Books That Take Forever to Read

I love reading, and I love finishing books. I generally read at least a hundred books a year, and generally, I read several books at a time and finish each one within a few days. A week max. 

But this year has been weird–there are several books that have taken me months to read, like Ava Dellaria’s Love Letters to the Dead, which I started at Christmas and just now finished, or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I started in November and am still working on. 

Normally I abandon books if I don’t finish them quickly, but I really want to read these books and it’s just taking me forever. 

That’s sort of how my whole life has been since having a baby–I have goals and things to do that used to take me a few days but now require weeks or months. I don’t want to abandon things, but they take me forever. Some things I know have a deadline I’ve just had to postpone for a few years–like finishing my PhD. 

I know that the balance of my life will resume when Ruthie gets a little older, but for now it’s strange to reflect and see how much motherhood has impacted lifelong habits like my reading. 

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Decisions I Didn’t Think Through

I realize it’s pretty early in the day, but here are some hastily-made decisions I’m already kicking myself for:

  • Not packing last night for the 4-day trip I’m leaving for at noon
  • Not folding the laundry I washed for said trip
  • Not doing the dishes last night before bed, so that I had to do them first thing this morning before I could make any coffee
  • Bringing my daughter to bed with me last night because I was so tired when she woke up at 2 am
  • Not being able to pack, now, until baby wakes up
  • Not being able to shower until baby wakes up 
  • Settling down in the one spot I know doesn’t get Wifi in our house and getting too comfortable to get up
  • Having my least social cat, Lizzie, get too comfortable on my lap in same spot, thus pinning me to the wifi dead zone 
  • Letting Lizzie snooze instead of dislodging her so I can reach my now-cold coffee
  • Forgetting to turn my 4:45 am alarm off so now I’m stranded, awake, outside any sort of space in which I can be productive, for at LEAST another hour. 

I’m with Rachel–I just shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions. 

Happy Thursday!

Dear Construction Workers

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Dear Construction Workers,

I really appreciate that you are building a three-story apartment monstrosity that directly blocks my spectacular view of the mountains.  Really, I do.  I appreciate that you arrive at this site every morning at 6:30 am in your loud diesel trucks, ready to yell your morning salutations to one another at top volume.  I really do enjoy this–especially when your hollering wakes my daughter up an hour and a half early.  It is so nice to hear her screaming somehow overshadow yours in volume, so that I can hear her piercing shrieks while I’m on another floor attempting to brew a cup of coffee.  Very impressive.

I also appreciate that all of your deliveries, especially the ones that require a truck to drive in reverse with loud beeping sounds, or the ones that require a crane to lift the pallets to the top of the new structure and then deafeningly drop the loads on the roof, seem to occur between the hours of 1 and 3 pm.  I know you are just getting all of your materials in order for the next day before you head home around 3:30, and it is so kind of you to schedule those deliveries smack in the middle of my daughter’s nap time.  This efficient timeline has ensured that her once-lengthy afternoon nap has dwindled to a short bit of shuteye, resulting in a perpetually sleep-deprived, cranky baby.

The only time I don’t hear you guys is in the middle of the night, when my daughter wakes up–every night for two weeks in a row now–to eat, because she hasn’t eaten her bedtime bottle, because she’s too tired, because she can’t get a good nap in unless I put her in her carseat and we drive in circles while I listen to an audiobook on my headphones so she can sleep in peace.  (Not that I’ve done that or anything.)  During those 2 am snuggle sessions, I really notice the absence of clanking and hollering and beeping and smashing and hammering and drilling and stapling.  I definitely miss it.

So, construction workers, thanks for all you do.  Really.  Thanks.

Sincerely,

A Really Tired Mom of a Really Tired Baby

 

Baby Clothes

I really hate shopping, and I’m not comfortable spending large amounts of money, but there is a person in my household who requires a brand new wardrobe every 3-4 months.

Her name is Ruthie, she is super chic, and she’s 11 months old going on 18, if her clothes are anything to go by.  And I am lucky that her new digs are so cheap.

Today, Ruthie and I spent a good half hour in her room, her scooting around on her butt in just a diaper (she is stubborn and refuses to crawl, but moves around her own way–unconventionally), me cross-legged on the floor, both of us surrounded by her 12- and 18-month size clothes.  On the left was a bag I was folding the former into, and on the right was a laundry basket I was tossing the latter into.

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I used tiny scissors to cut off the tiny tags from the tiny shirts and pants and socks and hats and dresses and SHORTS for the first time that are going to be her late winter-early spring wardrobe.  Ruthie kept trying to grab the scissors, completely bored by the various other dangerous implements in her room–lamp, cat, garbage can full of poopy diapers.

As I de-tagged ruffly dresses and Easter outfits and polka dot pants, I thought about the other times I’d performed this ritual.  The first time was soon after she was born, a hefty little thing even though she was three weeks early.  She outgrew her newborn clothes before her due date had arrived, so when she was just a few days old, I reverently washed a whole season of 0-3 month clothes.  They were so, so tiny, and so, so precious.  I hadn’t purchased any of those outfits, so blessed we were with generous friends and family.  I thought of everyone who’d given her each outfit every time we got dressed in the morning.

The more times I performed the new wardrobe ritual, the fewer clothes were already in her closet.  I had to start shopping for baby clothes, usually on clearance at Target or the Children’s Place, and often at Sam’s Club or Walmart.  I kept an eye out for sleepers for her giant butt and hats for her giant head and socks that wouldn’t cut the circulation off her giant feet.  She is forever too big for her clothes.

This morning, I was struck by how large her new 18-month size seemed.  I remembered when a whole season of clothes barely filled half a laundry basket, and this morning the comparatively small stack of outfits overflowed onto the floor quite quickly, by sheer dint of their volume.

I looked at Ruthie as she shuffled around the room, struggling to pull up on furniture, occasionally shouting out some baby babble.  I looked back at the laundry basket and remembered when we’d first done this activity together, in our old apartment, Ruthie, just a few pounds, resting in her little baby bouncer and gazing at me calmly.  I looked back at her again this morning, on the cusp of walking and talking and growing up and leaving me one day.

It was the first time I felt like our time together had gone quickly, and the first time I felt regret for having let those first weeks and months of her life slide past me as I wished for time to go faster.  She’s still a little baby, but every day, she’ll never be as little as she was the day before.

It kind of breaks my heart.

 

I Absolutely Love My Job

In the months since I had my daughter, I have come to truly love and appreciate my job.

I teach preservice teachers at our local university, whose campus is only 15 minutes away from our house…if you include a stop at Starbucks.

I teach three classes:  a 3-credit hour course that meets on Monday mornings, and a 1-hour and 2-hour course that meet on alternating Friday mornings.

Every morning, when I pack Ruthie’s diaper bag to take her to a friend’s house for the morning, I am filled with happiness.  I never dread getting up when my alarm goes off, never dread creating my lesson plans for the day, never dread seeing my students’ bright, optimistic faces.

This morning I spent a wonderful three hours with 19- and 20-year-olds on the cusp of teaching, their faces furrowed in concern as we grappled with issues, grinning at me when I dropped some truth about real public school teaching, or blank with concentration as they read and wrote and thought.  I had so much fun.

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I don’t think I love it because “it’s my dream job,” because there are problems, and things I don’t like (cough cough, grading), just like any other job.  But it is, in this season of my life, a way for me to stay connected to all things teaching and learning, when I don’t have time to work in a high school full time.

I’m thinking about this because so many of my friends have written Facebook posts lately lamenting that their jobs take them away from their babies.  “My first day back at work and I’m missing my baby so much!!”  “Two hours ’til my work trip ends and I see my baby again! Longest five days of my life!”

I don’t think I’m abnormal because I don’t fit the dominant narrative of doting mother–I think there are plenty of moms like me.  I just wish more moms like me would speak up and put their real feelings out there.  I wasted a good bit of new motherhood worrying that I wasn’t feeling/thinking/doing “what I was supposed to,” and it made me miserable.  It damaged my relationship with my daughter, husband, and family.

I wish I felt the devotion to my daughter that other moms profess, but I can’t help but remember that I am a person too, and I was a person for 28 years before she was, and I just can’t throw that person away to only focus on this little brand new one in my home.  I feel that when I nurture that self, I can nurture the newer part of my identity–the mom part.

Am I alone in this feeling?  Are all moms like me, looking forward to the convention or work trip or part-time job that gets them out of their house and into adult company, not every hour of every day, but at least weekly?

Or is it just me, and I really do love my job that much?!

 

Other People’s Birthdays

I love shopping…

…but not for myself.  I don’t know what it is, but I have zero patience for trying on clothes, considering nail polish colors, or even buying my own books live and in person.  Ugh.

So, March is a fun month for me, when two of my closest friends, two babies, and my mom all have birthdays!

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Last week Ruthie and I spent a whole day running around town, shopping at various discount stores and specialty shops, hunting down the perfect items for each and every birthday girl on our list.  We had a delightful time, even though our search was somewhat fruitless and we wound up on Amazon to fill out our gift bags.

You see, since I quit teaching full time, anything that gets me out of the house is a plus.  Trips to Target, the post office, and the gym have become nothing short of therapeutic.  So an entire day zipping around shopping for other people is paradise!

Then, when we get home, we have hours of enjoyment opening, de-tagging, and sorting our purchases, followed by the inevitable tissue paper extravaganza that is always initiated by Ruthie and then escalated by our cats.

By the time the presents are wrapped, the house is a mess and I have to clean, which is fine with me.  Babies are a joy, but they are a monotonous, tedious, demanding little species.  Whatever breaks up twelve unencumbered hours with a non-speaking, non-mobile, non-self-feeding individual is welcome.

I’ve had a hard time dealing with that monotony, since I was so accustomed to having 140 teenagers per day zoom in and out of my life.  I won’t ever be able to replicate the uniquely fulfilling challenge of high school teaching until I return to the classroom, so I question my jaunts around town.  I wonder if they’re just a way to pass the time until my life is mine again.  I wonder if it makes me a bad mom to look forward to that moment.

Today is my mom’s birthday, and she is an absolutely spectacular mom.  She is that rare creature who actually enjoys spit-up and poop blowouts and middle of the night screaming.  Genuinely–I’ve heard her crooning to Ruthie at 4 a.m. before while I’m trying to shove a pillow more firmly on top of my head.

While I feel incredibly, unspeakably lucky to have my mom be mine, I feel sad every day that I don’t excel at motherhood the way she does.  It’s been a tough pill to swallow realizing that whatever genetic mama goddess gene she possesses apparently skipped me.

So on her birthday, I’m trying to forget all the guilt I feel about all of my mommy feelings, in order to best honor my mom’s love of parenthood.  We all do it differently, just as we’re all different individuals, and society needs to make that okay.

Cheers to that, old sport.

Like-Minded Friends

I’ve heard Penny Kittle use the phrase “like-minded friends” more times than I can count, and I’ve heard her shorten it to the delightfully concise “LMFs.”  In my teaching life, through a variety of channels, I’ve managed to find lots of LMFs on whom I rely for uplifting conversations and inspiration.

But in my mom life, I’ve had a harder time.  While I know plenty of moms, I’ve had a hard time finding one who could be an LMF.  Most of the moms I know have a few kids now, and can’t remember the anxiety-ridden first days of new motherhood.  Other moms I know have a sturdy support system to fall back on when they struggle–their families are nearby, or they have a great church community, or their husbands are around to co-parent.

I have none of those things, and the one friend I had who was a lot like me just moved to Arkansas.  Thankfully, her move is temporary, but the long two years until her return have been yawning before me, a lonely gap.

Until I met Carley.

Carley, like me, is irreverent in her many walks of life–as a wife, mom, friend, and professional.  We have similar part-time work responsibilities, busy hubbies, and faraway families.  We both like the f word.  We read a variety of books, from trashy romances to Pulitzer winners.  We unabashedly watch Netflix while our babies take the glorious nirvana of the afternoon nap, when we should be folding laundry or grading papers or cleaning bathrooms.

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Our daughters are four months apart in age, sporting similar big blue eyes and still-bald pates.  Today, as our coffee date ended, our waitress wondered of our babies, “are they twins?  Probably not, but are you all sisters?  Are they cousins?”

It was such a nice moment, to be mistaken for the relative of someone whose company I’ve come to enjoy so much.  As I drove home, I thought about that moment, and about the buoyancy I feel when I’m in the company of a friend who helps build me up, even when I can’t see I need to be.  I felt so relieved to have found a new friend like that!

I feel, finally, so optimistic about motherhood.  I finally have another friend–one who lives in my state!–who I can have an afternoon play date with, followed by an evening out at a wine bar.  A new friend who I don’t feel like is rolling her eyes at my maternal ineptitude, or just reassuring me that “all babies are different so don’t worry,” or telling me that the baby months will fly by and I’ll wish for them one day so I should treasure every sleepless night I get with my screaming child.

So tonight I’m rejoicing–hooray for like-minded friends!

The Winds of Change Smell Like Books

The wind is howling this morning.

Twitter is all atwitter about it, my #5amwritersclub buddies hoping for some inspiration to blow their way.

I am reminded, as I listen to the gusting outside my window rattling my poor patio chairs around, of a fabulous phrase my friend Lisa coined:  “The winds of change smell like books.”  I love her writing voice, especially her gift for blending metaphors without the dreaded “mixed metaphor” making an appearance.

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The wind reminded me how much my reading life has changed since I became a mom.  While some might think the books I’ve read would have decreased in quantity and quality, the opposite is actually true.  When I had Ruthie, I became a mostly stay-at-home mom, teaching just two mornings per week (and grading during every other waking moment).  While reading is certainly a guilty pleasure, I make sure now that I make that pleasure the most enjoyable it can be.

I have carved out a routine–the new normal so many of my mom friends have described.  While I wouldn’t describe my normal as necessarily “normal,” it works for me.

I get up at 4:45, make coffee, and write–either in my notebook, or for a blog, or just on a random Google doc that may never see the light of day.  When Ruthie wakes up, we play and she eats.  During her morning nap, I try to do something productive:  laundry, or cleaning, or working out.  Then it’s time for more playing and feeding, and then the glorious nirvana of the long afternoon nap.

That two to three hours is so indulgent.  Sometimes I’ll grade papers, sometimes I’ll binge-watch Netflix, and sometimes I’ll return to whatever book I just cannot stop thinking about that I’m currently reading.  Yesterday’s naptime was consumed by Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead.  This weekend I inhaled Me Before You (finally) by Jojo Moyes (and it did not disappoint).

Other times, when the weather’s nice, I’ll bring the baby monitor outside and listen to an audiobook while I eat my lunch and paint my nails.  Last week I listened to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah on double speed since I was so desperate to finish it, barely paying attention to the ravioli I was eating or the hot pink I was applying to my toenails.

When Ruthie wakes up, she is happy and hungry and ready to play for several hours until bedtime, when I let out a sigh of relief and survival–I made it through another day, and everyone is still alive!

I climb into bed and celebrate with a book, always, and a glass of wine, often.  I pick up whatever paperback is on my nightstand and read with the help of my trusty reading lamp if my husband is still awake, or I read on my Nook or phone if he’s asleep.  I have had to develop strategies for getting to read, unfortunately.

I usually read several books at a time, something I never used to be able to tolerate.  I was a compulsive list-maker, loving to cross things off and finish them neatly.  So I read one book until I was done.  The end.

Nowadays, I read whatever my mood calls for.  If I want something light I’ll pick up some YA.  For something heavier I’ll grab an award-winner or a recommendation from a friend.  When I feel like learning something new I’ll search for a good nonfiction read.

The new me is so selective about what to read, and when to read it, that I’ve all but eliminated the “filler” books I used to spend my time with.  I rarely dislike books enough to abandon them, and with so little time to waste in my life as a mom I’m much more choosy.  So I’ve loved everything I’ve read lately, and my reading life is enriching me so much more than it always has.

That’s one perk to the many new things motherhood brings–that the winds of change smell like books.

From Loathing to Loving Storms

It is raining cats and dogs this morning!

Or, in my household, mostly cats, as my two crazy kitties scamper for cover from the thunder and lightning and rain.  They’re seeking any shelter they can find and are currently under an overturned basket of clothes in the laundry room.

Honestly, I haven’t seen a good old-fashioned storm this strong since I lived in the vast flatness of Ohio.  Bad weather was more common there than it is here in the mountains of West Virginia, and in the four years I’ve lived here, I only remember a few storms this bad.  The weather men are positively having a field day!

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When I was younger, I was terrified of storms.  I remember fleeing to my parents’ room, climbing under the covers of their waterbed, and waiting for the bad weather to end.  Something about the noise and chaos frightened me then.  Maybe it was the fact that our back yard shared a fence with a farm, and I always worried about the animals.  Maybe it was fatefully watching Twister with my best friend when I was in elementary school, and thinking of it as a horror movie back then.

Whatever it was, I didn’t grow out of that fear until I was in college.  I began to relish the freedom and sheer power that storms represented, perhaps spurred into my love by the countless images in books and movies that showed the heroine running out into the rain, her soul finally free during the storm scene.

This morning, I am wondering what my daughter will think of the storm when she wakes up.  She’s ten months old, so it’s her first big one.  So much of my life as a mother is spent wondering what’s going on in my baby’s head.  I don’t think that will change, no matter how refined her powers of communication become–that’s just the relationship between parent and child, I suppose.

Maybe becoming a mother has a great deal to do with being less fearful of noise and chaos.  Trial by fire, as it were, since my whole life has been upended in the last ten months.  Becoming a mom has done an absolute tornado on my once well-ordered existence, and I haven’t been sure how I felt about it until just now.  Maybe I need to look at Hurricane Ruthie as a storm whose power and abandon I feel exhilarated by, instead of a storm I’m just fearful of.

Because I have spent a lot of my time as a mom just scared–scared because I don’t know what I’m doing, scared that I’m going to mess up, scared that I won’t be able to make it through the shockingly difficult trial that is new motherhood.  I’m not used to living in fear, and I haven’t coped well with this ten-month never-ending storm.

So, here it is, my declaration:  I’m tired of cowering under this useless umbrella.  I’m going to toss it aside and stand out in the storm and celebrate its power and noise and chaos.  I’m going to think of that scene in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice where Darcy proposes, and I’m going to listen to that fantastic orchestral score in my head whenever I’m tempted to cry and be beaten down by the rain.  I’m going to declare my love and not be afraid, because what’s the point?  The storm will always be bigger than me.  Motherhood will always have a higher purpose that I cannot see.  I need to surrender and relish the storm, and fear it no longer.

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