New Era, New Routine

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Michael 1st day kindergarten

Coloring a star is serious business.

Well, it’s official: all my kids are in full-day school.

For the past three weeks, things have been rather up in the air. I’ve been collecting a list of Things I Will Do When I No Longer Have Kids At Home All Day. Most of them are writing-related, but there are also things like going out and sitting in nature, which I haven’t gotten to do much of the last year or two. Maybe even a little shopping, occasionally. But then, for a while, I thought something else was coming down the pike in my world, that would call all that extra time into question. So I didn’t bother spending the time trying to figure out what my new world was going to look like. And then that “something else” didn’t end up coming to fruition, anyway.

So the first day of school pounced upon me without a whole lot of preparation. This is the first time I have ever found myself reeling on the night before school starts, asking myself, “Where did the summer go? It was unbelievably short. I don’t have a game plan yet for tomorrow when I’m by myself with time to work!”

Of course, yesterday I went from school dropoff to rehearsal to dental appointment, and by the time I got home, the morning was 2/3 gone already, so maybe it’s just as well I didn’t try to make a plan yet.

Still, I’m a person who does well with structure, and who gets stressed with lack of it. Our life with four kids is much easier if we know that Person XY does A on B day, and Person XX does it on C days. We’ve had the same pattern for, well, 5 years at least. But this year our families outgrew the carpool, so that changes the shape of the afternoon. And because I have the full day on my own, I’m taking more of the morning prep instead of trying to squeeze half an hour of work in between 5:45 and 6:20. (Or 40 minutes…or 45…) I’ve actually done the dropoff run the first two mornings. I’ve never done the morning dropoff. That’s always, always been Christian’s job. So clearly, things are going to be in flux for a while.

What I know so far is that the time between the boys’ departure and the arrival of the public school bus will be dedicated to reading comprehension with Julianna. This much I can set down in stone now, and make good use of a small block of time for something that gets pushed aside too easily in the afternoons.

Figuring out how to structure the rest of these days for best possible use of time? That’s going to take a while longer to figure out. But yesterday, remembering my friend’s words: Pace yourself, I paused at 2:35 p.m. and said, “I’ve worked all day. I think I’m going to play for half an hour until it’s time to pick up the kids.”

And I did. I played with a Shutterfly album of Colorado.

On to Day 2. Hopefully a pattern will emerge sooner rather than later.

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The State of an Author-Composer’s World

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Do you ever have that feeling that there’s just too much going on? No, of course not, she says (wink-wink). This summer hit me like a Mack truck, and the grace in it was that I was so focused on two weeks in July–my week at NPM in Cincinnati and our trip to Colorado last week–that I didn’t have any time to spend calculating how much other work was getting shoved off to the side. If I had really processed how much there was, the stress level would have skyrocketed.

As I was taking these pictures I was feeling bad for the poor mama moose, who was having to raise her babies with 50 people taking pictures…but now I think I sort of missed the part where she was living in ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, with no responsibilities except existing. There’s some beauty in that.

My poor kids have two weeks of summer break left and it’s the first real unstructured time we have. We needed one day for recovering from twelve hours on the road–day 1 we saw moose at Sprague Lake, I battled Nicholas and Michael on the aerial course, we had lunch and souvenir shopping, and THEN drove 6 hours in 7 hours. Day 2 we got up, ate breakfast, and drove 6 hours in 7 hours. And then did eight loads of laundry and went to a birthday party for the baby of a choir member. So yeah, we needed Sunday to recover. And Monday.

By Tuesday, they were “all war zone, all the time.”

And me, in the meantime?

I knocked out my first two deadlines on Monday and Tuesday–the shortest two. Some of the other tasks on my to-do list are gargantuan. It’s easy to say, “Query Trust Falls.” What that line item doesn’t tell you is I have to write a synopsis. And take the list of upwards of a hundred agents I’ve been collecting for the last two years and organize it and figure out which ones are the best match. Then agonize over the query letter and make sure it’s as compelling as it can possibly be, with the right balance of, well, everything. And only then comes the querying itself.

It’s also easy to write on that list, “Trio.” But writing a piece of music is not a short process. I will likely spend three or four months working on that.

So I view the upcoming school year with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, all the kids will be in school all day for the first time. (Hurrah! Uninterrupted days to work!) On the other, homework season is starting. The reading assessments that ended 3rd grade underscored to us that we’ve really underserved Miss Julianna, and we can’t do it anymore. We’ve GOT to figure out where to scrape together 15-20 minutes a day for reading comprehension, and when the speech therapist sends home that 12-page packet that says “do this list of words 3x a day for a week, then do this list 3x a day for a week…”…well, we really need to do it.

Such things make me feel like whimpering. It makes me miss this even more:

I could totally stand to spend every day climbing enormous piles of boulders at the Alluvial Fan and cuddle up by a fire in the evening to write. Wait. If I write, that presupposes all the deadlines and the other stuff…roses and thorns.

When this round of deadlines clears out I have to take a clear-eyed stock of what I commit to and be more realistic.

That’s the state of my world right now, and I know no one’s all that interested, but I debated not blogging at all today because I just remembered (I’ve been working on agent lists this morning!), and I have a flute duet rehearsal any minute, so I decided it was the type of day that calls for a stream-of-consciousness post that only takes 12 minutes to write.

Staying Home vs. Working Mom

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Last week, we watched the movie Suffragette. I hope many of you have watched it, so I don’t have to explain that it was…sad. Sad beyond expression. But one thing that really struck me in that movie was the fact that Maud worked full time—more than full time—outside the home. She sent her kid off to somebody else to take care of.

For a lot of people, the stay-at-home/working mom debate probably feels tiresomely passé, but I still see the barbs popping up on both sides. I’ve heard the pain expressed by working and stay-at-home moms alike, who feel beleaguered. Judged. Too often by each other.

I always planned to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life cocooned in a community that sees it not just as a valid choice but as THE RIGHT choice.

The thing is, I was less than a year into stay-at-home motherhood when I started working. I remember the moment I received my first acceptance, for the octavo Go In Peace from WLP. I was in the basement of our old house, nursing Alex while working on the computer with a repairman in the next room, and I scared both of them by screaming in excitement.

For twelve years I’ve been wrestling with the balance between work and motherhood/wifehood. There’s no question that my presence at home is a huge value to the family. It would cost $7-9K a year per kid for day care in my area, and these days, the cost would be transitioning into money to pay a nanny/chauffeur. The fact that I can do the grocery shopping and cooking while Christian’s at work means we have more time to spend as a family. That’s a value you can’t quantify. And of course, I’ve been able to shape my kids’ world view without worrying about what they’re exposed to or taught in the brief intervals they were away from me as small children.

And yet. I am more than a mother and wife. The gifts that were given to me as a human being who happens to be female were given for a reason. If I suppress them until my kids get old enough, I’m burying my coins. I was given the passion and gift for writing for a reason. I’m supposed to do something with it.

I consider myself unfathomably blessed, because the work I feel called to do can be done from home. It’s stressful and requires a lot of self-discipline, but I actually do get to “have it all.”

But what about women for whom their calling, the talent that they can offer the world, can’t be done from home? Do their gifts not matter?

Even I, working from home, have been tormented by messaging like “You’ll have decades left to have a career; your kids are only little once.” How much worse must it be for women who work outside the home? Those words may be true, but the reality is that if you drop out of the work force for three or five or ten years to raise a family and then try to come back, you’ll spend the rest of your life fighting a losing battle for equity.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize this SAHM mom ideal is really a pretty new construct. Even this book on Our Lady of Fatima that my mother gave me to read to the kids talks about how Lucia was the go-to child care provider for the entire village. Even in a peasant village in the 19-teens, a lot of “at home” moms were sending their kids out to be tended by someone else.

Which brings us back to Maude, from Suffragette. Yes, she is a fictional character, but I get the sense that she was an amalgam of many of the experiences of women involved in the suffragette movement in England. You could argue that it was different for poor women; that families of more means did, indeed, have mothers who stayed home with their kids. Except those kids had nannies and governesses.

Then, too, wrestling with all this has made me realize that without women in the work force, and a lot of them, issues of just compensation and so on would be shunted aside even more than they already are. That might not impact those who choose to stay home, but it sure as heck would impact single moms, who have no choice.

And now that I have a son on the cusp of adolescence—a son who watched Suffragette with us and who stopped the movie more than once to ask questions about what it means to be a woman in this day and age—the importance of this question is becoming ever clearer. I am a Catholic mother. My #1 job is to form my children in the faith. Not some warped version of it that picks the simplest parts to explain and ignores the real challenges the Gospel poses to people living in a real world, where there are no straightforward, cut-and-dry answers, because when you yank on one thread several dozen others move, too.

Mothers who work outside the home aren’t less-worthy mothers. One woman who’s close to me says, “I am always a mom first, even when I’m at work.”

I’m not belittling staying home. Quite the opposite. For all the hair-pulling moments I’ve experienced the last twelve years of being entirely or almost entirely at home with my kids, I can’t imagine going back and choosing any other path. It has been exactly what I was called to do.

But nor will I stand for a world view that belittles those who do choose to work outside the home. We all have to discern our lives and our vocations based on our individual circumstances, the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of all the family members. And above all, we have to stop minding everyone else’s business.