Mothering in a Time of Pandemic

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With the world in a tailspin, it’s been hard to do anything but tread water – hasn’t it?  Brian has recently started to try and give me a little time in the day, every day, to myself.  It feels like such a luxury.  It’s stirring my creativity again.  A creativity mixed with anxiety, but that’s probably to be expected.  I am working on an art journal to chronicle our Pandemic experience.  I have time to write a blog.

In some ways, our life has only changed for the better.  Brian is home more, and we actually get to see him.  I have time for a garden and for perfecting my Strawberry Shortcake recipe.  Asher and I have time for busy Montessori-style work and craft projects.  In some ways it’s better. Just some.

Still, it feels like a horrible slog through most days.  Asher doesn’t understand why Dad is in the house, but unavailable to him.  He keeps asking me if he can go to school, or to see Amma, or to the park.  It breaks my heart to tell him no.

“Remember, honey?  We need to keep the Coronavirus from traveling to see anybody.  Right?” I told him the other day.

“I WANT the Coronavirus to come.” he said with a classic pouty mouth and a stamp of his feet.

“You don’t really,” I said.  “Coronavirus makes everyone feel yucky.  We don’t want that.”

“Humpf,” was the reply.

We each have a Covid Freak Out Day (TM) about once a week.  I’ve tried to make them less traumatic by just accepting that it’s going to happen and preparing for it.  Still, it doesn’t make them feel any better when they do come around.  I’m starting to track what’s happening the day of and the day before freak outs to see if we can interrupt the cycle.  I’m pretty sure mine are triggered by watching Asher cry at the office door when Brian is in an important meeting and he can’t go in.  He won’t be moved or distracted. I’ve tried.  And then I hold him on the floor of the hallway while he sobs and I feel so powerless…

In the mean time, I’m running a small Montessori Home School over here with the help of Asher’s teachers.  As a teacher myself, stuck in a virtual system, I KNOW how hard his teacher is working to provide individualized lesson plans for all of the students.  And I know that teaching virtually is about three times as much work as teaching in a classroom.  But as a teacher, I also know that lesson planning is about 1/3 of the job.  Delivering the lesson and classroom management are HUGE parts of teaching that I am taking on with little help and no formal training (my training is for teens in English – not preschool Montessori).  I’m mostly doing well.  We’re a few days behind the schedule the school has given us, though, because sometimes I need to get materials for the activities.  This has necessitated absorbing some lesson planning duties on my part as well.

Living near the University of Redlands has been a huge boon for us, though, because when it all gets to be horrible and we all have been in the living room too long, we go through a drive-through and find a vacant lawn to have dinner on.  We smell the roses and listen to the birds.  Asher runs.  Everyone feels better.

I don’t have a point, really, except to say that this is hard.  My family is doing this, in some ways, under the BEST possible conditions.  And it still feels impossible but oh-so important.  We’re hanging in there.  We’re learning new skills.

I’m going to post some activities as a closer.  If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing with Asher, or maybe looking for ideas for your own toddler, here are some of the activities he’s loved:

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In the rainbow rice bin.  You can see his construction trucks around the edge.

Rainbow Rice! We used the method of pouring craft paint into the rice and mushing it around.  Asher helped mush the color with me, so it was a double activity.  Good things to put in the rice have included cups and funky spoons for pouring (ice cream scoop!), a hinged tea ball, and some small construction trucks.

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License plate in the mouth, putting flowers in the vase.

Flower Arranging.   I do it a little differently than the linked post.  Asher isn’t really strong enough to use scissors yet (he can’t get them back open after closing them), so I pre-cut the stems to size before he arranges the flowers.  Also, he arranges in a dry vase which I fill with water afterwards.

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Water pouring.  That look of concentration on his face is a huge aim of Montessori learning.

Water Pouring.  We use a small tea pot and a glass canning jar.

Asher stirred the batter and mashed the strawberries for my Mother’s Day breakfast.

Cooking and Baking: Asher does a lot of the prep work with me when I’m in the kitchen.  He stirs mixes, peels oranges and bananas, mushes strawberries with the potato masher, cuts soft things with his wavy chopper, and salts and peppers veggies to go in the oven.  He has even moved on to stirring hot pots on the stove (with plenty of supervision and a long spoon, of course).  We usually “take turns” with this stuff so it really gets done, since most of his efforts are brief and incomplete.  He’s only 2 1/2, so he gets a pass.

 

 

 

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Just An Update – and Blue Gentian is Free

This has been a strange few weeks, I’ll tell you.  We went from being very excited that we all had a week of Spring Break off together, to being thrown into this crazy world where no one knows what’s happening.  It’s been raining every time I plan an outing, too, so there’s that.  And by outing, I mean the social distancing kind – a hiking trail or even a walk around the block.

Asher is not pleased to be so cooped up in the house.  He wants to go out in the 60-degree weather and play with his water table.  He wants to chalk up the sidewalk in the rain.  He does not know why Mom is such a kill-joy and won’t let him.

Also, I officially have THE WORST luck with Student Teaching.  We won’t know fully until tomorrow, but it’s looking like they (maybe?) have some band-aid solutions for us.  Brian is able to work.  We were planning on me not working until September.  Probably we’ll be okay.

That being said, I know a lot of people are cooped up at home with no income or massive insecurity.  My favorite thing for hard times is escaping into a book.   In the spirit of helping, Blue Gentian is free starting tomorrow until the 24th.  That’s as long as I could do it and still remain a member of KDP.

Also, if you’ve ever wanted to write a novel yourself, April is Camp Nanowrimo.   You have time and a story inside you, what have you got to lose?

 

 

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Domesticity

I have been home for a month now with few responsibilities beyond being a mother and keeping house.   If only it could always be this way,  I think.

The house is mostly put together.  I have been cleaning like a madwoman, and finally have the downstairs in a state that meets my cleanliness standards.  It’s been at least two years since this has happened.  The upstairs is also mostly fine, though my bedroom is still a travesty.   My mother and I have been making the backyard safe enough for a small boy to run around in while I tend Tomatoes this summer.  It’s like I have my home back, with things to look forward to.

My home with some additions, as a result of a big subtraction…

My grandfather passed over the holidays.  I assume that sometime I will write about it, but it feels like too much right now.  How is it possible to memorialize someone who was a weekly part of your life (at least) for the entirety of it?  I’m not sure it is.  Still, the family went through his things, and my grandmother’s too (who passed, oh, 7 years ago?  I purposefully didn’t remember the date or year), which was cathartic and wonderful.  And now my house is peppered with little remembrances of them.  I had time to reorganize the knick-knacks and rehang the pictures on the walls to fit them in.

I even had a little time for some historical cooking, which I realized that I missed horribly when I was watching them make Figgy Pudding at Jamestown over an open hearth.  I made a Carolina Snowball – a desert “pudding” (not at all like we think of modern puddings, by the way) that consists of rice cooked in milk surrounding a spice-baked apple in a butter/wine/sugar sauce.  It was CRAZY good, and the first time I made a recipe with dubious instructions and no measurements.  Swell the rice in warm milk, it said.  Boil until Enough, add a Glass of wine… But it turned out and not only was it edible it was darn good!  The butter/wine sauce might be one of the best things I’ve ever had ever, even.

I am starting student teaching again next Monday, which feels a little like the end of the party after how hard I worked at it all last semester.  The beginning of work, the end of cozy homeyness.

Still, I do think it will be different this time.  I have notice about what and where I will be teaching.  I am not taking any companion classes to fill my nights with panic and my weekends with homework in addition to lesson planning and grading for my own students.  I have reliable child care.  I have a (mostly) clean house.

I’m ready for the chaos, and determined to cling to the domesticity in the middle of the rapid stream of work to follow.  If only because I need more of that butter/wine sauce in my life.  Yum.

 

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Throwing It Open

I have had a few weeks of no responsibility (you know, besides the parenting ones which are mostly fun) over the holidays.  This last year of school was intense, and I’m glad to be moving into a time when things will be less crazy.  I will only have to student teach, and student teaching will look a lot like my official job (when I get one).

This means that I get to branch out into the things I’d LIKE to do, and not just the things that are enriching my life but not necessarily enjoyable.  Which means, I’d really like to blog more.

This seems to be a theme recently, doesn’t it?  I’m always resolving to blog more.  I have also been thinking long and hard about why it hasn’t been working for me, and I think it’s because I’ve put too many rules on myself about it.

I used to blog about my entire life.  Sometimes there was writing stuff on here, but mostly it was just little essays about how life was going and some of the things I was doing.  Experimental poetry, polished stories, weird stuff.  Sometimes there were book reviews.  Sometimes there were crafts and recipes.  It just depended on what I was doing.  As I moved my career more professional, I felt like there wasn’t a place here for anything that wasn’t either about being a writer or that was literary.  Which means I have very little to blog about and post, even though I have SO MUCH to blog about.  I’m continually feeling frustrated about it.

So this is official notice that I’m throwing all of that out the window.  There’s really no reason to keep this to one subject, except for professionalism.  And frankly, I’d rather be me than professional.  All the posts you like will probably still appear, they will just appear among the other things.  Blog posts will (hopefully) be more frequent.  And expect some teaching stuff, too, I would imagine.

Cheers to the new year!

 

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The Resolution Post 2020

I didn’t do a resolution post last year.  I’m not sure why, except that I was probably feeling both overwhelmed and defeated – I have been so busy that it’s been VERY hard to fit any writing in.  2020 promises to be a tiny smidge less busy, and I am already feeling a bit of creativity creeping in with the dust as it settles during my Christmas vacation.  I hope it sticks around, as I always do.  We’ll see.

My year looks like this so far:

  • January – a short break
  • February-April – more student teaching, with lots of Great Gatsby.  Also, CAL Teacher Performance Assessments.
  • May – an epic job hunt
  • June-August – a summer that may include an epic job hunt, but is guaranteed to have lots of Small Boy in it.  Therefore it will mostly be good.
  • September-December – If all works out, it will be my first classroom.

Not too shabby.  And very busy, but no classes shoehorned into all my other responsibilities.  A little breathing room, a little creating room.

Since I didn’t make actual resolutions last year, I can’t say if I completed them.  However, I read 109 books this year, and am SO CLOSE to finishing Easterbay.  I can’t figure out the ending, but the rest of it is looking all edited up and really good.  My Master’s Thesis was also on teaching creative writing to 9th graders, so I brushed up on some of my own best advice for Steering the Craft (to borrow a book title from Ursula K. LeGuin).  That’s not nothing.

Reading Goals:

In 2020, I’d like to try and read 140 books.  I almost completed that many in 2018 when things were less nutty, and I like to stretch on goals.  100 clearly isn’t a stretch.  Also, I want to read one book a month that isn’t a romance novel or a parenting how-to book.  That’s basically all I read anymore.

Writing Goals:

I’d like to finish Easterbay, so that’s a HUGE one for me.  I learned a long time ago not to make goals about publication that I have no control over, but instead to make goals about content.  Even if I finish Easterbay, I’ll need Brian to Alpha read, and then I’ll need Beta Readers, and then I’ll need to format it and stuff… so that won’t be a firm commitment on publication, just on finishing.  I’ll also commit to writing 10 days each month and participating in Nanowrimo with a new novel (not a rewrite of an old one).

Optional writing goals that I hope to complete but won’t hate myself if I don’t are to publish Easterbay, and to start editing my first romance novel.

Personal Goals: 

Lastly, I don’t usually do personal goals but wanted to set two out this year for posterity.  One is to figure out how to enjoy mothering more.  It’s not that I totally don’t enjoy it, but I find that a lot of my time is spent being anxious about myself and him and whether or not he’s really getting what he needs.  Even in the fun moments, that stuff is lurking back there to smush my good time.  I’m hoping that I can figure out how to be fully present for the good stuff a little more often.  Second, I hope to improve my classroom management skills.  I probably won’t be actively good, but I am definitely going for better this next semester.

Well, that’s it for the Resolution post.  I’m excited that it’s going to be the 20’s again, so I’ll be rouge-ing my knees and looking for a speakeasy.  Also, pass the ERA already, President Wilson!

 

 

 

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Things that are Brown in October

I have been working hard on my Master’s thesis, which it turns out will be 9 weeks of lesson plans on creative writing.   After much research, I’m now on the “writing lesson plans,” portion. It’s been good for me to delve into the writer’s process again.  I think I know this stuff because I am a writer, but there is always more to learn (or sometimes to re-remember).

Two things that have struck me in my reading: one is that we know how important modeling can be for students in the classroom.  In order to have a writing classroom, you also have to be writing and sharing your work, suggests one of the books I’m reading.

I’m editing, but I’m not really writing.  I haven’t been in a while, because it feels rusty and wrong.  The stuff I write isn’t much good these days.  Although who knows how much of my writing was good before, I was just producing so much of it that plenty of good stuff came out with the bad…

On to the second thing.  Which stems from the old writing cliche that stories come like water from a faucet.  When you have turned on the faucet after a long time of disuse,  I found in a quote, you need to get all the rusty crap out of the line before good writing starts to flow again.  It takes a minute to get back into clear waters.

And so in the interest of clear waters, I’m doing some list making.  After all, it’s in a lesson plan I’ve made for 14 year olds.  What’s good for the goose and all…

This one is of Things that are Brown in October.  And other times too, some of them, but they are things that are around and that matter.

  1. The California Buckwheat in Caroline Park
  2. Starbucks bags
  3. The seat of Asher’s pants when he forgets to have careful feet at the park
  4. the fake trees in the Halloween village
  5. Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Coco powder
  6. plain wooden cars that go “around, faster and faster Mumma.”
  7. The wig of my Princess Leia costume
  8. The wooden box that holds a beloved cat’s ashes
  9. A cinnamon broom from Trader Joe’s
  10. Teabags in a canning jar
  11. The Sweet Pea Hedge that died in the summer heat
  12. Morla’s mulch
  13. Many kinds of Halloween candy
  14. The hills in the distance off the 210 freeway
  15. Brian’s hair
  16. McDonald’s hamburgers, even when the playplace is closed
  17. Bunnies with white tails that disappear into the buckwheat when a small boy speaks

 

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I’m Writing

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’ve kinda been avoiding writing.  I had a realization while in Maine that the book I’m writing that takes place in Maine needs MAJOR revisions to be right.  And I’ve been loathe to do it.  It just feels like difficult work, you know?

But I watched the Ursula K. LeGuin documentary on PBS, and was as inspired as I usually am by her work and life.  She was such a force of nature, and an empowering one as a mother of three who published genre-bending work when her children were small.  Also, it took her almost twenty years of writing stuff and submitting it before she broke into the profession.  It gives me hope.  She was doing difficult work with children.  I can do difficult work with children.

Which is to say that I’ve been writing a bunch the last few days.  The book is better than I remember it, but still needs plenty. I’ve been mostly pondering profluence.  It’s easy to write a pretty scene, to play with the language in a sentence and come up with something that sounds fun.  It’s not that hard to add concrete details that characterize a person, either.  I’m even getting passable at dialogue. But what IS hard is profluence.

“Explain what that means again,” Brian said when I started talking to him about it yesterday. Because right now the novel doesn’t have it.

Profluence is a fancy word for the sense you get in a novel that the novel is moving forward and progressing.  It’s a complicated combination of your trust for the author (do they seem to have a plan?), the pacing of the scenes, the way you’ve dropped foreshadowing in or not, even the way you’ve organized many scenes in a row.  It’s a separate thing from the plot and the prose, and it’s hard to get right.  Sometimes it’s even harder to figure out why your work doesn’t have it.

I’m going through that now, because I don’t really know what’s wrong.  The novel feels like someone is alternatively putting their foot on the gas and then letting the narrative slow before giving it another burst again.  Hot and cold, slow and fast, too much info and not enough, characters behaving unevenly.

We’ll see.  How do you fix this?  Just try stuff until something seems to help, I think.  That’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me in the past. I’ll be lengthening a few scenes and rearranging a few more.  And if that doesn’t help I can always put them back where they used to be, right?  (I can.  I save drafts like it’s my job).

Maybe people who are more experienced than I am don’t have these moments where they’re floating around in the dark and stabbing at things willy-nilly.  But I almost always get to a point in a novel where I am.

I’m not sure I had a real point to this post except to say that it feels right to be sitting down and letting the words flow again, to be weaving the threads of a story and pondering big theoretical writing concepts.

I guess I have Ursula K. LeGuin to thank for that.  As I have had so many times in the past.

The documentary really was great.  It’s on American Masters and you can get it online if you don’t have PBS as a channel.  Just saying.

 

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Some Time

I’m not often on my Blue Gentian page these days.  When I first published the book and when I first started running ads, I was on there almost every day.  But now that I have things (mostly) working the way I’d like them to, I tend to leave things be.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the page to find eight whole reviews, and a lot from people who don’t already know me!  They all seemed to like the book, too.  It was a nice little gift as I’m gearing up to start writing a little more.  I’m not optimistic that I’ll get the next book out before the new year, but I might give it a push to see if I can get close.

The baby is starting preschool on Monday.  He’s only going for two days, but that is sixteen whole hours of freedom each week.  I hardly know what to do with myself.  Hopefully I will be substitute teaching in short order, but getting hired for that is still in the works.

In the mean time, I have a list so long of what I want to get done in life that I think I’m going to have to prioritize.  There is no possible way I’m going to clean, redecorate, and organize the whole house while simultaneously getting a novel published and faffing off doing all the fun things I don’t get to do usually (like paint my nails, and binge watch terrible TV).  I have a list of Christmas presents I’d like to make, and crafts I want to do so I can hang them up around the house.  I have list of recipes to try that is epic. Seriously, my expectations are not realistic.

It feels a little like I’ve been handed myself back again (on a temporary basis, of course, maybe rented back to myself), and I’m not sure what I did before I was debilitated by pregnancy, and then structuring my entire life around a small and very adorable boy. I guess I’m about to find out.

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Student Teaching News

For those who have been following the Student Teaching saga, I have an update.

After much reflection, I pushed my university to offer me a different placement.  The university wasn’t sure they felt okay about offering me that option, since my relationship with my Supervisory Teacher had been so good previous to the unexpected tragedy.  They also let me know that English placements aren’t easy to find, and that even if they said they wanted to re-place me, there was no guarantee that a place could be found. I was persistent, though.

I just felt like it wouldn’t be in either of my Supervisory Teacher’s or my best interests to continue working together.  Although I can’t fully empathize and don’t want to pretend to, I do know that the death of a child is something you never get over.  It’s a little insensitive (and uncomfortable) to ask her to mentor me while she is so heavily and newly in the grieving process.  I also feel like I’m going to learn more from someone who has the mental space to be in the weeds of mundanety with me (lesson plans, classroom management, etc…) instead of wrapped up in the profound cycle that is life.  Lastly, my career is too important to let myself become the student teacher who acts as a distraction for my Supervisory Teacher’s grief, especially because this career is how I intend to spend the rest of my life (not that she has expressed that sentiment, but many others on the periphery have).

My university gave me the word earlier this week that, if I want, they will pull me from my placement and find another for me with a stipulation: I will join the next cohort of students and do 5 weeks and 10 weeks all over again, instead of doing 15 weeks at once as planned.

I’ve taken them up on it.

I was going to have a teaching credential in December and a Master’s degree in June, and this changes things a little bit.  I will now have both a Master’s degree and a teaching credential in June.  It’s a delay, but June is a better time to look for work as a teacher and I’ll be more qualified while I’m applying for things, since I’ll also have that Master’s degree to help me along.

Honestly, it’s a big relief.  The only thing I’m a little worried about is who I’ll be placed with next.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that it’s someone amazing.

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A Wardrobe Appreciation

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I didn’t post about it at the time, but my suitcase went missing into the nebulous ether that planes fly in on our trip back from Maine.  “We’ve found your suitcase!” the airline kept calling me to tell me, only to attempt to deliver a bag that wasn’t even close to mine.  Sigh. I’m still in rounds with them about settling for the value of my baggage.

The finances, with my income being all Student Loan since Asher arrived, are also strange.  We get financial aid in spurts, and there are tens of thousands in the bank that are supposed to last us six months or more.  By the end we are usually scraping a little… able to pay all the bills but not able to make any extra purchases.  Like a new wardrobe, for instance.

It wasn’t that big a deal, I didn’t think.  Yes, I had brought all the clothes I actually like to Maine.  Yes, I had lost all my fun book tees that solidified my status as a literary nerd.  But it wasn’t like I didn’t have stuff to wear.  I just didn’t have cute stuff to wear. I bought a bra, a pair of jeans, a few target t-shirts, and made due.  I felt frumpy, but I chalked that up to being a tired mom.

Brian’s financial aid came in this week and I was able to buy an actual wardrobe today. While I bought several shirts and another pair of jeans, I spent most of the money on stuff that no one would notice: tank tops, underwear, bras, pajama pants, slip shorts. I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER.  I feel like a complete person now.

I have never before appreciated the luxury that is being able to pull a tank top from the drawer to put underneath a low neckline.  I no longer have to choose between underwear that has holes and unraveling elastic or the ones that settle onto my c-section scar and rub all day.  I can wash my jeans without having to wear fancy dress pants as I wait for them to dry.  I have shorts to wear under the few skirts I still have in my drawer (chub rub is real, guys, and deodorant on the thighs only cuts it for so long).  I do not have to wear a bra that I have worn for five days in a row in 100+ heat.

Is this TMI?

In short I’m happier, less smelly, and infinitely cuter.

This is where I’m supposed to have some sort of witticism or Deep Thought about clothes and who we are.  But honestly, I’d rather just go enjoy my soft, soft pajama pants that have pockets.  Appreciate your clothes, guys.  I know I’m going to, simple as they are.

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