Santa Claus

Earlier this month our school hosted a family Christmas party. The conference hall tables are set with white cloths and Christmas decorations. There is holiday music and a slideshow of family photos playing while we eat our potluck meal. And the potluck set on a long L of tables reminds me of Christmas day growing up, when we joined my mom’s extended family in a church basement or American Legion, all of the kids skimping on mains and sides to fill on cookies and fluffy marshmallow salads. Always the church basements or rented halls were a little chilly at the start, warmed after an uncle turned up the clanking heat or enough of us were gathered in one place, and the family Christmas party was like that this year, held on one of the coldest days yet.

We took the city bus to the stop at the bottom of the hill, and walked up to our school. We arrived early with a few others to set up, but most was ready. Justin filled the hot water dispenser for tea, and he and Gene sorted how to give a crowd their Sunday morning coffee (there’s a coffee maker in the business office, and they brewed pot after pot to fill a thermos dispenser). As families arrived with crock pots and serving platters we made room on the tables. Light conversation about holiday traditions or upcoming travel, a little commiseration about getting the kids out the door on time. But like the family Christmas gatherings of my childhood, once we are all arrived at the conference hall, any bumps or arguments of the morning are smoothed by the camaraderie of us just being together. We all made with our socks on or off, gloves remembered or forgotten, the dishes just right or a little burned.

I meant to start this piece about Santa Claus, but setting the scene gave me these connections to my growing up Christmas day celebrations. This is how my writing works. I drafted the Santa Claus piece in my mind while out on a run, but when I sit to commit the words, the words lead another way. Yesterday on a walk we were remembering our past Christmas days. On the beach in Australia, along the Gulf in Kuwait. Kenya, India. So I was already thinking to write about the holiday, and how Justin and I have made our own family celebration from our separate growing up traditions. Maybe those thoughts, and my own nostalgia (I want to spend a Christmas in Wisconsin, soon) are in the way of drafting the piece about Santa Claus.

So let me start again.

Before the family holiday party, I reminded Claire and Grant not to ruin Santa Claus for any of the other kids. Each year I say something similar at the start of December. I did not grow up in a Santa Claus family but I also did not feel compelled to correct the Santa Claus kids in my class, or to do anything but smile politely and nod when a bank teller or store clerk asked if I was excited for Santa to bring me a gift. I have a dim memory of once saying that my parents were the ones who brought me gifts, and the clerk and my mom laughing together. This kid is in on it.

I only became impatient with Santa Claus as a parent. The story of Saint Nicholas is beautiful, but he isn’t the Santa of songs or malls or holiday parties. But my real qualm is the lie. I don’t want to lie to my kids. And for years I could say to Claire and Grant that Santa is a fun story, but some families pretend the story is real. So don’t tell kids that Santa doesn’t exist. Please don’t call the Santa who shows up at our holiday party a fake. Keep your mouth shut, kids. Santa is the opiate of the child masses. Which takes me to the reason I resist this easy lie. I do believe God exists. I talk to God, I talk with my kids about God. We attend church as a family. I read that old book full of beautiful poetry, yearning, hard answers and wild, uncomfortable stories. Faith is a stretch. And as I live my faith for my kids to see, that they may know who God is by the way I walk through the days, I am aware that I am asking my kids to call real the very being many reject. But if I say Santa Claus is real and God is real, what happens one day in elementary or middle school when another kid wise to the unreality of Santa spoils the belief for my kids – do I still insist that this other, crazier story of God really is real, really? So I do not present God as pretend. God is God. Santa is a fun holiday story.

This year Claire asked did she have to sit on Santa’s lap. No, I said. (In light of the MeToo movement, is anyone still insisting their daughters and sons sit on an old man’s lap for the photo op? Sure. This is Santa, not your boss, CEO or director). Grant wanted to know the same. Look, I said, Neither of you have to sit on Santa’s lap. He’s going to give you a present. You can say thank you, smile for the camera, and that’s fine. Claire and Grant agreed to play the moment as they felt most comfortable.

While I didn’t stand in line at the mall to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what I wanted for Christmas, Dad’s company party had a Santa who gave generous gifts and we went a couple of times. I probably asked for art supplies. I might have admitted my unbelief to the man with a fake beard. As a kid, I remember feeling a little smug or superior that I understood Santa wasn’t real, not like God was real. I felt smug about God too. (That may be another essay entirely). For now, understand the intervening years blessedly stripped my pride, though I continue to swell and fall. What I want for myself and my kids is a wrestle with belief in God, and not smugness but humility as faith increases.

The only reason I am writing this at all is because a few days after the family Christmas party, Claire and I were walking to Hyundai department store after school to get black pants and a black shirt for her winter concert. The walk was longer than expected, we were cold, and Claire started a debate with her position that all kids should believe in Santa Claus. It isn’t fair that any kid shouldn’t get Santa Claus. It’s magical. At least the toddlers should have Santa Claus. I thought of the howling toddlers held in place on Santa’s lap for the quick photo while the other kids and parents laughed or made sympathetic faces. I thought of Claire and Grant during their own toddler years wanting nothing to do with the Santa Claus who showed up at holiday parties. I doubt most toddlers would protest being kept safe, away from the totally unfamiliar costumed man, magical or not. After I said this to Claire, that most toddlers didn’t seem to actually enjoy Santa very much and was it kind for parents to make their kids feel afraid, Claire repeated that Santa is fun, Santa is magical, before arriving at her point, that we should celebrate Santa too.

I like the story of Saint Nicholas, I said.
That isn’t Santa, she said.
You’re right, I said, But we can celebrate Saint Nicholas. We can give to the poor.

How did Saint Nicholas become Santa Claus? Why celebrate Christmas with coerced good behavior and wish lists when we could celebrate with an excess of giving to the least of these? Claire was unmoved. I get her feeling of loss. Every family has its culture, its beliefs that inform who we are, what we are about, and as kids we learn the differences between one family and the next, one way to believe and another, and as we grow we wonder and ask. Just as Claire was then doing. I tried again to explain why we didn’t do Santa. We don’t hide Santa from the kids. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas we watch Santa movies: Miracle On 34th Street, The Santa Clause, Arthur Christmas, Elf. We like but don’t elevate Santa. And for years I just did not think this was a big deal to Claire or Grant. Then on this cold walk, Claire unraveled her certainty that because Santa is magical, it is cruel for parents not to let kids have him.

One day I will talk with Claire and Grant about ways I have failed as their parent. I told Claire that on our walk. There are things that I did wrong or feel badly about, I said. I apologize as I go, but one day when the kids are older, I will open a dialogue to address my own regrets and hear any hurts they harbor too. I value honesty. I value perspective. I value truth.

But I am not sorry my kids missed thinking Santa Claus is real. Claire, I said, You know I tell you the truth. She nodded. I said, You know I answer your questions. She nodded again. I said, Claire, I don’t want to lie to you. Sometimes I don’t tell you everything because of your age. But I don’t lie. That’s why we don’t do Santa. I don’t want to lie to you.

This did not soften Claire. She was belligerent at the injustice of me keeping Santa Claus from her, at ruining Christmas magic. Just suck it up, Mom, Claire yelled at me. Call it a Christmas miracle I did not push my screaming daughter in the river. Instead I thought for a moment. I sat down at the edge of the path, even though it was cold and we both wanted to get the errand done, have dinner. I sat down because sometimes I need to physically still my body to really know what to do or say next. I wasn’t bothered by Claire questioning our decision to skip Santa, but I was upset at the tone, the irrational banging on and nonsensical yelling that I needed to just suck it up. If I laughed, the conversation would end and Claire would be too wounded to hear anything I said. If I yelled, I would only fuel Claire’s anger. Oh the many crucibles of parenting.

What I did was say I am sorry she feels like she got left out of something fun. I am sorry she feels gypped a dose of magical thinking. She softened a little. And then I repeated that I am not sorry we didn’t pretend Santa was real. Before Claire could relaunch her lines, I asked what all of this was about. Why is this a question now? What prompted this conversation? Claire told me she is practicing debate. Fifth graders are working their way toward presenting arguments about the urgency of environmental problems, and how to share potential solutions. So they are practicing debate strategies. Telling someone to suck it up is not a good strategy, I said. She laughed. Really, I said, Don’t say that again to me. We walked on. By the time we reached Hyundai department store, our feet were cold. We were hungry. We sat side by side at a noodle counter.

I know the conversation isn’t over. Maybe Santa Claus isn’t a big deal, but there are other ideas we explore too, because ideas and beliefs inform our actions. I don’t think it is a mistake to make Santa a story, or to emphasize the greater work of Saint Nicholas, or to altogether axe Elf on the shelf in favor of Christ in a manger.

Because I started the writerly asides: Here I wonder how to end the piece. I want to go on about my own parenting questions. There are lines I draw that may prove inconsequential. Santa seems like such a stupid argument. But I remember a colleague telling me he was devastated when he learned Santa isn’t real. Why would parents risk that betrayal? As for magical thinking, isn’t childhood woven through with pretend and fantasy by way of practicing how to be a person? Even now, at age thirty-eight I live in stories. I crave fantasy. Simple fantasy constructed in a moment, like gorgeous hair, or smart conversation. Wild fantasy constructed over years, like a craftsman house I inherit in Seattle or a collection of my best work. I am a fan of magical thinking. I like to think how what is real might tilt just so at the unfurl of a thought or prayer. And perhaps because I write, drink too much wine on occasion, and talk freely, my imagination is no mystery to friends and family. (At a revision of this piece, I would parse imagination and magical thinking. Or cut this altogether).

Here is where I am, a few days after Christmas: At my kitchen table. Dinner is in the oven. I am eating blueberries and pomegranate arils and have already had my small fear of the day, wondering if Justin and I will make it through marriage and parenting and still like one another in fifteen years. God have mercy. This morning I thought how to end this essay. This is probably not how to end this essay, but if my aim is to generate (churn/ toss on the page/ draft/ spit/ fling) thirty-nine pieces before I celebrate thirty-nine years, well: cannot be picky. One day, maybe, this gets revised. One day, maybe, I’ll say it perfectly. But saying things just so keeps me from sharing here. That isn’t fair to my practice. It isn’t fair to the process. One day I’ll write another essay about Santa Claus and you will recognize a few lines from this first piece. And one day Claire will argue about more than Santa Claus, with such conviction and clarity she won’t need to shout to be understood.


Four of thirty-nine stories. 2379 words, including asides. I’m counting it all. Drafted over a week, mostly during a two hour chunk the day after Christmas.

Eyes

A one word prompt from a fellow writer, with the aim to write a piece to read aloud. And for no good reason except a concurrent prompt to my students, it’s single syllable. Except for “husband.” I thought about using “man” instead. Couldn’t do it.

Her Dark Eyes Go Light

I am on my back when my girl is born and then she is on my chest and I lift my head, say her name. She turns to my voice. I say I love you. She cries. She is wild and new, loud and pink. I say I love you. I am weak from birth but I make my arms work. I hold her and look. She has dark eyes.

A nurse takes her a few steps from me, to weigh, mark length. I can hear her cry. I am so weak from birth I shake like I am cold. I turn my head but can’t see my girl. My husband comes to me. His eyes are blue and they speak before he does. He has tears on his face. He smiles down at me. I close my eyes.

A nurse helps me sit. The room spins. My girl is in my arms. The room will not stop. I look at my girl. She looks at me. Her eyes are dark blue. I can see that now. She has no hair. The room is too bright for us. I put her to my breast to see how and she knows how.

For a year I hold her like that, at my breast. I look down and smile. She looks up, blinks. We sit like this. We stand like this. We lay like this. Her eyes go light blue. Her hair comes in like sun. She grows long in my arms. She tugs my shirt, my hair. She looks for more. She sighs and sleeps. She cries. She laughs. For a year I hold her like that and learn how.

I Find The Sea

I thought, I can watch a BBC mystery show or I can post the third piece. Virtue won. Vice can wait twenty minutes.

This is another single syllable vignette, again set in Kuwait. I’d wanted to write about my sea walks for a long time. This form works but I think a long essay is waiting its turn too.

I Find The Sea

I find the sea one year. I take my girl and boy south and walk a path lined with palm trees. We are slow. We stop to look at ants, dirt, leaves. I hold my boy while he sleeps and watch my girl kick sand. There is a place I like to stay. It is at an edge. I look out at the sea and think. The weight of my boy and the hand of my girl make me turn back.

There is a walk I love, the sea at my side, my girl and boy near. They play while I look at them and think how much I know and don’t know at once, and how much I want for them and me and us. They can’t know all I hold in my mind when my breath goes tight. My girl runs at me. I catch her. Her hair smells like the sun.

The sea is new each walk. I go for that. I like to see how the sun and sky work the sea to make it gray or blue or green, to make it calm or loud, flat or heaved. My son likes the men who fish. They cast a line, pull it in, send it out. They shoo the cats who want bait. One man shows my boy the fish he caught, a slick fish with wet eyes.

One day we walk on the rocks. The path is too smooth. In my mind, I go where I can see my feet are the first feet to walk these rocks. I feel a kind of wild. You can, I tell my boy, and he steps a gap. There is trash in the cracks. My girl is mad at the trash. She wants to know why.

I lose my fear to the crash and turn of the waves. I am small and loved. That truth is good. Let me hold on. Let my girl and boy know I will not let go. And one day, give them a sea to go to, where they may think.

Recent Reads: One God Book, One Parenting Book

First, the God book. I parse my issues. I like to know the root. I think about what I need to give up or forgive or atone for. So I picked up Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero after a pastor I listen to recommended it.. Despite spirituality being in the title, I need to note that Scazzero writes from Christian perspective, holding that Christians have deep spiritual needs we must address if our desire is to live our faith more fully. Scazzero spends the first chunk of his book assuring readers it’s okay to have feelings. This really cracked me up because I have loads of feelings all the time. But there’s a lot we don’t like to look at or take our time getting to and I respect that. I can be very insecure about some things or feel like I don’t belong and I’d like to know why I wobble in those ways when I am fully accepted in Christ. I’d like to know why there are times when God’s love isn’t quite enough but an invitation from ___ would make my day.

My suggestion (and Scazzero’s too, I think) is to read the book slowly. He leads us through ways to understand why we act (or react) as we do – depending on family, our understanding of God, personal expectations. He writes with patience, acknowledging that growing in our faith takes time and that uncovering hurts or roots of behaviors and beliefs can be difficult, even if necessary. The last part of the book gives a range of ideas about how we can nourish a daily spiritual life. One suggestion I am practicing is the Daily Office, a tradition kept by monks that I also see reflected in the call to prayer here: simply stopping three to five times a day to be quiet in the presence of God. I am not disciplined in this yet. But one way I take time to pray and listen is by turning off the car radio while I drive. It isn’t the same as meditation, but can reset my mind and heart.

One reason why I need to reset my mind and heart is that I have two kids I’m driving home to. Which brings me to All Joy And No Fun by Jennifer Senior. Great book. I read it because I guessed that any woman who admitted she’d turned out okay on a childhood diet that included processed food would probably not heap guilt on my parenting choices. I also read it because I’m a parenting trends junkie after failing to totally love my role as mom. Early in parenting, uncertainty led to comparison which led to frustration, anger and, eventually, bitterness that I’d married and borne children at all.

(See above, issues!)

I was wading through love and hate in a single day. I read about parenting, found a few parenting podcasts, talked with other moms, begged for patience and wisdom. I still have parenting insecurities even if I am more satisfied in marriage and family. But when I started Senior’s book, I still hoped for validation, that I am doing okay. That I sought validation from a book about today’s (insanely over-involved) parenting culture and why said culture may promote personal / social / familial imbalances tells me I need to return to prayer re: security, wisdom. So reading the book made me feel a little smug that I am, at least, uninterested in falling into the overscheduled-too-attached-high-stakes parenting that’s so so so North America right now.

Except, once the book was done, my smugness went thin again and I’m back to a Daily Office, hoping wisdom and peace and joy fall fast.

Notes Pass As Drafting

My husband and father-in-law just returned from a week in Thailand, visiting one of our former coworkers in Chiang Mai. This is the third spring break we’ve taken separate breaks, me home with the kids, and he getting stamps in his passport. I like it this way because the alternative is more un-restful (it took them twenty-two hours to come home yesterday!) than loading the washer for the fourth time in a day or looking at the clock to see we have five hours until bedtime, if everyone is amiable to an early bedtime.

The first spring break we were apart I wanted to be supermom. Activities and outings. Good cheer. No swearing. Approaching holy. Claire was four and Grant was two then. Our first full day together started with me pulling the car over and yelling that they’d better stop scrapping at each other in the backseat or – I don’t remember what the threat was. No ice cream, maybe. This was before both of them could watch an entire movie. That makes a big difference. Last year’s spring break was fine. It was easier with kids who both wore underwear. And this spring break was awesome. I bought watercolors and good brushes for us and we took over the dining table. It’s been so long since I’ve drawn or painted and the pleasure of playing with colors and lines instead of words reminded me not to become so rutted in one particular art.

That was a huge difference this break: I gave myself over to each day. Not entirely. Don’t think me too saintly. I got a good run in each morning and didn’t freak out when Claire beat me to the kitchen and made herself a breakfast bowl of cheese popcorn. If we didn’t have plans to meet anyone, I didn’t care what we did. One morning we returned to an old favorite walk in Fahaheel, along the sea. When Claire was two and Grant a baby, it was the distance we could manage, with coffee for me and cocoa for Claire at the end. We rarely go there anymore, now favoring smooth cement for roller blades and bikes. But returning was sweet, for me.

I didn’t write much. Both writing chunks I’d planned were cut short. And at home, I enjoyed painting or playing or baking more than sitting with my notebook. When I did open my notebook, I wanted to continue writing Tally and Carl, but did something I’ve only just started practicing with fiction: I wrote the story in note form.

This works well for me. It smashes daydreaming with a pen, giving me  a rough outline of the next part of my story. And it makes me think through a story more completely. By the time I type a scene, I’ll have visualized it a couple of times. Even so, I often pause while typing to see what’s going on before I write it. I still draft plenty of snags. But what finally gets typed has already been through a mini-revision in my head.

There’s another reason why I’ve started drafting in note form first. That is: kids. My time is frequently interrupted. I parent, I teach. But when I get a chunk of time to myself, I’m more likely to burn through a dozen Candy Crush lives while listening to Slate’s Political Gabfest or This American Life. (I’ll save that for a confessional post later…)

I guess what I’ve come to is what many interrupted writers before me figured out: take what you can get. And what the better writers must know: use wisely what you can get. Daydream, take notes, write whole paragraphs and pages. Finish something in increments. Keep on.

Things I Say To My Kids: Pantoum

I am a long-winded parent. I’ve talked (at length!) about this with a few other parent friends. When I “no” is enough, I launch into reasons why. When the infuriating “because” will do, I explain. My kids glaze; they give a rote “yes” when I ask if they understand. Do I care if they understand why? Not usually. I just want them to quit throwing sand.

Anyway. Sometimes I make a list of things I say to my kids. What gets repeated. It’s a snapshot of our particular parent-child dynamic for the week (month, year). The phrases change. “Go back to bed” used to get a lot of play time but since our bedtime routine is settled now, not so much. But other phrases stick. The following is a just-for-fun pantoum of oft-repeated things I say to my kids.

Also, I Love You

Hey, come here
I said no
Because you could get hurt
Be careful

I said no
Be kind
Be careful
Have fun

Be kind
Mean what you say
Have fun
Okay, go

Mean what you say
Because you could get hurt
Okay, go
Hey, come here

And, to play with how it looks on the page, cutting stanza breaks:

Also, I Love You

Hey, come here
I said no
Because you could get hurt
Be careful
I said no
Be kind
Be careful
Have fun
Be kind
Mean what you say
Have fun
Okay, go
Mean what you say
Because you could get hurt
Okay, go
Hey, come here

Traveling With Kids

I once started a how-to essay about traveling with kids. The first line was: Don’t. The essay didn’t go much further than that and for a couple of years I followed my advice. I quit traveling with kids except for our annual summertime trek home. But even those weeks confirmed the imbalance of joy and sacrifice that comes with traveling with kids, or maybe just comes with kids. But it gets easier, my mom told me. When we decided to skip the States this  year and head to Eastern Europe, I hoped she was right.

So far, yes. On preparing and packing: very easy this time as I left most of it to Justin, after ruling out a twenty-something-backpacker-style tour of cities in favor of parking it for a couple of weeks each at two places. When he showed me apartments, I pointed to the ones I liked. Then a couple of weeks before our departure, he started packing suitcases, remembering more than I would have. He brought nail clippers.

The plane was better too. We had a six-hour flight to London and I hid a few surprises in the kids’ backpacks but wholly endorsed their plugging in to the little screens mounted to the seat backs in front of them. I didn’t watch anything, high on the fun of reading and drinking wine before lunch. And then, because the other three remained glued to their screens, I pulled my tray table forward and took my notebook out. I wrote junk but it was up in the air junk.

That was the first flight since motherhood that I wasn’t pawed constantly and I missed it only a little. I didn’t miss screaming or hairpulling or elbows or poop. When I went to the toilet I looked at the bite-size changing table and thought Thank you. I have sat on an airplane toilet with a baby wrapped to my torso and a toddler between my knees.

On the second flight, Claire and I shared a row with a young businessman; Justin and Grant shared the row behind with that man’s companion. I looked at the young man – Phillip from the Netherlands – as Claire and I settled in our seats and told him it wouldn’t be that terrible. “Actually, it might be that terrible,” I said. We were all tired from an early morning and delayed flights and about to crash on all the extra carbs. Phillip laughed. But mid-flight when Claire launched into an original song, I noticed Phillip’s hands were clenched and his jaw set.

“Are you okay?” I said. I was going to say if Claire was bothering – but he quickly explained. He has terrible motion sickness. I immediately apologized for eating half a bag of parmesan Goldfish crackers next to him. He shook his head. He was worried about an announcement the captain made, about turbulence ahead. As often as he travels, the turbulence gets him every time.

“I can never go on a ship,” he said.

“I’d probably fall over on a ship,” I said.

Claire sang about the sky and bumps in the air while Phillip clenched and unclenched his hands. We talked about small things until the planed landed. We gave each other thumbs up. I’d made it through a travel day without crying and Phillip made it through a flight without vomiting. Winners, all.


I’ll post more of-the-moment  journals over the next month as we travel. 

 

When There Are No Words

A week ago, our friends’ infant son died. We live in an expat community where the loss is felt by the closest friends of the couple and the wider circle of neighbors and colleagues. We saw her pregnancy and joy. We stopped him for a peek at the newborn in his carrier.

In the immediate after, we said,

There are no words

and looked at the ground or leaned in for a hug. Our shoulders shook with their grief. And a week later, we still cry for their emptiness.

When there are no words, I want to find the words. The year after Grant was born, my mind had so many dark places and my heart, pockets of desperation. It was my most prolific journaling year. When the babies went down for their afternoon nap, if I wasn’t laying on the living room floor crying, or eating warm bread with Monica, I was at the table with my notebook open. I wrote the same, over and over.

I’d been thinking about that year, before this. I’ve been thinking about why I still want to find a way to say things that are hard to say. Why is it important to find words? What is it that the searching process yields? I am bent toward introspection and do not often swerve from a shining light making me see. Even so, words may come slowly, inadequately. I keep looking, for the right words.

When we said,

There are no words

I thought,

There must be, somewhere. There must be words waiting, even for this.

But I think those words do not belong to me.

May Revision: Essays That Nearly Killed Me

I revised five pieces this month. Let me tell you a little about each, most waiting for a better title than their topics:

Comparison: I pulled this piece from a long rant, bringing into focus my insecurity about parenting. This insecurity comes and goes. And that made revising this piece difficult: while I have hope for myself and my children (let us quit the comparison game!), I still wobble. There isn’t a tidy summary to this unflattering view of me.

Envy: The second piece pulled from the aforementioned rant, with an eye on wanting what I can’t have. For years I was sure I shouldn’t have become a mom because I can be so selfish. I looked at the childless people with an envy that occasionally bordered on hate. In this piece I write about contentment. I am really sad for that stretch when I couldn’t see the joy I possessed because my eyes were on what I didn’t have.

Rose: Rose is a woman whose death brought my own sin into painfully sharp focus. She was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and died within a month. And that month for me was perhaps the peak of my anger and discontent at being a wife and mother. I can see that now, a little over a year away: a shift begun when I thought about this mom who knew she wouldn’t see her eight year old son turn nine. The challenge of returning to this piece, and a couple of others, is that I wanted to write about the experience as I see it now, or as I have (or haven’t) grown since.  Instead, I kept the piece in present tense, editing to tighten.

The Year After Grant: Also about a year ago, I wrote two essays back-to-back about the year following the birth of my son. That year was wonderful and awful and I was looking for a way to say all of it. With this revision, I combined the two pieces. The challenge was finding an appropriate tone. I’m letting this piece sit right now: it’s stronger, but not finished.

To An Affair I Haven’t Had: A Confession To My Husband: Oh, the one piece with a title. Also written a year ago. This essay partners with a couple of my fiction pieces. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I returned to this piece: it is hot, raw, sad. I center on the fight of flesh and spirit, knowing right and wanting wrong (Romans 7). I returned to this piece less concerned with keeping the details of my own situation accurate, and more concerned with writing a work that encompasses the absolute despair and suckiness of wanting an affair you can’t have. And shouldn’t have!

Title of my first collection: Wanting What I Can’t Have. Joking. Kinda. Sometimes in the middle of WP or drafting, I write God. I might follow that with a quick prayer like help or I might take a page to pour out the spiritual or faith side of topic. When I returned to these pieces, I did pray. Because I get shaky writing these things honestly, now with the intent to share. I am fast reaching the point where I don’t care what ugly bits of me you see, so long as you also see my faith worked out. So during this month of revising (and drafting) tough pieces, I returned to this question: what purpose does my transparency serve?

When Starting Is Enough

Sometimes I open a new document and vomit words all over the page. I do this when I’ve wandered (pushed, dragged, trudged) through a topic so many times in my notebook that I simply need a change of venue: the laptop. Clean font dresses up messy thoughts. Sometimes these purges turn into a real essay: when I spent three hours madly hacking my way through the topic of comparison last November, two coherent drafts (eventually) emerged. Usually I open a document to poke around for a tidy way of saying what I really want to say. But sometimes I don’t find a tidy way of saying anything. Then I save the file and return to my notebook.

I didn’t find what I want to say about

When different is better re: parenting

because the phrase presents too much for me to manage, even with a clean font. Just starting the piece was enough. I am not finished thinking about the pressure we place on our parenting or the presentation of good parenting or pride that wants my kids to behave so I look like I’ve got this gig figured out. I’ll keep wandering (pushing, dragging, trudging) through my notebook.

And related: Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood is on my reading list. Check out her TED talk: