Linkedy. Link

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I haven’t been blogging as much lately, because one of the sites I used to write for, BabyZone, was consumed by the beast that is Disney. So, I find myself, unemployed and unable to afford a baby sitter. I’m using every free moment to finish the second draft of this book. I plan on wrapping it up by the end of July.  I just wrote that so I will actually do that.  Make no mistake, this isn’t like some sort of, OMG I’m on a deadline with a publisher kind of thing. I don’t have a publisher or anyone at all.  I’M SO ALONE!

Whatever. The point is: I’m trying to finish this THING. This albatross. I know. Yawn. Join the club, Lenz.

I hate these “behind the curtain” things. Like there is some sort of mystery. Like it isn’t just me and a glass of cheap wine giggling at videos of cats riding roombas and reading every wrap up of Game of Thrones ever. So you are welcome for answering a question no one was asking.

Good god, that was self pitying.

How about some links?

Some places I’ve been:

That one time I tried to solve a crime and I was terrible at it. 

Church. Oh. CHURCH! UGH. Church.

–This is a few months old, but I never linked it here. This is about why I think evil ladies need to be left alone. Or at least, not be made sympathetic. Because, enough.

Belle Is Not The Problem, You Are

Two weeks ago, we threw a princess birthday party in honor of my daughter who specifically requested that everything be made pink. And it was. Pink tulle hung from the banisters, pink tissue paper flowers hung from the ceiling, pink balloons were taped to the archways. And the party was perfect. We had princess tattoos, crowns, jewels and at the end we cleared the floor for a big ball.

I’ve struggled with letting princesses into our home. I didn’t want them here. I thought they would be a bad influence. But at two-years-old, my daughter began refusing to wear pants and declared herself a princess.  Ever since then, it’s ballgowns and necklaces everyday. Once at the grocery store, as Ellis twirled in the aisle in a white Easter dress, a lady asked, “Oh are you going somewhere special?” My daughter just looked at her and said flatly. “I am ‘pecial.”

E and Bubs

Equal opportunity royalty in this house.

She is special. And white fluffy Easter dresses are just normal Tuesday attire in this house. Occasionally, I get her to wear something less formal for school or the park. But the moment she comes home she rips off her pants and slips into something a little more formal–A princess Belle dress with gloves, perhaps.

I suppose I could regulate princesses more carefully. I could return every Princess™ that entered our home from well meaning grandparents and doting aunts, but I am not going to. Because I don’t think princesses are the problem. I think we are the problem.

We still live in a country with a gender pay gap, but that’s not Rapunzel’s fault.  There are deep gender divides in this country about sex, division of labor and healthcare, but we can’t pin that on Snow White. The commercialization of everything pink and everything princess, becomes and easy scapegoat. It’s so much easier to say, “Blame Disney!” than take a long look in the mirror and examine our own biases.

In her essay in New York magazine, Yael Kohen wrote:

“And what’s wrong with girly, anyway?  Rolling our eyes at pink feels like another way of treating female culture on the whole as a niche interest, somehow secondary to male culture — a.k.a. the mainstream. And when it comes to our toys there’s an implicit message that the pink doodads are only second best to the tough dude versions in black, camouflage, and blue. (A boy dressing up like Iron Man, a narcissistic arms mogul turned superhero, won’t be seen as nearly as silly as a girl wearing a Queen Elsa costume, even though they play to the same fantasy impulses). If we’ve made pink the most visible representation of girl culture, and also treat it as a symbol of frivolity, then we’re unwittingly telling girls (and boys) that the girl world isn’t important.”

I believe the same thing about princesses. By denigrating princesses we are in fact telling our daughters that what interests them isn’t important. By foisting the world that is traditionally boy on them instead, aren’t we telling them that “boy things” are okay, but princesses aren’t. And since when is a toy gun less dangerous than a tiara? Lately, my daughter has been turning all her wands into guns and walking around saying, “SHOOT! I SHOOT YOU!” But I’m not going to stress about that either. For children, fantasy play is just that, pure fantasy. My blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter identifies herself with Belle and Mulan more than Rapunzel or Aurora. Why? Maybe the dresses? The side-kicks? Who knows. But what I do know is that she understand the fantasy and the reality a lot more than I give her credit for.

It’s easy to make Belle and Cinderella culpable for our societal shortcomings, but the truth is, they aren’t the disease they are the symptom. Gender bias doesn’t begin with crowns and gowns, gender bias begins within us. A study done by New York University asked parents to guess the incline of a slope that their 11-month old babies could climb. The study showed that while both girls and boy babies had the same level of physical ability, parents vastly over estimated their sons’ abilities and underestimated their girls’ abilities. Think you are too smart for this inherent bias? Think again. A study done by Yale University had male and female scientists rate the competence of a job applicant. The scientists were given the same application, the only difference was half had an application with a female name the other half had an application with a male name. Overwhelmingly, both male and female scientists favored the male application.

Ultimately, gender bias begins long before you child sits down to watch “Sleeping Beauty” and yet, Sleeping Beauty is what we wring our collective hands over.

A whole generation of girls (myself included) were raised obsessed with princesses and somehow we came out okay. I remember spending hours trying to flip my hair up out of the pool water so I could be like the Ariel singing, “Part of Your World” to prince Eric. I know more Disney songs about love than I know Shakespearean sonnets. But that was just a phase. Much like my Nietzsche phase when I wore all black and took long walks with my journal contemplating how superior I was to all the other riff raff of High School. Or my Bronte phase when I wore tight buns and wanted to walk the windswept moors of England so bad I cried. It’s just a phase.  I didn’t become the Übermensch and stab anyone any more than I married an abusive man with a wife locked in an attic.

In her essay on Slate, Allison Benedikt wrote, “The pink phase will pass like anything else, and if it doesn’t, well, then, you have raised a human being who really likes pink. Which is the same as raising a human being who really likes green. The meaning of the color is what we make it mean. By steering our daughters away from the pink aisle to subvert dangerous gender norms, we’re reinforcing them.”

The truth is for children princesses and pink, they are just things. It’s we adults who imbue them with meaning. But instead of crucifying all things pink and princess on the cross of our collective feminist anxiety, maybe we ought to reexamine our own attitudes and deeply held beliefs about children long before they can even reach for that wand.

PS For more reading, I really liked this article. 

That Time I Talked To Anderson Cooper (Or Not Really)

Both of my kids are sick and my husband is chugging DayQuil like it’s water, because The Dave mostly just drinks water and Snapple. His body is a temple, y’all. Baby J is getting his first tooth and all I can do is beg the gods of teeth and boobs for sweet mercy. Also, this past week has left me a little bruised and worse for wear. So, I’m going to do a link dump. Yes, I know. I hate those too. I really do. Every time I see them, I’m all…yuck_imdone_medium

 

 

Because they aren’t real posts. So, feel free not to “Like” it or talk internet smack about me. I deserve it. But the internet is all about sharing and I do want to share. I do. Also, I will start off with a little story about me and everyone’s favorite handsome news anchor, Anderson Cooper.

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On Tuesday, I got an email inviting me to view a Google chat with Anderson Cooper and CNN’s Kelly Wallace, wherein they would be discussing the morality of babies and the research done by the Yale Infant Cognition Center. I’ve been rabidly following the work of Paul Bloom and Karen Wynn. Also, like any American, real American, I love me some Anderson Cooper. So, I responded by saying, “Sure, I will tune in. Thanks for the invite!”

That’s when I got the response that basically translated to, “Um. No, idiot. We want you to join us.” So, I was all, “Okay. But you are the idiot! I bring nothing to the table.”

In sum, I got to do a Google hangout with Anderson Cooper. Fun fact: He never spoke to me. We had some technical glitches and then Anderson (as I call him now) had to leave. So, he was on the actual hangout for two minutes. Most of the time he just read important documents (probably about where to find the National Treasure), while the rest of us made idle chit chat. And as we all awkwardly sat around waiting for Google to fix the problem, Paul Bloom asked Anderson Cooper (right, I can’t keep up the charade) if he had done one of these “hangout things” before. Without even blinking, Anderson Cooper responded, “Yes, with the Dali Lama.”

Snap.

I now imagine, in a month or two when Michelle Obama asks him if he’s done one of these “hangout things” before, he will respond, “Yes, with Lyz Lenz.”

Because I’m delusional.

Here is the link to the CNN piece about babies and morality. And here is the link to the Google hangout,  I make some awkward jokes about psycho killer babies, so that’s worth something.

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Also, fun fact, I’ve been writing columns for my local newspaper. They are fun. Old media is super cute. I feel all vintagey. Like I need to bang out a screed on a typewriter. I am a lone reed.

So, maybe you should read them, if you find yourself locked in a jail with nothing to entertain you except the ghosts of your past, your crushing guilt and a computer where all the smutty sites are blocked.

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I am very proud of this piece about magic and childhood and how much beauty I find under the table. Brain, Child magazine was kind enough to publish this.

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I recently reread “Mise-en-Scene for a Parricide” by Angela Carter (it’s a story about Lizzie Borden). And I loved it all over again. The description of the weather was so oppressive and perfect. Also, the story is so lush, like all of her stories and twisted in a way that makes you feel like you are viewing the world through damaged glass.

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My friend and former roommate, Alison, sent me this essay about photographing the little things and I believe all of this about writing.

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Mallory Ortberg is my favorite. Also, she just gave me some nightmares: “Official reports have recently confirmed what you have long suspected: that the dim and as-yet-formless shape hovering at the foot of your bed or perhaps just outside your closed (but locked? Did you lock it? Is it locked, or is it unlocked?) window is very real and the only thing keeping it from moving any closer is your constant, wakeful vigilance. ” Curse you, Ortberg.

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This: A rapper named Lizzo from Minnesota. So, of course, I’m already inclined to like her. But this video and this song? Amazing.

Leave me your links. I’ll read them and then provide a thoughtful* comment.

*Poop jokes are considered thoughtful.

Not Waving, Just Drowning Under The Laundry

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This fall, I enrolled Ellis in a little pre-preschool. She goes once a week. They teach her how to sing “Going on a Bear Hunt” and put bean bags on her head and wait her turn. This week, I asked her if she had fun at school and she said, “Yeah. But I don’t wike to wait my turn! I JUST DON’T WIKE IT!” Then she began to cry. And I felt like I could just kiss school because whatever lesson she had learned was good and effective, and I wasn’t there for the majority of the screaming.

In fact, school has been going so well that I put us on the waitlist for a second day.

This week, the teachers told me that we are off the waitlist. I was so happy, I almost full-on smooched them.

When I got home, I felt like crap.

Last November, I quit my part-time work, so I could full-time mom.  And it’s been an adjustment to say the least. I frequently have women tell me, “Oh, how wonderful! You can be with your kids and do your writing thing!” And I want to laugh, because in what world do they live in? A world where their two-year-olds didn’t give up a nap and poop their underwear during “rest time” or where their babies didn’t…well, baby, all the time?

In any given day, I have approximately one hour during naptime to write. I get everyone situated: Baby Jude in his crib sleeping. Ellis in her room with a stack of books. Then, I sit down and I open up Word and I just start writing. If I get distracted even for 15 minutes, it’s all over. Someone will cry. Someone will poop. Someone will stand by her doorway and sing “PRINCESS PRINCESS!” at the top of her lungs until someone else wakes up. More than once, I’ve thrown in the towel and carted them off to the frozen yogurt place because nothing good was happening. My kids are still little. Once we find a rhythm the tune changes.

In college, I used to demand absolute silence to write. I would put on noise-cancelling headphones and glare at anyone who so much as chewed in my presence. Now, I just say, “Unless there is blood or fire, leave me alone!” And I keep typing until the din has swallowed the house whole and I can no longer ignore the monkeys rattling their cages or flinging poo. Sometimes it’s both.  Usually, what I’m writing is not for here. It is for one of my handful of paid writing jobs. Jobs I’ve held onto because being a one-income family is tight and we still want to contribute to our kids’ college fund. What I make is just enough for that, school and not much else. Except a once-a-month cleaning service. But that ends in December. Hold me.

I also hold onto my jobs, because I love them. I love the moments when I can write and reach for things beyond just me and this little kingdom here in Iowa. To be completely honest, I need them. I need to work outside of this place.  And if we are being really honest, sometimes what I write isn’t for here or for money. It’s just for writing. And I submit these things to anthologies and literary magazines and websites I love but don’t really pay. Writing is my meth.

But making all that happen feels like the toddler equivalent of juggling. Meaning: I take a bunch of balls, throw them into the air and yell, “JUGGLING!” as they all crash down on my head. Ever since J was born, I’ve been neglecting some of my commitments because there just isn’t enough of me or enough time. Sometimes I write at night, but baby J has me up at 4am and if I don’t get to sleep by 9, I’m a monster. I’m also married. And it takes a lot of energy not to be a jerk to your spouse.

But that second day of school looms over me–it’s my boon and my doom. It reminds me that I am not handling things as well as I would like to. That finding balance and doing everything is hard. And I don’t even do everything. My house is messy. My laundry isn’t put away. Food on the floor keeps sticking to my feet. I don’t even look at Pinterest, because I don’t need yet another way to realize all the things I’m not doing.

But we all feel like that. Don’t we? No matter where we sit. At home. At work or on the fence. We all feel consumed by the small details of our lives. The poop. The papers. The smiles. The noodle under the couch.

So, I’m swallowing my guilt, the guilt that says, she’s so little, she needs her mom, why aren’t you valuing time with her above yourself and taking the second day. There is no perfect. There is only what we have.  And what we need. And what we need, no matter where we are, is help.

Or, at least, I do.

Join Me Tonight In a Discussion to End Medicine Abuse

The Medicine Abuse Project- The  Partnership at Drugfree.org Logo

So, most of my high school and college life was spent desperately following the rules both because I wanted to leave my house and because I didn’t want the cops to send me back. As a senior, I was once at a party with underage drinking and I asked the host to kick the kids out because I didn’t want to lose my position as an RA, because it was the only way I could afford to live on campus. If I lost my RA position, I’d have to leave college.  If I left college, I’d have to move home. If I moved home? Well, global thermal nuclear war would be the obvious result.

Consequently, I’ve never used drugs illegally and having that talk with my kids never crossed my mind. I’ve thought about the sex talk, the alcohol talk, but I’ve never thought about the drug talk, not in any serious way. So, when the fabulous ring leader of Listen to Your Mother (Ann Imig) asked me to participate in discussion about drug abuse, I almost said “no.” I have nothing to share. But then, I realized, I actually have to discuss this stuff with my kids one day. And how am I going to do that? I don’t want them to be like me, making decisions out of fear. But I also want them to make right choices. And if I believe that it is monumentally important to give them right information about sex and alcohol, why wouldn’t I believe the same for information on drugs?

So, please join me and I and some other talented ladies talk about drugs, drug addiction and how we are talking to our kids about it. Here is all the info.

Date: The evening of Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Time: 9 PM EST
RSVP (optional for Google + users)
View live: http://www.youtube.com/user/LTYMShow/live

For the first time, LTYM has joined forces with The Partnership at Drugfree.org to host an exclusive live-streaming event via Google Hangout On Air, taking place on Tuesday, September 10 at 9 p.m. EST. The live readings will feature 11 leading women voices on the subject of medicine abuse – a health issue that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now calls an “epidemic.”

These readings will feature new and original work about each of the women’s personal connections to addiction, substance use, and/or what they want children to know about the medicine abuse epidemic in a powerful story-sharing hour. Join us at this engaging kickoff to a blog post tour featuring these wonderful writers. Watch the livestream broadcast at the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel ( http://www.youtube.com/user/LTYMShow/live ) beginning at 9 pm EST.

This live event will feature:

Janelle Hanchett – http://www.renegademothering.com 
Brandi Jeter – http://mamaknowsitall.com
Sherri Kuhn – http://oldtweener.com 
Heather King – http://www.extraordinary-ordinary.net
Lyz Lenz – http://www.lyzlenz.com/
Judy Miller – http://judymmiller.com 
Lisa Page Rosenberg – http://www.smacksy.com
Alexandra Rosas – http://www.gooddayregularpeople.com
Ellie Schoenberger – http://www.onecraftymother.com
Zakary Watson – http://www.raisingcolorado.com
Melisa Wells – http://suburbanscrawl.com

For more information and to join:

RSVP on the Google Event Page

and/or join us at http://www.youtube.com/user/LTYMShow/live

The Medicine Abuse Project is a multi-year initiative of the national nonprofit, The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Its goal is to prevent half a million teens from abusing medicine by 2017. The Project provides comprehensive resources to parents, educators, health care providers, law enforcement officials and others about the growing problem of teen medicine abuse. The effort aims to mobilize parents and the public at large to take action. This includes learning about the issue, talking with their kids about the dangers of misuse and abuse of prescription drugs and properly monitoring, safeguarding and disposing of excess Rx drugs in their homes.

LTYM is thrilled to be working with The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Working with nonprofits is a big passion of ours, and the fact that we both involve storytelling as common thread to both of our missions is wonderful.

Please join us to empower many families across the country to take action and end medicine abuse.

To learn more about The Medicine Abuse Project, visit drugfree.org/medicineabuseproject and follow the conversation online at #endmedicineabuse

 

This live event and blog tour are sponsored by The Partnership for Drugfree.org, LTYM’s 2013 National Video Sponsor. Also, this post and my post for the project are sponsored and I’m so honored to be a part of this.

Thank You, Phyllis Richman

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My friend Joe sent me this article today. Food critic and novelist Phyllis Richman, wrote a response to a Harvard professor who, in 1961, questioned her ability to juggle family responsibilities and a career. And just reading it was precisely what I needed in this moment of exhaustion and frustration and (what seems like) eternal writing rejection. I tried to email this to Ms. Richman but I can’t seem to hunt down her email address. So, here you go universe.

Phyllis,

I hope this email goes through. I just read your column on the Washington Post answering Harvard’s question about balancing a personal life with a career. I realize it was published two months ago, but I am just reading it now. Partially because I am just emerging from a newborn-induced coma. Throw a two-year-old into the mix and I’m just glad I can still spell “Syria.”

I’m sure you’ve received a lot of fan letters from this post–women who are so happy to have someone voice the frustration they experienced, and younger women who are happy to see that there is another side to all of this. Count me in the latter category. I read your column during nap time, that brief magical moment of quiet when I am supposed to be writing to fulfill my freelance writing obligations. My two-year-old has been fighting naps since her brother came along, so I’m often left writing at night when their dad is home. It’s exhausting and most days I feel like I’m walking the thin line between narcolepsy and insanity.

Since becoming a mother two and a half years ago, I’ve discovered that the only topic editors want me to write about is parenting. Most days I feel trapped by my uterus and then the other days, I’m just happy I am paid to write something, anything, even if it involves talking about stitches on my perineum. I sometimes think that in this two-year-old/newborn daze that writing is the only thing that keeps my starved and emaciated sanity around. So, I’m glad for the work, but I also am desperate for people to take me seriously. “Don’t look at my uterus! Look at me!” I want to yell. But your column reminded me, it’s not anyone else’s job to take my career seriously. That’s my job. And if I do my job this should work.

I quit my job last November to be a full-time mom and a part-time writer. As a result, I sometimes I wonder if I am doing my daughter any favors by stuffing my career into the cracks of my life. It is only a short time before my children go to school. This too will pass, I think and I try to take the long view. But then there are days when I wonder if I will ever write myself out of this corner. I’m both proud to be defined by my role as a mother and afraid that this is all I will ever be. I have a masters, I love to teach, I read a lot about crime, and I’m a crack shot with a bow and arrow. But I feel like one of the hordes furiously typing away from behind her motherhood, trying to make this all mean something.

I’m told Jane Smiley wrote in 15 minute snatches while she raised children. AJ Verdelle, a hero of mine, says she wrote in stolen moments while she worked as a statistician and raised her daughter.  Stolen moments is all I get these days. This was my choice. I don’t regret it. I’m trying to take the long view and believe that by immersing my life in these small things (children, dishes, poop on the floor, spit up in my hair), that I will come out on the other end of all of this, like you–all the better for having them in my messy, disorganized life.

But it is overwhelming. So, I love the moments when I hear a woman worth admiring say that she made it work. Made it work despite being pigeon-holed by her uterus (“uterus-holed” should be a term). Made  a life she loved because she was talented and graceful and a hard-worker. So, thank you for being that to me in this moment.

Best,
Lyz

Listen to Your Mother: Eastern Iowa (Also, Terry Gross is a Powerful Enemy)

On Sunday, I’m producing (alongside the marvelous Jen and Heather from de Novo Alternative Marketing) a show that is a series of live readings about all aspects of motherhood called Listen to Your Mother: Eastern Iowa.

Maybe you’ve seen me spamming my Facebook feed about it.

This is my first ever big event, besides my wedding, which had barely 100 guests. And when it was over, I wasn’t all misty-eyed and nostalgic. In fact, I swore I’d never go through that hell again. Why? Because who the hell cares what color tulle is? Why are there shades of pink? ISN’T THERE JUST ONE PINK?! Even if Dave succumbs to a freak combine accident and I’m left a widow who is seduced by a handsome rich man. If he wants to put a ring on this, he can’t. HE GET’S THE MILK FOR FREE.

This event has been more fun to plan because I don’t have to worry about a wedding dress. Also, through this process I’ve been able to meet people in town I never would have met and hear stories I never would have otherwise heard.  And the stories of our cast members are incredible–heartwarming, honest, hilarious and heartbreaking. And it’s all to support local moms, by raising money for Waypoint Services.

Technically, I am the emcee. But I won’t need to say much because the stories of our cast say it all.

I hope to see some of you there.  You can buy tickets here or at the door. 

I solemnly vow to take a Facebook hiatus once this is all over to cleanse your palates from my constant updates. I will say this: I have learned a lot through this process about PR. And I managed to get the show covered by most local outlets. Although, public radio evaded me. Which is baffling, because when I am not listening to Ke$ha, I listen to public radio all the time.

And the other day they did a story on pig manure and said “defecation” three times. Seriously, Iowa Public Radio,  I would have said defecation even more times than that! I think this all goes back to the time that I pissed off Terry Gross. Yes, that is a real story with a real Terry Gross.  I now imagine that all public radio affiliates have my photo along with the directive not to have any contact with me. Terry Gross is a powerful, powerful enemy.

UPDATE: NBC Covered the national event, so eat it, Gross.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I Wish I Was Prodigal

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There is a girl I know of. We are the same age and have lead parallel lives on the Internet, in the sense that we’ve both been writing for similar publications, oversharing and pursuing the same goals in tandem. I’ve read her articles. I know she’s read at least one of mine.

Last week, I found out that she achieved a mutual dream. Something we’ve both taken time off of work to pursue. I also found out that in pursuit of that dream, I had a crushing setback. And this is where the problems begin. While we both rebelled against our respective upbringings, her rebellion has led her to drug highs on rooftops. My rebellion led me to housewifery in Iowa. While I was mustering the courage to attend “The Vagina Monologues” and not to attend church, she was sleeping with frat boys in polos. Both of us made defining decisions fueled by confusion and bitterness and we are both unrepentant about our sins. I swear and read atheist books. She does lines of coke of off other girl’s boobs. Really, it’s all the same.

And yet, this week, as I grapple with my failure. I wonder: Should I have made more mistakes? In college, I remember so many times and opportunities when I could have chosen something different, but I didn’t. Not because I was noble. Not because I was high minded or moral. Just because I was afraid. College was my ticket out of the world I was told was my inheritance and I barely had the finances to stay. One semester I lived on Doritos. One summer I showered with the watered down remains of my roomates shampoo and hand soap. I always registered last because I always had an overdue bill. When it came to risks, I balked. If I lost college, I lost the world.

This isn’t about envy. Or maybe it is. Maybe I envy the freedom to plunge to recklessly into an abyss. My whole life has been dancing around them. Maybe I envy the ability to take stupid risks and teeter on the edge. Maybe I envy the ability to be prodigal.

My daughter is so much like me. She is cautious and anxious. She reminds me to take my umbrella and that she needs milk for lunch. Risk worries her. Stairs worry her. Monsters and dinosaurs and messy shirts worry her. I envision her future rebellion against me. She’ll stand on the stairs and declare: “Oh yeah, well, I’m voting Republican!” The next time I see her, she will have a sweater set and a copy of a Betty Crocker cookbook.  Recently,  I spent a week encouraging her to jump in puddles. “Get messy,” I said. “It’s okay, clothes wash.”

She was skeptical. It took three days for her to muster a splash. Even now, her splashes are more akin to dainty steps. “You are only two once,” I say. “Live it up!”

She laughs and now puddles are her favorite thing. But she has to have her boots and coat on. And she always asks before each little stomp, “I get messy?”

At 17, I was sent to a Christian boot camp by my parents when they caught me skipping work to go play tennis. “You lied to us,” my mother said.

“I was playing tennis,” I sighed. “Not doing drugs. I’m not sorry.”

My mother, on the verge of tears, said. “You are unrepentant.” In that moment, I wished I had stolen something and smashed up a car. The outcome would have been the same.

But I can’t. I can’t smash a car up (not on purpose anyway). I can’t self-destruct. I can’t lick a strangers face and get high in Manhattan  Well, I can. I could. But then, what if I didn’t have a toothbrush and the person had a gross face? What if the cops came? Or I ran out of money? How would I do laundry? Where would I stay? Also, tapeworms.

But when I think about it. That is not what I want anyway. I’m just sad because failure hurts. And in my own way, I’m wallowing. Sometimes, failing while doing the right thing gives you freedom to do the wrong thing. And no, I don’t mean,  huffing paint in the garage with the Mayor. Please don’t do that. Because what if you need that paint later? What I mean is the freedom to try a new way. The ability to say, “No” to people who ask me to do things for them, because I am doing something else. Something for me. And the freedom to be unrepentant about it.  To waste paper. To waste time. To think. To read a book when I should be doing laundry. To type when I should be getting dinner ready. To not be sorry. To fail in gigantic ways. To be prodigal in the way that I need to be. Even if my version of prodigal includes a raincoat and boots.

Almost Two

A month ago, at breakfast, I turned to see Ellis hitting her yogurt cup with her spoon.

“Ellis, eat your yogurt,” I said.

“No fank you, I full.” She responded calmly.

“Take one more bite, please.”

“Too bad, mom. I no eat yogurt no.” Then she pushed the cup away from her. “I get down.”

Game. Set. Toddler.

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Ellis turns two in March, but already the evidence is manifesting. Make no mistake, Ellis is no baby.

This morning at breakfast, while eating her oatmeal, she said, “I wike Goldiwocks. I eat da oatmeal. Papa Bear say, NO DAT MY OATMEAL.”

And I was just amazed, because she’s talking to me. And saying things. Human things, like “Mom, put on da pants.” and “C’mere, mom. George da monkey poop on floor.” Last week at Target, while we were browsing through the towel aisle, Ellis was babbling. Something about hair bows. just nodded and kept going on. Her voice got louder and louder, until a well-meaning stranger stopped in front of me and said, “Excuse me, but I think your daughter is telling you she dropped her hair bow.”

And of course, that is exactly what she was saying, “MOM, I DROP DA HAIR BOW!”  The woman’s words brought everything into sharp focus. Like those pictures you stare at in order to see the picture and once you see the picture, you can’t stop seeing it. This is what this transition is like. Often the words that come from her chubby cheeks don’t make sense, because in my head all I see is a baby. A cute little baby, who happens to be pointing out that I have a big mess on my shirt and I should “wipe it up, mom!”  Blurry lines of baby and big girl, but the harder I stare, the more I see the person she is.

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Her favorite thing to say is “Oh no, big mess!” Whether it’s in reference to the floor of Target, in response to Curious George’s shenanigans  or while I’m making dinner, she yells “big mess” and breathes deeply fending off mild panic. Inevitably, those words are followed by, “Pick it up!” And she’s right of course, big messes should be picked up. But that little mouth bossing me around, I made that mouth, and why is it telling me what to do? And worst of all, why is she right?

This must be how it felt when robots go sentient, right? A machine out of control. This is why we don’t mess around with human life, science. Not because the Pope objects, but because I can barely control the life I created in my uterus. That crap you create in the lab is going to eat you.

And this is all to say, that Ellis is frequently right. She usually remembers where her teddy bear, pacifier and blankie are. She asks me, but it’s always some sort of pretense. “Mom, where bankie?”

“I don’t know.”

“It in cribie, I go get it.”

And then, she will go get it and I feel as if this whole thing was just an elaborate set up to remind me that I am not really in control here.

We are starting to create her big girl room. We’ve cleaned out the guest room.  Given away boxes of books and moved tubs of clothes to the attic. I’m pricing out shades, planning to paint the furniture, and hunting down rugs on craigslist. Ellis loves her big girl room and seems to know precisely what it’s for. She climbs into the big girl bed and puts her giraffe to sleep by telling him stories about pigs and wolves. And in two months, she will move in and we’ll clean and organize her old room out for the new arrival. I’m no great decorator. I steal ideas from the internet and my neighbor, and even then they only resemble the ideal in a warped bizzaro world kind of way. But I do love painting and organizing and picking out lamps and shades. I like it because it’s all one big set up for what comes next.

At the end of the month, we’ve planned a little vacation. Just the three of us. It’s our babymoon (which is a stupid term by the way)–a time for us to revel in the sun and hit pause before the lines stop being blurry and the picture clears and the hidden image of what our lives are going to be come into focus.

Running Amok on the Internet

How to Prepare for Number Two ” [Real Moms]

Apparently, I’ve been thinking a lot about sisters lately. “Family Ties” [Mom.me]

My post about oversharing on the internet was up on the HuffPost earlier this month. [HuffPost Parents]

Also, if you haven’t yet been spammed by me about this, listen up. I am bringing Listen to Your Mother to Cedar Rapids, and I need you all to submit your best pieces for our show. In order to make sense of those words, follow this link…[Listen to Your Mother: Eastern Iowa]

Why I Write About My Baby

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I was at the library browsing for books and making sure my kid didn’t kick anyone, when I noticed a woman staring at me. I smiled. She frowned. “I know you from the internet,” she said. “I used to read that site you write for, but I don’t anymore.”

“It’s alright,” I said. “Its a big internet.”

She walked away.

I understood the implication. I don’t like what you do. I don’t take it personally. I don’t like doing taxes and rarely do I ever quiz accountant friends on the intricacies of their jobs. We all do different things. We are all made to be different people.

But recently, much is being made of, as the Atlantic put it, “The Ethical Implications of Parental Overshare.” The article questions the morality of parents publicly sharing embarrassing or difficult stories about their children. It’s an understandable concern, and the voices of criticism are getting louder as a result of the smorgasbord of parenting blogs. It’s a problem I’m a part of. Because, well, I write about my baby.

The author of the article in the Atlantic seems to think that the driving motivator of parental overshare is a need for validation and fame. I can’t answer for other bloggers about why they share, but I can answer for myself.

I didn’t set out to be a “parenting blogger.” I’ve been blogging since 2001, back when Blogger was still in diapers and Glen Reynolds was just a scrappy little lawyer and Matt Drudge’s hat was silly. I wrote about books, politics, feminism, pop culture and my love of Ray Bradbury. My blog, then called Deus Ex Blogina (subtitled: The Blog of the Gods), garnered a small level of infamy when I picked a fight with a much more popular blogger over using the “donate” button on your site. It was a dumb fight. I was not even 20. But I would like to say that almost 11 years later, it looks like I won since “donate” buttons are out of blog style.  When I started receiving hateful emails and lewd messages, I shut it down. I was 20 then and not equipped to handle the darker side of the internet.

When I started blogging again, my blog was private and anonymous. That didn’t last long when family members with good intentions outed me. I was teaching then. And struggling with the private/public barrier. I didn’t want to write about my students or teaching. That wasn’t my story or my job. But there was so much I wanted to say that was my story, I didn’t know where to begin.

And then, I began sending fan letters to authors I loved. And some of them wrote back. Barbara Robinette Moss, the author of Change Me Into Zeus’ Daughter, wrote back with lovely emails full of wisdom and insight. Once, when I heard her on my local Public Radio station discussing her memoir, I dialed in to ask her how she knew if it was okay to tell a story. Her answer was simple, “If it happened to you it’s your story. You need to tell your story and let others have the job of telling theirs.”

That’s always been my guiding principle in everything I write.

In 2010, after some writing success, I relaunched my blog. I was also pregnant. And like every first time parent I was consumed. I felt like I had ceded myself and my body to my child. Her story was my story and it still is. So much of her life is about my life. So much of her needs and wants emanate and reciprocate through me. It’s consumed, exhausting, baffling and overwhelming, but it’s my life. This is my story. For now.

She’s already started to separate. Soon she will be two and tell me that she doesn’t need me. She will tell me this over and over until she has her own child and then, she’ll need me again. But by then, it won’t be about me. Parenting has it’s seasons. I write about my child (and my little baby inside) because for now their stories are mine. But soon their stories will be their own and as parents, we need to know that line. In a few years, I won’t be a parenting blog anymore. I will always be a parent, but I will begin to cede ownership of my children’s bodies and lives to themselves.

And that’s the debate, isn’t it? Where is the line when someone elses’ story ceases to be yours and becomes theirs? When does a parent let go? Memoirs about parenting seem to evade this criticism, probably because they take time and editing, which means better writing. Less punch-in-the-gut reaction, more thoughtful prose. Although, I imagine that there are enough children of authors who resent their parents too. Hell, everyone resents their parents, author, blogger or not.

I daily walk the line of overshare on this site. I try to be truthful and intentional. Loving and honest. I don’t always make it. I want my daughter to see that I loved her, even when I struggled. But I am a daughter, I know that she won’t always see that. And I’m confident that future employers won’t hold her toddler explorations and baby puke against her. I will not own her story by the time she gets old enough for it to make a difference. I am also lucky that I parent with someone who is more cautious than I am and who keeps me accountable. It’s his story too, after all. And yet, I never want to lie. I believe that the truth is more edifying than a carefully constructed protection. I never want to make life seem more beautiful than it is.  Viola Davis wrote, “Motherhood is 50 million heartbreaking moments, and 100 million joyous ones.” I want to bear witness to some of that because that is my story too.

For now.

Why do you write about your baby?

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