Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: The Writing Life

The Big Summer Project: A YouTube Channel (and some baby pictures… and a baby on a motorcycle)

For six weeks in the summer, we continue to send the kids to daycare and I finally have time to sink my teeth into a big, creative project.

In 2014, that project was writing my first book.

In 2015, it was publishing my first book.

2016 was a bit weird. It was mostly riding the roller-coaster of early pregnancy, dabbling in writing a short young adult novel, and (admittedly) watching a lot of Netflix.

This year, the big creative project is a new YouTube Channel, featuring instructional cooking videos.

Not recipes. Think techniques.

For years, I’ve watched my husband make simple, delicious, and healthy meals. And he can do it without covering everything in butter, cheese, and ranch dressing. He cooks a large meal on Sunday night. It’s usually a huge pot of rice, some vegetables, and grilled, baked, or roasted meat. Then, he portions it out into containers that we take to work.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heated up a meal that he makes and my co-workers have been like, “Mmm… What’s that?”

This guy is talented. The food is delicious. And he understands food chemistry and can give the best advice about how to prepare food. (And did I mention that another one of his hobbies is photography?)

But he’s not great at the storytelling aspect (although, I think he’ll learn easily).

Oh. And he detests social media.

So that’s where I come in. (And did I mention that I’ve got experience with video editing?)

I remember one night when we had a group of Doug’s friends over at our apartment for a dinner party, probably six or seven years ago, and someone said, “Doug should have his own YouTube channel!”

Our response was mostly, “Ha ha. Someday, maybe.”

“No seriously. He should have a channel.”

“Yeah, okay. Not right now.”

But have you seen YouTube lately? It’s integrated with Google now. It’s getting incredibly easy to get started.

I don’t think we can put it off anymore.

So that’s what I’m working on this summer. I have never done something like this before.

But hey. That’s never stopped me before.

Also on the summer dockett:

  1. I’m hoping to release Henry’s birth story as a Kindle single, probably for $0.99 to help me recoup some of the time spent on writing it. It’s a powerful story, but nothing book-length. Stay tuned for more on this.
  2. I also have three academic publications that are in the works right now. All of them are related to an intercultural communication program that I helped design and facilitate with our university’s Department of Teacher Education. One will be published on University of Dayton’s eCommons. One will be in the TESOL Intercultural Communication Interest Section Newsletter. And the last one will (hopefully!) be with the on-line, peer-reviewed journal, Dialogues: An Interdisciplinary Journal of English Language Teaching and Research. 
  3. I seriously need to go through some boxes of old photographs and letters that my mom gave me two years ago. I’ve been dubbed the designated family chronicler, so I’ve got to make some decisions about what stays and what goes. I know the boxes are sticking in my husband’s craw.

And hey, Henry is now officially in the sweet spot of babyhood: post-newborn and pre-mobile.

June 2017 3

June 2017 4

Baptism 1

June 2017: Baptism (Doesn’t look too thrilled)

June 2017 1

 

June 2017 2

It was Splash Friday at daycare. Thus. the swimsuit.

And how about a baby on a motorcycle?

 

So hang on to your Harleys.

It’s going to be a busy summer.

 

Week 34: When My Post Went Viral

Well, that was crazy.

Last week on this blog, I published the letter that I wrote to Governor John Kasich about the Heartbeat Bill, which would ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Many of my blog posts generate about 30-50 views. My visitors are usually directly connected with me on Facebook personally or through my Becoming Mother Facebook group. These posts are not widely shared on Facebook. That’s normal.

When I write a post that catches a lot of attention, a handful of people share it on Facebook, and I’ll start getting some traffic from people who don’t normally visit my blog. A blog post like this might reach 200 views.

When I really strike a nerve, around 20-30 people share the post on Facebook and the post might reach around 500 views.

I was expecting my letter about the Heartbeat Bill to receive about the same amount of traffic that my most heavily trafficked posts have received. About 500 views.

I posted it on Thursday, December 8th, around noon. By the end of the night, it had received 272 views.

Awesome, I thought. It’s doing well.

On Friday, as I was sitting at my desk, I decided to check the post’s traffic after I finished my 8:00 a.m. class.

Your stats are booming! WordPress announced to me. Over 100 views in the past hour!

Say what?

By 10:00 a.m., that post had already received 500 views for the day.

Over the rest of the day, I kept watching the numbers climb. And climb.

600. 700. 800.

When it reached 1,000 views, I admit, I started feeling a bit of anxiety, simply because it was a pretty vulnerable letter and it was clearly getting a lot of exposure. But all the feedback had been rather positive. (With the exception of one ridiculous on-line troll who went by the name of “Poopchest.”)

So by the end of Friday, the post had received 1,309 views on that day. I was thinking, Wow, that was crazy. But things will probably calm down tomorrow.

Nope. Saturday was even crazier. It ended up receiving 1,938 views.

It wasn’t until Sunday that the visits started to slow. 649 views on Sunday.

181 views on Monday.

By Tuesday, it had dropped to a typical 32 views.

In total, my letter to the governor had about 4,400 views.

***

I’m a Facebook user, but I’m not so adept at using it that I know all the features that are available.

But my sister does.

She showed me how to search for my post and find out how many times it had been shared by individuals.

It has been shared individually about 700 times.

Here are some of the comments that people have made about the post.

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These are people that I don’t know in real life, who have never met me, and who presumably agree with my reasons for my stance on this issue so much that they would share my post with the people that they know.

I’m truly blown away by this.

It tells me that there are so many women who understand how dangerous a law like this can be to women.

***

 

In March 2016, the Pew Research Center (non-partisan and non-advocacy group) compiled data from a poll about how a cross-section of Americans feels about the legality of abortion.

legal

So who wants this law?

The advocacy group, Faith2Action sure does.

They say “all glory goes to God of the Impossible, praise to the name of Jesus” (Although I doubt Jesus would celebrate more women and children being driven into poverty.)

Faith2Action, trust me when I say, I understand where your celebration comes from. You have equated the outlawing of abortion with “saving innocent lives.”

But you have a short-sighted, simplistic view. In my experience, very few issues can ever be boiled down so simply.

Outlawing abortion doesn’t stop women from having one.

Outlawing it just forces it underground. It makes abortion unsafe. It kills women.

In every time and every place on this earth, where abortion has been illegal, women have still done it. Not because they are heartless, selfish sluts. But because, for many, many reasons, they cannot take care of a child.

***

If we want democracy to work, it can’t just be one side gaining power and forcing their agenda on the whole country.

And we need to learn how to talk to each other.

Pro-lifers cannot just call pro-choicers “murderers” and “selfish sluts.”

Pro-choicers cannot just call pro-lifers “delusional religious fanatics” and “misogynists.”

That kind of language gets us nowhere.

As citizens, we need more dialogue. We need to seek to understand each other and to practice compassion.

Week 23: Practicing Generosity

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Last week, I wrote about practicing gratitude.

And if you’re truly practicing gratitude, generosity is sure to follow.

In the whole first year of my book’s publication, I sold about 150 copies.

Last week, I gave away 309 copies.

***

Let me explain.

Last year, I learned the Number # 1 Lesson of baby fairs and expos.

Everyone is coming for FREE stuff.

To try to convince someone to buy something at these events is almost impossible.

People were so confused when they would walk up to my table, their eyes searching for what they were going to walk away with. Hmmm… papers with words on them… Some books on book stands… Their fingers would slowly trace the tablecloth, their brains registering the fact that…

I really had nothing.

What I had were fliers, cards, and pamphlets with information on something that I wanted them to buy.

Ha.

All the other vendors had enormous bowls of candy (regardless of the season) or little goodie bags filled with free magnets, pens, and pamphlets. The smart ones also had a clipboard to collect email addresses for “a chance to win this diaper bag” or basket of baby books, or whatever.

Smart.

So this year, my approach at this past weekend’s baby fair was quite different.

I gave away my book. For free.

Kindle Direct Publishing allows me to run a free book promotion every three months. The dates of the most recent period coincided perfectly with a local hospital’s community baby fair. So I scheduled my promotion to run for three days, from Saturday, September 24th to Monday, September 26th.

I decided that I would give out half-sheets of paper with directions about how to get their free Kindle copy of my book. At the bottom of that half-sheet of paper, I politely asked for their Amazon review if they enjoyed the book. I also invited them to follow my blog by email.

Then, I told them to enjoy the book.

Their eyes lit up, their eyebrows arched.

“Wow. Thanks!”

“Awesome!”

“I’ll get it tonight!”

***

I didn’t advertise the free book promotion at all until Sunday, September 25th. I thought there might be a few people who would come across my book and download it on September 24th, but my main reason for beginning on this day was to have a buffer period for things to go wrong (i.e., Hey, why isn’t my promotion showing up on Amazon???) before the actual date when I need the promotion to be working.

So imagine my surprise when I checked on Sunday morning to see how many free Kindle books had already been downloaded.

97.

97 Kindle books.

I wasn’t sure I was reading the graph right. I read it and reread it. I put my finger on my laptop screen and touched the line.

kdp

Holy shit.

Who were these people? Was there some special link that Kindle readers follow to immediately download new free Kindle books?

Whatever the reason, I felt incredibly grateful.

No, I’m not making any money. In fact, I’m still about $1500 in the hole for my accrued publishing and marketing costs.

But, hey.

By the end of this promotion, I had reached 309 new potential readers. Some of them will actually read the book. Some of them will recommend it to others. And some of them might even buy a copy for a friend.

Generosity makes the world go round.

Maybe giving away all of these books will lead to this book’s next big break.

Maybe it won’t.

But I feel certain that some new mom out there will end up with this book in her hands and feel comforted by its message.

And that makes the whole endeavor worth it.

Week 18: Already?

I’ve found myself thinking this a lot lately.

I’m already 18 weeks pregnant?

I already can’t sleep on my back anymore?

It’s already time to find a doula?

I’ve already outgrown my bras?

I already have this bump? 

I’m already 150 pounds? 155 pounds? 159 pounds? 

The time from Weeks 5 to Weeks 11 was agonizingly slow, prolonged by my worries of miscarriage and weeks of debilitating waves of nausea. I could not get through the weeks fast enough.

Come on Week 7… Hurry up Week 8.

But the weeks are flying by now.

The baby is moving.

I felt its first tiny kick in Week 15 as my husband and I watched part of the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games. I felt a lot of “stuff” before then, but that moment was the first clearly movement that couldn’t be mistaken as anything besides a person kicking me.

Life is moving, too.

My daughter is now capable of having conversations with me. In the last week, she prefaces every sentence–a question, a statement, a command, whatever–with “How about…”

  • “How about I have a marshmallow?”
  • “How about where’s the sun?”
  • “How about you hold me in the rocking chair?”
  • “How about we do a puzzle, Mommy?”
  • “How about I already take my diaper off.”
  • “How about I like preschool.”
  • “How about I don’t need to go potty!”

And the world is moving.

I woke up on Monday and noticed that our downstairs windows were not covered in condensation. It’s a welcome sign that the humid days of August are coming to an end and the early days of autumn are on the horizon.

Next to our house, a patch of land owned by the local parks department has drastically transformed in the last four months, right along with this pregnancy. After we talked with the parks Operations Manager last year, we agreed to let the land turn into a prairie rather than having the parks department mow it throughout the summer.

So the grass grew tall and brown.

Then, it died.

The crab grass took root and grew.

Now, patches of wildflowers spring forth.

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Amidst the chaos of weeds and grass.

Against the cacophony buzzing, whirring insects.

Without intervention.

Beautiful and whole.

The wildflowers grew.

 

Self-Publishing Costs and Benefits

scales

I don’t know how many copies of Becoming Mother I truly expected to sell on its release date.

Maybe 20? That could as least cover some of the costs that I’ve shelled out of the last few months. Yeah, 20 seems reasonable. Okay, maybe 15.

When I checked that evening around 10:00 p.m., I braced myself.

One.

One copy.

Really?

***

Success in publishing can be measured in a lot of ways.

Before I published this book, I braced myself for how the whole publication process might affect my own feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Anyone who knows me knows that it’s easy for me to take criticism too close to heart. I have to mentally prepare myself for any heartless comments that may come my way.

I knew that by taking on the challenge of self-publishing, I was putting the responsibility for book promotion and sales entirely into my own hands.

I’m inviting you behind the curtain today, to show what self-publishing has been like in this first year post-publication. The nuts and bolts. The costs and benefits. The frustrations and joys.

Here we go.

Summary of Expenses

  • Cover design: $200
  • ISBNs: $300
  • NetGalley listing: $400
  • Booth fees for selling events: $400
  • Wholesale copies of book: $516
  • Facebook ads: $130
  • Book award contests: $240
  • IBPY Catalogue listing: $230
  • Misc: $285

Books sold, August 2015-August 2016:

  • Printed (through Amazon): 70
  • Printed (in-person sales): 37
  • Kindle: 39
  • KENFP earnings (by Kindle pages read): 3,107 pages
  • Total copies sold: 146

Earnings: approximately $900

Book reviews published:

  • Burrito Buzz, MothersAlwaysWrite, Project: Women
  • Amazon reviews in August 2016: 15 different buyers

Countries where my book has been sold:

  • United States, Great Britain, Japan, Australia

Blog Stats

  • Blog followers in August 2015: 45 followers
  • Blog followers in August 2016: 421 followers
  • Total blog views: 11,407
  • Total blog visitors: 6,814

Most visited posts/pages:

Other publications that have helped to promote my writing:

  • Kiwi Magazine
  • MotherAlwaysWrite
  • Project: Women
  • Imperfect Life
  • Fearless Formula Feeder

 

A lot of people could scoff at me for choosing the “easy way” to publication. I would scoff right back at them and say, “Easy? Are you kidding me?”

The only “easy” quality about it is that I didn’t have to spend the time flirting around to find an agent who might be interested enough in my work to get it in the hands of an editor at a publishing house, who might actually want to take the risk of publishing my work, who might not completely change my vision. In that sense, I was able to spend more time in honing the quality of my work and deciding exactly how I wanted to market the book.

Self-publishing wasn’t the easiest way to publish. But it did help me accomplish a few goals:

  • I was able to publish this work while I am still a mother of a young child. This helps me identify with my readers.
  • I had total control over my content, organization, and book layout.
  • I had immediate access to my sales records–so I could know when certain promotions were working or not working.
  • I retained my rights over my creative work.
  • Interested readers could easily access and purchase my book through Amazon.
  • I was able to market this book however I saw fit.

Some of the things that I did to market this book flopped. Some things worked well. Here’s what I’ve learned. Take it or leave it.

  • Do not do a Goodreads giveaway with the expectation that the winners will actually review your book. They just don’t. If you want to do a Goodreads giveaway, just do it out of the goodness of your heart and be thankful that someone who is not part of your regular social circles may read your book.
  • Facebook ads didn’t really produce many sales. Maybe they get your book cover in front of eyes and lead to a few clicks, but it never made a huge difference in sales for me. This was mostly wasted money, I thought.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for your book.
  • Sometimes your buyer isn’t your reader…
  • Selling events are great… for figuring out how to market your book. They might not be great for actually selling that many books.

 

Instead, do these things:

1.) Above all: KEEP WRITING.

If you’re really a writer, this will not be hard at all. You love to do it anyway. You love it even though it doesn’t pay the bills. You love it even though you are rejected over and over and over again. You. Just. Love it.

2. ) Promote your most trafficked blog posts through Facebook promotions. (Hint: Being vulnerable often leads to highly trafficked blog posts. This means that you write about the tough stuff.)

3.) Blog. Regularly. But…

… save some stellar work to submit to other literary magazines or websites who are looking for original, unpublished work.

Find other places to submit your writing and submit often. Take the rejection. Take all of it because there will be a lot. Swallow your pride and keep going. You’re in this for the long haul.

  • Follow other people’s blogs.
  • Identify tags for posts that appeal to your target audience.

(For me, this meant following tags like pregnancy, motherhood, writing, baby, and parenting.)

  • Like and comment on other people’s posts.
  • Respond to every comment on your blog.

4.) Embrace the Power of Social Media

Disclaimer**: I was born in 1981, the very beginning of the Millenial Generation, and God, it shows. I graduated college before the advent of Facebook and smartphones, so I have a weird mix of social media literacy and social media repulsion. And yet… I cannot deny that it has helped me reach readers that I otherwise would never have reached.

Blogging has helped me connect with readers in Australia. Facebook has helped me promote my book to Facebook friends and friends of those friends.

I have not walked through the dark, dark threshold of Twitter yet. I fear I might never return. I have too doggone much to keep track of, so I limit myself to Facebook and blogging.

  • Establish an on-line presence through social media.
  • Create a Facebook page for your book and regularly update it with new blog posts, book reviews, book progress, and other related readings that you find noteworthy.
  • Like other Facebook pages for websites and books that are related to your topic.
  • Start interacting with other bloggers whose work you admire. Comment on their posts. Follow their blogs. Like their Facebook page. Then, see if they are open to receiving a free copy of your book and reviewing it. Graciously accept whatever review they create, be it positive or negative.
  • Attend writer’s conferences and workshops. Network. Learn about their writing, their blogs, and their books. Help them out and they’ll help you out. Oh, and while you’re there, learn about writing.

Be honest. Be authentic. Be you. No one wants a martyr. No one wants a superhero. People want authenticity. They want to see you down in the mud where they are–but they also want to see you climb out of it and shine.

Shine on, fellow writers.

Shine on.

Writing the Formulaic Novel: Yes, Please

In a previous post, I wrote that I had a great concept for a new novel while I was writing my last book, Becoming Mother. Of course, I didn’t have the time to pursue it while I was finishing my last book, but I scribbled out some pages in hopes of not letting the idea get too far from me.

Three weeks ago, I went on summer vacation from teaching. This is my time to write. Pretty much my only, luxurious, uninterrupted time to dive into a creative project.

I wanted to make the most of it.

Even with all uninterrupted time, writing did not come easy this time. Every time I would sit to put my characters in a scene, I would get blocked. What would he say? How would she act? What happens next?

And then the dreaded, What’s this story really about again?

Argh. So frustrating.

How could I write this story if I couldn’t even get my mind around it?

I ignored it and plowed ahead, letting the scenes take me where they wanted.

Boy, did I get lost.

I kind of started developing an understanding of the characters that I was writing about, but I still felt like I didn’t really know where the story was going. But worse, I didn’t feel like I could see into the soul of these people.

***

Last Thursday, totally in a funk, I closed the “Working_Draft_3” document that I was hammering away at. Then, I pulled this book off my shelf.

Marshall Plan

I bought this book several years ago when I was looking for ways to improve my already-written first novel.

I’ll be honest about my first impression: I scoffed at it.

This guy was presenting a “formula” for writing a great novel. It gave you guidelines for how many sections to have in the beginning, middle, and end, depending on the final word count. It pretty much laid out a lock-step guide for crafting a novel.

Great art is not formulaic, I’m sure I thought. And I’m an artist.

Yeah, but I was also a novice. I didn’t really know the first thing about crafting engaging and well-paced scenes inside narrative arcs.

I wanted to break the rules before I even knew them.

And that’s how I ended up with 400 single-spaced pages of plot-gone-wrong.

And a beast of a novel that was far to wily for me to tame after the fact.

***

When I revisited this book last Thursday, I thought, Yes! This is exactly what I need.

I need structure–badly.

My idea is great. But this book helped me work through some of the biggest challenges in creating an engaging and believable plot and characters.

I used to think (secretly) that I was too good to write a formulaic novel.

Nope. I’m not.

I’m not above it at all.

I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m ready to learn it.

And in that spirit, I’ve plotted out all 48 sections of this new novel, complete with three formulaic surprises and worsening failures for the lead character from start to finish. I also spent time creating characters notes so that I could understand my character’s inner struggles and conflicts.

Now, when I sit down to work on a scene, all I have to do is look at my notes on the current section that I’m writing, review my character notes, and jump into it. I realize that I don’t have to have this all finished before I return to teaching–because I can just look back at my notes and remember where I’m going.

I’m on my way to my SFD–my shitty, first draft.

Pride, swallowed.

Gorillas and Refugees

Now that social media has started to calm down on the great debate of whether a human being or a gorilla is more valuable and of whether your child entering a zoo enclosure means you’re a negligent parent, maybe we can step back and get some perspective on what we pay attention to on social media. All week long, social media users have been sharing post after post about the killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo.

It’s the mother’s fault. Get control of your child! 

Or Did they really have to kill Harambe?

Or Leave the mother alone! You can’t always be in control of them! 

Fine. Everyone feel better now?

Good.

While we’ve been distracted by the death of an endangered gorilla and our unspoken love of shaming other parents, 880 migrants died last week as they tried to cross the Mediterranean on smuggler’s ships.

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Photo credit: CNN.com

2,500 people have died in this manner since the beginning of the year.

***

It doesn’t bother me that people feel the need to talk about the Harambe story.

I get it.

I think most Americans can more easily identify with this story, and thus feel like they have something to say about it. Most of us can imagine being the parent that takes our child to the zoo and then being forced to watch your child being handled by a 400-pound gorilla. Some of us can even find the compassion in our hearts to mourn the death of an endangered gorilla, who spent his life under the constant parading gaze of humans.

Our imaginations can take us this far.

But our imagination stumbles when it comes to the refugee crisis.

We probably don’t know any refugees. In fact, given how long the U.S. refugee settlement process takes, it will probably be years before we have any refugees living in our communities. In the meantime, this whole refugee crisis thing seems like some horrific story happening in some other world.

Quite simply, there’s no fertile soil in our hearts for these seeds of compassion to grow.

It’s hard to imagine being forced out of our homes because our city is now rubble.

aleppo

Aleppo, Syria: FoxNews.com

It’s hard to imagine walking six hundred miles with our children.

It’s hard to imagine strapping life vests to our loved ones, telling them It’s going to be okay.

life vests.jpg

Photo credit: CNN.com

It’s hard to imagine sleeping in the hallway of a train, like this.

railroad cars.jpg

But that, my friends, is exactly what we need to do.

Imagine.

Practice compassion.

And direct our attention toward something more worthy of our energy and angst.

drowned_child

5/31/2016

Bullying

So my daughter is in love with the Berenstain Bears right now. And I happen to love that. Each story tackles a challenge that kids face and usually offers sound advice and moral lessons. Don’t eat too much junk food! Do chores around the house! Learn to compromise with friends! Don’t brag about yourself all the time! Take turns! Clean up after yourself!

I mean, really, who doesn’t love these books?

And then I read how the Berenstain Bears tackled the bully issue.

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So in this episode, Sister Bear is the one that gets beaten up by a bully. (Nice twist, huh?) Brother is so pissed off about it that he marches down to the playground to knock this kid’s lights out–only to find out that the bully is a girl. Then, he decides that he can’t punch a girl. Why?

“Because then he’d be a bully, too.”

So, the first lesson is that if boys hit girls, they’re bullies.

… Which begs the question: What are boys if they hit other boys? Just boys? The old “boys will be boys” line?

So Brother stalks away, his masculinity deflated, disappointed and frustrated that he can’t hit a girl.

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I’ll summarize the rest of the story: Brother Bear then goes to the school’s gym teacher, who then gives him boxing gloves (not kidding). Then, Brother Bear goes back home and teaches Sister Bear self-defense in the basement of the Bear Tree House. All of this happens unbeknownst to Mama and Papa Bear, whose advice isn’t much better.

“Just avoid the bully as much as possible,” they say.

However, when Sister Bear is inevitably confronted by the bully on the school playground, she indeed punches the bully right in the face (not kidding).

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Both Bears are sent to the principal’s office. The bully cries as they wait to be disciplined, and Sister has a revelation that this kid is probably hit by her parents.

Resolution: Sister gets off with a warning. The bully gets a week of no recess–and they don’t tell her parents.

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***

Two weeks ago, I heard my husband tell our daughter, “If he pushes you, I want you to say ‘Don’t push me!”

It seemed weird to be having this talk with a 2 1/2 year-old child. But I guess this is when these conversations need to start?

I’m the first to admit that I don’t have clear advice or strategies to share with my daughter about how to deal with bullying. Is it good advice to tell her to push back?

One thing I do know: I cringe at the thought of telling her to just avoid a bully.

So what options remain? Should I tell her to tell the teacher? But then, I also want her to know that she has agency to solve her own problems.

But then, she’s two.

Bargh…

What do/did you tell your two-year-old?

I Took a Nap Today

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I don’t think I can overstate the importance of this title.

Guys, listen up: I took a nap today.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have been going, going, going since Monday, March 28th. It’s my own damn fault for saying yes to too many good opportunities to develop my career and my writing. Everything just kind of converged into one hot, continuous mess for the past three weeks. As I mentioned in a previous post, I knew I would feel better once I had gotten past these last few weeks, but I’ve forgotten how wonderful sleep can feel when you’ve been going and going and going for weeks on end.

As I’ve been planning and traveling and conferencing and networking and teaching and grading and mothering, I’ve realized that a huge source of stress comes from my introverted nature.

As an introvert, I’m happiest when I have time to process an experience. I thrive on having a bit of downtime to make sense of conversations with people I’ve just met or interesting presentations that sparked an idea. I like the experience, but I also like the time to process. And now that I’m a mother, all that time that I used to have within my reach to power down and process… It’s pretty much gone.

My thinking is now done in the car. On the way to work. On the way to daycare.

It’s done in the shower.

It’s done during that blessed hour or so of nap time on the weekends. (How will I survive when she drops her nap? What will I do when we have two kids? Thoughts for another time I guess.)

Parenting when you’re an introvert feels like you’re constantly trying to come up for air before you’re pushed down under the current again. And as an artist, I’m especially prone to feeling this way, as Kim Brooks explains in her fantastic essay, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom.”

Today, I’m breathing deep. Grateful for the air. And ready to keep on going.

Sway

It was one of those unusual days that turned into an unusual night.

Work was hectic. I was getting geared up to travel in a few days. I was attending an in-town conference that included networking dinners.

And the grocery shopping still needed to happen.

So there I am at Kroger at 9:30 on a Friday night, nodding my head to “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls, which I find oddly comforting. It takes me back to a world where my chief concerns were learning how to write a thesis statement and whether or not that boy in geometry would ever want to talk to me about more than just my homework answers.

Then, I groan as I put it all together. I’ve entered the phase of my life when I’m part of the most heavily marketed demographic for advertisers: young mothers.

Wonderful.

I load the cart with the fruit collection (apples, pears, oranges, bananas, and berries of all kinds), the veggie collection (broccoli, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes), a bunch of food from the “hippie section” because my husband is allergic to X, Y, and Z, then I swing by the health and beauty section to pick up travel size contact solution.

I’m tired. I’ve been getting up at 5:00 a.m. so I can work out before the day begins rather than coming home luxuriously at 3:00 p.m. to exercise before I pick up my daughter from daycare. My FitBit reads 11, 534, 11,355, 11, 536.

As I draw near the checkout lanes, a lady turns her register’s light on and beckons me. Her short hair tapers and ends against her neck, just barely brushing her collar. She adjusts her dark-rimmed glasses and starts sorting my groceries. Even though it’s late, she still rapidly types in the codes of all my produce–from memory of course.

“And are you having a fantastic night?” she chirps.

I roll my eyes. “I mean, where else would I rather be?” I joke.

She laughs. “Well, at least it will be over soon.”

“I can’t wait. This day just keeps going and going…”

We laugh together, but then I instantly feel the need to dial back my complaining. I wonder how many hours she has been on her feet today. I remember how hard all those hours of cashiering at Target were on me–and I had a teenage body during those years.

“What about you?” I ask. “When do you get off?”

“I’m off at 11:00,” she smiles, “And then I’ll get a good six hours before I get up and go to the nursing home.”

She tells me that she has been volunteering at a nursing home in downtown Dayton for the last twenty years, mostly as a companion. She even brings her daughter, who is now in high school.

“It’s hard sometimes, you know…” she says, “When you get to know the residents, all about their lives and their families. Nothing really prepares you for when they transition.”

I nod along as she talks, until she gets to that word, transition.

I know what she means, of course, but I’m struck by the word. I’ve never heard of someone refer to death in this way. But she keeps on going as if what she has just said is completely mainstream. She talks a little more, but I’m still stuck on how she has framed the concept of death.

We say good-bye to each other and I look down at her name tag.

It says Sway.

***

After four days at the TESOL 2016 Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, I’m sitting in the airport with three of my colleagues, all of us eager to get back to our normal lives.

As I’m sitting at the gate waiting for my plane, I flip through four days of notes and start to make lists of things to do, things to read, and things to consider. A complete distillation of what I’ve learned in the past four days–at least as much as I can manage before my memories fade too much.

But then I hear applause.

And then more applause.

And then more applause.

I stand up to see if I can figure out what’s going on. I see a few American flags and I think, Oh, some soldiers are coming home. That’s sweet.

I go back to my notes. But then there’s more applause. And more. And more.

A crowd gathers.

“What is going on over there?” I ask my colleague, Olena.

“Just go and see, if you want.”

As I draw near the gathering crowd, I see that a few hundred people have gathered around a gate and a line of formally attired soldiers are each shaking hands with an old man who is being pushed in a wheelchair.

I think I understand, but I want to make sure. I ask a stranger next to me.

“It’s an honor flight,” she says. “For World War II veterans.”

One by one, about forty veterans travel down this corridor of applause, as these young soldiers reach out to shake their hands. People cheer and applaud. They take video and pictures. One of the veterans buries his head in his hands and the audience responds with even more cheers.

It takes time and a lot of corralling, but the lead organizer of the honor flight manages to take a group picture.

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Photo taken by Nathan Erhardt

***

Sunday afternoon. Back at the grocery store. Since we only need to get a few small items, I let my daughter push the just-right-for-her-size kid’s cart through the maze of Sunday afternoon shoppers. I leave a hand on the edge of the cart to make sure she doesn’t plow over someone else’s foot by accident.

When we finally approach the registers, I fall into a line that is three customers deep, which seems to be typical for this time of day.

The line advances. And that’s when I see Sway.

She smiles when she sees me. I tell her that I just got back from my trip and she asks how it went. I tell her about the honor flight and the World War II veterans and her face lights up.

“It’s funny,” I say. “I was hoping that I could tell you about it and here you are.”

“Well, it makes sense,” she says. “It’s all connected.”

I turn this idea over and over again on the way home.

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