Who are you when you aren’t just Mom?

When you become a mother people warn you about sleepless nights. They warn you about your heart suddenly walking around outside your body. They talk about worry, they talk about body changes, they talk about hormones and breast milk and diapers. They talk about first days of school and last days of school. They talk about organic foods and safe television. They talk about Net Nannies and real nannies. They talk about “putting your own oxygen mask on first” and valuing time spent on your own.

But what they don’t always talk about is guilt. When your heart is walking around outside your body, how can you put yourself first? When the tiny humans running amok in your house need to be protected and nurtured and carefully introduced to the world-at-large, how do you make them happy and make yourself happy? How can you be their nest, their star system, their home base, and not lose your own view from the trees, your own energy, your own touchstones? How can you be you and Mom?

One day you realize you don’t recognize yourself anymore. Sure, you’re happy in the day-to-day. Kids can be hilarious, parenting is often rewarding, the rat race is in full swing, there’s take-out on hard days, margaritas and TV to relax… but who are you? When you’re out somewhere and a stranger who doesn’t know you’re a mom starts up a conversation, what happens when you don’t talk about the kids; when you don’t talk about school or your commute or laundry or dinner plans. Underneath the layers of Mom, who is the woman lying dormant? Maybe she isn’t dormant, but she’s looking for a way to claw through the shell, like a scuba diver trapped beneath ice. The sunlight is there, but how do you reach it?

Who is this woman? This person under the ice? How can she surface? And when she does surface, what happens if the shattered ice keeps shattering, the cracks snaking far and deep until suddenly the surface and everything below are one? The scuba diver bursts free, but everyone else loses their footing. The people closest to you are plunged into this new world of Mom vs. You. You’re there to keep them afloat, but you also must keep yourself afloat. And you must trust that they can tread water while you take the first breaths of fresh, new air you’ve had in years, in decades. You must trust that they not only can see you as You and Mom, but that you can be You and Mom.

So, yes. Guilt. By allowing your own self to finally surface, you plunge everyone else into an unknown world — a world where suddenly Mom has a name and feelings and desires. When Mom becomes a fallible human, does she lose her ability to protect and nurture? Of course not. But it can feel that way.

After a particularly challenging seven months, I got a Mother’s Day card from my almost 14-year-old, and it said, “Thank you for teaching me to value my own happiness above all others.” At first, I was taken aback. My thoughts went immediately to, “Oh, God, he really is angry with me about the divorce. He feels abandoned by his selfish mother. If he’s old enough to articulate these feelings, then what does that mean about the little ones? They must feel like I’ve just tossed them in the deep end. What have I done? Mothers aren’t supposed to put themselves first, not really. Mothers make sacrifices. Have I not made enough sacrifices? Does he really think I value my own happiness above all others? Am I a selfish, horrible person?”

So I did what you do… I casually brought up the card a few days later, mentioning that it might be possible to interpret it as a kind of dig… an expression of anger. His eyes went wide and he laughed. “What?!” Was his incredulous answer. “That’s so funny! I’m glad you get to be happy. I want you to be happy. Knowing that it’s OK for me to find happiness… that’s an important lesson, Mom.”

And so it is. It doesn’t fully assuage my guilt, but it does tell me that the conversations we’ve been having, and the openness I’m trying to convey might actually be working. One of my worst fears as a mother is to traumatize my children. The idea that in order for me to be happy, I have to make others unhappy, is so unpalatable I was unable to even bear the thought — until suddenly, it was the only thought I had. Then, being able to muster the courage to find myself, extricate myself, and not ostracize myself took even more time.

Even writing this post makes me feel squeamish, as if I’m putting my selfishness on display. Society seems to have no room for mothers who are also women. (Society seems to be reaching a point where it has no room for women at all, but that’s another post.) It feels important, though, for me to acknowledge that yes, I am a woman and I am a mother. Yes, I get to be happy, too. And I can only fall to my knees, prostrate, and hope that by reaching out, crying out, trying to achieve solid footing and a way to be happy and fulfilled within my own self, that everyone else in my family will some day be more happy and more fulfilled their own selves, too. At 14 you can kind of see this. At nearly 10 and nearly 8, it’s more difficult. You don’t want two new houses, you want the old house. You don’t want separate and emotional parents, you want unity and solid footing. You want things to be the way they were. But maybe, hopefully, over time you will understand why temporary discomfort is often the way to greater peace. You will see that when the adults in your life find happiness, everyone finds happiness. Can that be true? Will it be true? Can my children find peace from turmoil?

I am thankful for the years of conversations I’ve had with other mothers-other women-about how to soothe a teething baby, how to treat a tummy ache, where to find shoes that don’t fall apart, which dinner plans work and which ones don’t. But what I want to bring to the conversation now that I am older and possibly wiser is an unwavering voice that says, “Don’t suppress who you are because you are so busy creating new humans. Being a mother and being you isn’t an either/or prospect. You are a human, too, and you deserve the love and attention you share with others. You deserve to be nurtured and protected. You deserve to be loved and respected.”

And as difficult as it may be to accept… you deserve to be you.

Confession

God, election year, am I right? And this year everything is just the worst, with extra terrible-ness on top. It’s gross. I tried to bury my head in the sand, but I couldn’t do it. Remaining silent is remaining complicit. This is why I’ve decided to come clean.

I’ve changed my party, y’all. I just can’t, in good conscience vote Democrat anymore.

I know you’re thinking.. WAIT WAIT WAIT.

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It’s true. I think Bernie is a stand-up guy, and I think Hillary has served her country well, but we’ve had eight years of Democratic policies that just don’t add up. My elders always told me that when I grew up I’d have no choice but to become a Republican; that watching my income get taxed away to nothing would cauterize my bleeding heart. And maybe they were right.

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But the thing that’s really done it… the thing I can’t abide by is the whining. Democrats are whiners. They want equality. Wah. They want women to be treated equally. Wah. They want everyone to be able to go the doctor. Wah. They want to force that nun over there to give that hooker over there birth control (if the nun employed the hooker which is doubtful, but stick with me here).

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You know, the world is not all THAT bad. Women have gained so much in the past few decades. Doctors are abundant and available on every street corner in all kinds of doc-in-the-boxes. Gay people get to be fun friends and go through the same divorces as everyone else. Can’t we worry about other stuff now? Like getting blown up and an inexorable tax system?

Can’t we?

CAN’T WE?

omg you guys, I can’t do it anymore. And when I say I can’t do it, I mean this blog post.

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This whole thing is a trick. Because April is the cruelest month, really. I hope no one actually believes any of that crap up there. OF COURSE I’m a Democrat. OF COURSE I support women and equality. OF COURSE I think everyone should have affordable (nee free?) healthcare. OF COURSE I think that even nuns shouldn’t be able to tell women whether or not they approve of medication a doctor has prescribed.

My bleeding heart is making a mess on the floor this election cycle. It’s making puddles and sloppy spills. My bleeding heart aches for the hatred that simmers. I don’t know what to do about it, other than to vote, and to work really hard to discuss these issues with my children. To help them be the future that might have to save mankind from itself.

So, yes, I’m still a democrat. And yes I’m sorry I tried to trick you. But I’ve been doing these posts for YEARS, guys, and I’m running out of ideas.

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And also, April Fool’s, nerds!

Deep breaths

There are a lot of changes happening over here in Haiku of the Day land, the  blog re-design (ie: me taking five seconds to choose a free template and upload a picture), and the switch from Typepad to WordPress (ie: me frantically emailing a friend with a message of HELP ME I WILL BUY YOU BEER AND TACOS) are the most insignificant of the changes, but new nonetheless.

The large and small of everything else is that my husband and I are amicably splitting up. Everyone made fun of Gwyneth for talking about conscious uncoupling, but really, when you get down to it, that’s not as ridiculous of a phrase (or a concept) as you might think. The conscious uncoupling is in process, and while it will be good, it is a… transitional time right now.

There are obviously a lot of feelings and thoughts and musings and ponderings and more feelings and extra feelings and outsized feelings with feelings of their own, but (ironically?) I don’t feel like I can really talk about any of it right now. Out of respect for my family this needs to be a quieter time. There are a lot of things I will blab to the world about, but right now it’s better if I don’t do that. Sometimes, keeping the outsized feelings inside is ok, too, at least for a little while.

Life is upside down and surreal. I have three books under contract, a new apartment, and every day is just a whirling mass of never sitting down and always making lists and trying to write and never stopping with the feelings.

I am not going to stop blogging, but as I’m sure you’ve seen (or not seen, but have maybe just now noticed) there hasn’t been a lot of blogging in a long time. There are just too many books to write and feelings to manage. This is not to say that I’ve lost my voice, on the contrary, I think it’s growing stronger and more confident every day.

So even though blogging is very late 20th century, and even though I have about three readers left, including myself and a robot scouring for ways to sell CHAEP VIAGRA FOR YOU MENS, I am not planning to stop. I am just taking time to breathe. It feels like years since I’ve taken time to breathe, like I’ve been climbing down from a 28,000 foot peak, not realizing how low my oxygen level had gotten. Now that I’m closer to sea level, closer to eye level with the rest of the world, my breaths are not these shallow gasps needed to survive, they are deep toe-touching, soul-expanding gulps. I am going to keep breathing. And I am going to keep writing. And I am going to keep in touch with this blog, and with you, I promise.

Musing on teens and humanely sourced dirty pictures OR this is the stuff I worry about when I can’t sleep at night

Everything these days is organic or free range or humanely sourced or free trade… from toys to cotton to chocolate to chicken, there is a movement towards being more aware of the sources and costs of the things we consume.

We spend the early years (and even the later years, for those of us who have stamina and a flexible budget) of our children’s lives making sure that the majority of things they play with and ingest are at least moderately healthy for them. So when these little ones grow up and they take their various internet-tethered devices with them into the shadows of their bedroom or a corner or a friend’s house or the backseat of a car, do we have a responsibility to make sure that the gross Internet porn they find is also humanely sourced, free trade, and possibly better for them than the Mountain Dew and Cheetos version of typical Internet porn? And how do you talk to your teen about porn anyway?

I mean, I’m really asking. My son is newly thriteen. Every time I look at him I feel like Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids when she says, “What is happeninnnnng?” while smiling in a completely terrified way.

There are so many things I want for my kids. Health. Happiness. Self-awareness. Shoes that fit. Something I never, ever thought about when my babies were born was, “Gee, I hope when they’re teenagers there’s some kind of responsible porn available to them.” Not that I want my kids to immediately consume porn upon becoming teenagers, it just feels inevitable. Even if they don’t seek it out, IT WILL FIND THEM. Internet porn is like acne or creepy dudes in line at the grocery store. Everyone confronts it at some point in their lives. But can we keep it from causing permanent scars?

I feel like part of the conversation with my kids has to be about the fact that you can never unsee something. You know? It’s all fun and games to fool around on google until suddenly… it’s not. Figuring out a way to explain this to a curious teen, without increasing his curiosity is a conundrum I have not yet solved. But it’s on the list.

Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame, has a great Moth story about talking to his sons about sex. This is paraphrased, but what he basically says is, “Imagine the Internet is a dude and you can search in his head like you can search online. The things you see in there? After about a second you know that this dude has a serious problem respecting women.”

Every day, it is more and more apparent that the Internet is not kind to women. This is something I want to not just tell my teen, but that I very desperately want him to understand. I don’t want him to take my word for it because I’m his loudmouthed feminist mother. I want his synapses to figure this out on their own. Yes, he can be educated about enthusiastic consent, and about rape culture. He can be taught that boys don’t have a monopoly on hormones. He can be educated that real women have hair and cellulite, and that those things can be glorious, actually. Yet, so much of this understanding just has to come from personal experience. Is it possible, that when he’s older and (hopefully) more mature, he’ll be able to have these experiences without having unseeable Cheeto porn projecting into the back of his mind? I don’t know.

I feel like my responsibility as a parent can’t come to a screeching halt when it comes to my kids maturing, and that the world-at-large pressures me to do what I can to just lock everything down. Net nannies and no-screens-in-your-room and safe searches are not bad ideas at all. But I feel like in this brave new world of Snapchat and Kik and unlimited texting (including multimedia) these tactics are a lot like trying to stop a breached dam with a shamwow. I probably can’t stop my teen from looking at the Cheeto porn, but just like with actual junk food, maybe I can help him be mindful of how it’s not the greatest way to go, and how there are better choices.

There has to be a way to sit down with your teen and talk about pornography and sex in a way that doesn’t make them feel ashamed for being interested. There has to be a way to point out that typical porn is not just showing a variety of sex acts, it’s showing conquests versus collaboration. It’s showing that sex is something men do to women or even just on women. It’s not showing people who have sex with each other. Is it insane to think there is a way to fight against a teen’s illicit consumption of sexual positions, by explaining the importance of sexual prepositions?

The days of finding a crumpled Playboy under your kid’s mattress might be waning, but honestly, these kinds of conversations could have been discussed when we were young, too. Maybe if we had had these kinds of conversations the entire state of pornography today would be different.

Or not.

All I know is that my firstborn is about to stumble into the underbelly of humanity. I know in not every case organic, free-range, locally sourced ingredients can make a difference, and yet, if there’s a way I can point him toward a small area of the underbelly that has a little more light shined on it, a little more thought behind it, then you can be damn sure I’m going to try. The rest, I guess, is up to him.

 

 

It’s always the shy girls

Quick note: sorry for the delay in posting. I have three novels coming out in within eighteen months of each other (is that right? I think that's right) and I have been ALL UP IN THE DEADLINES. Plus, the wee-er one's appendix exploded (she's fine) and then Ike-a-saurus got pneumonia (he's fine), and I started a gig writing for TheMid.com. Things have been a little nuts. But I'm still here! And haikuoftheday is still here!

OK, so. Before all of the appendix exploding excitement happened, the wee-er one had been working really hard at mastering her electric guitar. She's been taking lessons for almost two years now, she did Girls Rock camp last summer and she's been realllly loving making some noisy music, especially lately. I love that she loves it, too, because she's always been sort of anxious and nervous and this gives her a fantastic outlet.

Anyway, she's always been a little hesitant about performing in front of people. She prefers to plug her headphones into her amp and work really hard perfecting a song before she plays it for anyone (if she'll even play it for anyone then). So I know she practices and has fun playing, but I don't always get to hear what she's working on. I know she's been working on some Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, but also there's also been some Pack AD and Creature and, of course, Joan Jett.

She had a recital show last summer and was super nervous about performing in front of people, but she was able to tamp down all her nervousness and get out on stage and really rock. She had a blast, and I think it helped her knowing that a lot of rock stars are actually introverts, as weird as that seems.

A couple of days later I got a call from someone claiming to be a talent scout who had been at the show, and I was highly skeptical. Talent scouts aren't known for going to kids' guitar concerts, right? It seemed kind of scammy to me. But this lady was persistent. She wanted to sit down with G and talk to her about music and what she likes to play and who her favorite bands are, etc. It all still sounded a little strange (even after I vetted the company she worked for, which was legit), but honestly, nothing stranger than anything else that ever happens in this family. I said we'd meet her over topo chicos at a local bakery.

Well, she and G hit it off. They talked for a couple of hours, and G had brought her acoustic guitar with her and played a little for the lady. It was a fun afternoon, very low key… and then we didn't hear anything back. Weeks passed, and then months and then with everything that's been going on, I kind of forgot about it. Until last week when I got a phone call. Lots of apologies for having taken so long to get back to us, and a question….

Would G like to play with Joan Jett on tour? She could start when Joan comes to Austin in a few weeks. Joan Jett is apparently starting a mentoring program. Music lessons every day, tutors on the road, everything you can think of, and a handful of kids trade off jamming at the shows. The lady had liked G so much she thought she'd be perfect for the gig. 

WHAT.

I think I was quiet for about five minutes while I tried to register everything.

And then I quietly hung up the phone because none of this true and I'm playing one of those jokes people play on the first of April. Sorry! G really does play guitar, and she really is fantastic at it, but we haven't met any scouts yet, and Joan Jett isn't having kids play at her concerts (can you imagine being eight and going on tour? Haha, and YIKES). 

We will be in the audience at the Joan Jett concert, though. Just not on stage. 🙂

Friday the 13th

The last time there was a Friday the 13th in February, it was 2009. I remember this because that was the day my five and half month old son stopped breathing. It had been a gnarly awake-all-night-sick-baby fiasco the night before and on the morning of the 13th we went straight to the pediatrician's office to see what in the world was going on. What we learned was that Terrible Things were going on, and we were quickly and calmly transported to the children's hospital via ambulance. What followed was an exhausting day of confusion and misdiagnoses. Once we were put in a room, crowds of medical students clustered in the doorway, offering guesses and suggestions for treatment. Why was the little guy having such trouble breathing when his lungs looked OK? Why didn't any of the interventions work? There was a lot of head scratching until finally his little body gave a big NOPE and he crashed.

There are moments seared into your memory. They happen all through your life. Good moments, bad moments, scary moments, funny moments. And the moment that sits at the top of the pile for me was the one where I chased a gurney, barefoot, through an empty hospital hallway in the middle of the night. On that gurney were a nurse and my son. She was counting chest compressions as another nurse held an ambu bag over his face. He was an awful color; a color no person should ever be. Other doctors and nurses ran alongside the gurney, shouting numbers at each other. Heart rate, blood oxygen level, blood pressure. I lost them when they ran through the doors to the ICU. And when I ran up to the doors, they were locked. 

We'll let you know.

That's what a young doctor told me before she went in.

This was the moment our entire family history, our entire family dynamic, our ideas about the future, our thoughts, dreams, plans… this is when everything tilted on its side, a planet being thrown off its axis by a spontaneous asteroid strike. Shattered isn't the right word. Devastated isn't the right word. I didn't have a right word. For a very, very long time I had no words.

But now, six years later, I do have a word.

Lucky. 

We were so lucky to have a pediatrician who knew something wasn't right.
We were so lucky to have decided to stay at the hospital instead of going home.
We were so lucky he crashed so close to the ICU.
We were so lucky the on-call doctor was able to intubate even when she discovered why he wasn't breathing. (Hello, wonky trachea.)
We were so lucky he was only without oxygen for a very short amount of time.
We were so lucky to have so many friends and family ready and willing to take a long, scary journey with us.

And today? Today I am lucky to have a six-year-old who is fiercely proud of his scars. I am lucky that some days are so typical I forget to remember to feel lucky that he breathes without assistance. I am lucky that in the mornings he cheerfully pops out of bed, sneaks into my bed, and kisses me once on the forehead, once on the nose, and once on the chin before he runs downstairs. I am lucky he never stops running. I am lucky I get to be scared that he's going to bring home all the germs the first grade has to offer. I am lucky to hear his voice. I am lucky to feel his tiny, skinny arms squeeze my neck as he bats his long lashes and asks, "Can't I play Minecraft for just a littttttle bit longer?"

Today is one of those days that I always kind of hope will disappear into the ether. It won't be an anniversary. It won't be a reminder. It won't be scary. It will just be another day.

But I fully admit I'm glad to be able to take a moment, to look at the Legos everywhere, to look at the socks I asked him to pick up at least seven times last night, to look at the little pile of hand-picked clover making a bed for a rock "that looks like it has a face!" and to just feel grateful.

I am so grateful. It hurts to be this grateful. It feels undeserved. It feels randomly bestowed. I wonder what I owe. What promises did I make on this day six years ago, to make today possible? I don't know. I don't remember.

I just know that we were lucky. And that is something I will never, ever forget. 

 

And now I’m sorry

So I was really mad when I wrote the last blog post. I'm working on not being mad. It's not very productive and it makes you think you're having a stroke all the time. Also, it's exhausting. I have too much to do to stew. I have too much to do to be writing this blog post, too. Accidental rhyming is a sure sign that one's brain is overloaded.

And speaking of overload, this is the time of year when I wish I could issue a blanket apology to pretty much everyone. There are parties to go to and brunches to attend and school events to not forget and first grade homework to work on and third grade essays to write and seventh grade social studies projects to toil over. There are gifts to buy and things to mail and bills to pay. There is a house to decorate so the kids aren't deprived of the holiday spirit, there are travel plans to be made so we can see loved ones. There is a very ill-timed spousal business trip to suffer through. There is a manuscript for my next novel due in something like eight weeks (I refuse to count because I will panic and possibly die).

This is why I need a stack of little business cards that just say "I'm sorry."

My first grader is not practicing his math. He has not found his lost library book. He missed the window for free karate classes. He wore two different shoes to school for two days in a row before I noticed. I'm Sorry cards for everyone!

My third grader is drawing pictures of cape-wearing poop instead of practicing multiplication tables because I am trying to cook dinner and answer first grade questions about tens and ones and answer seventh grade questions about acids and bases and not burn dinner while also answering six emails about teacher gifts while also also trying to stop thinking about where my characters left off in the argument they were having about how to cross the US/Texas border.

I probably won't get my money in on time to anyone's class parent for the big group gift cards they're buying the teachers. But isn't it OK for kids to just make cards and say thank-you for being awesome? We're making You're Awesome cards, goddammit. 

I missed my critique group today so that I could go to a holiday brunch which I ended up also skipping so I could stay home and work on my manuscript but instead ended up writing this blog post to try to assuage my guilt for not getting anything done on time. I'm sorry for my poor time management.

No presents are wrapped. 

The tree is not decorated.

Pretty much no presents are bought. I'm *thinking* about buying some, though. I have a list. A list is the first step, right?

I have not yet purchased graham crackers for the "gingerbread" houses the first graders are going to make next week. I am, in fact, (shhh) trying to convince my kids to skip their holiday parties so that we can go to my parents' house for a few days and I can lay on the floor. I realize the schools hate it when parents do things like this because they lose funding for the days the kids aren't in school. I'm sorry the system is set up that way. I'm sorry the schools won't get money if I try to avoid a nervous breakdown.

There are always 25 things happening at once and yet nothing seems to get done or found or answered. I swear I'm not ignoring anyone, I am running triage. Poorly.

I often think about the people who have their shit together. The ones who can manage a deadline AND homework AND laundry AND feeding people AND getting their $20 into the proper envelope in the proper classroom for the proper gift card giving. I don't really wonder how they do it, I figure that ship has sailed. I do wonder if one day I'll have enough money to hire one of these people to do these things for me. Maybe, instead of figuring out how to do everything at once I should figure out how to delegate.

I just feel guilty

all

the

time.

I feel like I'm failing everybody. And when I do manage to have a few minutes of quiet time to sit and blink, I feel terrible that I'm not spending that time more productively. When I give in and let the kids play their Sonic the Hedgehog racing game instead of doing homework right off the bat, I feel bad. But they *did* just finish seven hours of school. And I *do* have to cook dinner. But I *will* be sorry when they have to take benchmark tests and I get letters sent home saying, "Please work on math every night". That will make me want to cry. 

So. I'm sorry.

I'm sorry to everyone.

And I probably could have done a better job with this blog post, turning it into some kind of feminist empowerment post instead of just an OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING PANIC-WHINE, but I didn't. Sorry!

At least I'm less angry now, though, right? Progress.

I’m just so angry and that makes me even more angry

I know I'm not the only angry person right now. There is an electric, seething, undercurrent everywhere. Social media, the nightly news, just driving down the street. Everyone is so mad.

And the fuel to this Anger Fire seems to just be getting fuel-ier and fiery-er. Tweet about being pissed off? You get a bunch of RTs and favorites and/or a bunch of trolls calling you a whore (making everyone more angry). Post a rant on Facebook and people gleefully fight with you (making everyone more angry), or agree with you by posting heinous proof about just how right you are (still making everyone more angry).

Everyday there are email petitions: Tell People How Much You Hate This Horrible Thing! Do Not Stand By While This Horrible Thing Happens! 

And email instructions: "Have a Horrible Relative? Here is How to Tell Them They are Horrible!" "Hate Everything? Give Us Money So We Can Buy Ads Telling the World How Stupid It Is!"

Does any of this work? The petitions? The emails? Does it make anyone feel better to throw $10 at a group celebrating/castigating a cause? Does that even help? Do you get the same brain-soothing chemical reaction when you sign a petition as you do when you get 59 likes on a post about how much you hate everything and everyone? Does that achieve anything? At all? Ever?

It's no wonder people are getting killed. It's no wonder there is an insidious and pervasive fear in this country. It's a fucking tinderbox. If people like me – who can usually laugh off anything – are angrily honking in traffic and blocking people on Twitter, how are the other people feeling?

I'm not proud to be so angry. I'm not proud that the tinderbox has gotten under my skin. I'm not proud that my first impulse these days is to think the worst of people. I'm not proud that I've clammed up on my own social media, afraid to talk about the horrible things happening; afraid I will just get too angry; afraid of enraging and engaging with the worst of humanity. It goes against everything I've ever been taught or ever believed. I don't know what to do with these gross feelings. I don't know how to channel them. I want to shout at people STOP MAKING ME HATE YOU. And THAT is certainly not a healthy outlook.

I just see so. much. judging. everyday. And it seems so counter-productive. If you think everyone is doing everything wrong, can you maybe do more than just tell them they're wrong? Educate. But don't educate in a holier-than-thou-you-stupid-idiot way, educate with patience and kindness. With creativity. With empathy. Is that even possible any more? Do people even know what the words "patience" and "kindness" and "creativity" and "empathy" mean?

"You celebrate diversity? Well, you just used the wrong pronoun!"

"Oh, were you abused? You weren't abused enough for it to matter!"

 

"You love women? You denigrate them by calling them beautiful!"

"You support working mothers? Well good job insulting moms who stay home!"

"You're angry that cops kill black men? Step off, you're protesting the wrong way!"

It's too much. It's all too much. Even when we're trying to be nice, there's vitriol. What is happening that makes people act like this? Why does everyone have to be a hero or a villain? Is there just so much hurt in the world that no one can say "Thank you for trying to help, that's really awesome. Here's an even better way you can help [FILL IN APPROPRIATE HELPING MEASURE]? Or is it just easier to yell, "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG THEREFORE YOU ARE HORRIBLE" and huff and puff about it in some corner of Twitter?

I see so many people right now who think they're being heroic and helpful and really they aren't helping at all. They are just mouthing off, making more noise, adding fuel to the fire. There is no trying to educate or be educated. I mean, I guess I understand why, to some extent. It's not like anyone ever, ever, ever says, "Oh, I'm sorry, did you just point out how I'm a mysoginst? Thank you for that information, I will stop doing that." But maybe that's because we need new methods. Maybe you can't fight assholery with assholery. Or maybe it's the end of the world and no one will ever change and we're all just fucked.

I mean, really, what are we DOING? Just fighting for fun? Or gleefully agreeing while we brandish our pitchfork and torch emoji? Is that what social media is these days? Comments sections? Click-bait articles? Everything just pits people against each other —  or encourages smugness with no valuable education or conversation. And that makes me angry. Which… is that ironic? I don't even know anymore.

The terrible things happening in our world make me angry. But the propagation of intolerance makes me angry, too. And this propagation goes both ways. It is so, so easy to be incendiary. It is so, so easy to forward a snarky email or share a biting quote or add a crying face emoji to a picture of a protest. It is much harder to actually put your actions where your big fucking mouth is.

Have you read Dave Eggers The Circle? Go read it and then tell me we're NOT currently being swallowed by that sarlaac-esque hellmouth. 

I just don't know what to do anymore. I don't want to put my head in the sand. I don't want to only look at videos of hedgehogs. I want to be socially conscious and politically active. But something has to give.

Help me find the people who still care about… anything other than just proving they're right and you're wrong.

Help me stop being so angry.

Rhyme Schemer is out today!

When I'm not being interrogated by the police, or having my parenting scrutinized by much of the country, I'm usually sitting at my kitchen table writing books. This is kind of an insane job. There is a lot of whining and hair-pulling. There is a lot of self-doubt and stomping around. There is a lot of laying on the kitchen floor while sighing deeply. But then also… there is actually a lot of writing. And the best thing that happens after a lot of writing is that everything somehow comes together into an actual manuscript. It really is kind of like magic.

Then I take the magically created manuscript, I pat it gently, read over it, and send it quietly off to my agent. She returns it with gentle reminders that complete sentences are important, character arcs are also important, and having a plot is kind of a big deal when it comes to book writing and reading.

I take the manuscript back, wonder how in the world I ever let it out of my sight, and then I start to fix it. Sometimes the fixing is easy, sometimes the fixing is horrible, and sometimes the fixing just never works at all and the manuscript has to go sit in time out for a few months (or years).

In the case of my newest book, RHYME SCHEMER, the revision process wasn't too torturous. The tortuous part was deciding whether I should have even written the book at all. It has no spaceships. It has no zombies. There are no fantastic elements. It's a contemporary book, with a boy main character, and the entire thing is written in free verse. It's about as far from my typical fare as you can get. But there was just something about the character. The more I wrote about Kevin the more real he became. I fretted over his decisions just like I fret over the decisions of my children. I worried for him and was angry with him. I hated how misunderstood he was, and also how mean he was. As I wrote the book, Kevin became a real person to me, and I wanted to be able to tell his story. So I did – even though there were no spaceships or zombies.

My agent supported me the entire way. She told me not to worry about the dreaded author "branding". She soothed me with the idea that my brand is "middle grade author, K.A. Holt" not "sci-fi author, K.A. Holt" or "zombie writer, K.A. Holt." She supported me through the entire journey of this book, giving me the confidence I needed to take a very big, very scary step.

And so… a couple of years ago, the manuscript was finished. It went out on submission to editors at all the big publishing houses. We got a lot of great feedback, but no one was sure what to do with the manuscript, until Tamra Tuller at Chronicle Books read it. We talked about Kevin, about the story, and BAM. She got it. She totally understood this kid and his conflicts. She understood what I was trying to do with the verse. It was a great match. My agent had not only found me the perfect editor, she'd found me a new friend.

The manuscript was whisked away into revisions and copy edits and interior design. The cover was created, a marketing plan drawn up. A team of people worked tirelessly to turn my pages not just into a book — but into a beautiful work that kids will love. I mean, hopefully, they'll love the words, but I know they'll love the art, the cover, even the feel of the paper. Chronicle Books has outdone themselves.

And so, today, RHYME SCHEMER, officially launches. After years of writing and revising and worrying and learning to just trust my gut, it's out in the wild with the best team behind it. I can't say enough about the folks at Chronicle, about the support from my agent and agency, about the help (and butt kicks) from my friends and fellow writers. It's been four years since my last book launched, and just like when you have a baby, even though there should be some kind of familiarity, everything feels really new and vaguely scary.   

There's always this conflict within me: do I mix my shouty, political blog persona with my children's book writer persona? Do I let the two intermingle at all? Ever? Should I write about being a writer on this blog, or should I leave that part of my life out of it?

I decided this morning that I have to intermingle the two, if only for today, because writing RHYME SCHEMER has been such a big part of my life. It really is symbolic of change within myself, of a desire and an attempt to try new things, to be funny but heartfelt, to scooch out onto the skinny branch and to trust the people around me to keep me from, you know, humiliating and injuring myself.

It's a very exciting day, and I'm just so proud of this book.

RhymeSchemer

It’s all fun and games until your neighbor decides that she is the boss of the fun and games

Monday. Late-morning. Hotter than hot. Not even 24 hours home from vacation, and I was going through the piles of mail. There was a knock at the door, which was weird because no one ever knocks on our door unless it’s the UPS guy, and he doesn’t come until dinner time. Corralling the crazy barky dog, I looked out the front door window and saw a woman I did not know — and my six-year-old.

I whipped the door open, trying to figure out what was happening. The woman smiled. My son frowned. And as soon as the door opened he flew into the house, running as far away from the woman as he could.

“Is that your son?” she asked with a smile.

I nodded, still trying to figure out what was happening.

“He said this was his house. I brought him home.” She was wearing dark glasses. I couldn’t see her eyes, couldn’t gauge her expression.

“You brought…”

“Yes. He was all the way down there, with no adult.” She motioned to a park bench about 150 yards from my house. A bench that is visible from my front porch. A bench where he had been playing with my 8-year-old daughter, and where he decided to stay and play when she brought our dog home from the walk they’d gone on.

“You brought him home… from playing outside?” I continued to be baffled.

And then the woman smiled condescendingly, explained that he was OUTSIDE. And he was ALONE. And she was RETURNING HIM SAFELY. To stay INSIDE. With an ADULT. I thanked her for her concern, quickly shut the door and tried to figure out what just happened.

Chalking it up to a well-meaning but over-vigilant neighbor, I went back to the huge, post-vacation stack of mail and my son went to get himself a drink of water (shocking that a 6-year-old has the complete faculties to not only play outside but to get himself a cold beverage!). A few minutes later there was another knock at the door and the dog again went nuts. I could feel my hackles rising to match his. I didn’t want to engage with this woman about my parenting practices. I didn’t want to have a discussion about how children should be allowed to play outside. I didn’t want to talk about how he’s the youngest of three, has been under constant surveillance since he was born, has rules and perimeters for playing outside, and had been outdoors a total of 15 minutes that morning. I didn’t want to get into it with a stranger. Not at all.

I opened the door, ready to politely and firmly tell her to go away, but it was not her. It was a police officer.

The police officer asked if my son had been outside alone. She asked why I thought it was OK for him to be unsupervised. She took my ID. She wrote down the names and ages of the children.

There are not a lot of times in one’s life when you can use a word like “flabbergasted” without hyperbole, but this was one of those times. I was nearly struck dumb. I answered her questions until I gathered my senses about me and began to explain the situation. I asked if she was *really* there to question me about letting my children play outside WITHIN VIEW OF MY OWN HOUSE. We seemed to agree that this was a little ridiculous. She offered a half-hearted warning that “you never know what can happen in just a few blocks” and I choked back my retort of “you never know what can happen when you get out of bed in the morning.” I choked back my, “The fact that this particular 6-year-old can play outside on his own is a miracle in and of itself, do you think I would ever, EVER tempt fate with him?” I choked back my, “We celebrate everyday that he is independent and healthy enough to play outside.” I choked back so many things.

The police officer left with a curt nod and without filing a report.

The children were awestruck and worried that a police officer had just questioned their mother in front of them. I was mortified. And angry. They were *just playing outside*. I can’t emphasize that enough.

I tried to shake it off and go about the rest of the day, but I was so, so upset. Then, that night, my 6-year-old cried because he thought someone would call the police when he couldn’t fall asleep at his bedtime. We talked about how that would never happen, how this was an isolated incident, how much we love and care for each other in our family. We talked about how the neighbor thought she was doing a good thing and that it was an unfortunate misunderstanding and everything was all over now.

The week moved slowly on. Preparations were made for the imminent start of school, seventeen tons of post-vacation laundry was cleaned, doctors appointments were attended. And then… later that week we were at the pulmonologist’s office when I got a voice mail from a Child Protective Services investigator. She wanted me to call her back immediately.

I think, if it was possible to base jump onto a diving roller coaster, the swooping feeling in your stomach would still be only half of what I experienced at that moment. I felt lucky to be at a pulmonologist’s office, because surely they’d be able to help me when I started hyperventilating.

I somehow drove us all home without having a heart attack. Made lunch. Called an attorney friend to see if I needed to start getting really, really worried, and then I called back the CPS investigator. Within an hour she was at the house, interviewing the kids one at a time, alone with her, while I had to sequester myself upstairs. I wanted to argue. I wanted to protest. I wanted to stamp my foot and say, “No, ma’am, you are NOT allowed to speak to my children without me being present.” But I was cowed. And I understood why the process had to be that way. I didn’t like it. I DON’T like it. But I understood. I understand. I complied.

My kids reported that she asked questions about drugs and alcohol, about pornography, about how often they bathe, about fighting in the home. And again, I understand the need for these questions. I understand CPS investigators have an incredibly difficult job. But the conflict I feel is immense. My children were playing outside, within sight of the house, and now my 6yo and 8yo and 12yo have seen their mother spoken to — multiple times — as if she, herself, was a child being reprimanded. They have all been questioned, by a stranger, about whether they’ve ever been shown movies of other people’s private parts. And no matter what I say, I can tell that they think they’ve done something wrong.

After the children were interviewed, I was interviewed, my husband was called (again, making me feel as if I had acted like a disobedient child), even our babysitter got a phone call. Then, finally, once the case worker consulted with her supervisor, I was reassured that because the kids really were just playing outside, and their stories matched mine as well as the police officer’s account, the incident would be marked as a non-event and the case would be closed. (The case is now officially closed, I waited to blog about it until I knew for sure.)

But I was also warned: the neighbor can call CPS as many times as she wants. If she truly feels there’s neglect, she can’t be prosecuted for making false allegations. We could try to sue her for harassment. We could try to press charges for kidnapping if she approaches our son again and tries to get him to move from where he’s playing. But in all reality, when children are involved, the person who makes the complaint gets the benefit of the doubt. For parents, it is guilty until proven innocent. I understand why the system works this way, but it makes me feel like we are prisoners in our own home. It makes me feel helpless and at the mercy of someone I don’t even know. It makes me incredibly, guiltily relieved to enjoy the privileges that I do.

Do I know how lucky I am to be able to call friends who are attorneys, to be able to google my questions, to have a working phone to call the CPS investigator to get updates, to have a circle of friends I can trust to be supportive and indignant along with me? I see my privilege. I want to apologize for it. I know this has been just a taste of what others go through. Just as I have had tastes in the past of food stamps and medicaid and being at the mercy of government support. I get it, Universe, you have thrown open the floodgates of perspective. I am drowning in it.

I am drowning in it.

 

***

 

Our neighborhood is small, there’s a wide open green space with walking trails right across the street from our house. The lawns are (sometimes forcibly through the Homeowners’ Association) well-maintained. There’s a playground at the top of the hill. And there are no children outside. Anywhere. It is a creepy vista of green grass and beautiful trees without a living soul marring its surface. It is a place where, when a woman is screaming in the middle of the night, she has to knock on the doors of three houses before someone will answer, but it is also a place where, when children are playing outside alone, the police are called immediately.

The real estate literature says “Perfect for families!”

This whole incident has left me very angry and disillusioned. And sad.

I could list statistics about how America is safer now that it’s ever been. About how child injury stats can be interpolated in such a way that leaving a kid with a stranger is actually statistically safer than leaving a child with a parent or a friend of the family. I could talk about helicopter parenting and a 24-hour news cycle that is making the country paranoid and couch-bound.

But what I want to talk about are children who don’t feel safe outside – not because of stranger danger or threat of immediate injury, but because the police will be called if they’re just playing like we played when we were young. What will the Always On Screens Generation be like when they’re adults? When they weren’t afforded the ability to play and explore and test limits and problem solve, when everything was sanitized and supervised, when the crimes committed against them were more likely to happen online than in the park across the street? What will this do? How will society be affected?

I guess we’re about to find out, aren’t we? Because my children aren’t allowed outside until we can sell our house and move to a more hospitable neighborhood. Though I wonder… do more hospitable neighborhoods even exist anymore? Is everyone so terrified of the world that they sit in their Wall-E chairs, watching 24-hour “news,” rifles on their laps, and their phones pre-dialed to 911? How do we make sense of the dichotomy that our country is safer than it’s ever been and yet small town police departments have tanks and automatic weapons? How do we teach our children that it’s OK to play outside and to learn on their own, to enjoy a taste of freedom – but to be very, very careful when wearing a hoodie especially if they have dark skin?

You’d think with all this perspective that I could see far and wide, that I could find an answer for these questions, that I could help cobble together a solution (“All Kids Play Outside Day”? “Look We Can Climb Trees Without Dying Day”? “National Don’t Shoot Anyone In A Hoodie Day”?) . But I haven’t been able to. I can’t reconcile anything. All I know is that my family, while still feeling kind of bruised and grouchy, is lucky. And that my neighbor, if given the resources, would probably write a blog post about this terrible mother down the street who lets her babies play outside all alone.

So for now we stay in the house. And we try not to fall victim to fear like everyone else. We try not to be afraid of the outside world. We try to learn from our privilege. We try not to be daunted by the view perspective affords us.

We just try.

Really, really hard.