A Remarkably Unremarkable Birth

This week’s prompt in my writing class was to choose an event we’d like to think more about but don’t remember well, free write about it, and fill in the gaps to make it a cohesive story. Probably because she is turning four (!!!!) next week, I immediately thought about Margaret’s birth, in all of its hazy details.

***

We are watching “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” snow falling softly outside the hospital window, not enough to obscure the mountains, which look impossibly close from the second floor. I feel fine; this isn’t what labor feels like, I keep thinking, until suddenly, the contractions are constant. For some reason, I keep looking at my watch between contractions, as if my brain is trying to integrate this experience with a known quantity.  But, from my labor with Julia, just over three years before, I know what pitocin contractions are like. There is no build up, just sudden, agonizing pain that starts in my abdomen and radiates up my spine.

The doctor comes in, her typical, cheery self. “How are we doing?” she asks brightly. I’m doubled over, clenching the side of the bed. I grunt some sort of reply as she helps me back into bed to check my progress. 4 cm. Only 4 cm. I give Scott a look that I hope means, Tell her I need the epidural, and thankfully, the doctor asks, “So, are we thinking about an epidural?” I have thought about this beforehand; I know that if I have it too early, there’s a chance it will wear off before delivery.  The doctor continues nonchalantly, “We’ll probably need to double or triple the pitocin soon, here,” and I grunt, “Epidural!”

At this point, I’ve been in active labor for a few hours. With Julia, I had the idea that even with pitocin, I might be able to deliver without an epidural, and the doctors and nurses went along with that plan. After I finally agreed (demanded?)  to have the epidural, and after laboring for twelve hours, they mentioned offhand that almost nobody has a natural birth with an induction. That time, I was flooded from so many hours of contractions that I didn’t even register the pain of the epidural. This time, perhaps because I haven’t been laboring as long, I am shocked as the anesthesiologist places the needle. I squeeze Scott’s hand with all of the force I can muster, tears streaming down my face as I clench my jaw. “Alright, see? Not so bad,” the anesthesiologist says offhandedly, and I wish I had the energy to glare at him as I close my eyes.

I finally feel some relief as the epidural kicks in. Scott’s mom calls, unable to find Julia’s gymnastics class. “Don’t worry about it,” I tell her. “You don’t have to go.” She calls back to let me know she has found it, and the next few contractions are slightly easier as the drugs work their magic and my mind is drawn to images of Julia, tumbling and swinging in her little leotard. I settle in, and we turn the movie back on.

The doctor comes back to check my progress. “You’re about 8 centimeters… that’s great!” she begins, “but…” Scott and I exchange a look as her expression changes. “This isn’t a head… this feels like a butt! Get ready to meet your baby. It’s time for a c-section.” she continues with some details, picks up the phone and calls for someone to bring Scott some scrubs. My mind stops following, unable to process the change from “now I am resting and getting ready to push” to “now I am having abdominal surgery.” Scott starts to ask questions: what are the risks? What are the choices? There is no choice. The baby has flipped in the past hour of laboring; breach. All I can think about is Julia. We will not be home the next day, as we had hoped; most likely, we’ll be gone three more nights. I’ve left her for three nights in her whole life.

I call my mom, adrenaline making me feel a little crazy. “I’m going to have a c-section,” I tell her. I rattle off details: 4cm, then epidural, then 8cm, but breach. “Oh, Meggie, are you okay?” she asks.  And then I cry.  I cry a lot.

Scott puts on scrubs, I get back onto the bed, and the nurses wheel me down the hall. It is cold in the operating room, and I don’t know if I am shaking from cold or from nerves or a combination of both. The anesthesiologist is right by my head. There is lots of pressure, and then what feels like hours while I wait to hear the baby cry.

“It’s a boy!” Scott exclaims.

“Um, no,” the doctor laughs, the same chipper tone as always. “Look again. That’s the umbilical cord.” I am laughing and crying; he made the same mistake with Julia. The baby is fine. She’s great. I keep asking for her, I tell Scott to go with her while they weigh and clean her, or whatever they are doing in this long, long period of time before I finally get my baby. I cannot feel anything; I cannot move my arms. Scott holds her on my chest. I can’t see her very well; I’m lying down. I try to sit up, try to really look at her, but I can’t.  The anesthesiologist takes photos and videos on my phone,hands us tissues, and I no longer dislike him. My nose is running, I’m crying, Scott’s crying. Margaret, a girl.

Later, in the recovery room. I am beyond tired. They want me to nurse, and I am supposed to want to nurse. I remember wanting to with Julia, watching her crawl like a kitten, knowing what she was supposed to do; my first lesson in following my baby’s lead. This time I am doing everything from a distance, watching myself, shaky from the drugs. We call Julia and Paula. Later, Paula will describe Julia’s complete joy when we tell her she has a sister. It’s too late for them to visit; it’s almost 6pm by the time we finally get to our room.

Finally, I think, I can sleep. And then I vomit and vomit while Margaret sleeps. We nurse. At some point, the nurse tells me she’s going to help me walk to the bathroom. This seems impossible, insurmountable. I  do it anyway, shuffling in on feet I still cannot feel. I cannot sleep for even a moment. “That happens sometimes after a c-section,” a nurse reassures me. I watch Margaret and Scott sleep, and I watch the mountains take shape out the window as the day comes. Margaret sleeps and nurses, sleeps and nurses, between us in the double hospital bed. Scott wakes up, and promptly goes out to get us breakfast. I request the biggest cup of coffee he can buy, eggs, toast, prosciutto.  I sit, I hold my baby, and I eat.

 

Rena, 10/26

“You are an amazing mother,” my grandmother, Rena says. “Your girls are just so lucky to have you.”

I look at the girls, sitting comatose on the couch watching television, more cheerios on the floor than in their mouths, while I hold the phone to my ear.

“Well, I begin, “it’s actually been kind of hard lately…” my voice trails off as I remember that it’s better not to tell her the hard things any more. I change approaches. “Thank you. I’m lucky to have them, too.” Rena continues: “I mean, is there anything you don’t do? Writing, cooking, and now working, too!” I survey the scene. I have not written anything in two months. Email alerts for work keep popping up on the open iPad, and I make a mental note to turn them off. I know the counter is under here, somewhere, beneath the outfit I brought up for Margaret, which she rejected because the dress wasn’t twirly enough. Beneath a few pieces of construction paper, haphazardly colored with a few strokes before they were abandoned for the tub of beads, balancing precariously on the edge of the counter. Beneath Julia’s “take home” folder, poetry binder, and a bag of potatoes from our CSA.

“I wish I could see you,” Rena tells me. I feel myself soften, feeling guilty for bristling at her compliments, guilty for waiting a week between phone calls this time.

“Me, too,” I reply. “I miss you.”


An Almost Tantrum

She is throwing things before we even walk through the door, still enraged that I told her we weren’t having Halloween candy before dinner. Before I prepare my acceptance speech for the “World’s Worst Mom” Award, let me say that she just had a mini kit-kat at the vet, and a free cookie at the grocery store, and dinner is just 40 minutes away, if I could figure out what to make now that I have realized the drumsticks I took out are still frozen. 

“I’m going outside.” She stomps to the back door, leaving a trail of sand from her sneakers. Seconds later, the door slides open again. “I want someone to play with me.” Given that it’s just the two of us at home, it’s pretty clear who that “someone” is supposed to be. “I can’t right now,” I tell her, hearing the edge in my voice. She pushes a stool over, and yells, “I just want someone to play!”  

“Damn it,” I say, louder than I should. “Margaret, I played outside with you all afternoon, and I need to figure out dinner.” I can feel myself getting angrier, and miraculously stop myself from offloading all of my stress onto this not-yet-four year old. I take a breath. We’re heading for a meltdown: the perfect storm of 4pm, which feels like 5pm because of daylight savings; my premenstrual grouchiness; my Election Day anxiety; my lingering frustration that my 5am wake up to work on my writing class was actually a 5am wake up with Margaret (see: daylight savings); my realization that I ordered postcard stamps instead of Forever stamps for work, which makes me remember several other work-related tasks I didn’t complete.

Margaret watches me, eyes wide. This is one of so many parenting situations when I realize that I have to be the grown up after all. She isn’t going to tell me, “Oh, hey, thanks so much for everything you do for me, Mom. You pushed me for an hour on the swing, and that was really wonderful. I totally get it; this isn’t a good time to play.” I force a smile, offer some Cheerios. 

“Sorry,” I tell her, as she slurps Cheerios into her mouth. Her strategy is to take as large a spoonful as possible, slurp all of the milk through her teeth, and then eat the now-soggy Cheerios on her spoon. “That’s okay,” she replies, Cheerios dribbling down her shirt. She returns my smile. Meltdown, on both of our parts, averted.

The Trump Twenty

In the days following Trump’s election in 2016, my eating habits, which had already been slipping, spiraled. Chocolate ice cream + red wine became an acceptable dinner, although if I think about it, it was worse than that: they became an appetizer, which I ate with the girls before Scott even got home, and THEN I ate my real dinner. When I think back to that time, I can now recognize that I was grieving: true, raw, grief. Grief about both Clinton’s loss and about Trump’s win, separately and together. And wow, did I emotionally eat.

Fast forward two years and twenty pounds, which I have jokingly referred to as the Trump Twenty. In the past two years, I’ve seemed to unlearn many of the healthy habits I have developed during my adult life as an active, athletic woman. Somewhere along the way, I also started to justify my weight gain as a strange sort of political protest. What began as some ice cream and wine in the wake of a national tragedy (does that sound dramatic? I so wish it were hyperbole…) somehow morphed into “This is my body now, and I don’t have to change it to please the patriarchy.” Except… guess what? These old, white men in power have no idea that I have gained twenty pounds. They’re still in power. Spoiler alert: weight gain is not a very effective political tool. And yes, I’m all for body positivity, and think that if I had felt strong and powerful at that size, that would have been a perfect place to be. But I didn’t. I felt miserable. My clothes didn’t fit, and I constantly obsessed about whether I was on or off the eating plan I was loosely (translation: barely) following. And last month, as Kavanaugh was confirmed, I decided that continuing to gain ten pounds per year is not a great option, given that the supreme court is a lifetime appointment.

While texting with one of my closest friends a few weeks ago, we lamented about Kavanaugh and discussed possible options, such as drinking a bottle of wine to cope. Alas, even in the wake of a massive headache, Kavanaugh was still confirmed. My friend mentioned that she was doing a weight loss / lifestyle app that she really liked. I decided to jump in, and two weeks later, I’m down several pounds, making far better choices, and starting to feel like myself again.

All of this has made me think a lot about whether, in our current political reality, it’s possible for me to lose weight merely for myself. Can I do it without caring whether people notice? Can I separate my own health goals from my desire to fit into a template? I suspect that I will continue to tease out the answers to these questions for the rest of my life. But, for now, it feels freeing to change my internal dialogue to from “I don’t have to weigh a certain weight to please the patriarchy” to “I’m not going to let politics define how I care for my body.”

Work/ School mornings

Coffee at 5:30; checking my phone; checking in with Scott for a few minutes before he leaves for work;  wondering if I should get myself ready or get girls’ stuff organized first;  weighing pros and cons of each approach, packing lunches for both girls and breakfast for Julia to eat at Before Care. Margaret waking up at some point, 6am if I’m lucky. Trying not to put on a TV show. Realizing I’m not going to be able to get ready if I don’t put on a TV show and turning it on after all. Making her a “plate of things” for breakfast, half of which she eats. Showering, clothes, makeup, realizing it’s already 7am and Julia is still downstairs. Taking a deep breath, waking her, remind her it’s an early morning today and that we need to leave pretty soon. Getting both girls dressed, listening to and empathizing with Julia’s disappointment that Margaret got to watch TV and she didn’t, brushing teeth, debating brushing hair, brushing hair. Feeding and giving pills to Kenai, making him go out, making him come back in. Discussing whether Julia has time to make artwork for her class guinea pig, making a plan to make artwork after school instead. Setting out supplies so they’re ready for her immediately after school. Socks and shoes, food from the fridge, bags packed, girls in the car. Pouring a travel mug of coffee, grabbing my shake, out the door on time. 

"So, how's your summer going?"

When people ask me how our summer is going, I catch myself, deer in the headlights, unsure of how to respond. There is the standard, "It's great, how about yours?" Or the less enthusiastic, "oh, pretty good," with a knowing glance. But the truth is, our summer has contained some intense highs (going to Story Land with my parents, Dana's visit to build the treehouse, lots of fun swims, tubing down the Yampa in Steamboat), and also some serious lows. Many words come to mind, and easy is not one of them.

Many of us have read this article about how we only have eighteen summers with our children, and so, we should slow down, savor, and enjoy. This is so great in theory, but what if, like me, you have a child who thrives on routine, and who is less than enamored, shall we say, with her 3.5 year old sister? I never wanted to be one of those moms who wishes summer away. Every summer and every school break, I have this idea that we will be unstructured, and it will be blissful. But...That doesn't work for us. The reality of "unstructured" for us, this summer, has meant fighting. So. much. fighting. Sometimes, I've counted how many seconds both girls have been awake before they are fighting. Many times, Julia's first utterance when she opens her eyes (if Margaret wakes her up in the morning), is to howl "noooo, Margaret!" The combination of Margaret wanting nothing more than to play with Julia, and Julia being infuriated the moment Margaret has an idea about their play, has been a constant source of stress for me. There have been physical fights that have left me speechless: punching, kicking, hair pulling. I have yelled more than I ever imagined I would yell. I have reread and reread "Siblings without Rivalry." 

The thing is, when I find myself longing for autumn, it's not because I can't wait to be away from Julia and Margaret while they're at school. In fact, it's the opposite: I'm looking forward to a set schedule because our family is better able to connect when we have structure. Julia, for sure, is happier and more even keeled when she is in school. Chatting with Julia over a bowl of cheerios while I sip my coffee, enjoying a walk home from school while Margaret zips down the hill on her strider... We may only have eighteen summers, but we have thousands of moments in between.

 

 

  ...and of course, just after I write this, we have this lovely evening eating popsicles and finding pictures in the clouds. “Margaret, look! That one looks like a mermaid palace!” Oh, summer.

 ...and of course, just after I write this, we have this lovely evening eating popsicles and finding pictures in the clouds. “Margaret, look! That one looks like a mermaid palace!” Oh, summer.

Stage Mom or Supporter?

I'm writing this as I wait until it's time to go watch Julia's end-of-camp performance of "Annie." She left the classroom on Monday, the first day of camp, disappointed because she had been cast as the Usherette (if, like I was, you're unsure of who that is, it's because she is in the show for about .2 seconds: long enough to tell Daddy Warbucks there are open seats at the movies, and that's it). As the little girls around us squealed about their roles as orphans, Julia looked around a little dejectedly.

I couldn't help thinking about my own childhood theatrical disappointments. When I was in fourth grade, our school began doing end-of-year plays. Instead of being cast as an Indian, like most of my friends were, in Peter Pan, I didn't get a part on the stage. In my role as the prompter, I memorized the entire script (wholly unnecessary, but I couldn't help myself) and sat backstage dreaming of being as talented as the sixth grade girl who played Wendy. In my short theater career, I went on to have a couple of leads and more ensemble parts. I knew Julia would have to learn the "every role is important and not everyone gets the lead and not everyone gets the part they want" lessons sooner or later, and at the same time, I wondered why, in a week-long camp, all of the six year old girls couldn't just be orphans, sing "It's a Hard Knock Life," and be done with it. 

"You know," I said tentatively, "you could ask your teachers if it's possible for you to be an orphan, too." Julia perked up. While I advised that it was entirely plausible that the teachers would tell her that her part was her part, I told her that it didn't hurt to ask. Julia drafted a note, but with some convincing from Scott and me, agreed to talk to her teacher in person. The next morning, while she squeezed my hand, Julia spoke confidently as she asked if she could be an orphan, too. As I stood, holding Julia's hand, I thought about the fine line between advocating for Julia and stepping in, being pushy. Was I teaching her to speak up for what's important to her, or was my encouragement tiptoeing over into "entitled" territory? 

While one of the teachers hemmed and hawed about how it depended on how many orphan costumes they had (and then backpedaled when Julia told her she would be happy to bring her own costume), the other said she thought it was a great idea to make room for one more orphan. Julia beamed, and happily skipped over to the other girls. She spent the rest of the week singing “Tomorrow,” teaching Margaret the lines for the other orphans while she pretended to be Annie, and studying her script.

From both teaching and parenting, I know the research about how, when girls speak up, they’re bossy and bratty, whereas when boys do the same, they’re confident. My hope that Julia's takeaway from this week will be that it's okay to ask for what she wants, and that if she advocates for herself, she might be surprised to see what can happen. 

Friday thoughts: body image, LTYM, Dear Sugars

As I continue to crawl out from back to back, opposite coast vacations, the most recent of which included Julia breaking a toe,  I've been unpacking and listening to podcasts. The most recent episode of my favorite podcast, Dear Sugars, was amazing company, and made me realize that I have not really written about the experience of performing in Listen To Your Mother, or about others' responses to my piece.

The podcast episode was about body image, and it felt deeply liberating to hear one of my favorite writers say that she didn't know if she would ever be fully "done" with this issue. I could relate so deeply to Cheryl Strayed's story about being aibrushed in her Vogue photo shoot about powerful women (OK, so I can't relate at all to being in Vogue, but I sure can relate to the feeling that my body isn't enough). I cried at the end when Cheryl Strayed talked about asking her daughter, who is twelve, if she likes her body, and her daughter saying, "yeah," as if there were no other possibility. And then Strayed asked if her daughter thought she, Cheryl, liked her own body, and her daughter said "of course." Strayed talks about how her heart felt full, because her daughter, at the beginning of adolescence, still feels positive about her body, and also a little bit broken, because her daughter wasn't quite right about Strayed's feelings about her own body. But, as she says, we try to do better with the next generation, and to pass on what we want to pass on, even if that feels like pretending.

I've thought so much about body image since I performed in LTYM. While I cried during my audition, shook during the first rehearsal, and sobbed to my mom as I practiced my piece the day of the show, I felt powerful and courageous as I walked onto the stage that night. While I'm the first to acknowledge that crying and power are not mutually exclusive, somehow, my jitters subsided, and I felt poised and remarkably tear-free.

I had conversations with strangers, after the show, who wanted to share their own experiences with being asked if they were pregnant. An eleven year old girl approached me and told me that my piece was her favorite of the evening. I went for a walk and out for coffee with an acquaintance who happened to be at the show, and who wanted to talk more with me. Interestingly, some women have felt enraged on my behalf, or critical of Boulder, or more specifically, critical of the school community at Julia's school. And while I admit that, last weekend at Story Land in NH, I was pleasantly surprised to see a range of bodies, all parenting their children, regardless of size, I think that the issues I explored, such as societal pressures to have a certain body, are universal. On the podcast, the guests shared that most women start to diet long before they're conscious of what that even means, and that negative body ideas often start before the age of ten. What I have experienced had roots far before I moved to Boulder, though it's hard to say how I might experience my body in a different demographic.

One of my favorite lines from Brene Brown's Braving the Wilderness is "The story I'm telling myself." I've been practicing with this line when I find myself in a negative place about my body. For instance: "The story I'm telling myself is that everyone at my gym is skinny and looks perfect in a bikini." "The story I'm telling myself is that if I lost 15 lbs, I would be happier." "The story I'm telling myself is that I shouldn't buy new clothes that really fit me, because I don't want to be this size and I might lose the weight." And then, I examine those stories. I take a closer look, hold them up to the light and find the cracks. I think, "What else could I focus my energy on, if I weren't thinking about my body?" This one gets me. How many hours have I spent thinking about how my life might be better with six pack abs? I have also been practicing separating exercise from eating, in terms of how I think about them. I'm exercising to be strong, to feel good, and not as penance for eating a muffin.

Like Cheryl Strayed, I have to say that there's a part of me that has trouble imagining a way forward that doesn't include preoccupation with my weight, or with my size. I know, though, that writing and talking about it are good places to begin.

Vacation

Last night, after a thirteen-hour travel day (car-ferry-car-shuttle-plane-train-car), we returned home from a week of vacation in the San Juan Islands. This was our first vacation as a family of four to somewhere entirely new, where we weren't visiting family, or going somewhere for an occasion, like a wedding. It was magical- impossibly sunny weather; the orcas; the possibility of orcas, which is almost as glorious as the real thing; tide pools and beaches; unscheduled days to fill with art activities (thank you, Melissa and Doug, for sponsoring our trip); movies for the girls while Scott and I read on the deck in the afternoons. It was amazing.

And... it was also a lot like our real life, in some not-so-amazing ways. May was crazy for us (judging from that YouTube NSync parody, “It’s gonna be May,” this is just how it is as an elementary school parent. Throw in two performances for me and a dance recital for Margaret, and there you have it), and I felt such a strong need to disconnect from routine and social media and just be with Scott, Julia and Margaret on our trip. In retrospect, I think I had this idea that if I just put down my phone and had no obligations, we would magically have some sort of conflict-free week. But along with our pre-packaged art activities and sticker books, we ultimately brought ourselves on this trip, and all of our dynamics; both the smooth and the jagged edges of ourselves. While the girls get along amazingly sometimes, they also compete and fight with an intensity I don't remember having with Garrett when I was a child. And there were moments (sigh, hours) while Scott and I mediated squabbles about who was going to do which coloring page, or responded to the statement "I don't WANT to go look for whales! I want to watch a movie!" when I found myself frustrated and stressed.

Julia is a voracious reader, and lately, we haven't been able to keep her in books. She used to be happy to reread the same chapter books over and over, and knows the name of every chapter in every Ramona book. Lately, however, she only wants to read new books, and one Sunday night a few weeks ago, Scott brought out his stack of “Calvin and Hobbes” books from his childhood to tide her over until we could get to the library the next day. We brought a few “Calvin and Hobbes” collections with us to San Juan Island, and during a particularly trying moment, Scott opened one up to a segment about family vacation. On an ill-fated camping trip, Calvin complains about everything: the bugs, the water temperature, the hard ground. Calvin's dad insists on having a wonderful time, despite his family, and his mom seems to vacillate between Calvin's perspective and her husband's. Scott and I have long had an inside joke about experiences that build character-- I had forgotten that the line came from "Calvin and Hobbes." I laughed out loud when I read this, oddly comforted by the universality of "expectations versus reality" of any vacation. Our girls certainly "built character" as we forced them to do terrible activities, like watch whales instead of television (but there was plenty of television, too), or visit a lighthouse, or go to happy hour on a dock in a harbor. 

The metaphor of parenting being a roller coaster feels especially fitting as I prepare to fly with the girls again this weekend-- this time to the east coast, where we will visit my parents for my mom's birthday, and go to Story Land, an amusement park in northern New Hampshire. One minute, Julia is complaining about how she thinks she had "enough outside time" for the day; the next, she's shrieking with delight right along with me as we watch a family of orcas from the rocks near our house. One moment, I'm lecturing the girls about how tired I am of listening to them fight about getting in the car, and then Julia cuts me off to say, "Margaret, when we get home, let's play Calico Critters in my room together!" Just as I'm preparing for the free fall of a fight, digging in, and steeling myself for more conflict, they're already back in the upswing, completely in the moment.

In so much of my writing about parenting, I notice the formula: I thought it was going to be like x, but instead it was like y, and then I realized that it has always been like both x and y all along. Our vacation contained both conflict and joy (sometimes both within seconds of one another). It contained tears and laughter. It was, imperfectly and wonderfully, perfect just the way it was. 

This is Just my Body

“So, do you know what you’re having?” the mom standing next to me asks. It’s the first week of September, and we are at the back-to- school carnival. We connected momentarily when we realized we were both moms of kindergartners. “Huh?” I reply dumbly.


“A boy or a girl.”

“Oh, I’m not pregnant… I have to go find my daughter,” I stammer, and make my getaway.

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Character Exercise

I have been writing and writing for the class I'm taking online, but have not shared any of it! I'm halfway through, and am thinking about turning some of what I've started into longer pieces, so I have not shared it here, but here's a fun exercise on character that really challenged me.

Exercise #4:
This exercise is more generative, and perhaps more for fiction, and definitely for a writer who is just sort of starting to create a narrative and is struggling to find a character to inhabit that story or essay. Let’s start this simply.  We are going to essentialize a character in this exercise. Essentializing a character simply means “distilling a character’s essence from any abstract construction or classification of that character—breaking down a character to discover who they truly are, at their core.”

To do this, let’s give a character two choices in their fictional lives, and then let’s help that character make that choice, only to discover two more choices. Let’s keep giving our character two new choices for every choice they make, and let’s get a sense of who we are looking at, working with, living with, studying and learning from. Let’s make great, surprising fiction that comes from the choices and decisions our characters create with us as writers.

It’s just a simple game. It’s just giving your character two options, letting them choose one, and then giving them two more to choose, and then following them as you begin watching and intuiting/feeling/guessing after what they will or would do in a given set of choices/circumstances. If you pursue this for 21 steps (which is your exercise!) you will begin to see who you are working with, who this person is and how they behave or may well behave in their fiction. You will begin to know the essence or core of your character.

So, for this exercise, please name a character, give them two options (go to the grocery store or go to play golf), and then see what happens next. Do this for 21 steps. Have fun!

And here's my attempt:

  1. Lucy will either go for a run, or she will not.

  2. If she does not go for a run, she will do a quick clean of the house to get ready for friends to come over that night, while worrying about the calories she will not burn before the dinner party, or she will check the fridge to make sure she has all of her ingredients for the meal.

  3. If she checks the fridge to make sure she has all of the ingredients, she will either have what she needs, or she will discover she is missing fresh parmesan.

  4. If she discovers she’s missing fresh parmesan, she will either go to the grocery store herself, or she will text her husband and ask him to pick it up on his way home.

  5. If she texts her husband, he will either reply or he will not.

  6. If he does reply, he will say “yes, no problem,” or he will say, “I won’t be home until the guests are already there, and don’t you need to start dinner before then?”
  7. If he says the latter, Lucy will either text back right away, or she will wait a few minutes, so that she isn’t so irritated when she replies.
  8. If she texts back right away, she will either say “OK, let me know when you’re on your way,” or she will say “I thought you were planning to leave early because of the party.”
  9. If she texts “I thought you were planning to leave early because of the party,” she will immediately second guess herself, or she will feel liberated and proud of herself for saying what’s on her mind.
  10. If she second guesses herself, she will either try to distract herself with that cleaning, or she will text again immediately, apologizing and letting him know she’ll get the cheese herself.
  11. If Lucy texts again, she will then immediately lace up her sneakers to go to the grocery store, or she will watch her phone to see if he replies.
  12. If she goes to the grocery store, she will either run into a friend in the Starbucks line, or she will skip coffee and go right for what she needs.
  13. If she opts for coffee, she will either ask the friend to join for dinner, too, or she will decide one couple is enough and that it might be awkward to add another person.
  14. If she doesn’t ask the friend to join, she will quickly suggest going to yoga together the following day,, or she will ask her a lot of questions about her job.
  15. If she asks her friend questions about her job, Lucy will either listen fully to the answers, or she will realize that she needs to get home and cook.
  16. If she realizes she needs to get home, she will politely excuse herself, saying “I’d love to hear more about this, but i need to get going,” or she will look at her phone.
  17. If she looks at her phone, her friend will get the message, and it will either feel awkward between them, or it will feel okay.
  18. If it feels awkward, Lucy will ruminate on it on her way home, or she will be distracted because her husband hasn’t replied to her text.

Week 1: Lighthouse Writers Workshop Class

This week, I started an eight-week online writing class through Lighthouse Writers Workshop (link). Recently, I’ve found snippets of stories forming in my mind as I go about my days, and I’ve wondered if it might be time to think about writing some fiction, which I have not done since I took Intro to Creative Writing during my freshman year in college. I’ve also been wanting to expand a bit in terms of style in my nonfiction pieces, so I’m taking a Prose class that’s half fiction, half nonfiction. 

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The Story of Tonight: Two Musicals

The energy in the room was palpable as we took our seats: people snapped selfies with the stage in the background, teenagers stared wide-eyed, and when the lights went down, everyone cheered. When the lead actor sang, "My name is Alexander Hamilton,” it felt more like Red Rocks than the Buell Theater. And with that, we were off, collectively captivated for the nearly three hour show.

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When I smell oranges...

...I am a little girl, eating breakfast at my grandparents' house after spending the night. My grandfather, Jim, asks, "do you want an orange, or orange juice?" and when I say "both," a sunny yellow glass of juice appears above my plate, which has cheery sections of orange, cut with the skin still on, beside his trademark sausage and cheese biscuits. He tells me about the health benefits of eating the white part (is it called the pith?) and i listen politely, and hide the sinewy strings in my napkin, crumbled in my lap.

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A New Phase of Parenting

Yesterday was my first day on skis since February 4, and it was glorious. No wind (rare at Eldora), no traffic, and plenty of sunshine. Julia and I did a couple of runs with Scott and Margaret, and then went up to the top of the mountain for a couple of runs. I was thrilled to have a bit of one-on-one time with Julia. Lately, the scale has been tipping heavily towards "manager/ organizer/ drill sergeant mom" and not as heavily towards "fun, relaxed, agenda-free mom," and even though I spend hours per day with my girls, sometimes I get to the end of the day and I think, "Oh. I miss them." We spent one of the rides up the lift planning Julia's birthday party (in August. This kid is a planner.), and played some low-key Red Light, Green Light while we skied, but mostly, we just hung out quietly together. 

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Thoughts from the Eldora parking lot

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in the car in the Eldora parking lot while Scott skis with the girls. I’m 3.5 weeks out from a torn quad muscle (I don’t know how I did it- probably running. I guess my body just isn’t meant for anything faster than a 12 minute mile. My mom says I should make up a story about what happened, so let’s pretend I tore it running up Bear Peak and setting a PR, and not on the Bobolink Trail doing alternating intervals of attempting 10 minute miles and walking). So, I’m support crew today—helped Scott get the girls dressed, carried some skis to the bottom of the lift, took some videos of them on the magic carpet, and now am sitting in the sunshine with tea and the computer. It could be worse.

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Listen to Your Mother 2018

Somehow, in spite of my love of writing, it's been nearly a year and a half since my last post. I have struggled with making myself vulnerable since Trump's election; along with much of the nation, I've found myself in survival mode, alternately reading the news and shielding myself from it. While it wasn't a conscious choice to stop writing after the election, I have found that the expansiveness and openness that comes with writing about my own experiences have felt out of reach over the past year. National politics, combined with some personal struggles (more about this in a bit!) have made me hesitant to write.

This winter, however, I've resolved to open myself up a bit again. I prepared a piece and auditioned for a local production of Listen to Your Mother, which celebrates and honors motherhood in all of its complexities. I'm excited to share that I was chosen as one of ten women who will perform in May. Here is a link to buy tickets if you're local, and to read more about the show if you're not. I've been asked not to share any details about my piece, but I can't wait (and am also terrified!) to share it with you in a few months. 
 

http://listentoyourmothershow.com/boulder/

Poetry and Politics

Two Sundays ago, I took my anxious self for a hike. It was two days before the election, and although I felt confident that Hillary Clinton would win, my nerves were on high alert. I took Kenai into the foothills behind our home, climbing higher and higher and trying to convince myself that I was hiking out my stress. In truth, I was just feeling stressed in a different place, but hey, it was something. Then, when I reached the top, I looked out over Boulder and a few of the lines from one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, "Wild Geese," came to mind. "You do not have to be good...you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves...meanwhile, the world goes on..." I could only remember pieces of the poem, but I repeated them to myself over and over again, like a mantra, as I made my way back down. When I got to my car, I pulled up the poem and read it in its entirety. Teary, I had the sense that everything was going to be okay.

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Smiling, Happy Voice

Yesterday afternoon, the girls sat at the counter eating lunch. I put away a couple of dishes, threw together my own food, and chatted with them, like I do during most mealtimes. While we were talking, Julia said, "Mom? Do you think you can use the voice like you used to use?" 

"What voice is that, Jules?" I stopped what I was doing. I looked at her.

"Your smiling, happy voice," she said. Something inside of me sunk.

"Oh," I said, keeping my voice as light as possible. "What voice have I been using that you don't like?" Julia scowled. "A voice like this," she said. "Kind of mad."

I felt many emotions at that moment. I felt both the recognition and awe that I have felt at Julia's astute observations, which she has been making since long before she could talk. This kid has known me, read me, since the moment she was born. I felt grateful that she felt safe to share this with me, like it was no big deal-- just some personal development on a Wednesday afternoon, like when I tell her that it's good manners to keep her underwear covered in public. But mostly, I felt ashamed that sadness and anger are the emotions I have been projecting to her.

This summer has been a glorious respite from what has felt like a long, challenging year and a half. I have written before about the challenges of having two children-- challenges that have leveled me in ways I didn't expect. Summer, though, has shown me glimpses of what I imagine life with two daughters will be like: hysterical laughter as they spin in circles together, listening to "So Long, Farewell" from "The Sound of Music" on repeat... swimming at the pool, Margaret throwing a diving stick 2 inches for Julia and clapping when Julia retrieves it...  Weekends in the mountains as a family of four, with moments when Scott and I catch one another's eye as a recognition of "yup, we're going to make it." There has certainly been conflict, but there has also been joy. And I have missed joy.

Julia's observation yesterday, though, reminded me that although I may feel joy, some of the difficulties from the last year and a half have left an imprint. Since having Margaret, I've noticed myself hurrying often, and therefore, hurrying Julia. Sometimes we are in a hurry, and that's life, but other times, I will catch myself-- does it matter if we leave for the pool in 4 minutes, or 4 seconds? Of course not. And my patience has suffered; the doctor running late, when I'm there for a quick check up with both girls, can send me into a tail spin. I shook with anger when the flight attendant would not let me board with both girls during priority boarding time on a recent flight. In short, I've become more tightly wound. Before kids, and especially before two kids, I prided myself on being calm and collected in challenging situations. I miss that version of myself, and it seems that Julia misses her, too.

In addition to feeling harried, I have definitely felt the effects of the current political climate (read: Donald Trump) and the current news (read: Orlando shootings, shooting black people in the street, shooting police officers.). I have felt simultaneously overstimulated and overloaded form the stories, and obsessed by reading more and more. I feel genuine fear about Trump, and about the world my girls are inheriting right now. I know that this media saturation has contributed to the attitude my astute Julia has sensed.

For the rest of yesterday, I smiled. And today, even though I have not slept well in two nights, and even though our house looks like a tornado, followed perhaps by a tsunami, has struck, I have smiled. Because, as Julia so innocently pointed out yesterday afternoon, perhaps a change can start with a simple choice.