Three Things to Keep me From Jumping off a Cliff

This week, no, this year, I have been met with more disappointment in my professional life than I know what to do with.  Jobs I was certain I had -slipped through my fingers, publishers I was sure would offer-passed, everything I thought would happen, the plan I had dreamed in my mind for myself, is gone.  Each week there are rejection slips in my inbox, each month there’s another person/publisher/editor/chairperson telling me I’m not good enough, my writing isn’t good enough, my credentials aren’t good enough.  This is the life of so many of us who write and teach or teach and write.  It’s what you sign on for when you decide to become a writer.  It’s not just my experience, this trampling of ego echoes through the masses, I know that, it’s just so, so, so…. humbling.  And before you send me hate mail, or call me a whiner, yes, I know there are writers who are way more talented than myself who have been plugging away for twenty-some odd years without catching a break.  This is not a competition.  This is just me, telling you, how I plan to deal with this influx of negative energy.

girl_cryingI’ve been here before.  After my divorce it was the same feeling only the destruction and utter disappointment was happening in my personal life.  I had broken up with my ex to search for a better life, a better mate, a better fit, and I was finding…well, not that.  So I slowly began to work on the things I could control.  I began to exercise, lose weight, read more, focus on my job, and in the end, I was better for it.   More importantly, I took the risk of leaving a bad yet comfortable relationship in hopes of finding something more, and in the (very) long run, it paid off.

Four years ago, I took another risk.  I promised my husband that if he supported my decision to go back to school, it would pay off someday.  I told my kids as I dropped them off at daycare every morning so that I could finish my MFA, that this would all be worth it someday.  Now, that someday seems to be fading further and further into the distance.  I know it will come, the risk will pay off, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep looking up.  But these are things I have no control over.  I can’t control the fact that publishers and editors don’t think a book about a fat girl is going to sell right now.  I can’t control the fact that the job market is in the toilet.  The only thing I can control is me, and what I do with my life and my family, my writing.

In honor of this, I have decided that I’m going to do what I have done in the past at every lull in life.  I have reinvented myself more than once, and I’m ready to do it again.  I’m going to commit to doing three things everyday.  If I can do this for a month, I will add another.  So, just in time for April, I’m asking you, too, to make a list of three things you can do everyday to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.  Here are mine:

Mind:  I’m going to read for thirty minutes a day (at least.)  My life right now is full of “too busy to read.”  That needs to change.

Body:  I’m going to drink 100 ounces of water each day.

Spirit:  I’m going to spend an hour a day doing something my kids love.  Playing Candyland, reading Pinkalicious, building with Legos.  Whatever they want, one hour.  That’s the deal.

These three small things will help me to feel better about myself, connect me with my children, help hydrate my body after a long, cold winter, and help my writing by reading great stories every day.

These are my three things.  I will do them every day in April.  This may not solve my problem, but it helps to exercise control over something.  By the end of April, I will have read, played, and hydrated myself to a better frame of mind.  Hopefully.

The New Question We’re Asking Our Teachers

My husband and I are moving our six-year-old twin daughters across the country.  We’re leaving northeast Pennsylvania for the Seattle area.  As such, we’ve been doing a lot of research on our new town.  First, I researched the work outlook: good.  I researched the state government: two female democratic senators.  I researched the climate: not so great, but livable.  I researched the public transportation: great. I researched the school districts: some of the best in the country.  I called the schools, asked a variety of questions:

What is your curriculum like?

Do your students wear uniforms?

What are your after school programs like?

Are your art and music programs well-funded?

As my cell phone heated up against my cheek, the questions grew more and more vague.  The silences grew longer.  There was still one more question lurking in my throat, in my chest, lying against my broken heart: Would you take a bullet for my daughter?  

Lauren Rousseau's Parents
Lauren Rousseau’s Parents

This is the new rhetoric surrounding neighborhood schools.  This is the new fear that turns parents in their beds at night.  Will my child’s teacher be the next Lauren Rousseau, the Newtown, Connecticut, teacher who selflessly died trying to save her students? Will s/he be willing to stand up to the new face of terror in our schools?  And the even bigger question looming over all of us as parents is: do we even have the right to ask such a sacrifice?

My daughters now attend a small elementary school in Pennsylvania.  Their teacher, a wonderful and thoughtful educator, has a little boy all her own.  is it fair to hope that she would leave him motherless in an attempt to save me from an imaginable grief?  I don’t know if I, in good conscience, could ever ask that of another parent.

For weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre, I, like millions of parents across the country, couldn’t sleep.  I relived the story in my head a thousand times.  I imagined the fear in the children’s hearts in the two to three seconds it took them to realize what was happening.  I lived in that moment.  I lived in that classroom.  I lived in that grief for weeks and weeks.  I considered therapy.  I even considered religion.  Eventually, I began to move forward, slowly.  But in Newtown, there are families who never will.  I believe there is a community that will never get past this.  It’s too big,  it’s too horrible, it just doesn’t fit into any of the compartments inside of them.

The world became a different place on December 14th, 2012.   For me personally, it was the end of my love affair with politics and news.  I was an avid “newsie” for most of my adult life, but as time went on and my television was filled with men and women refusing to stand up to the gun lobby to ensure those children didn’t die in vain, I had to turn it off.  I had to bury my anger, bury my head, bury my pain in the arms of my daughters.  I’ve always been a staunch Democrat, battling fiercely for what I believed were democratic ideals.  Now, I’m just tired and I’m always sad.

I’m sad that my government has let me down.  I’m sad that this pain and fear inside those of us with small children is like a hot stove we are tied to, yet for most on Capitol Hill, it seems that heat has started to cool.  I’m sad that I have to look at my child’s teacher and wonder if s/he would protect them.  I’m sad that I even have to ask such a thing of another parent.  I’m sad for the parents in Newtown, who cannot fathom that gun control is even up for debate.  I’m sad that they don’t have the arms of their children for refuge from this cruel world.

sandy-hook-memorialThe Sandy Hook shooting and the political fallout are a language I will never understand.  I will never be able to comprehend what happened that day, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do with the fact that it did.   The massacre has changed the way I think, the way I feel, and the way I dream.  Now,  in my dreams, teachers are not asked to take a bullet, the children of Sandy Hook are alive and tucked into their beds at night, and teachers teach, and bad guys don’t have guns.  That is my dream, and the dream of so many parents.  The American Dream of yesterday is gone.  The new American Dream is a school from which our children return home at the end of the day, whole, fulfilled, happy, and…alive.

Mamas Don’t let Your Babies Grow up to be Rootless

Announcing to your family that you are taking your children and moving 3000 miles away isn’t easy.  We’ve been met with resistance.  We’ve been hammered with guilt.  Some understand, most don’t.  Some make comments, some say nothing.  The latest rash of negativity comes from my 78-year-old grandmother, a woman who has ventured outside of Scranton maybe three times in her entire life.

roots“You can’t move around with kids.  Children need roots, Amye,” she says over the phone on a Friday morning.  The knot in my stomach grows tighter with every spark of doubt she releases into the air between us.

She makes me think, her words make me think.  I imagine my girls, twenty years from now, floating through the world without roots- drifters, vagabonds, unable to emotionally connect to anyone or anything.  I grew up in a loving home with two parents.  When I was twenty, my parents divorced and our home was sold.  My mother moved into a small apartment across town, and my father moved in with a woman he was dating.  My only sister was 2000 miles away in Georgia.  According to my grandmother’s logic, I was rootless.  And I felt that way.  But instead of drifting, I rooted myself in anything that would have me.  I rooted myself to my ex-husband and his family.  I rooted myself to a job I hated.  Why? Because I had been raised with relatively no change in my life, ever.  So when change happened, I was terrified.  I clung to anything, even if it was unhealthy.

When I divorced, I was rootless once more.  My sister moved away again, my in-laws, to whom I was very close, all abandoned me, and I had lost my husband.  And once again, I handled it poorly.  I self-destructed and it wasn’t pretty.  It was a long, crazy year before I finally started to right myself and to find stable footing.  The lesson I learned from these two periods of change in my life is that my roots are under my own two feet, not in another person’s house or life. My parents are my roots, not where they live or who they are with.  Their love for me is my one true home.  Your roots are who you are, not where you are.

I don’t want my girls to become so rooted in Scranton, Pennsylvania, or anywhere for that matter,  that they grow up and become afraid to leave and see the world.  I want their roots to be me and Timmy, one another, or more importantly, themselves.  I want them to be rooted in our love, not our living room.  It is this belief that keeps me going, that allows me to make this move.  I have to believe that the pain I’m feeling now by severing my own roots, will spare my daughters somehow.  If not, well, I’ll keep plenty of bail money handy for when they are soulless, rootless, drifters.

Dear America, Please Don’t Kill My Kids

Dear America,

We’ve been here before.  As a young newlywed, I watched as terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center and killed an unspeakable amount of innocent people.  Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, over 3000 of them gone, in one day.  I cried for days.  We all did.  Flags dipped low under the smoky sky, and the plume of Manhattan seemed to cover us all in ash.  As a young college student, I watched a television set on Penn State’s main campus as two students shot and killed their classmates at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.  It was an unspeakable horror.  I dreamed about that day for weeks afterward.  I struggled to hold onto my belief that people are good and that America is safe.  I was in high school when Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, I saw the images of the children being carried lifeless out of the burning rubble.

Despite the horrible nature of these crimes, and the crimes that have come later, we, as a nation, have moved forward.  We’ve put one foot in front of the other and went on with our lives.  But this, this latest event, this is different.  There is something worse about a room full of Kindergarten students being gunned down.  There is something worse about this.  Something darker, something blacker. And I can’t get over it.  Maybe it’s because I have kids now.  I have six-year-old twin daughters who are exactly the age of the children who were killed.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and falling out of love with the country I was always so proud of.  Maybe it’s all of the above.

The truth is, I am a ghost of the person I was on Thursday.  On Thursday, I was aggravated that my six-year-old daughters didn’t get dressed fast enough and that we are always running late for school.  On Thursday, I was annoyed by the guy holding up traffic while dropping his kid off at school because he had to give three hugs instead of two.  On Thursday, the world around me was recognizable and despite pockets of dark, there was still light.  Now, all of that has changed.

I thought about dismantling the gun advocacy argument piece by piece and responding to it, but I just can’t do it anymore.  I want, instead, to tell you about my twins, Penelope and Samantha.

026Penelope is a nervous child.  She likes things a certain way and when something is out of place she  can’t seem to  “let it go.”  She loves Barbies and the color pink.  Although, until she was four, her favorite color was blue, and last year it was yellow, now we are on pink.  Penelope has a freckle right on the tip of her nose and her lungs fill with air and she gives me this deep-belly laugh when I try to steal her freckle, which I do often.  She is obsessed with gymnastics and I find her standing on her head all over the house.  When we makes wishes, no matter where we are, she wishes that her family will be healthy and happy.

Penelope is sensitive.  If she seems me crying, she rubs my back.  She’s protective of her twin, her “sissy,” and tells me right away of someone is bothering her.  She loves to sing, even though it’s off-key like her mother, and I’ve sat through about five “concerts” just in the past month alone.  She is polite and sweet, and the weight of this world sits heavy on her shoulders.

Samantha is the complete opposite.  She is a rough and wild child.  She runs around barefoot in the spring and summer and doesn’t bat an eye when she leaves muddy footprints all over the hardwood floors.  She loves to crack jokes and laughs harder than any kid I know.  She loves her sister, and in the morning, I often find them wrapped in an embrace as the sun lights up their shared bedroom.  Samantha is scared of movies.  I took her to see Brave and it freaked her out so much that she now refuses to go to the movies with me.  I tried to calm her fear, but in the end, she will not budge.

But Samantha is strong when I need her to be.  When she’s sick or when her sister is having a meltdown because a button fell off her coat, Samantha is steadfast.  She is made of iron.  I can count on her to keep it together, to wear the button-less coat to school so her sister will calm down.  At night, Samantha hugs me tighter than anyone, burying her little noise into the curve of my neck.

These are my babies.  The ones I waited my whole life for.  These are my Kindergartners.  Please don’t let somebody kill them.  I would die without them.

Is your right to own a semi-automatic weapon more precious then Samantha and Penelope?  If you let them, I assure you, they will grow up to do great things.  They will be productive members of society.  They will save people and invent things.  Or they will work at the mall and just tip better at restaurants than most people.  Either way I will love them and they will love you, America.  If you just let them grow up.



Caught with My Pants Down

This morning, as I was weighing myself half-naked like I do every single morning of my life, my five-year-old daughter crept around the corner of the bathroom door and stood watching me as I stared down at the rather large number.

“Mommy, what are you doing?” she whispered.

I froze, not because I was startled by her presence, but because I was startled by her question.   I mean, I knew eventually one of them would see the scale, would see my morning ritual and ask questions, but I was stunned because, despite months of dreading this very question, I was completely unprepared as to how to answer it.

Mommy’s weighing herself honey because her self-esteem is wholly dependent on a number.  Mommy’s weighing herself because if she doesn’t, she will grow really, really fat again and Daddy will go away.  Mommy’s weighing herself because Mommy is an addict and if she doesn’t check in with her “sponsor” every morning, she will become overtaken by her disease once again.  

All of these thing sound ridiculous in my brain, yet I believe them as truth deep down in the middle of me.  This self-sabotaging dialogue is a train track running down the center of me, charging through and blowing to bits any healthy infrastructure I have erected.  Yet…My daughters are untainted.  They are like cotton: malleable, soft.   My problems with body image are a deep dark canyon, and right now, they are on the precipice of self-loathing.  My answer can either push them over, or save them from this agony.

“Mommy is weighing herself because I want to make sure I stay healthy and strong.”

She wrinkles her nose for a second as if she is sniffing out the validity of my statement, and within minutes her attention  turns to the dogs and she is gone, chasing them up the stairs and into the ripples of her sister’s laughter.

I don’t know if I said the right words.  I don’t know the truth myself.  I don’t know if anything I say can make a difference.  When I think about it, my parents never said anything about weight.  They set a good example and exercised and took care of themselves.  So, I guess the question then becomes,  how did I get here?  And how do I keep my own daughters from this place?