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Saturday, December 29, 2007

A holiday party pick-me-up

If you're ever feeling discouraged about the project you're working on, I highly recommend going to a party so that a bunch of friends, strangers, and acquaintances can rally behind you and tell you how great you're doing. It sure worked for me.

A few days before Christmas, we went to Aspiring Writer Friend's annual White Elephant holiday party. As I was sliding into my slinky cocktail dress, I realized it was exactly one year ago that I started telling people about my book project. I announced during the party a year earlier that I had hoped to write the whole book in 2007. I realize now that was a lofty goal. But instead of feeling bummed that I didn't meet my goal, I actually feel energized and proud of all the work I have accomplished in the past year. Despite the fact that Preschooler in Chief was hospitalized for two months, I made some real strides. I also was a little naive about the whole book-writing process and didn't realize I should not be writing a book until I had written my proposal. But even with those setbacks and realizations, I managed to write my proposal (which is 27 pages long), and type a rough draft for about half of the book.

If you want to take a glass-half-empty approach, no I didn't write the whole book and no I didn't published anything in Brain, Child magazine (another one of my 2007 goals that went unachieved). But I prefer the glass-half-full approach where I can celebrate my accomplishments and feel proud of the work that I have done. I did write and submit an essay to Brain, Child, even if it wasn't accepted. And I did write a huge chunk of my book. And talking with people who were genuinely excited about my book was a huge boost. They really helped me see how far I had come. One woman even talked about how she couldn't wait to see my book in the window of a bookstore someday and how she was excited for the book-release party! I definitely had not allowed my brain to get that far ahead of myself, but it was fun to have so many people believe in me, to feel excited about my project, and to basically give me a gust of energy.

I also had an opportunity to have lunch with my friend and published author, Courtney Macavinta, a couple of weeks back. Her advice was sound and her encouragement was contagious. I feel fortunate to have so many people in my life cheering me on. It's humbling and motivating. As I get ready to launch myself into 2008, I'm ready to take the next step of finding the right agent. It's a little daunting, but I'm not afraid. And I haven't forgotten about my Brain, Child goal either. I've decided to resubmit my essay now that it's 75 percent shorter than it was originally. They publish more 1,000-word essays than 4,000-word essays. What's the worst that can happen? They reject me? That's not so bad. It just means I need to keep trying. I know how to do that.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wondering if it's a wonderful life

It's really easy to take care of other people. I have been doing it my whole life. But particularly right now, I need figure out how to be easy on myself, to take care of myself. To start, I've been letting some things go. I can't always pack the perfect lunches. I can't always keep the sink free of dishes, there will always be more laundry that I can manage at any given time, and my to-do list will never be empty. I've even let go of working on the book for a couple of weeks. And that is okay. For my sanity, I need to accept those things. They don't make me a failure. They don't make me a bad mom, a bad wife.

They make me human. I can't do everything all of the time.

Another thing I also let go of was holiday cards. I didn't send any. Not even one. It was sort of two fold. First of all, I needed to take some things off my plate because I've been feeling so overwhelmed. Secondly, I've been thinking of the 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. And I've been wondering about my life. Does it matter that I send holiday cards? I wonder about how different the world would be if I wasn't here doing my little daily things, all my little routines. Mostly, I have been wondering about the contribution I make to this world as a stay-at-home parent. It feels pretty paltry sometimes.

I'm certainly trying to impact this world in small and positive ways with my writing and by trying to teach my kids to be kind, compassionate, and productive human beings. But since it feels like I’m not really a part of a big picture--although I'm sure a lot of people involved on big projects at big companies often don't feel that they are making any real contribution either--my life, my contributions sometimes feel invisible.

So as I chose not to send any holiday cards, I wondered if it would really matter that much. And then to my amazement, we started getting cards. And I enjoyed opening them and hanging them up as I do every year. And I remembered why I sent cards. It wasn't out of obligation (well, maybe a little bit), but rather we send them because people like hearing from people they haven't heard from in a long time. I know I do. It's fun getting mail that isn't a bill or a catalog. It is nice seeing pictures of my friends, their kids, their dogs. And if there is no picture, it's nice knowing that someone thought about us.

Maybe it's less like It's a Wonderful Life and more like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Even though the Grinch took all the trees and all the presents and all the Whoo pudding, Christmas came anyway. So maybe even though I didn't send all the cards, the holidays will come anyway. They will still be filled with love and joy. And I will be a tiny bit less stressed out...Now if I could just get to the Post Office so that the family will get their presents before Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Family-work balance is a presidential issue

Helping families find the ever-elusive family-work balance is becoming a key issue for presidential candidates. Senator John Edwards is the latest candidate to announce his proposals to help working parents as part of his "Young Families Rising Agenda." The key issues announced today include: offering universal preschool and expanding affordable child care; offering paid leave to all workers by 2014; expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover 13 million additional workers; requiring that businesses offer all full-time workers seven paid sick days a year.

"Two-thirds of mothers now work--most of them full time--but our workplace practices and public policies don't reflect this change," Edwards said in a press release. "It's time we offered universal preschool and expanded affordable child care. We must also extend the Family and Medical Leave Act so that working parents don’t have to choose between taking care of a sick child and losing their jobs. And we need to make sure every American has access to quality health care and a good-paying job. As president, I will fight to make sure young families can succeed and build a better life for their children."

Edward's policies seem similar to Senator Barack Obama's "Work Family Balance Agenda," which was announced last month. And both policies seem similar to Hillary Clinton's Work-Family Agenda, which was announced in October.

I'm sure there are differences between how each of these politician's policies would actually impact American families. I haven't sorted all that out yet. What I do know is that it is good to hear presidential candidates acknowledge that current programs are grossly inadequate, and that they--the top-running Democratic politicians--are trying to fix a broken system.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Just a little too shy

In a recent conversation with Preschooler in Chief about body parts, I couldn't manage to say the word vagina. I managed penis and testicles, but I was unable to say the v-word.

I'm terribly disappointed in my inability to properly talk about girl parts. I'm comfortable talking openly about sex and the female anatomy when I'm chatting with girlfriends and acquaintances, so I'm really disappointed that I wasn't able to say more when talking with PIC. It isn't that I said the wrong thing or misled him. Rather, I just didn't share the whole truth. I'm sure his understanding between boys and girls is this: boys have a penis; girls don't have a penis. Well, I suppose his understanding is a little deeper. He knows that girls are the ones that grow babies in their tummies. He also knows that breasts make milk for babies, and that the milk comes out of nipple-part. Girl nipples, that is. He knows that boy nipples are non-functional, even though he occasionally lifts his shirt so that he can nurse his baby rhinoceros.

So despite my desire to be open when talking about sex and bodies with my kids, I feel like I've failed him a tiny bit. Fortunately he's young enough that it doesn't matter too much. And I know that there will be plenty of other opportunities to get it right as he grows.

Monday, December 03, 2007

An emotional trifecta

Some of my recent posts have given the impression to some concerned readers that I might be depressed. I might be. But I think I'll blame my emotional prose on all the book-writing I've accomplished recently (which drudges up a lot of feelings), on this time of year (a little old-fashioned seasonal-affective disorder), and the fact that I'm just about done nursing Baby in Chief (a hormonal whack-job, to say the least). Each of those issues alone can create a lot of stress. But they are all coming at the same time, unfortunately.

Yes, this is a lovely time of year with all the festive music and the lights and promise of packages and sprinkle-covered cookies. All of that goodness holds the promise of mountainous highs. At the same time, it also can bring on chest-crushing lows. I'm really looking forward to the arrival of family--the family we regretfully did not spend Thanksgiving with due to the 2,500 miles separating our houses. The anticipation of their arrival, the joy of a family holiday is exciting. But then there is the added responsibility. The extra responsibility of ordering the holiday cards, writing notes on and sending the holiday cards, picking out the right gifts, wrapping the gifts, mailing the gifts, decorating the house, baking festive goodies. All that stuff is piled on top of all the regular responsibilities of parenthood, of being married, of running a household.

I know I'm not the only one with this extra long to-do list, but toss in the hormones and all the feelings I'm revisiting as I write my book and whammo. I'm not complaining. It's just nice to know that there are actual reasons for me feeling so off. Then again, I guess it could be a teeny bit of depression. Last weekend I read online: It's not my problems making me depressed, it's my depression making me depressed.

I sort of like thinking about things that way. Maybe instead of feeling overwhelmed by the piles of toys, the sink full of dishes, the car full of wrappers, or the holiday shopping, I'll just blame that overwhelmed feeling on my depression. Thinking of it that way actually takes the pressure off a bit. It's nice to have a scapegoat, even if it's an artificial one.