Time as a Wrinkle

I have whiplash from this year. It went by in a blink. Wasn’t I just meeting my daughter’s new third grade teachers at Back to School night? Didn’t I just sign up my son for his last year at his beloved preschool?

first day of school 2016 copy

First day of school 2016.

Last day of school 2017

Last day of school 2017

My son will be entering kindergarten in the fall and my daughter beginning fourth grade, both seem unbelievable. In September, both of my kids will be in fulltime school, my days opening up like a blank book. Isn’t this the light at the end of my stay-at-home-motherhood-tunnel? And yet as the light bears down on me, I’m struck with nostalgia and grief.

Recently I came across a saying about parenthood that stopped me in my tracks.

The days are long, the years are short.

Leo preK graduation 2017

He entered the school as a two-year old. Now he’s barreling toward six.

Yes, oh yes. But would I want to travel back to those early, painful, excruciatingly days of new motherhood? Long on exhaustion and tears, short on sleep and freedom? Maybe.

***

The tiger lilies are back, as they always are every June. A welcome to summer and a bittersweet tug at my heart. They were my mother’s favorite flowers, or so I tell myself. She’s not alive for me to confirm this assumption. But I know she planted them along the railroad ties holding up the massive dirt hill our house was built upon. Every year they returned. Even after she stopped walking. Even after she and my father moved out. Even after her death. Even now, ten years later.

tiger lilies 2017

Ten years. Want to talk about whiplash? Try looking back on a decade after a death.

In ten years, I went from my early thirties to my early forties. I went from being a young married woman without children, to an older married woman with two. I went from being a devout but sporadic fiction writer to a devoted and slightly frantic memoir writer. I went from losing myself to finding something new.

Two days ago, on June 21, I went to visit my mother’s mausoleum by myself. It felt less like a depressing pilgrimage than a welcome, dare I say almost giddy, escape from my family. (No offense, family.) I packed a bag filled with old journals, new notebooks, notecards, my mother’s book, and my computer. My plan was to write a scene or two of my memoir in her presence. It would be my way of honoring her, and myself.

That morning my daughter made a collage for me to tape on the granite wall, and I printed out a picture of my kids at the pool, their arms wrapped around one another, grinning with the promise of summer, plus a class picture of each.

10 years holmdel

The year before I decided to take the kids for (almost) the first time (Emma had been once as a baby, and Leo in utero). We had a nice day with my father. Spending the bulk of our time at the park across the street, as my mother intended, and then stopping briefly by the cemetery to hang our tributes.

9 years holmdel

Exactly what my mother would have wanted.

This year my daughter did not want to go. The day before I gave her the option, no pressure. “It’s too sad,” she told me, looking a little sheepish.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “You don’t have to go.”

She understands now, the significance, and she has always felt more deeply than most kids her age. “I had a talk with Grandma Susan’s blanket,” she told me earlier that day, “I wish I could have known her. I wish she was alive to meet me.”

Oh, me too. Me too.

Ten years in a blink.

Time heals all wounds, so the saying goes. Well. Anyone suffering a loss knows that is complete bullshit.

Time does nothing of the sort. Like one of my mother’s favorite books suggests, time is a wrinkle. It may stretch out taut over the years, growing smoother, but then in an instant it can snap back together, meeting at the seams, scrunching into a messy ball.

There is no finish line to grief. It’s a forever orbit. We keep going round and round.

Like the seasons, like the school years. The tiger lilies come back every summer, and thank god. They are a reminder of my mother, of her love, of her endurance in my life, and in my children’s, despite having never met them.

We bought journals the day after, my daughter and I. We are summer journaling together, an idea borrowed from a writing friend. Every day we will write or draw a little bit.

journal 2017

“What are you going to write about,” she asked me this morning. “Will it be something sad?”

Oh, this kid. She knows me so well.

“I might write about visiting Grandma Susan, but that wasn’t all sad.”

She looked confused, so I explained how beautiful my drive home had been. Blindly following the directions on my fickle GPS, I went down roads I’d never seen before, passing stunning farmland, huge cows with stripes that looked painted on, and red barns that gleamed in the post-rain sun. I looked for a rainbow, but found tiger lilies instead, stopping on the side of the road to pick a handful.

We sat down to write and she marveled at my speed, and what she thought looked like pretty script, but to me it was the usual messy scrawl, my fingers unable to keep up with my brain.

“It’s so good,” she said, after I read aloud what I had written.

I shook my head, gently steering her in a different direction. “Journaling is always good. It can never be bad.”

So much is a contest to her already. She’s entered the age of acute self-consciousness, anxious about how she stacks up against her peers, against me.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for us. I think about how my mother always wanted her children to exceed her, surpass her. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be an either or. We can all shine. Me and my mother, me and my daughter, me and my son.

We continue on, rolling forward, and back. Repeating old mistakes, and learning from others. The lilies will wilt and die, but there is comfort in knowing they will return.

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Grief Roar

Summer is flying by, and while my morning writing routine (#writinglikeamother) has slowed due to life and kids (also known as life with kids), I’ve managed to carve out time to work on my upcoming journaling course, Crossing the River: Writing Through Grief coming this Fall 2016 scheduling update: JANUARY 2017 on The Gift of Writing.

Slide01

I’ve filmed several lessons which has proved both humbling and inspiring. As a writer, I’m used to being hunched over my computer with a furrowed brow, not staring back at my face on a screen.

Despite my initial discomfort at being in front of the camera, I’m thrilled to facilitate a writing course I know would have helped me after my mother’s death. Since much of my mourning occurred in (self-imposed) isolation, I suspect having a community to share my emotions with, and my words, would have been a lifeline.

[Please note, this course is NOT intended only for those suffering a loss from death, but ANY kind of grief. The scope or size does not matter, nor does how much time has passed.]

Recently I returned to Jena Schwartz’s Roar Sessions with a guest post about muted grief, and what might happen if we open up our mouths and hearts. I’d be honored for you to head over there and check it out.

If you’d like to be put on the mailing list for information about my course, and the upcoming free (!) online seminar, click here.

Thank you for letting me chime in during the craze and haze of summer’s end. I hope you’re enjoying these finale weeks. I am, as always, feeling both bitter and sweet about it.

Dana xoxo

 

 

Summer Writing, Living

My eyes burned from exhaustion. The kids were bundled up in blankets watching Netflix already and it was barely 7am.

kids

There are just a few more days of school. Summer is barreling toward us. My daughter is eight years old and this fall she’ll begin third grade, which feels unbelievable. Wasn’t I just fretting on my old blog about her entry into elementary school?

Now it’s my son who is closing in on that milestone. Thanks to a November birthday, he has one more year of preschool, for which I’m grateful. One more year until both my kids are in full-time school. That is the dream. The light at the end of the tunnel, my writing time opening like a dam being lifted.

Hours of quiet pouring in. An empty house. It’s what I claim to want, what I do want, and yet, I know it will come at a cost to my heart. The passage of time always does, especially as it relates to my children.

I don’t want to hurry away the hours of summer, wishing, waiting, biding my time – but the struggle to write is real. I’ve been rising early for almost a month now, #writinglikeamother every day. It’s been life changing. If I can get in an hour or more of solitude and work, I am a better mother for the rest of the day. A happier person. The problem seems to be when I don’t.

desk

Like yesterday. Up at 5:40am I was so tired I considered going back to sleep until I heard my daughter’s thundering footsteps in the hall. I crept out of bed carefully, so as not to wake my nighttime visitor, my son, and handed her my phone before heading downstairs. In my mind I’m pleading, please stay in your room until 7, please don’t wake up your brother.

Of course my wishes were not granted.

I slammed down my coffee and dashed upstairs to my son’s cries and my daughter popped out of her room like a jack-in-the-box.

My mood was grumbly. I felt frayed and irritable. Angry, that my time was interrupted.

This is what I feared when I made the commitment to early risings, but life with kids is never predictable. Things change. It’s the one thing you can count on. The only thing.

What I need to do is adjust, adapt. To accept the inevitability of shortened writing sessions, and to be grateful for the ones that last.

When it happened again today, I cursed (more quietly) before running up the stairs. I made jokes about their early rising instead of threats. I put on the rest of The Sound of Music and let myself fall between my babies as we watched, using the computer to pull up a map of Europe so I could show my curious daughter the proximity of Switzerland to Austria as we watched the von Trapp children sing and hike across the Alps to freedom.

Things will be quiet on the blog over the summer, for obvious reasons. I have big goals that I will try not to stress over, like filming lessons for my upcoming grief course, working on my memoir, and living my life.

The summer will fly by, as always, and I want to make sure I’m fully present for all of it, not simply wishing the time away. That will happen on its own, soon enough.

Hope we all have the summers we want, or at least the grace to surrender peacefully to the ones we end up having.

See you in the fall!

xoxo Dana

 

 

Write Like A Mother

Over the weekend I posted this picture on Instagram.

writing desk

It was taken at 7am on Sunday of last week after being woken up at 5:45am by my kid and cat. They often do a tag team on me in the morning, and after years of attempting to fall back asleep, only to rise grumpily an hour or less later, I decided to just get up and write.

I’ve been doing it for over a week now and it’s been kind of life changing. I don’t set an alarm (because I don’t need to, thank you kid and cat) and some days I “oversleep,” which means I get up a little past 6am, but regardless of the time, I stumble out of bed, grab some coffee, and head to my office. My daughter knows not to enter until 7am (thank you Netflix) and when she does I greet her with a smile.

But this post isn’t about advocating early rising, though don’t knock it till you try it.

This post is about being seen.

Getting back to my Instagram photo, I wrote a brief caption describing my new routine and even threw in a hashtag, #writinglikeamother – a big departure for me since hashtags usually stress me out. I have a hard enough time coming up with catchy titles for my short stories and essays.

Shortly after posting, I received a comment from a writer and teacher I admire, Jena Schwartz, co-founder of The Inky Path (where I’m currently enrolled in an incredible 14-day writing prompt course). She responded with, “Love love love love love.”

I stopped where I was in my kitchen and just felt such warmth, and this phrase popped in my head: I’m not alone.

Writing is such a solitary act, well, most of the time, and it’s easy to feel invisible, unseen. Sending out my photo was a way of connecting, of reaching out. The comments I received on Instagram and Facebook made me feel less alone. This is why I do this: blogging, social media, and posting pictures of my desk for crying out loud.

But let’s be real here – there’s a fine line between seeking support and falling into the black hole of Facebook. I know (ahem) from personal experience. The key for me has been finding balance and knowing my triggers.

It’s pretty obvious when I’ve spent too much time online. I start getting twitchy and anxious. Suddenly, people’s announcements about essays and publishing deals make me feel edgy and competitive. That’s when I step away and remind myself about the wisdom I gleaned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, which is: there is enough for all of us

I believe in that, wholeheartedly, and yet I find myself whispering those words out loud every few days. I’m currently working on a book length project, and there is no immediate recognition or acknowledgment in that, and if I’m completely honest, there may never be. I can’t know or control what will happen to my work, but I know I must do it regardless.

So, my question is, will you do it with me? Will you write like a mother? You don’t even have to be a literal mother, just a writer or an artist with other obligations that pile up in the summer months. Let’s face it, we all have other obligations, it’s called LIFE.

kids summer

My life, my summer.

I already know my summer solo time is going to be minimal, and I’m okay with that, but I want to make the most of the time I can squeeze out. Like mornings. Maybe for you it’s after work, or late at night.

If you’re not too hashtag averse (like I was), consider taking a picture of your workspace before, during, or after you put in some time and tag it #writinglikeamother and I will send whatever support I can (hearts, likes, kind words) your way.

There’s no competition here. This isn’t one of those write-every-day challenges (which for me is a set up for failure) and there’s no need to log in word counts or even describe what you’re working on (unless you want to).

If you want to follow me on blah blah social media, the links are on the right sidebar, or send me a note with your info and I’ll follow you, writingatthetable@gmail.com.

How about we hold each other up when we need holding. Let’s be witnesses for the work we’re doing, even when no one else is looking. Let’s be seen together.

Dana xoxo

 

I’m so pleased to be part of Writing Bubble’s wonderful link-up. Come by, take a look, and perhaps join in!

What-Im-Writing-linky-badge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Time

I’ve been quiet in this space, but it’s been a busy few weeks in my life. Back to back birthday weekends (my daughter and husband) with a grand finale of Mother’s Day, which always stirs up my emotions. I’m relieved it’s over.

I prefer the quiet lulls between celebrations. Must be that introvert side of me, relishing the chance to duck back into my shell and recover.

Meanwhile, things in my brain haven’t been much quieter, but that kind of work I can manage better. I’ve been tearing through memoir and craft books, inhaling podcasts, and basically gorging on this new (to me) genre. I’m filling myself up with as much knowledge as I can before taking my own leap.

memoirs

 

I never thought I’d be doing this, writing a memoir, and yet here I am, about to begin, beginning. I bought a designated notebook, a special pen, and I’ve been taking notes, writing out scene ideas. I feel like a train, its engine rumbling, steam rising, the whistle about to blow.

But once I get going, how will I continue my momentum once summer begins? The two words “school’s out” used to bring on waves of panic, but this year I’m not feeling as concerned. In fact, I’m making goals.

What the heck?! Two new words spring to mind:

Early rising.

(Well, that’s the goal. I won’t make any promises since this is quite a departure for me.)

sunrise small

Now please understand, I always get up early. My kids still wake in the night, and at least one rises with the sun (since birth, since birth!) and her clomping steps to the bathroom (if she doesn’t stop to peek in my bedroom first) always rouses me. Even if I pretend to ignore it, the cat doesn’t.

My old way was to grouchily flop back into bed and squeeze out a little more sleep, even the restless kind, because getting up at dawn felt like admitting defeat. I’ve fantasized about being the kind of writer who sets the alarm at 5am to write, but after being deeply sleep deprived for eight years, it seems sacrilegious to wake before absolutely necessary.

But then Saturday happened. I slept poorly (thanks kids and cat) and woke in a foul mood. The whole day I felt off, grouchy. It wasn’t until later that I realized why. That morning I had a chance to get out of bed before my kids. I heard my daughter close her door and knew she had turned on her requisite morning show on her iPad, but I forced myself back to sleep. Yet, for the first time ever, I understood that sleep was no longer winning.  What I needed even more, at least in the hour of dawn, was solitude.

I read this post by a fellow writer-mama Sophie a couple weeks ago, Why Early Mornings Are Good For My Well Being As Well As My Word Count, and this line in particular struck a nerve.

“If I don’t take charge of my day, and instead fritter away the beginnings of it in broken sleep, then when I am finally forced out of bed by a hungry toddler I am way more weary than I would otherwise have been.”

I’m more pissy and grumpy, but same idea.

The sleep I get from 6-7am does NOTHING for me. So why not write, or read, or watch the birds flit around the feeder in peace, with no one clamoring for my attention?

I tried it on Sunday and it was like a miracle. Not only did I get some writing accomplished, but by the time my daughter appeared at 7am (as per my firm request and the assistance of Netflix) I was feeling generous and sated as opposed to annoyed and disgruntled. I may have been spotted humming while cleaning the bathroom later that morning, but that cannot be confirmed.

It’s been five days so far, and though I slept in a bit this morning (due to staying up too late writing this!), I’m going to keep on with this habit. There is something incredibly peaceful about being the only one awake and drinking my coffee in silence.

Will I ever set my alarm for 5 or 5:30am? I don’t know, but the idea no longer seems unattainable.

This summer instead of surrendering my writing time, I’ve decided to set some goals. Not small ones either:

  1. Record all 12 video lessons for my grief course (coming to The Gift of Writing in October 2016 if all goes well, click here to be put on the waiting list!)
  2. Write 50 pages of my memoir about me and my mother

mom watching me

The trick is walking the tightrope of trying to meet my goals and not beating myself up if I don’t. All I know for sure is that there is no certainty, not in parenthood, not in life. I can’t predict what this particular summer is going to look like. Can I rise at dawn and still have my wits about me to deal with my two (often sparring) children? Will a babysitter be able to wrangle them or will I have to intervene?

I want to enjoy summer – the laziness of it, the surrender – without stress. Well, without the added stress of deadlines. But at the same time, having a goal to lean toward could serve as my fuel, what gets me through the bickering and squabbles, knowing I have my mornings, whatever may come of them.

What are your summer plans, and do you make goals, or play it by ear? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bittersweet

Summer is ending and as always I’m feeling bittersweet about the impending transition. I can hardly believe in two weeks I’ll have a second grader and an almost four-year-old preschooler.

Even my daughter is in awe of her rising elementary school status. She keeps saying, mom, I feel like I was just in kindergarten! Yup. I hear you, kid. Me too.

I can still see her posing shyly in front of someone else’s brownstone in Brooklyn because we were too flustered to take a picture before leaving our apartment.

kindergarten 2013

Fast forward a year, a first grader in New Hope, PA, our brand new town, walking through those double doors without me, knowing not a single person. My brave girl.

first day of first grade 2014

Now, here we are, on the cusp of another year. But first: summer.

Summer with kids is always a challenge, as well as a gift. The grinding schedule of school suddenly screeching to a halt, like a city bus we’ve been evicted from, the wheels still turning, as we stumble to find our footing.

With only 3 weeks of camp starting at the end of July, we had many days to fill, and yet, somehow, they blew by. There were touch and go moments of sanity (mine) and some freaking out (everyone’s), but here we are at the end of August, the finish line of this short season in sight, and my heart aches at the upcoming shift.

Before I began writing this post, I studied my phone calendar, trying to figure out where the time had gone. What had we done to fill those days? Did I fail to take advantage of our first summer in our new town? Scrolling through my pictures proved otherwise.

Summer Checklist Highlight Reel

1. Eat LOTS of ice cream. Check.

Dilly's Corner. No, we can't eat any of the fried gluten food, but the soft serve and Philadelphia Italian Ices are GF.

Dilly’s Corner. The soft serve is GF.

2. Go all out for the 4th of July fireworks display. Check. 

summer fourth of july

3. Go to the beach at least once, more to come. Check.

Asbury Park, NJ. Not to be missed.

Asbury Park, NJ. Not to be missed.

4. Host family gatherings and insist on very long, hug-filled goodbyes. Check. 

Farewells are not easy.

5. Spend time in nature. Check.

summer nature boy summer nature girl

6. Do a ton of arts & crafts. Check.

summer arts and crafts

Painting fairy houses on the driveway.

7. Get your nails done and let your kid pick the color. Check. 

I have to say, silver might be my new favorite shade.

Silver might be my new favorite shade.

8. Act silly. Also, take full advantage of the ice cream truck. Check. 

summer crazy

9. Go to local fairs and carnivals. ALL OF THEM. Check. 

He got the sparkly pink car. Score.

10. RELAX. Check. 

Summer relax

I love that this was taken the day AFTER the last day of school.

Turns out, we had a lot of fun this summer in the midst of craziness, whining, and all around lunacy. Basically, life as usual, but with no homework and lots of pool time. Not a bad way to spend a couple months.

Did I get much writing done? Not a ton, but more than I expected. There was my successful Highlights trip where I finished a draft of my novel, plus I wrote my first guest post series on The Gift of Writing.

But the best thing I did for myself was to surrender to summer, because fall comes around way too fast.

I’m leaving you with one of my favorite recipes to help ease you into the new season.

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Gluten Free)

cran orange w background muffins

This muffin is the perfect blend of summer and autumn. Also, completely irresistible, according to my husband’s sweet tooth. They usually disappear within a day – or less.

If you don’t have to be gluten free, check out this Food Network recipe made with white flour that inspired my creation. But if you dabble in GF, definitely give these a try. They are worth the effort.

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of one medium-sized orange (preferably a juicy one)
  • about 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (1 to 1 and a half oranges)
  • 2/3 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend (I use Better Batter)
  • 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour blend has it already)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of full-fat or low-fat sour cream
  • raw sugar to sprinkle on top of each cupcake before baking (if desired)
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin OR a jumbo 6-cup muffin tin with butter or cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Zest orange and set aside. Squeeze juice and run through a sieve to eliminate pulp and seeds. Place juice in a small saucepan with cranberries. Bring to just a simmer over medium heat. Remove pan from heat and set aside so the cranberries can cool and plump.
  3. In a large bowl, mix (by hand) butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the following ingredients one at a time, stirring well after each addition: eggs, vanilla, orange zest, flour, xanthan gum (if necessary), baking powder, and salt. Beat to combine. Continue stirring until the batter becomes thicker and slightly more elastic, which means the xanthan gum has been activated. Add sour cream to the batter and mix until combined.
  4. Finally, fold the cooled cranberries and orange juice into the batter. Do not over mix.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups – for those who enjoy being extra precise, use an ice-cream scooper. Top each muffin with a generous sprinkling of raw sugar if desired.
  6. Bake in the center of a preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the muffin tin and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

cran orange cloe up

Eat and enjoy! They go fast…just like summer.

Unpacking Your Creative Life Series

I’m so excited that my month long series on creativity has begun on The Gift of Writing! It’s called, Unpacking Your Creative Life, and part 1 is all about reconnecting to your love of writing and starting again after a long (or short!) hiatus.

When Claire asked me to write a series, I was flattered, grateful, and nervous. I’ve written guest posts before, but never anything that had to sustain interest over a period of time. But what I discovered is that creating a series is similar to writing a story. There’s an introduction, an arc, a climax, and a conclusion. Once I chose a theme, one I’m quite familiar with, I’ve had a lot of fun working on it.

I was inspired by my own writing hiatus (ahem, new motherhood) and some of my favorite craft books, including Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Still Writing by Dani Shapiro.

My goal is that this four-part series will offer help and solace to writers who feel stuck or frozen, as I did after the birth of my first child, though new motherhood is just one of many reasons why writers stray from the page.

I remember questioning my life-long dream of being a writer. I seriously considered giving up. This crisis shook my core, and it took a lot of soul searching, some sessions with a wonderfully intuitive life coach, and of course writing, to find my way back.

I’d love to hear what you think, so if the topic interests you, pop over to Claire’s site and leave me a comment.

In the meantime, I’ll be a little quieter over here while I dig into the revision process of my novel. Spending two magical days at Highlights helped me finish my draft, but that was only the first step.

My goal is to complete this first content heavy revision by summer’s end. A lofty goal, perhaps, but I did some math (I know, crazy) and if I can edit about 45 pages a week, I’ll make it happen.

My daughter is helping me keep track with revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

My daughter is helping me track my revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

Then comes round 2 and 3, but each one brings me closer to the moment when I can pass this albatross, I mean novel, over to my beta readers.

Being a writer means never giving up, even when you’re at your lowest point, but I honestly couldn’t do that without your help. Readers of this blog and all the wonderful friends and fellow writers I’ve met along the way. Thank you for keeping me company on this journey! I’m rooting for you, too, because we’re in this together.

Enjoy your summer!

summer kids