100 days

P1030262Pop the corks and ignite the fireworks, cuz we just survived the Hundred Days of Darkness!

Okay, so the first three months of a new baby aren’t ALL bad, but it is definitely a special kind of abyss. Around-the-clock feedings, constant head support, and lots of bewildered crying as the baby learns how to fall asleep. I don’t mean sleep through the night. I mean fall asleep.

It isn’t sunshine and rainbows after three months, but there is a sudden and marked shift when you realize: oh hey, she’s paying attention to stuff. She’s smiling and trying to laugh. She’s sort of maybe kinda got a predictable nap thing going, and if you spot the cues fast enough there’s no meltdown on the way to bed. Unless you’re dad. Then there’s probably still a meltdown.

So! Time for an update! In fact, time for all the updates!

100 Days of Recovery

100 days ago, I was in agony! 90 days ago, I could still barely get in and out of bed! 80 days ago, I was acknowledging that I would, in fact, survive my c-section, but that I’ll see you all in hell before I do that again. Where am I now? Well, my scar is settling down to pink instead of purple. The flesh is tender/numb but not painful, and pretty itchy on one side as it heals and feeling comes back. Oh, and parts of my ass are still numb from the epidural. You hadn’t heard of that one before? Yeah you get numb ass.

100 Days of Infant

What are we at, then? I’ve put her to bed between 400 and 500 times, breastfed about 700 times (and changed a comparable number of diapers), oh and of course gotten up 1-3 times a night for well over 100 nights, since that bullshit starts when you’re still pregnant. AM I AWAKE OR ASLEEP RIGHT NOW? NOBODY KNOWS.

At first a baby is all work and no reward, but gradually they start noticing you exist and providing positive feedback in the form of smiles and coos, and then it’s all right. For the first month she did nothing but eat-cry-sleep, eat-cry-sleep, and even in her sleep she would make so much noise it’d keep me up the rest of the night. But now all of a sudden she’s a great baby. Easy to put to bed, entertained by all the little toys her brother disdained, and taking like a champ all the things that made him hysterical (changing tables, doctor visits, facing forward, and so on). Uh, good job, baby!

100 Days of Big Brother

I barely glanced away, and all of a sudden my 2-year-old is making conversation, counting (somewhat accurately!), singing songs, and building increasingly elaborate block monsters to re-enact episodes of Little Einsteins. Thank goodness he hasn’t exhibited any jealousy or resentment toward the baby (maybe just a little toward dad for finally working a day shift). After months of prepping him with a baby doll, he was excited to help take care of a real baby. FOR ONCE, MY PLAN WORKED! Now I just have to keep an eye out to make sure he doesn’t “help” too hard.

100 Days of Reading

I had a hard time reading at first (shocking!) because with my first kid I’d just prop a book up while breastfeeding for 30-40 minutes at a go, but this time around I’ve got a talkative toddler at my elbow and a lightning-fast eater who only takes 10-15 minutes. But then! I reconfigured my approach. I started reading online SFF magazines for short reads while breastfeeding, and I started borrowing ebooks from the library to read on my phone while walking around or patting a baby to sleep. Now my physical books are for after kid-bedtime– a luxury. And it’s working! I’m powering through stuff, and it’s all so good! WHY IS THERE SO MUCH GOOD STUFF COMING OUT?

100 Days of Writing

I can be a little dramatic when I don’t get writing time. (I can sense my husband reading this, muttering, “A little?”) It was only a few weeks after giving birth that I would cry in sleep-deprived despair, “I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WRITE AGAIN!!” And then a few weeks after that I adjusted to my new kid-load and started writing again. I won’t lie, it’s tougher, but it isn’t impossible. I’ve knocked out a few short stories to get back in the mental swing of things. I’ve agonized over my decision to wait a few months to start the agent submission process, but it’s the right one. Now I’ve got last spring’s rough draft manuscript glaring angrily at me, waiting for edits. Maybe it’ll be done within the next hundred days…

100 Days of Support Network

What…is…social life? I didn’t leave the house at all other than doctor’s appointments for a month. But I think it took longer the first time, so that’s an improvement! Anyway, big thanks to all my family and friends for patiently awaiting my return to society. I’ll almost definitely go to the next nighttime book club. There are also holidays coming, and I will be there. And maybe one day I’ll go out with my husband again, and it will be somewhere more exciting than Target.

Forward march!

motherhood and creativity

breastfeeding

The daily struggle

This article by the Atlantic has been making the rounds recently, positing a lot of interesting questions about motherhood and creativity. Studies of rats (whose brain functions are very similar to humans) show that female rats become remarkably more creative, adaptable, and focused after giving birth, and that the benefits last long after their offspring grow up.

This, of course, raises the question about how humans’ brains are affected by giving birth and caring for children. And the article contrasts the potential benefits against the discouraging messages that women artists receive: namely, that having children is incompatible with maintaining a successful artistic career, that kids are a distraction, that you can’t pay attention to both. When in reality, for many women, the result is the opposite. The trouble, as with any second job, is time management.

Obviously there are plenty of creative people with and without children, and some mothers shift gears to childcare more than others, or find they hate childcare entirely, etc etc. But wow, yes, for me this is 100% true! I had a good number of ideas before, but after having my first baby I felt like I was suddenly exploding with them (plots, characters, structures, emotional story arcs, worldbuilding) in a way I wasn’t before. In particular, my best ideas now incorporate a better emotional climax into the plot/action climax. The frustrating part is not having nearly enough time in the world to write it all, so I have to pick and choose what to develop and then eke out chunks of time each week to plug away at whatever my current WIP is.

Part of it is life experience in general. I’m older. I’ve got a decade more reading and philosophizing and socializing and paying attention to current events under my belt than 21-year-old Sam did. I have more to say, so it’s easier to slip a theme or character arc into a story that previously was based entirely on explosions and banter (that said, you will pry my explosions and banter from my cold dead body).

But it’s also mommy brain, I’m convinced of it. I’ve had to learn how to multitask and focus like never before. If I want to write at all, I have to keep a story buzzing in my brain at all times so that when a 30-minute chunk of nap time becomes available I can jump right in and work like crazy till it’s over, and then immediately shift gears back to the baby. I wrote a book last year while I was massively sleep-deprived (my first kid took 13 months to sleep through the night!) and working a part-time day job. I wrote at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. and during 1 hour naps on the weekend. The first draft was feverish but fast, and I actually liked my stream of conscious prose better than when I used to agonize over every sentence and take all day to write a scene. Editing, of course, was a nightmare! But man it felt good to be working on something.

Anyway, I think the article is worth a read! Here are some of the bits that struck a chord with me, regarding creativity itself and the unique guilt/shame that comes with carving out time to write.

Regarding rat moms:

Even as her offspring grow and learn to fend for themselves, the neurological changes of motherhood persist. She will experience less memory decline in old age, and have quicker navigation skills than non-mothers, outsmarting them in mazes. She is more efficient, making fewer errors. She finds new and unusual ways to get tasks done—problem-solving approaches she had not considered before giving birth.

From artist Hein Koh, in response to another artist who insisted there is not enough energy in one person to split between art and children:

“Becoming a #mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better #artist—I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and #multitask like a champ.”

Because yes, the multitasking is unreal, and the need to be efficient in all things at all times is all-encompassing. I gave up basically every other hobby and casual social events in order to make time for the things I wanted most: writing and spending enough time with the baby.

Regarding problem-solving:

Creativity requires making unusual connections. At its core, Jung said, creativity is original problem solving. This is an evolutionarily derived process that is important to survival. Humans who achieve high creativity usually have endurance and grit, Jung said. Creative people take risks, Jung said. They are bold, and adept at finding new and unusual ways to get tasks done.

There is enormous guilt in taking time away from your kids (I am sitting in my local library right now, during my once-a-week block of free time, and every week I feel the need to apologize 20 times while walking out the door). BUT, I am also so much better during the rest of the week when I take this break.

I am a better mother, a happier mother, when I am also able to carve out time to write. I am a better writer, a happier writer, when I am also an involved mom.

That is basically where I’m at right now. I’m trying not to feel guilty about splitting my time, but splitting my time is essential for my happiness. Sometimes I overdo it on both fronts and have a complete meltdown, but the weeks where I achieve a good balance are enormously rewarding.

Now let’s see how the dynamic changes as baby #2 gets bigger, and nap time ends. TWO TODDLERS COMPETING FOR ATTENTION? Get me the smelling salts, for I have collapsed.

“the little frog!! and the little girl!!”

Last week I sold my first short story to a professional SFF magazine! I’ll post more when it comes out in early 2018. For now, suffice to say: I’m super excited and want to get some momentum going! Since I’m in the baby dark zone and utterly failing to edit the novel I finished this spring, I’m churning out some short stories instead to join the other three I have on perpetual submission. The agent hunt is only temporarily on hold, till I’m getting just a BIT more sleep.

It’s time for another 7-year-old writer Sam flashback! I told you all about my first real narrative tale, “What Hapend March Ninth!!” Now let’s dip into the writing frenzy that followed as I became not just author, but illustrator as well. Here is one of my first staple-bound construction paper illustrated shorts. It’s pretty clear that I had only recently encountered commas and silent ‘e’s.  And, true to this day, nothing is worth saying if it isn’t worth saying with! an! exclamation mark!

Behold the adventures of a girl and her beloved pet frog, aptly titled:

frog1

The little frog!! and the little girl!!

frog2

There ones was a girle! the girle! ->

frog3

There ones was a girle frog!!! The frog!

frog4

The girl, met the frog. Hi! Hi!

frog5

The girl, took The frog home,

frog6

They played, and played, and played

frog7

The girle, got a pool for the frog! Yaa!

frog8

They swam together!

frog9

They did lots of fun things together, They were happy together, and They were happy They met, They were so, so, happy.

frog10

They were best friends, They told evry body that they noo, if they were not to far away. They went for trips together, They calked rocks together, big or little rocks.

frog11

One day it got cold so it was winter, togethe they made a snowman, withe the girles Mom!!!! Ice >

frog12

The End!

 

formative years

I was wandering around the house like a very helpful poltergeist in the wee hours of this morning, tucking a sick toddler back under his blanket, patting a baby, starting a pot of coffee. And I started thinking about those first five years of life before school creates a clearer timeline of memory and you just exist in a blur of Mom and Dad and Sibling(s) and Home, punctuated by the occasional birthday party or trip to the park.

Scan0008I’m the second of six kids, but until I was seven there were only three of us. I was pure, unadulterated Middle Child. Middle kids jonesing for attention have two options: act out, or become overachieving people-pleasers. Ding ding ding for option two! Though I’ll note that I largely grew out of the people-pleasing, and am now obnoxiously insistent on doing everything my own way. Except even that is a backlash against the early people-pleasing! See? There’s no escaping. And I’m definitely still a hopeless workaholic.

Those early years are SO FORMATIVE. And yet, you barely remember any of it. I have some faint, ghostly memories of jumping up whenever we were asked to do chores, or experiencing anxiety at doing something wrong, but it’s hard to tell if those are real memories or the secondhand memories you form when your mom repeatedly tells you what your childhood was like. Do I remember my fifth birthday party, or just the home video of my fifth birthday party?

So now I’m looking at my own kids and wondering what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. You can’t escape a bit of both. Am I raising them to be assertive but not bullies? Self-confident but not egotistical? Sensitive but not fragile? Appreciative? NICE? How much depends on their predispositions and innate potential, and how much is trying to push a boulder uphill?

And how does the sibling dynamic change things? What is the dynamic of raising one boy and one girl, as opposed to one boy and a boatload of girls? I’ve always been surrounded by sisters. My childhood was exceedingly loud. We’re still constantly up in each others’ business, and talk basically every single day via instant messenger. Will my kids be this close to each other? I hope so.

I don’t have a conclusion here, so I’ll turn the subject to writing. Any time that I’m grappling with a facet of my own life, I’m mentally filing it away for future character-building consideration. Writer friends, consider the sibling dynamic when building your characters’ backstories, even if it will never be explicitly mentioned in the main plot. What was this person like at five years old? Did life reinforce those personality traits, or dampen them, or strip them away? Why?

And don’t shy away from siblings. Fiction is chock-full of only children. I’m guilty of it, too. It simplifies the backstory and the choreography of plots that do involve family members, and let’s be honest, it’s hard to maintain the brooding allure of your anti-hero if his sister calls up and says, “Remember that time you pooped your pants at Jenny’s birthday party?” But he did. He totally did.

Big families lend themselves to comedy and sprawling epics, but they don’t have to be confined there. Maybe your brooding anti-hero was the oldest of eight and co-parented them through poverty. Or maybe he was the youngest and is trying to earn his way out of the shadow of many older siblings. Or maybe he was right in the middle and they all think he’s an asshole because he never calls home. Whether you mention the reason or not, he’s rooted in those core personality traits.

So. Who were you when you were five?

into the abyss

Blue_Tentacles_(17569669855)

[image by Eric Kilby]

And lo did Samantha bear her second child into the waking world, that strange and too-bright earthy realm, and it came squalling and angry, in the manner of its kind. For a day and a night the creature spat clear fluids, furious and confused by the manner in which it was ripped from its mother’s womb–and neither was its mother any less wounded. But their recovery was swift, and both were released from the institution that coddled them.

They returned to the ancestral manor, bound together in a pattern old as humanity itself, the mother offering herself as food to that which she had spawned. There they found the father and brother eagerly waiting, and the cats slinking door to door, curious and yet disdainful, their ears pricked to new sounds and their backs arched for a missing touch.

Into the abyss she spiraled, day blending into night into day again, the creature growing at a rapid pace and her own body dwindling in thermodynamic remuneration. An unending cycle, a sleepless existence, the ebb and tide of a primal mission: the propagation of self.

She inhabited a living dreamworld, untethered from her initial aspirations, for what little time remained to her was claimed for sullen rest. Each time the creature slumbered, Samantha vowed to continue her work, but each time the creature slumbered, Samantha fell into a twilight existence somewhere between waking and sleep. In this walking twilight she saw wild and incoherent visions, each of which she feverishly marked down in a notebook set aside for just such record-keeping, each of which might one day inform her work, but which, for now, remained merely the ramblings of a strained mind.

Soon, she would return. Soon, she would emerge from the abyssal brink upon which teetered all her goals and wishes, and she would once again take on the mantle of ambition that fueled her literary scrawling. Till then: perpetual night and dreaming awaits.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

pregnancy Q&A

received_10206497838124983

The Glory

I’m still recovering from post-birth baby brain, though I’m tentatively noodling around with book edits again and getting ready to tackle the submissions process. I actually drafted this blog when I was pregnant with my first child and never posted it. I was getting flustered about having the same conversation every day. And then I felt bad and didn’t want anyone to feel called out. And now I don’t remember who that could possibly be, so if we had these conversations: no worries.

Bizarrely, I didn’t have this experience at ALL while pregnant the second time! Do first-time moms exude some air of uncertainty that invites the opinions of strangers? Or do second-time moms exude some air of weary impatience that staves OFF the opinions of strangers? I may never know!


With a baby around the corner, I thought I’d reflect on the public interaction part of pregnancy so far.

Because, ah man, I would have been happy to only let my friends, family, and immediate coworkers know that I am expecting, but it hits a point that you are too physically obvious and strangers want in on the excitement, too. I work with the public, which means new people want to weigh in on the situation every week.

I’m being good-humored and taking it for what it is: polite small talk. It’s an easy topic to make chit-chat about because everybody at least knows somebody with kids. If I don’t want to answer something I laugh and hand-wave it off, but I try not to be rude because I know it’s coming from a polite place.

The most common opening question trifecta, understandably:

  1. When are you due?
  2. Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?
  3. Is this your first?

1-2-3 this is basically every conversation I have with curious patrons. I have been tempted to lie on number 3 and say I already have kids, because inevitably once I admit that this is my first baby people get the urge to gleefully explain some aspect of childbirth to me. The most bizarre thing that I didn’t anticipate: folks really want to tell you every childbirth horror story they know, all culminating in, “And then you end up getting a C-section.”

This has happened repeatedly:

“Are you planning to give birth naturally?”
“Well… I mean, I’m intending to, yeah.”
“It doesn’t matter what you plan, you might need a C-section.”

Thank you???

Everybody also wants to tell me how exhausting it will be, how you are never really ready, how your life will change, etc. They really play up the downsides. Meanwhile, my childless friends get the opposite barrage: questions about when they are planning to have kids, and insistence that “your biological clock will kick in and then you’ll do it!” But apparently once you actually get pregnant the rhetoric switches to convincing you it’s going to be terrible. Make up your mind, general public!!

There has also been a major fascination with prying out my symptoms. During the first half in particular, these were the most common questions:

  • Have you been throwing up?
  • Are you having mood swings?
  • Do you have any crazy food cravings?

Not only did people ask me this repeatedly, they asked my husband too! I finally figured it out: there are a zillion and one pregnancy symptoms, but these three are TV and movie STANDARDS, so if you don’t know much else about pregnancy, you know, “Morning sickness, mood swings, and cravings.” The reality involves a lot more issues with the digestive tract, it is wholly undignified, don’t even ask what’s going on down there, okay the answer is gas.

I don’t want to share my medical history with strangers, so when people get even more detailed (have you had this? that? any of this other thing I’ve heard of?) I kind of give a blanket denial. It isn’t that I want to perpetuate an illusion that all is going swimmingly, but I’m not keen on talking about my bodily functions at work either! So I say everything is fine even if ten things are bothering me that day. We’re just making small talk, I’m not going to start droning, “Sinuses are stuffed, feet are swollen, my boobs leaked last night and plastered my shirt to my chest”– America, is this really what you want to hear?

Now in the second half it is mostly questions about my future plans: am I going back to work? am I going to breastfeed? Again a bunch of stuff I don’t feel the need to explain to strangers, but by this point in the conversation they’ve noticed that I keep laughing and waving my hands and not answering questions. It’s starting to get weird. Find a way out, find a way out!

Ask your friends a bunch of questions about their pregnancies (I, too, am always eager to compare complaints! I have many!). Ask your coworkers, even, if you’re friendly enough. But think twice before peppering a total stranger with all your horror stories, especially customer service personnel who are trapped into that polite smile!

open letter to baby

If you’re reading this blog, it means… I had a baby this week!! No, you didn’t miss anything, it’s the first time I’ve mentioned it here. I’m a superstitious lady sometimes. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago (hellooo from the past), assuming that when Baby Week rolled around I would be way too exhausted to assemble my thoughts. Enjoy this open letter to my new baby. Cross your fingers that the toddler is taking it well. [Edit: He is!]


Hello, baby,

It’s 4 a.m. and I’m wide awake. You are, too. I’m hoping you don’t wake up at 4 a.m. every day for the next year, but if you’re anything like your older brother that’s wishful thinking.

Every well-intentioned website and acquaintance says, “Rest up before the baby comes!” as though a pregnant woman is purposefully wearing herself out, but how the heck are you supposed to sleep when there’s so much to think about? And when your hips don’t join up right and you’ve got a 20 pound water balloon strapped to your belly? I sleep poorly enough under normal circumstances. Throw in a toddler and 37 weeks of pregnancy and a bad back and the To Do list to rival all To Do lists, and I’m doomed.

So I’m awake. It’s cool, and dark, and everyone else is asleep but the two of us. It’s kind of nice. I can shut my eyes and feel you rolling around and not worry about anyone else for a couple of hours. Soon the sun will come up and your brother will poke his head over the baby gate and yell, “Mama! I’m up! Let me ouuut!” and I’ll go slap something together for breakfast and start cycling through everything I want to get done today (I’ve really gotta pack my go bag already and put the car seat in just in case, and we still need an extra chair for my room but I don’t think we’ll get to the store because the propane guy is coming tomorrow and we have to clean up the space for the new washer/dryer, though actually maybe I should wait it’ll be easier to pack a bag after I do laundry, except what if–)

But that’s all a couple of hours away.

I’m wondering who you are. What you look like. Whether you’re doing all right in there or if there’s something we don’t know about. I’m going to worry about you for the rest of my life, so why not start now? I’m nervous about giving birth again. Your brother cracked a collarbone on the way out and had trouble breathing and a fever and jaundice and gave us all a scare for the first few days–can you please just sploop on out of me without a bunch of drama? That’d be nice. [Edit: There was some drama. But all is well.]

I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait for your brother to meet you. I can’t wait to see you curled up all ridiculously tiny on your dad’s chest–and please, feel free, I’ll need a nap. I’m nervous about all the hell months of no sleep and constant walking and wrapping a 24 hour schedule around an unpredictable pooping machine, but there are also a lot of bits I’m looking forward to. Breastfeeding, believe it or not. The way we smell the same until you start eating food. Googly eyes. Making fun of your dumb squish-face because you don’t know what I’m saying yet, and infants look ridiculous.

I’ll see you soon, baby. Try not to knock anything over on the way out.