The most anxiety I have felt about 2 paragraphs

The other day, my child, who is in the second grade, came home with an essay assignment. Basically, he has to write two paragraphs and draw one picture about a holiday that we celebrate as a family, one associated tradition, and a food consumed during said holiday. Of course, this has spiraled into a massive amount of anxiety for me.

We are atheists, so I would rather not mention any specific religion’s holiday. Granted, I know that 95% of the kids, at least, will be writing about Christmas or Hanukah. I looked through a list of non-denominational winter holidays, and some of the possibilities I came up with were Festivus and Decemberween. And who could forget Boxing Day? But I realized that we don’t actually celebrate those holidays, so back to the drawing board.

Then, I thought about the Winter Solstice. After all, that’s what our kids think they are celebrating when they celebrate Christmas. But I got stuck in the facts of this astronomical yearly occurrence, and had my son draw something like this. Then, I remembered this was a writing assignment, and not a science project, so most of that was scrapped.

It’s important to remember that this assignment is of writing TWO PARAGRAPHS, and this entry is already twice that. Finally, I realized I was thinking too much about it, and I think I will encourage him to write about Yule, which is the name I grew up calling the winter solstice. He can write about the days growing longer, and how we like to bake cookies, and then we will bake and bring in cookies. And on the plus side, I already know what we can do for science project this year!

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Happy whatever you celebrate! (photo from 2014)

Blah, just blah

 

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The eunni of a forced gathering demonstrated by yours truly and my mother, sometime in the 1990s.

I may have already said this last year, but I do not care for the winter holidays, and that includes Thanksgiving. In fact, everything that happens after Halloween and before the spring equinox is just blah, in my opinion. I know many people have great memories of Thanksgivings with their families, but some of us also have memories that are not so great.

My family did celebrate Thanksgiving when I was a child, but my mother did not like it. She used to say, “It’s just work for me while everyone else relaxes, and look what it represents.” I have the exact same sentiment today. I do not enjoy cooking. This holiday is just me annoying myself with an activity I do not like. And before anyone assumes I was a terrible person because I didn’t help my mother, I will say that I went I was old enough to be a help cooking, I started to work on Thanksgiving. When I came back from my teenage job at a horse stable, I had to take a shower before I could help in the kitchen. And by then, everything was done. I know, I could have not gone to work and helped my mother instead, but I was a young teenager who loved horses and money and hated cooking.

When I was slightly older, and had moved to college, I went through a period of a few years in which my parents didn’t want to see or talk to me. Since my parents are both long dead and can’t defend their decision, I will say that I wasn’t the most pleasant person during this time of my life. Still, it hurt to be asked to not come over for Thanksgiving. It hurt so much that whenever I think of Thanksgiving, that is the Thanksgiving that immediately comes to mind.

I was living in the college dorms, and almost everyone else had gone home for the Thanksgiving break. The cafeteria was closed too, of course. I didn’t have a car. There was a 7-11 (convenience store) within walking distance, so once a day I would go there and get a coffee, buttered roll, and one other food snack to get me through the day. (I still remember loving those damn buttered rolls!) I also had to get there before noon, or risk the 7-11 being out of buttered rolls! The horror of having to eat a 7-11 buttered bagel instead!

This was one particular Thanksgiving, but there were other holidays, including Christmas that same year, where I did not go home to see my family. Eventually, we started talking again, and I even went on to enjoy several years of a really good relationship with my mother. And yes, I also started helping her with the cooking of all large family gatherings. I use these reflections to remind myself that no matter what goes on in my kids’ lives, I should always welcome them home. Also, I try very hard not to burden my kids with my own hang-ups, so we still celebrate some manner of Thanksgiving. I actually find I enjoy it more when I try to just think of it as another day, but one in which we will eat some manner of poultry and tuber.

***After writing this, I realize I just wrote another, recent post about going through some difficult times in the past. Rest assured that this is about a different difficult time. Still, realizing this has made me want to do something that actually does some good in the world, and not just cathartic bitching. (Even though one cannot downplay the value of cathartic bitching!) I’ll think more on this.***

The magical world in the clouds

I have previously shared that when I wrote my first two novels, I did so on an archaic device known as paper! The only benefit to that was that it made me really analyze the story and do significant rewrites during the second draft process, which included typing the book on my computer. It probably also helped me figure out the process of writing a book, as it was my first time doing it.

When I got to my third book, I realized the hand cramps were not worth it, and switched to typing directly on my computer. It was a real time-saver too, as I can obviously type faster that I can write. But, I sometimes wrote on my work computer, and sometimes on my home computer, so I ended up emailing myself the file several times a week. Apart from being a version-control nightmare, this was really stressful.

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My new book is safe up there in the magical cloud!

So finally, in the year 2017, I have finally realized what everyone else realized a long time ago, namely that if you simply use cloud storage, you will never ever run into these types of problems. I am at home today because my son’s daycare is closed, and I had a moment of sadness that I forgot to save my file of my new book, and would not be able to work on it until Monday. But then! I opened up Google Drive and there it was, right up to the very last word I typed yesterday! Thank you, the magical cloud, for saving my writing!

Trying to pick up where I left off

Apparently 2017 is almost over, and, when it comes to volume of writing, I have done very little this year. After finishing my six-book series of urban fantasy, I wanted to do some personal, reflective writing. I did so, but it took so much more time than I had anticipated.

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My children reflecting on their actual reflections in a pond, upstate New York, summer 2017.

The original, finished but as-yet unedited piece was about 12K words, and that took me more than a year to write. Then I worked on editing it. That took about two months and left it at about 7k words. And now I’m left with a piece that was extremely cathartic to write, but I don’t want anyone to read it, because of the personal nature. But I hate to think the year-long process was just an exercise in journal writing, so I may look to publish it in a magazine, under a pen name.

However, all this said, what I need now is a break from this gut-wrenching introspection and get back to something that’s, at times, only slightly less painful, and that is fiction writing. Ten years ago, in 2007, I decided to take part in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo), and that was when I wrote approximately 60% of the first draft of my first book, New Blood. When December 1 came, I just kept on writing until I was done, and then put it in a drawer for about 3 years. Because I find meaning in symmetry, I am thinking now would be a good time for me to put aside my personal troubles, and start thinking more about the topic of my next series, werewolves!

Welcome to a New Family Member

Just a little over a year ago, one of my best friends in the world, my cat Pyewacket, passed away. I wrote a post about how terrific he was right after his passing, and you can read that here.

A few friends and family members suggested that I get another cat immediately. I didn’t do that. I wanted a cat, but the only cat I wanted was my Pye back. It took many months, almost a full year, before I stopped feeling that way. I went to a few shelters, one with just my older son and one with just my husband. Neither shelter had cats that “were good with kids.” I contacted another shelter by phone, and they said they didn’t like to place cats in homes with kids, but maybe she had a friend who had a cat that might like kids.

At this point, I pause to say WTF? Are we just as a default going to say that cats and kids do not get along? When I was about four, my parents got a cat for the first time. I grew up with cats. Also dogs. Also ferrets. Also rabbits. I don’t think I ever had an altercation with a single one of them.

Anyway…. Finally we were put in touch with someone who had a young cat in a foster situation. After many phone calls, emails, interviews, and home visits, we were granted a cat. And while I am not saying this vetting process in unnecessary, what I will say is if you want a kid, there are way fewer hoops to jump through to make that happen.

So, without further adieu, I present Oz.

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This photo is from his first night in the house, last Friday. He is in my kids’ bedroom. When they go to sleep (8:30-9 most nights), he also goes to sleep. He does not want to come out until morning. That first night, he slept on the floor, but every night after, he has slept in bed with my younger son. He usually likes to rest his head or a paw somewhere on him. So, take that, people who think cats and kids should not mix.

I am still getting used to the reality of having a cat again. A part of me still wants Pye back, but there are so many cats out there who do need a home, and it feels good to be able to provide for one of them.

 

 

 

 

A past problem that haunts me still

While I may not be vocal about this, I spend a bunch of time thinking about a problem that is not currently a problem of mine. That problem is food insecurity, and if you don’t know what that is, you can read about it here: Understanding Hunger and Food Insecurity.

While I say this thankfully is not currently a problem of mine, it certainly has been a problem of mine in the past. Long ago, way before I had a well-paying job in a lucrative industry and was married to a person in the same position, I lived in the basement apartment of my father’s house, and did not have much of a salary. At 27 years old and with a recently deceased mother, I was going through somewhat of an emotional and lifestyle crisis. My dad had threatened to kill himself after my mother’s death, and asked me, his only daughter, to move in with him. I had a respectable job in publishing in New York City, but telecommuting was not done back then, so I quit and moved three hours north to one of the poorest counties in the state.

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My dad and me, a couple of months after my mother’s death. The door seen on the left leads to my apartment.

The house and property were large but extremely run-down. The main house itself had a living room, dining room, kitchen, one bathroom, and three bedrooms. It also smelled horribly of smoke, as both my parents smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. At first, I slept in the bedroom I had stayed in when I visited, but the daily smell of smoke was getting to me, and I asked to move into the basement apartment.

That apartment was not unknown to me, as I had lived there a brief period when I was 18-20 and going to junior college. It had a large living room, a very small bedroom, and an even smaller kitchen and bathroom. And I use the term “kitchen” loosely. When I was younger, the kitchen had a sink and a refrigerator. Moving back there, both of these items were gone.

Trying to make money in a poor, rural community is difficult. As a student at the local massage school, I got a student job in the bursar’s office. I was allowed to work a maximum of 10 hours a week, and I made $9 an hour. After taxes, that was about $300 a month. I had to pay for my classes, of course, and also gas for my car. My father allowed me to live in the apartment rent-free, since it would otherwise just stand empty.

Sometimes I try to think back on what I would eat on a day-to-day basis. When I first moved in with him, my dad provided me with every meal. But as I moved to the apartment and started school, I saw him less. In those days, I would have a granola bar for breakfast, a cup of free coffee at the bursar’s office sometime during the day, and whatever he made for dinner. I was hungry from skipping lunch every weekday, but there was no real suffering.

Eventually, we grew further apart as our lives went on. My dad met a woman and spent a lot of time with her, so there were no more prepared dinners most nights. I had a microwave in my apartment, so I started having microwaved popcorn almost every night. Remember, I had no sink, so I didn’t want anything that required dishes or utensils. Also, I had nowhere to store food that needed to be cold. So, I largely lived on granola bars and microwaved popcorn for two years of my life, and it wasn’t the worst that could have happened.

I remember being hungry all the time. A bag of microwaved popcorn is about 300 calories and a granola bar is about 150, so with the coffee, I was having about 500 calories a day, most days. As a comparison, I now eat about 1,100 calories a day, most days, and the average adult woman eats about twice that (2,000 according to Google). Of course, some happy days I did get other food. Sometimes my dad brought home a bucket of KFC. Sometimes I went to a friend’s house for dinner. Sometimes, when it was payday, I treated myself to a sandwich from the gas station when I filled up my car.

Let me be clear in saying that I did not have it all that bad. But what I do want to emphasize is that it is now many years later, and I still look back on that time of my life often and with a feeling of existential dread. I wanted to write about some things I do that help the situation and also alleviate my anxiety, but this post has gotten pretty long, so I’ll save that for next time.

Small moments

Elegant_Sparklers

A few weeks ago, I was out at the playground with my two kids. They were playing together, while I sat on a bench and stared off into space (a favorite pastime of mine). A little boy, who may have been about two, came over to me and started babbling. He put his hands on my knees and acted very familiar with me. I started feeling really uncomfortable and also like the parent would not be happy seeing me so close to their kid.

My two sons saw my distress and came over, and I asked them to play with him. They tried, but he would not leave me. I asked him where his parents were, and started to look around. About ten minutes later, a man came over and stopped when he saw me.

“Is he yours?” I asked.

“Yes.” He tried to take the kid’s hand, but the boy slapped him away. “Sorry, you look like his mother, who died last month.”

I was too stunned to say anything, and the man walked away, leaving me with his son. He had given me no guidance as to how to act, and generally parents frown on a stranger even touching their kid. My kids eventually got him to play, but he kept coming over to talk to me (I couldn’t understand anything) and trying to pat my hair. I let my hand rest on his shoulder, but the dad wouldn’t meet my eye, so I don’t know if he approved or not. I also let my kids play in the park for roughly two hours, because I didn’t want this kid to see me leave. I also hope that seeing me did not scar the kid somehow further.

If you can stand it, here is another emotional incident! Last week I was at the grocery store getting some things for my son’s seventh birthday party (how did that happen?). I was in the aisle that has decorative plates and whatnot, and a woman in her 70s was also there. She held up a black plate with a picture of a purple birthday cake on it, and asked me if I thought it was “too girly” for her son, who was turning 31.

Now, I’m not the type to start talking with an older woman about gender norms, especially when she was just trying to be sensitive to her son and do a nice thing, so just I told her I thought it was fine. We started talking about candle choices, and I convinced her to get the same ones I got for my son, which were sparkler candles (Note: They weren’t as spectacular as the packaging would lead you to believe, but still pretty cool.)

We talked about our respective “kids” for a few minutes, and she gave another glance toward the paper products and asked, “Do you really think it’s okay?” I told her that if my mother had been alive to celebrate my 31st birthday with me, not to mention being thoughtful enough to contemplate whether the decorations would please me or not, I would have been so grateful. We hugged and then I went to sit in my car and cry for a good ten minutes. And then I pulled myself together and continued being a mom.