motherhood, Writing

Pen in Hand (WFAM Origin Story)

When I was young I had no understanding that I was a writer. Creative endeavors were in short supply where I grew up. I had access to the basics in terms of education, and I never questioned beyond what was in front of me.

I had a few splashes of recognition in grade school and high school. A couple writing awards, an essay or two that caught a teacher’s attention but nothing remarkable. I didn’t truly understand how to flow my thoughts on paper until my sophomore year of college. My sociology professor bloodied my written assignments with so much red ink, they looked like crime scenes. As hard as this was to take in stride, at the end of the term I emerged a competent and coherent writer.

I started to notice I could churn out page after page of text while my peers would bemoan the process often coming up short. I loved any and all written assignments. All group reports were designated to me and gladly so.

In graduate school, this trend continued. I had a propensity for spinning analytical papers into fictionalized versions (this was social work and not physics after all) and my professors loved it. This is when I began to understand my writing ability may be something unique. I started to fill notebooks with journal entries, poems, short stories, and whatever else I extracted from the ether of my dreams.

Nothing ever came of it, unless you count the sky-high volume of consumed notebooks as recognition of my authorship, I was still just me.

I got married, paused my social work career, and had kids.

Motherhood changed everything.

It wasn’t all cuddles and coos. It was sleep deprivation, loss of identity, and feeling completely out of my depth. Four years into it my world collapsed as my mom passed away with no real warning. I was faced with navigating parenting without a touchstone. Did I mention my two boys were strong-willed balls of energy that ran me ragged day after day?

I did my best to swim through the grief and be a present and loving mom, but I was woefully overextended. Babysitters and structured preschool helped but what saved me was writing.

After seeing the movie Julie and Julia (about a food bloggers’ homage to Julia Child), I came home and was compelled to start a blog. This was how I began to make sense of my life, my loss and muddle my way through parenting my rambunctious boys. It gave me space to process what I couldn’t see in the moment. I learned I could glean meaning from my wounded parts and find humor in the chaotic absurdity of raising a family.

The first year of my blog I wrote every day. I started to believe I was a writer and that this could be my livelihood.

It’s been over a decade and I’m still waiting.

At some point I had to change my relationship to my expectation of my blog. I realized my audience may be small but the eyes that are meant to find it always do. Sometimes the only benefactor of an entry is Mad Dog, my most fervent and dedicated reader. Sometimes I need the words out of me more than I need anyone else to read them.

WFAM became my growth tool. It helped me practice and hone my skills. On occasion it has led to writing opportunities, and it has given me confidence to submit pieces to numerous publication outlets with varying degrees of success.

WFAM led me to Amelia Island Writers and now I am a published newspaper columnist. This humbles me but I also understand this truth:

I am not special.

I am not more or less talented than anyone holding a dream in their heart or reading these words right now.

I am someone who stumbled upon their creative joy and had the courage to cultivate it. To show up with pen in hand, face the gaping expanse of an empty page, and fill it with words both seen and unseen.

humor, motherhood

Who Runs This Town?

Every week Mad Dog and I get a phone message from the boys’ school principals. Inevitably, valuable information will be disseminated and Mad Dog will then share what is said. Full Speed will hear him but not actually listen. He will be there, physically present, nodding and agreeing, but mentally be somewhere else entirely.

He does not like to follow up on anything Mad Dog tells him to do.

Ever.

Even if the principal left us a message that leftover pots of gold from St. Patrick’s Day were available for pick up at the school office, Full Speed would hear this and then never, ever, ever follow-up. All his school friends could be throwing gold coins around like confetti and he would still never, ever, ever stop by to get his.

Mad Dog, ever the problem solver, is hopeful to add Full Speed to the principal’s call list. This way at least there is a chance, albeit slight, that Full Speed will do what is asked of him.

Trust me, the leprechauns aren’t worried.

Nora also does not like to listen to Mad Dog.

However, this blatant disregard for his authority

is rewarded with treats, verbal affirmations, and let’s not forget,…

unlimited belly rubs.

She runs this town.

motherhood

Turning Point

Like the seasons, motherhood evolves. Sometimes over days and months, sometimes it takes years. One day you wake up, the sun is shining and you realize everything is different.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment everything changed. I can, however, list the indicators life would never be the same:

  • Full speed driving me to an appointment (!)
  • The boys cleaning out their clothes and snatching some of their too-small t-shirts for my own
  • Full Speed calling Mad Dog from school to bring his I. D. and Mad Dog not recognizing his voice because it was so deep
  • Picking T. Puzzle up from school and spotting him instantly as he was a head taller than everyone else

My biggest challenge ahead is letting life teach them without trying to interfere.

They are now realizing life can be unfair and cause pain.  Where I used to be able to shield them from uncertainty which gave me a wobbly sense of control, I am no longer a barrier to the truth of the world.  There are pandemics, political and social injustices, navigating school hierarchies, and the reality even kind and decent souls aren’t exempt from heartache. I am trying to find the balance in talking to them about tough topics and respecting when they want to be quiet.

I am learning, too.

I can’t always make things better, but I can respect the fortitude and resilience of both my boys.  They have both shown me in ways big and small they have the intellect and compassion to come to terms with life as it is.  My greatest hope as we enter this new phase of our relationship to one another is to walk alongside them.

Who am I kidding?

They already are leading the way.

IMG_9739
T.Puzzle getting recognized in our local paper

IMG_9891
Full Speed earning his varsity letter for manager.

IMG_9831
Full Speed in action, keeping JV stats.

motherhood

Beast Mode

Somewhere along the way in the past few months, I noticed that T.Puzzle was on his phone a lot. I decided to talk to him about it and we came up with some new rules for him to follow. This leaves a big chunk of free time for him because he never has homework. It’s weird. Since we’ve moved he has maybe had two assignments that spilled over to home. Even with studying for the upcoming state spelling bee, he has loads of free time.

I can’t remember when exactly, but I took it upon myself to make sure T.Puzzle learned the skill of typing. Full Speed had a dedicated class in 7th grade that made him proficient and now, as a sophomore and countless typewritten assignments later, he is a solid typist. With all our moving around these past few years, T.Puzzle didn’t have this same opportunity. Therefore, in order for him to earn video game time on the weekends or vacations, he had to dedicate time to learning to type. There is a typing game that is competitive so it all worked out. While I remained diligent in making him stick with it, I kind of forgot about it over time. One day I realized he had been practicing for months and months and told him he could stop (finally!).

In the last week or so, when he got home from school and since he now has limits on his phone time, he has been doing the typing game. In his mind it’s considered ‘educational’ so this is how he bypasses the ‘no video games’ during the week rule.

It’s a slippery slope for sure.

One day I came downstairs to see what he was up to and found him furiously typing away with this creepy look on his face as if he was trying to murder the keyboard.

I’ve never seen anything like it. His lips moved in undulating curling snarls and it was one of the craziest, funniest, things I have witnessed in a long while.

Turns out he is a literal and figurative beast on the keyboard.

Leave it to the son of Mad Dog to turn typing into a competitive sport (who by the way uses temperature checks as a contest which he never fails to ‘win’ because his temp is always the lowest).

At this rate, T.Puzzle will be typing a thousand words a minute.

Mad Dog won’t care though as his temp will still be running a cool 97.2.

motherhood

How Do You Spell Champion?

I had no expectations as I signed T. Puzzle out from school. His nervous energy permeated the air as we made our way to the car. Soon he would be facing the other school winners in a spelling showdown for the district title.

T.Puzzle was not new to this level of competion. Both boys had competed at district when they were fifth graders. Let’s just say nightingale and futon are words you may never want to speak out loud around them.

Full Speed made it to the final two (check out his cool trophy below) and T.Puzzle placed ninth out of the thirty-six district-wide competitors.

Our new district is smaller with only eleven competitors total. I wasn’t fooled by their (mostly) diminutive size. After all, my boys weren’t exactly giants when they competed before.

Last year’s victor was competing again and he oozed confidence. His ease suggested he was well- studied. I imagined if T. Puzzle made the final two with this kid, victory may not be his.

As the practice round concluded I found myself to be relatively calm. I had a dash more adrenaline pumping through me than normal, but overall, I was okay. My biggest concern was T.Puzzle would be the first one out.

No one wants to be that kid.

Once it was clear he was safe for a few rounds, I sat back and let it all unfold feeling proud to be in this moment.

The selected words made quick work of the competitors. By round seven it was already down to T. Puzzle and the previous champ.

As the former champ sauntered to the mike I thought we were set for a battle. As quickly as this thought formed a word was given and you could see the kid freeze. Panic washed over his face and his shoulders slumped.

He didn’t know it.

He didn’t know it!

He struggled through it, piecing it together as best he could and just like that, the bell dinged.

Then, it was T. Puzzle’s turn. He had to spell the next word correctly to win.

Inexorably he did.

Inexorably he won.

Inexorably is his new favorite word.

We were lucky to have us all together to celebrate this awesome achievement. My heart was happy to see his joy.

Yes, moms, teenage boys do have souls. However, his happiness was soon replaced by dismay at the realization he will have to continue to study for the regionals set in March.

You can’t win them all but it helps to prepare to increase your odds.

Inexorably, this is the way of the world.

Congrats, T. Puzzle!