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Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

Sharpening

Every Friday, I stuff folders in my daughter’s first grade classroom. I did not volunteer for this task. No other parents volunteered. The teacher needed someone to do it, so now I do. Part of the reason I agreed is because I was curious about what happens in first grade. While I sort assignments, crafts, and tests into piles for each student, I peer into the classroom to see what’s going on. I sit in the shared office for four teachers and watch the students through an open door. Four or five children sit at each round table. They complete their work at different times. They talk to one another. They watch and listen to the teacher as she calls out each word of the spelling test. A few kids are dreamy like my daughter. Some fidget and tap. Others have energy that cannot be contained by a blue plastic chair and a round table. They stand up and down looking for any excuse to move. More than a few sit perfectly still, waiting to find out what assignment they need to complete next. I fidget more as I watch the stillness. I move when they can’t seem to.

At first, stuffing folders was a chore that I never looked forward to. Friday morning would arrive, and I would wake up and sigh dramatically. Two hours of my morning offered up freely. Two hours that I didn’t get to write, research, or read. Two hours sacrificed on the altar of being a good and engaged mother. Two hours I would never get back. Two hours lost to me each week. Why, I wondered yet again, did I ever agree to this? I choked back irritation and filled the folders anyway. On more than one Friday, I considered backing out, but I managed to convince myself not to.

One Friday in November, or maybe December, my perspective shifted. All the folders were finished. I gulped coffee from my “World’s Okayest Mom” mug and then asked the teacher if there was anything else I could do to help. I asked before I realized what I was asking. “Pencils,” she said firmly, “We need pencils sharpened.”

So, I collected pencils, No. 2 and colored, from each table to sharpen one by one. There’s an electric sharpener in the teachers’ shared office. It sounds like each pencil it sharpens brings it inevitably closer to death. It doesn’t grind as much as gasp. I started to sharpen pencils, and it occurred me that I haven’t really sharpened a pencil since I was in high school. Would I remember how? My high school’s sharpeners were mechanical with a handle that you cranked. I loved that my hands provided the energy for the blades to make my pencils sharp and usable again. I loved the softer sound of grinding. I enjoyed the teacher’s sigh of frustration when I wanted my pencil the sharpest it could be.

I eyed the dying electric sharpener; I don’t trust it. I don’t even like the look of it. I inserted one pencil, then two, and three. Unsurprisingly, it gave up one last gasp. I overheated it. This wouldn’t happen with a mechanical sharpener, I thought as I gave it one last evil glance. (more…)

Exits and entrances

Dearest Liana,

Structure? Yes, I also need structure. Like you, I find myself craving the structure of a classroom. I want someone else to ride herd on my writing process. I want a group of people to read and comment on what I write. I’ll admit that I envy your class on personal essays. I want to take a class. I want to take classes, which is why I applied for an MFA program in December.

I want structure, but I need it too. Currently, my life lacks the firm structure that will keep me on the task of writing. Structureless structure abounds, and I still haven’t got a handle on it yet.

My days have a familiar rhythm that start with getting children ready for school and preschool and wind down when I pick both of them up from the after school program. I’ve tried to map my days to create my own schedule. Kids out, writing starts. Kids in, writing over. I imagined that I would stay at my desk for hours working on assignments, essays, or blog posts. I would leave my desk only for short breaks and refills of coffee. I would write all of the words. All of them. In my imagination, there’s a writer who always writes if not at her trusty laptop, then in her beloved journal or any scrap of paper she could find. She would write and write and write and publish and publish and publish. Always writing and always publishing. The schedule of her own design would allow for only productivity and not much else. There would be no sick days, interruptions, or distractions. She would be a writing machine, and others would likely die of envy from her commitment to her craft. She would be a serious writer. Serious writing would be what she does. (more…)

On Amusement and Misogyny

Over the winter break from school and preschool, we took the kids to an amusement park an hour and half away from our house. Our daughter loves to ride the rides. She’s fearless and wants to ride every roller coaster that she can. She’s not quite tall enough for the roller coasters that boast speeds of 60 or 70 miles per hour and turn you upside down. Their names evoke wild cats and/or natural disasters. As she impatiently waits to grow another inch and a half, I get queasy just thinking about them. She’s so close to being able to do something but not there yet, which frustrates her. There’s a lesson here that many adults I know haven’t quite mastered.

I’m her partner for roller coasters, side winders, flyers, raging rapids, and any other ride that catches her fancy. She screams in exhilaration as I wonder at what age these amusements no longer seem fun. For me, amusement parks offer up creative ways to die. While I hold onto bar across our laps tightly, I also trying to touch her hand to assure me she’s still there. As we are tossed side-to-side, I hope that it is actually not possible for us to be thrown out. When we confront gravity, she finds joy. I find terror. Mostly, I try to figure how I became an older, more easily frightened version of myself.

I used to love amusement parks too. Hardly any ride scared me. Defying gravity was perfect. Roller coasters were simply the best. I loved the feeling of hanging upside down. I couldn’t wait to be strapped into a cart on a rickety track.

As my kid and I joined the line for yet another roller coaster, we found ourselves behind four boys, who each looked to be 10 or 11. They were telling each other jokes followed by raucous and loud laughter. I attempted to ignore them while I asked my kid what she wanted to ride next. Her brother fell asleep, and Chris was holding him while she and I tried to ride as many rides as possible.

She listed the rides in order of her preference. The boys got louder and louder. They were telling each other “your mama” jokes. (more…)

My Favorite Essays of 2015

Today is the last day of 2015, which means I should probably reflect on the year and figure out my goals for 2016. What I know is that I’m not ready to do either quite yet. I’ve taken a break from writing while the kids have been out of school/preschool for the holidays. I finished my deadlines in December, applied for an MFA program, and spent time with my family without worrying what comes next. For the first time in awhile, I feel refreshed and ready to take on the new year. I have quite a few plans and so many essays that I want to write, and I can’t wait to share what I’m thinking and working on. Soon, but not yet.

I’m looking forward to my writing life in 2016, but I’m glad for 2015 to be over.

Rather than do a list of my most popular essays, I want to share with y’all the essays that I wrote that proved to be my favorites. Some I enjoyed writing, but others were painful. One of these essay took me 48 hours to write, but another took me over two years to finally complete. The topics range from beauty and motherhood to tenure to professorial appearance to coffee to Taylor Swift to pandering to mansplaining to story. Here they are in no particular order. I hope you enjoy reading them.

You’re Beautiful,” Brain, Child, February 2015.

My daughter also finds beauty in me, usually in the moments when I think I’m anything but. In the mornings before coffee, without my trusty under-eye concealer and the benefit of a hair brush. In the afternoons when my energy and patience are low, she tosses the compliment around haphazardly ignoring whether it landed. In the evenings while she snuggles close, she whispers, “You’re beautiful.” She touches my cheek or holds my hand. I hold her tightly, forcing myself to remember these fleeting moments and her kind words. (more…)

Motherhood and Creative Work

12279060_1151170324908256_2735112922242816204_nDearest Liana,

I keep looking at this quote from Miranda July on motherhood and creativity. It has made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, and I shared it too. I read this quote 10 days after reading your most recent letter, and I cried in my office while the dogs stared at me and the cat chose to ignore me.

July describes how our culture grants men the freedom to pursue their work, their careers, and their creative projects without much discussion of family obligations. “We give fathers all kinds of permission to focus on their work, to be creatively consumed,” she writes. Mothers, unsurprisingly, are not granted the same privilege. When mothers are creatively consumed, we face cultural pressures about what mothers should and should not do. (Often, these are pressures we’ve internalized and assume are the way things are.)

Creative work, like many other forms of work, comes with a host of gendered expectations, which I’m still learning to navigate.

In October, I did a series of public lectures that kept me away from home for six days. At the end of my last trip, I was riding in a cab on the way to Fargo airport and making small talk with the driver. He was telling me about the money he was saving by living in the nearby Moorhead, MN, where I just lectured. He asked if I traveled much for work, and I admitted that I didn’t. I let it slip that I had two children. He took his eyes off of the road to stare at me and asked increduously, “Who is watching your children?” I explained that their other parent had the situation under control, but he looked skeptical. I kept the conversation going until I arrived at the airport, but I was unnerved by his question. All of a sudden, I felt remarkably guilty about my trip. My kids were at home while I was off on my own. I was living my life without them. My mood soured. I was annoyed at my reaction to his question, but also his assumption that mothers were the sole caretakers of children. The mommy guilt appeared and remained with me. My trip was no longer as enjoyable as it had been. I ate Skittles for lunch in protest.

For mothers who want to pursue creative work (and any other work), July notes, “The guilt is unreal.” (more…)