our own mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends, etc. could have prepared us entirely for what exactly the job entails and for some of us, it can be a difficult adjustment to make.

I’m very happy for this woman, that she has been able to tackle tantrums and colic and sniffles and fevers without uttering a breath of a complaint. That she has been able to care for her spouse and her children with the selflessness and patience of a saint (that hint of sarcasm you detect there was intentional, but I remain sincere in my message). In all honestly, good for her. She possesses a depth of patience that I do not.

But for her to preach – no doubt from her pristine home, while she simultaneously vacuums, cooks, cleans and folds laundry, condescend and judge other women who have moments of frustration, irritation, depression, even loneliness is just. Plain. Wrong.

Instead of alienating one another for the choices we, as women and as mothers, make and the actions we take, we should be supporting one another and reminding each other that there is always a friend there to listen if we need to freak out for a moment.

I hope, for her sake, that when the day comes that she truly needs to vent to a friend, they don’t turn around and tell her, “Suck it up, buttercup. Nobody cares.” Because that’s essentially what she told stay-at-home-mothers the world over in her article.

Disclaimer: All mothers (and fathers) are superheroes, in my opinion. Whether you choose to stay at home or be a working parent. Don’t let anyone tell you the choice you made is the wrong one. And if you ever want to vent, I’ve got a cup of coffee and a box of chocolates ready for you.

(To read the original article that inspired this post, you may click the following link: http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/stay-at-home-mum-4/)

NaNoWriMo: Preparations Continue

Alright. October is half over. Give or take a day.

So…Be honest…How prepared are we? Really. On a scale from Let’s Do This! to I Need Another Month, Year, Decade!

I’m probably somewhere in the middle.

I’ve decided – perhaps against my better judgement – to post some of the work I’ve done on the back story of one of my characters. She’s an old favorite (or un-favorite, maybe, if that’s a word) and you’ll certainly recognize her as you keep reading. The working title for my novel-to-be is “Grey Skies & Silver Shoes.”

Feedback is of course welcome! But be gentle. This is my first venture back into the world of creative writing after taking a little hiatus from journalism.

She never saw colors.

In a land where colors shone in spectacular brilliance, her world was cloaked in muted shades of white, grey and black. Rainbows were charcoal smears across an ashen sky. The vibrant hills cloaked in emerald green grass and fields of multicolored poppies were leaden seas filled with flower-shaped, cast iron battleships. The brick road throughout the land – praised as a glorious feat of craftsmanship with shining golden bricks – held no beauty for her. And that damned emerald city he had built… The shining emerald towers that reached into the sky to grasp at the clouds… They were nothing but drab pillars of slate and disappearing into the muted, somber clouds.

She never saw colors.

If she had, she’d know her skin was a sickly shade of green: not the brilliant emerald of the grass or the towers; it was the color of unripe bananas, the off-putting pallor of the wards in the hospital. Her entire life she’d been ridiculed for this anomaly, this curse that she couldn’t even see. And eventually it drained all the color from her soul as well. Slowly her heart turned as black as the crow’s wings, smother every last spark of color – of life – in her.

She could feel power though. It pulsed into her from the yellow brick road, vibrating from her toes throughout her entire body. The first time she felt it, as a young child, it terrified her and she spent months cowering in her family’s one-roomed cottage, trying to escape it. She was afraid. Her family was afraid. They couldn’t feel the power. She watched them go about their lives as if it wasn’t there; her sister skipped along the road, playing with other children, blissfully oblivious to the torrent of power that coursed beneath her feet. She knew better, though. It was there. It throbbed through her body, humming with force and washed over her in tingling waves. She grew to love it. To crave it.

To hoard it.

As she grew, so did the power she amassed. She enchanted mundane objects to do her bidding: a broom to carry her through the air, weightless as a feather; a glass ball to be her window to the world, showing her anyplace and anyone she wished. She enthralled animals to be her minions, creating winged monkeys to build her own fortress of steel and iron. And finally, she created an army of dark, soulless creatures to do her bidding.

Many years ago, she had launched an attack against the Wizard and his beloved Ozians, determined to destroy them and take the power that ran through the city like an electric current. It rose above the city like a mushroom cloud, crackling and sparking. It taunted her from a distance; it mocked her. She may be powerful, it jeered, but she will never be more powerful than Oz. Her armies outmatched the Wizard in size and weaponry, but she had underestimated their spirit. Eventually, to her disbelief, the Ozians had driven her soldiers out of the Emerald City and forced her to retreat behind her walls. And there she remained, plotting and waiting for her next chance.

And then the girl came.

She felt, rather than saw, the death of her sister. It hit her like lightening, sending her staggering backwards and filling her mouth with the sickening taste of grief for the one person she’d truly loved in this world. By the time she arrived at the scene of the murder, Glinda and those blasted Munchkins were celebrating her sister’s death, hailing the girl as a hero and showering her with praise and flowers. It made her blood boil to watch them dance and sing. She stood behind the trunk of a massive oak tree, staring at the house that had crushed her sister, glaring at the girl responsible for it. She was nothing: a wisp of a girl, with mousy brown hair and a flea-bitten mongrel prancing at her feet.

She raised her hand, ready to destroy the girl with a snap of her fingers, when she felt it. The familiar throb of power. It pulled at her fingertips like a magnetic force. She closed her eyes and followed the pull, tracing the source of the power and snapped her eyes back open.

It came from the girl.

How could that be? This plain girl in a plain dress with plain hair. There was nothing powerful about her. And yet she couldn’t deny the waves of power that were cascading off the girl. She could see the rivulets of power dripping from the girl’s fingertips, forming a pool around her feet. Her feet. The witch froze. The girl’s feet were encased in the shoes that once belonged to the witch’s recently deceased sister. She remembered those shoes.

Their mother had bought those shoes when the girls were children at a market. The witch remembered her sister exclaiming over the beauty of the shoes; that they shone bright like quicksilver in the heavy afternoon air. The witch just gazed at the pewter-colored shoes, unable to see their beauty through the colorless veil that cloaked her world. The shoes were the finest things belonging to their mother and she shared the beauty with her daughters, allowing them to take turns wearing them around the house, teetering precariously on too-high heels in too-big shoes. The girls would shriek with laughter when one of them would topple and fall from the silver towers before scrambling back up to their peaks again.

The witch stared now at the shoes as the girl twisted and turned to admire her feet in them. Even from a distance, the witch saw the shoes fit her perfectly. She would destroy this girl, she suddenly decided. She would destroy her and take back the shoes her sister had so adored. And then she would take the power that vibrated in the air around the girl.

NaNoWriMo: A Preview

Fall has arrived.

Of course, if you live in southern California, you wouldn’t know it. Just when I thought summer was finally starting to taper off, we’ve been hit with another heatwave. High 90s in our little heat trap of a town that’s just far enough away from the coast to miss out on those cool ocean breezes. My favorite pastime is standing in front of the freezer to cool down. And let’s not even start with my hair. It’s too hot to use a hair dryer and there’s that .00001 percent of humidity in the air that sends my hair frizzing back to the 80s. Good times.

With the arrival of fall come many wonderful things: pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, Halloween decorations and adorable baby costumes I have a legitimate reason to look at now, Thanksgiving and the most comfortable pair of fat pants I own and…NaNoWriMo.

I first found out about NaNoWriMo from my amazing friend, fellow geek, book lover and talented blogger Diana – whose blog, Strahbary’s Fields, is a wonderland of all things geek chic – a few years ago and it has since become my Everest.

Allow me to break it down:

NaNoWriMo is a month-long event beginning November 1 and ending November 30 during which writers around the world will attempt to do perhaps not the impossible, but certainly the frustrating: write 50,000 words (the average length of a novel) in one month. You want to write just under 1700 words a day if you want to stay on track.

It’s basically the American Ninja Warrior of the writing world. You prepare for it. You plan for it. You train for it. Sometimes you get it on your first try. Other times, you fall short and return the following year twice as determined.

This year, I’ve decided. I’m doing it.

I am spending this month prepping. I’ve got my general storyline and am slowly fleshing out the details: characters, subplots, the world my characters will live in… I’ve resisted the urge to start writing now (battling the fear that by the time Nov. 1 arrives, I’ll have writer’s block) but once Halloween is over and the first of November dawns, I shall become a writing fiend.

In theory at least.

So. My fellow writers… Are you up for it?

You can learn more about NaNoWriMo at http://www.nanowrimo.org and don’t forget to follow Diana at http://www.strahbarysfields.com!

PS. My blog isn’t letting me hyperlink right now, otherwise I would’ve made that look so much prettier… Technology hates me sometimes.

Multi-Tasking Like a Boss

When I was in college, I thought I knew busy.

I took a full load of classes, had a full-time job, an internship, wrote for the school paper and was an editor for the paper as well. I think I averaged four hours of sleep every night. And then, occasionally, I liked to have this weird thing I heard my friends refer to as “fun,” which oftentimes cut into my four-hour sleep allotment.

That was back when I also thought I knew tired.

Having a baby is an entirely different ball game. I’m a SAHM (for those of you learning the Mommy acronyms, that’s Stay At Home Mom), so my days basically revolve around cleaning, laundry, changing diapers and singing theme songs from “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” “Doc McStuffins,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and every Disney song in existence. I also quote most of the movies and episodes.

A single day at home is more exhausting than a full day of classes, internship and work combined. At my old job, I clocked at at 11:30 p.m., went home and I was done. Being a mom – and a SAH one at that – does not come with a 40-hour week, weekends and paid holidays off and two weeks’ vacation time every year. It is the most rewarding and exhausting job out there, in my opinion, but it does leave you with woefully little free time.

When you do have free time (when baby goes down for  a nap, for example), these are some of the thoughts that go through your mind:

  1. I wonder how long she’ll stay asleep?
  2. What do I do first? There’s laundry, cleaning, dishes, shower…
  3. Oo I can catch up on my Netflix…
  4. Crap, did I just hear her cry?
  5. Where does all this laundry come from?!
  6. Shoot, I never text so-and-so back three weeks ago. I should do that.
  7. I’ll just go on Facebook for five minutes.
  8. Okay, one episode and then I’ll get up and be productive.

Sometimes a successful, productive day is simply getting the baby bathed and dressed and doing the same for yourself. Other times, you’re a multi-tasking fiend that cleans the house, finishes laundry, empties the litter box and finishes two seasons of “The Walking Dead” before the baby wakes up from her nap.

When I was in college, I also thought I knew multi-tasking.

These days, I can finish a To Do list faster than I can write one and —

Hang on a second… Yep… She’s definitely awake from her nap.

Break time’s over.

The M Club

Becoming a mother changes you. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally.

Hormonally.

All of a sudden (or maybe not-so-all-of-a-sudden if you’re one of the poor souls stuck in labor for 36 hours or pushing for 17), you have this tiny thing on your chest that’s been the source of your excitement and tiny bladder for the last nine months. I held my daughter in my arms and watched her tiny arms flail all over the place, adjusting to the fact that she can actually stretch them now and through the exhaustion and the happiness and the epidural-induced haze, one thought flashed in my mind like a shorted-out neon sign: “There is no user manual for this.”

I am an only child. I didn’t have younger siblings to look after as a child or older siblings to look up to. The most one-on-one time I’d ever had with a newborn up to that point was holding my girlfriend’s three-week-old for about thirty seconds – just long enough to snap a selfie as proof that I could handle an infant without breaking it – before passing her back to her mommy.

There may not be a user manual, but fortunately, becoming a mother comes with a lifetime membership to the Mommy Club of the world. The birth of your child grants you instant access to this exclusive club and you instantly have a common bond with every other mother on this planet. You can share that knowing look of pity in Target if one of your bundles of joy suddenly decides to blow out their diaper when you’re clear across the store from the restroom. You can exchange an adoring smile with the mommy of the six-month-old who somehow left the enormous flower headband slanted across her forehead.

And oh the things you talk about…

After nine months of invasive doctor’s visits and being poked and prodded with more needles and other gadgets than you can count – culminating in the grand finale of pushing a watermelon-sized object through a keyhole-sized exit in a room full of strangers encouraging you to “just breathe” when all you really want to do is punch them all in the throat – personal boundaries kind of fall away. You and a mother you’ve met five minutes ago can instantly fall comfortably in a conversation discussing the various shades of baby poop, how long it took you to stop dreading going pee post-partum or how long you and your partner waited to have sex after baby was born.

It’s strange, yet wonderful. I’m a very private person when it comes to my body and its functions as well as my marriage. And yet there is something immensely comforting to sit down with a woman who has gone through the exact same thing you have (give or take a Braxton Hicks contraction) and just…talk. Fellow mothers can understand your worries, your excitement, your triumphs, your failures and your breakdowns when absolutely NOTHING in your closet fits you even after baby has arrived in a way that no one else can, try as they might. And you suddenly see and admire your own mother in a whole new light.

It took a few weeks for me to not be terrified of being alone with my baby after she was born. My own mother flew out and stayed with us for the first month to help us out and, I suspect, to make sure I didn’t have a panic attack given my incomprehensible drive to be perfect at everything I do. She also gladly and eagerly agreed to babysit a few times so my husband and I could go out for a few hours.

As time passed, my confidence grew as a mother. My paranoia that I would somehow break my baby began to fade as did my need for perfection. There were a few setbacks here and there: a bout of baby constipation that probably hurt me more than it hurt my daughter; a hysterical bout of crying the day she got her first round of shots (following by a vehement declaration to my husband that I would never take her for vaccinations alone again).

Along the way, though, I began making other mommy friends and reconnecting with old friends who already had children. All of a sudden, I spoke their language. I understood suddenly the willingness to trade a night out in high heels for a night on the couch in your bunny slippers. Or the excitement when your baby is able to put her pacifier back in her mouth on her own (HUGE victory). Those friendships – forged or strengthened by the common thread of parenthood – are the friendships that can pull you back from the brink of insanity when your baby has kept you up for 19 hours straight or boost your self-esteem when you discover your feet have permanently stretched to a half-size larger and none of your favorite shoes fit anymore.

Parenthood has an endless number of perks. Membership to the Mommy Club is one of them.

**Disclaimer: This does not, I repeat, does NOT discredit the amazing people who were your friends pre-pregnancy and remained the same wonderful friends – and new aunties and uncles to your little one – after your baby is born. Being pregnant and becoming a parent changes your entire world, including the people in it. But that’s for another post…