May 28, 2009

Quick, someone call the mom police!

After some quality snuggling yesterday morning, I took Grace to school as if it were any other day, and had John pick her up afterwards, a day earlier than our usual custody schedule. I love that little bug more than anything in the world, but it was my birthday. And honestly? I wanted to write, relax, have wine and cheese for dinner and sleep late this morning. I wanted to watch any movie that didn't involve Narnia or animation. (We chose "The Reader" — awesome.) I wanted to blog and fart around on facebook and do all the things I feel guilty about when Grace is home, because I'm not giving her my undivided attention. I did NOT want to deal with whining, tantrums, timeouts and a runny nose. But I missed her, of course. I enjoyed my day but something was missing — and I ended up feeling guilty anyway.

I read a blog post recently (which I should have bookmarked because I can't find it anywhere) about how harshly mothers judge other mothers, and it really hit home. I have both judged and been judged. Neither is much fun, or at all productive. It certainly doesn't contribute to the sense of community that mothers should feel, particularly when most of us are struggling to find what works best for us and our families, when we are trying to balance motherhood with work, life and being true to ourselves. For some moms, this isn't a struggle at all. They love being at home with their kids and do a fantastic job of it. Or they love going to work and don't think twice about putting their kids in daycare. The rest of us bumble along, trying to find the right path and constantly second-guessing our choices. I learned quickly that I wasn't cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. This came as a surprise, because it was what I thought I wanted. It never occurred to me that I would still want, still need, to tend to the non-mom parts of my life that made me who I was before I became a mom.

Grace is loved, and she knows it. I may not sacrifice everything for her, but I certainly have tightened the criteria for what I choose to spend time on. I won't be wasting anymore of it judging other moms.

Oops.


Enough said.

May 27, 2009

May 26, 2009

The stuff that Brady's dreams are made of.

The squirrels relentlessly pilfer seeds from the bird feeder inches from our kitchen window. I've seen ONE bird, but at least three squirrel heists. (The underbelly of a squirrel is not nearly as cute as you might think when it is dangling outside the window while you eat your granola.) Grace goes into some sort of spastic overload when this happens; if Brady ever sees what's going on IN HER OWN YARD, she will likely launch herself onto the kitchen table and through the window.


Boldly eyeballing us through the window. Cheeky bugger.


Even Grace's hysterics didn't deter him.


Pretty nimble.


Seriously, how is this possible?


Greedy little dude just kept eating. I can relate.

May 25, 2009

How do you choose what to read?

I infrequently read nonfiction, but I picked up A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle to inspire me this Memorial Day weekend. It felt appropriate, since we needn't reach any further back than yesterday to find three U.S. soldiers killed in combat. I honor those soldiers as much as veterans from WWI or Vietnam, but I can't help feeling we haven't learned nearly enough, as a nation or globally, to make the shift away from violence as a means of settling disputes. Yes, I know this is naive. But I'll be naive rather than cynical; hopeful rather than resigned; peaceful rather than combative for as long as I can remain so.

The fact that I own A New Earth started me thinking about how I decide what to read. I realized that I rely on a handful of friends who read voraciously and recommend books passionately. Book reviews don't move me to action and I don't pay attention to bestseller lists, although I generally know what "everyone is reading" the way some people know what everyone is wearing or where everyone is dining. But I will buy and read a book if Leslie, Justine, Jodi or Vicky clutch a hand to their heart and say, "You have to read this!" I have half a dozen or so beloved authors I follow, and I will sometimes make an impulsive purchase if I'm in a bookstore and something catches my eye. For the most part, however, my reading list is informed by my girls.

Word of mouth works for me as a reader. But as an author? Creating "buzz" is something that may forever elude me. And I wonder how the rest of you choose which books to cozy up with at night?

May 23, 2009

Back to work.

No, I haven't gotten a job, but author Cheryl Strayed quoted an L.A. Times essay on facebook, which made me realize it's time to dust off the laptop and get back to writing. The quote? "Failure is commonplace in the career of a writer, and a second novel is the beginning of a writer's career." That sounds about right. I love Soft Landing, but that second novel isn't going to write itself while I sit around wringing my hands about disappointing sales. I can keep loving my first baby while nurturing my second. I need to get back to that creative place where I find myself totally absorbed turning ideas into beautiful words. That's when I'm happiest.

If Soft Landing finds an audience, fantastic. But I've pushed so hard, for so much longer than it took me to write the book. I want to remember the writing, which was such a joy, instead of the selling, which has left me feeling empty. The positive feedback I've gotten has meant so much to me, but it doesn't bring the same satisfaction as finishing a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter. So on to child number two, and that crazy balancing act that comes with writing, parenting, working (one hopes) and just living.

May 22, 2009

Real estate hangover.

We had another set of buyers back out this week, which forced us to come to terms with the simple fact that we are never going to sell this house. Why? Because the neighbor might put in a driveway that would cozy up to the front yard and side of the house. We all know he won't do it — he split the cost with us of building a fence that sits smack dab in the middle of the easement; he built a lovely retaining wall in front; the current renters have planted a garden and decorated a backyard patio that would both disappear if a drive were put in. Problem is, not only can we not get him to express his intentions (or lack thereof), we can't even find him or get his lawyer to return phone calls.

There is nothing we can do. The initial letter that torpedoed our first sale was blatantly false, which the neighbor's lawyer conceded in writing. (The legal equivalent of saying, "I take it back.") No, the house will not have to be moved. And they are not actually doing anything wrong now, but they managed to open a can of worms. There's the easement; maybe they'll build a drive, maybe they won't.

Apparently buyers are wary about the unknown, so when they see that disclosure and read the explanation of the easement, they get all twitchy and imagine, I don't know, a driveway with an RV and a boat parked outside their living room window. Drive around Portland and you'll see similar scenarios everywhere (minus the RV and boat). Drive around Chicago and you'll see L tracks that run past someone's bedroom window. Ditto for any other crowded urban space. But I suppose nobody wants to deal with the uncertainty.

I've been trying to track down the owner, with no success. So I went back to the house the other day, hoping to catch the neighbors and beg them for his phone number so I could talk to him in person and make him take pity on me (my realtor asked me if I wore a low-cut shirt; I did not). But nobody was home next door, so I walked around inside our house, thinking how beautiful it is; it even still has new-house smell. The single reason I left was that I couldn't swing the mortgage. (I feel guilty typing that, as if I'm cheating on this house.) But here we are, STILL PAYING THE MORTGAGE. So my next hairbrained scheme involves finding a renter who will keep the place spotless, be willing to vacate for showings at a moment's notice and not object to the possibility of having to move out quite suddenly. Any Portlanders out there like the sound of that?

May 20, 2009

Pretty dog. If only she ate weeds instead of poo.

Fashion misfire.

If the front door is open, Grace will dash through it. Rarely, however, will she do so without first putting on shoes. I was a barefoot country girl, so I'm a little disappointed by this, but what can you do?


Note the loafers. Combined with the jammies, I couldn't help but laugh. I know she was thinking, "You take Brady out in your underwear, Mom."

May 18, 2009

L O S T

I have achieved a whole new level of dream insanity. The basic premise is the same: senior year of high school, I realize I've forgotten to go to math class the entire year. I know I won't graduate, and I can't believe how stupid I've been. Now here's the twist (and Justine, the LOST connection is undeniable): I'm aware that I'm dreaming, that not only have I graduated from high school but college as well, but I'm worried that if I flunk out of high school in my dream, it will change my future in my waking life. So there's no comfort in knowing it's just a dream! (There's not much relief in waking up, either, considering I went through all that frickin' education and I'm still unemployed.)

I'm a big fan of a couple of things: knowledge and closure. Today I was all set to read Soft Landing's first official review on an online book review site. I thought I was prepared for anything, good, bad or just so-so. What I wasn't prepared for was... nothing. They reviewed a diet book instead. I emailed the woman who coordinates the whole enterprise, who invited me to submit my book, but I have yet to hear back from her. And I suppose there is a possibility that I never will, which will drive a little part of me slowly insane.

Which brings me to the whole dysfunction topic I mentioned a while back. I realize I'm not just afraid of losing people in my life I care about; I'm just as afraid of not knowing why. I understand that friendships ebb and flow, that, particularly at this age in our lives, people are focused on family and community, developing new interests and sometimes just lose touch. But sudden silence is different; it's a sign that a connection has been broken and needs to be fixed — in my mind, anyway. Not knowing what's gone wrong is frustrating, because I can't do anything about it. And if there ends up being an absence of closure, both present and future will change in ways I never expected. Is it worth all the worry? I think so, because the people in my life with whom I've made a connection, near and far, are important to me. But I tend to greatly exaggerate my own importance in the lives of others, so I come back to that voice from the past saying, "Nobody's thinking about you, honey." And it's not the comforting version.

May 17, 2009

Home improved.

We've come full circle, in the front yard, anyway. We weeded, eliminated sickly plants, spruced up healthy ones, bought pretty new stuff and stuck it in the ground. Lavender, golden euonymous, barberry, and violas for now. I'm not sure what's in the hanging baskets, and we still have two flats of ground cover (deep blue Lobelia and delicate white Alyssum) to plant. Not to mention future projects: vegetables, herbs and Grace's giant raised flower bed in the back yard. But WOW this made a difference, in both appearance and morale. Turns out it's more fun than work spending the weekend outside with the family (Brady included) getting dirty, sunburned and scratched up. It was NOT fun unearthing a giant blob of gray slime in the front flower bed, which will forever remain a mystery. On a positive note, we found it before Brady did; it was one of the grossest things I've ever seen and therefore would have been an irresistible delicacy for our nitwit dog.

Speaking of crazy Brady, I was cleaning up outside yesterday and one minute she was standing in front of a raised bed looking perfectly innocent, and the next I looked over to find her curled up in a hole she must have dug in about twenty seconds. I may have mentioned this before, but Brady likes to bake herself in the sun until she is near death, then find a nice, shady patch of earth and bury herself. She must have been so pleased at how easy it was to scoop nice, loose soil from an empty bed. Me? Not so much.

Next up is Grace's flower garden. There is a huge raised bed in the back yard that's all ready to go — weed-free, lots of yummy compost (mmmm, bat guano) and peat added, just waiting for some roots to suck up all those nutrients. We even bought compost tea to make sure Grace's first foray into planting her own space is a success. Now we need to decide whether to plant the seeds properly or attempt to reenact the scene in The Secret Garden where Mary Lennox stands on the tree stump tossing seeds about with abandon. Maybe a bit of both.

Then we'll plant our edible garden, and I can't wait to see Grace eating beans and tomatoes off the vine, or pulling carrots and radishes out of the ground. This is how she first accepted vegetables as food — planting them, watching them grow and finally harvesting them at the farm her old daycare used to bring them to. Maybe we'll even try some sweet corn and salad greens. And chickens! Really, it might be worth it just to see the look on Brady's face, and to see how long it would take her to get into the coop.

Gittin' down and dirty.

We spent lots of quality time with Mother Earth this weekend. Grace was not nearly as helpful as I thought she'd be, given her experience planting vegetables and fruits on day trips with her old school. Mostly she wanted to pick up dirt, rocks, watering cans or garden tools, then either throw them or put them in her mouth. Also, no matter how many times I insist plants are living things and that I can hear their screams when she rips off their leaves, she remains unconvinced. (I'm kind of glad she's not that gullible.) But it was good exercise running after Grace to keep her from inflicting serious harm on herself, us or the plants, and meanwhile Michael got the entire front bed planted. I suspect we irritated a few neighbors with Gigi's shrieking, Brady's barking at everything that moves and my yelling at both of them to BE QUIET FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!


I got Grace some of her own gardening tools so she would feel like a valuable member of the team (okay, I got them because they were cute). When I told her to go get her blue bucket, she disappeared, then came 'round the corner of the house like this. Swear to God.


Monkey see, monkey do.


Grace kept picking up dirt and sprinkling it on the plants. I asked her to stop but she informed me that the plants were hungry and she was feeding them.


I was not allowed to wear my hat. It looks way cuter on her, anyway.


Both were tuckered out after lunch, Grace from "planting weeds" and Brady from carrying out her duties as the compound's security detail.

May 14, 2009

Conflicted.

"Mommy, I have to poop."
"Great! Let's go sit on the potty."
Into the bathroom, on the potty, I start to sing the potty song (Pink Martini's "Hold On Little Tomato").
"DON'T SING!" (Swings ducky at me.)
"Do you need to poop?"
"NO! I DON'T WANT TO POOP!"
(Brief silence while I rub my eyes until they almost bleed.) "Okay. Let's just sit here for a little — "
"SING!"
"The sun has left and forgotten me. It's dark, I cannot see..."
"The poop won't come out." Look of distress.
"But you didn't even push — "
"NO POOP TONIGHT!" Heavy sigh.
"Okay then. Let's brush your teeth."
"I DON'T WANT TO BRUSH MY TEETH!!!"

Believe it or not, after all the drama of preparing for bed, we have the sweetest routine that leaves me in tears almost every night. She puts on her pajamas, then sits with me in her rocking chair with her arms and legs wrapped around me while I rub her back and we whisper about the day. Then into her bed with a quick story, song, back tickle and kiss good night. As I leave the room she calls out, "Good night Mommy. I love you." And no matter what kind of day we've had, my heart practically pops out of my chest like a cartoon character.

Still, with the bad dreams.

I thought maybe if I shared my kooky nightmares, they would go away, or at least calm down a bit. Instead, last night's dreams incorporated plane crashes and insects into the general confusion of high school. I'm hoping a day spent working in the garden will clear my nocturnal head, but Mr. B., if you're still out there and feeling wise, TELL ME WHAT I'M DOING WRONG. Don't worry — no one else seems to hesitate with their opinions.

May 13, 2009

Not quite making the grade.

A while ago I blogged about a dream I had where a favorite high school teacher gave me some excellent advice about deciding what was important to me, which played out nicely in my real life. Lately I've been having recurring dreams that I'm trying out for something — choir, the hockey team (?), a play, gymnastics — and that same teacher is standing on the sidelines, shaking his head in disappointment. I keep telling myself, "Focus, Laurie, focus" (I was Laurie in high school), but I'm devastated by the look on his face and I know I won't be making the cut. (This scenario is, of course, sandwiched between not knowing which locker is mine, not being able to find my car in the parking lot and not remembering where my dorm room is, which doesn't make any sense because it's high school, not college, so why can't I just go home? But where is home?)

Generally speaking, my dreams are not terribly subtle, and this one doesn't exactly have me scratching my head. While I no longer struggle to identify what's important, I'm not sure I'm doing such a great job of maintaining focus. When so many things go wrong at once, I can't help but stop and wonder if it's me, if I'm letting myself be distracted by things that seem important now but are really just easier to pay attention to. Grace, family, friends, my writing — these are my priorities. But Grace is the only one getting the best part of me, to the detriment of everything else. I haven't seen my family in ages; ditto for most friends. I continue half-heartedly plugging my novel, when the reality is that I've done what I can for now. It's time to set aside Soft Landing and start actually writing again. Not blogging, not farting around on facebook or sharing my questionable journalistic talents on Allvoices, but continuing the second novel I started over a year ago and am truly passionate about.

I also have a renewed interest in gardening. At first blush this feels like another easy distraction, but it's something I can share with family and friends. (Grace is all about getting her hands dirty and planting things, thanks to her time at her old daycare; she's even learning to enjoy bugs as long as they are OUTSIDE and she understands the roles they play, according to Laurel's Insect Philosophy.) And there is something calming about weeding, pruning, watering and deciding what to plant that allows me to be present, but also to look forward in a good way. The nurturing part of me could definitely use some repair; I spent much of the last year protecting myself, but to what end? I'm feeling alienated (not part of the team) and somewhat lost (where's my math class?), so it might be time to get back to basics and FOCUS. Isn't there a pill for that?

I'm going to bed now. Sweet dreams to you (both of you), and to me.

May 11, 2009

Sick kiddo.

The worst part about Grace being sick (like, barfing sick) is knowing how awful she feels and not being able to do anything about it. That, and the fact that she is heartbreakingly stoic. Also, since I can't bring myself to force her into the bath, I clean her up as best I can and then later, while she's watching "The Secret Garden" for the four hundredth time, she says, "I smell barf." We all smell barf, honey — IMAGINE POOR BRADY. (Who, while we're on the subject of vomit, recently got into the compost, came into the house and promptly threw up coffee grounds and egg shells. Good thing it's a rental.) Anyway, send healthy, stomach-settling vibes Gigi's way.

Learning the lingo.

"I'm really tired, Mommy." With just the right whine and sigh combination, this translates into, "I'm going to throw up EVERYWHERE in a few minutes. But keep asking me if I'm gonna be sick and I'll keep saying no. And don't even think about bringing me anywhere near the bathroom." Poor noodle. It's so complicated being three.

May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, I think.

I'm fairly certain that nobody explained Mother's Day to Grace, or I can't imagine there would have been nearly as much shrieking and carrying on today. She's sick, so sick in fact that she let me put her hair in pigtails, so I'll cut her some slack. This year. (Brady was extra-special nice to me all day.)


This is Gigi, pretending to be me. Her exact words? "I'm working. Go away." Ouch.

Happy Mother's Day

A couple of years ago my dad scanned a bunch of family photos for me, which must have taken forever. I love them, though, in part because I can trot them out on holidays like this to make a point. Today's point is that I remember my mom having two very distinct looks when I was growing up, and corresponding personality traits. Rather than transitioning over time from one to the other, however, she switched back and forth — effortlessly, it seemed — and to me this was terribly sophisticated. I loved them both, and still do.

This is the Joan Baez-singing, guitar-playing hippie mom, who later morphed into a hardy, horse-breaking country mom when we moved to rural Washington.
















And this is the coiffed, red lipstick-wearing glamour mom that went to parties smelling oh-so-tastefully of Chanel N°5.

May 7, 2009

Believe it or not, this is progress.

I can't believe Brady stayed put while I got the camera.


I wish I could say that Brady and Grace have a love/hate relationship, but there's precious little love going on. Usually, when Brady dares venture into Grace's room or near any of Grace's things, Grace gestures wildly and yells, "Go away Brady! Don't touch that! Mommy, SHE'S STEPPING ON MY BLANKET!" For some reason (possibly because I've begun comparing her to Colin in "The Secret Garden"), last night Grace relented and had a little fun with the canine creature. Brady may look miserable, but believe me, she's so happy to be getting attention, she allowed this to go on for quite a while, tolerating Grace feeling her forehead and pretending to give her medicine. (Grace has been sick, I've been sick, we've all been sick, so the taking and/or giving of medicine will be a part of Grace's playacting for weeks.)

Big ol' bucket of dysfunction.

Lately I've been feeling out of sorts and out of sync with the world and just generally out of it. I was finally able to put a name to it thanks to J. Po, with whom I spoke into the wee hours last night. A big old bucket of dysfunction is what I am, and while a few of my friends are actively avoiding me, Jon Potter understood completely because we happen to be victims of the same kind of crazy. When stressed, we hunker down like cats hiding under the couch until a scary stranger leaves, and wonder what in the world we did to deserve this invasion.

When I had the financial luxury, I saw a shrink from time to time. (I figure if everyone could pay someone to listen to them bitch, there would be far fewer blogs.) He told me I viewed friendship as some sort of bank account, where I built up my balance by doing nice things for people. Then when I needed it, I felt less uncomfortable asking for help, because hey, look at all I've done for you. But friendship doesn't work that way, nor should it. For one thing, healthy people tend to live in the moment, and make decisions based on what's going on in their head now. Also, apparently the vast majority of people feel perfectly comfortable saying "no." The end result is that even though I've given a friend rides to the airport or babysat their child/cat/dog or thrown them a party or let them crash at my house or run errands when they were sick or offered to donate a kidney, I shouldn't ask a favor as though I'm asking for something in return, because it's just not fair. Friendship is a two-way street, but not something to be nurtured by keeping score. Duly noted.

I remember at the time what a glorious revelation this was. I let myself say no when I felt overwhelmed, and when someone said no to me, I didn't take it personally. I lost a couple of friends who didn't like this new arrangement; it didn't come as a surprise. Now, however, I realize I've been saying no to everything and pointing to the stress in my family's life as an excuse. I got away with it for a while, but I'm at a point where I need to pull my head out of my ass and take notice of something painfully clear: everyone is under stress. Suck it up and deal with it, Laurel.

A friend once told me that she had made a mistake at work and was lamenting to her boss that everyone would blame her. Her boss turned to her and said, "Honey, no one is thinking about you." I will never forget that. At times, when I'm feeling guilty for not calling someone in a while or worrying about a stupid remark I made, I hear those words and they are comforting. At other times, when I've stretched a relationship to the limit by pulling my little turtle head and tail under my shell and refusing to come out, I think of those words and they are terrifying. Most of my friends will cut me slack indefinitely; this is the favor I am asking and they are saying yes. But I'm afraid some will just stop trying, and it will be my loss.

So I am going to try to climb out of my bucket of dysfunction and get back out into the world. It's friggin' boring in here, anyway.

May 1, 2009

Women of substance.

When I sent my first email about publishing Soft Landing, a friend wrote back, "There is nothing more tangy, more sweet, more salty or more bitter than a woman of substance. I have my next read! Burn clean girlfriend." I both laughed and cried, at the wording and the sentiment. (I also realized there are few people who can string together a sentence like that and get away with it. I am not one of them.) More than anything, I soaked up the friendship and encouragement.

One of my favorite people in the world, a fellow creative mama and blogger, just began selling her work on Etsy.com. It takes so much courage to put yourself out there and be judged by the world, I want to offer her the same kind of support, because without it, I suspect creative types tend to go a little crazy. I bought this piece and can't wait to get it and add it to my collection of friends' creations. Her work is lovely and provocative, representative of her commitment to animal medicine and all things natural and sustainable. And the online shop is not all that's new in her life; she has a little bundle of springtime joy, Ivy, six weeks old today. Now THAT'S a woman of substance — plus talent, determination and an abundance of energy! (When Grace was a newborn I was lucky to take a shower, much less embark on a creative journey.) So good luck to you, my friend. I admire your dedication to all that you do, and wish you luck in finding an audience for those wonderful creative juices of yours.