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Thursday, March 5, 2015

On Mothering and Writing and Finding Yourself -- Guest Post

Being a working mum with three kids doesn't leave much time for hobbies. Pride of place, and number one on my priority list (after the essentials) has long been my tuba, but with a lot of support from my husband and my friends, I recently managed to squeeze in another over the last year.

I'd had experience as a parenting blogger, but I'd never tried writing fiction. Some of my friends joined a Survivor-style writing competition, and I thought I'd give it a try. My goal was only to last through the brutal cuts of the first ten weeks, but somehow I survived through 38.

They say "write what you know", and while I aimed for variety, there was one thing that came through clearly in many of my pieces: motherhood.

It's trite, but true; motherhood changes you. There is something so visceral, so universal about the experience that it speaks true. Lives literally pivot around it, and that provides plenty of ground for dramatic exploration.

An early piece was for the topic "Chekhov's Gun", and while I wrote it mostly as a set-up for a terrible joke, there were plenty of moments inspired by my time as a nursing mum to twins, and in particular the six-week growth spurt that saw me feeding for 16 hours straight.
As if in response, Ella stirred, stretching and grumbling, a promise of trouble that threatened to grow. Jeremy cradled her closer and automatically started the swaying bounce that he'd learned over the last six weeks. She turned her head towards his chest and started mouthing her hand. "I think she's hungry." 
"She can't be!" Charlotte said, collapsing exhaustedly onto the couch. "I've been feeding her all damn day! I'm not a bloody cow." 
"I know... but look," he said, tilting his daughter so that Charlotte could see her searching mouth. "She looks hungry to me." 
"Fine, then. You feed her." Charlotte looked away so he couldn't see the tears forming in her eyes. He knew that tone of voice, though, the tone of tiredness, self-doubt and worry. It had become all too familiar lately. 
"You know I would if I could," he said, trying desperately to find a tone of sympathy that wouldn't be interpreted as patronising through the endless fug of exhaustion they were operating in. He worried about Ella, but he worried about Charlotte more. Ella had both of them watching out for her, but Charlotte only had him. He refused to think about who was looking out for him.
We soon had to write for "scare quotes", and this piece was drawn largely from the early ultrasound in which I found there were two little black blobs. I was still getting my head around writing fiction, with believable characters and dialogue, a challenging enough lesson that I kept my stories in familiar settings.
The white-coated technician looked at her and grinned. "Just what I said, there's two in there! You're having twins. Congratulations!" 
Jamie's laughter turned to sobs, gasped exclamations of "Twins! What are we going to do?!" and back to laughter again.
A few weeks later, I was ready to embrace a new challenge, and took on a story in a fantasy setting. I submitted an expanded version of the story to a publisher, and was absolutely delighted when it was accepted! It appeared in the Wings of Air edition of Latchkey Tales.
The birds were just starting their morning song when her mood changed. I knew it was close. She got so antsy, and ripped her shift off and swiped it across her sweaty face. I'd never seen her naked before. It was shocking, her belly so full and round, almost visibly dropping with each ripple of tightness. I had a flash of vision that one day it could be me, distorted and bloated, hurting and stretching, and winced. 
She turned her back to me as she crouched, leaning against the wall, straining as her body worked. The skin on her back shone strangely in the firelight, almost iridescent, darkening along her spine. She had no joking words now, just a moan like a stag in rut. Fluids gushed as I rushed to grab a clean sheet, and I carefully supported my sibling as they slid into the world. 
I'd never been at a birth, but I'd seen plenty of infants. No baby is pretty when new. They're blotchy, spotty, and shaped by the travails of their passage. But this... this was something else.
"Crabs in a barrel" prompted me to write a piece topical for the time, about a disease spreading through the United States, and the choices a mother might have to make.
She avoided the TV, preferring to maintain a facade of normality. Noah leaped at the chance to have fish fingers for dinner, and his bath had a double helping of bubbles in it. She laughed as he crowned himself with bubbles, and then made a Santa Claus beard that exploded when he sneezed. 
David arrived home early, as Noah and Kayla were mopping bubbles off the bathroom wall. His footsteps were hurried, and the front door slammed behind him. 
"It's spreading," he said. He didn't have to say what "it" was. "They might quarantine. The cellphone towers are already down." He looked at Noah, draped in a towel and watching him with wide eyes. "I'll get him dressed, you get your things together." 
Kayla dashed into the hallway and stood there for a moment in stunned fear. It was actually happening. Could they get out? Should they? Where would they go?
Our first open topic genuinely stumped me. I had no idea what to do, and so, in desperation, I turned to writing about a modern family... who just happened to be Greek gods.
"We used to be so good, you and me. We could be ourselves! Who am I now? I can't be the goddess of silence when all I do is yell at the kids!" 
Hypnos yawned. "I know exactly what you mean. It feels like... it is eight years since I had a proper sleep." He shrugged. "It is hard. I just keep telling myself that it's not forever." He looked half-seriously at her, his newly-grown eyebrow arched. "It's not forever, is it?" 
Heschyia laughed. "They'll grow up some day," she said, then froze, stricken by the thought of what a teenage Eris might be like.
Writing for "The future outwits all our certitudes" brought to mind memories of birth plans, obstinacy, and naivety, and resulted in another story appearing in Latchkey Tales, for The Morning After.
My desire is pain. I can spot my next meal a mile away; they're the ones who come waddling in, armed with birth plans, and empowering mantras they've practised for months. You can practically smell them, though that might be the rescue remedy drops and raspberry leaf tincture. 
There was one just a couple of days ago. Heather, her name was, and the hovering, solicitous husband was Ben. I saw them stumble in together just after lunch, pausing to breathe through contractions. The uncertainty on their faces marked them as first-time parents. Perfect. 
They were guided to my birthing room, and I hadn't even introduced myself before she brandished a birth plan at me. I skimmed it rapidly; no IVs, check; labour to proceed at its natural pace, check; no pain relief to be offered, check; no extended monitoring, check. This was going to be good.
Even stories about dragons featured pregnancies.
Months passed. The humans built shelters, and started to accrue tools and experience that made their hunting trips more successful. The budding settlement prospered under M'rtaka's watchful eye. 
The humans grew healthier, but the belly of the speaker grew faster than most. When M'rtaka spoke, the speaker's stomach would jump and twitch, stretched and extended by something inside. 

One night, when the moons shone bright and full overhead, the nocturnal stillness was broken by groans. The groans became screams; the screams became silence; the silence became a chorus of wails.
Towards the end, I was tired. So very, very tired. I was juggling children, work, housework, and band commitments, as well as writing, week after week after week. It's hard to be creative when you're tired, especially when your precious evening writing time is eaten up by your five-year-old daughter sobbing for hours because she doesn't know how to sleep without sucking her thumb.

That exhaustion fuelled a deeply personal piece. While this particular piece is still significant to me, there is one line which I think describes my life, and that of many women who are trying to do too much.
Her sleep debt was a carefully balanced budget, and she had to meet the payments.
I'm behind on my payments, and the interest is due.


Donnelle Belanger-Taylor is a mother and writer and made it to one of the final rounds of The Real LJ Idol.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bacon Bites Fail ala Drunk Kitchen

I've got petulant bacon curling up, and angry bacon grease spitting at me as I try to push it down. It's like parenting all over again.

Go subscribe to the channel though. All the funny fails every time I'm in the kitchen. For real.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fun Ideas for your middle school graduation Sweatshirts -- S post

When it comes times for your students to graduate from middle school, it can be nice to have a small memento for them. One option that a lot of teachers choose is to give each student their own sweatshirt. This way they have something to wear, something they can remember their time at the school with, and something that will last for a long time. When putting these sweatshirts together, there are a few fun things you can do to make them even more special.

The first suggestion we have is to get the sweatshirts in the same colors as your school. Most schools have one or two main colors that represent them, so consider getting the sweatshirt in these same colors. You can either have both colors on each sweatshirt, or have two options for which color sweatshirt the student would like. Looking at these colors will instantly remind the students of your school and the time that they spent there, along with instilling a sense of school spirit in them.

Secondly, you can put a custom logo onto the sweatshirt. Instead of using the same logo that represents your school, you may want to put something that is a little newer and more exciting on it. This will make the students excited to see the sweatshirt when it finally comes out. One thing you could do is hold a contest among the students to design the new logo, then pick the one that gets the most votes. This will allow the students to feel more involved in the process. If you want to create your own custom logos, there are plenty of sites on the web that can help you out.

Our third option is to list all of the student’s names on the back of the sweatshirt. Having each member of the graduating class on the back of the sweatshirt will help the students remember who they went to school with when they look back on it. It also creates a sense of community, having everyone's name listed under the same heading. You can either list the students name alphabetically, or by “homeroom” if you desire. Just be sure that each student's name is spelled correctly before you place your order, and that no one is missing!

Fourth, along these same lines, is to put each individual student's name on the back of the sweatshirt. Almost like an athletic jersey, this will allow the students' sweatshirts to be unique to them, while still keeping them among the group. You could also ask each student to pick their own name that goes on the back, allowing them to put on a nickname if they desire. This will make them laugh as the years go by and they see the sweatshirt with the name they picked on the back of it.

There are a lot of things you can do to make your school's sweatshirts unique. If you need some other ideas, we recommend asking some other teachers who have done it. The key thing to remember is to try and keep it geared towards the students, and towards your school. This is a memento to help them remember the time spent at the school, along with the people they spent it with. You can easily do this with a sweatshirt if you just be a little creative. In the end you'll have a great souvenir for all of the students, something for them to take with them as they leave your school for the last time. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I am not Father Time

"Hurry up! We've only got 10 minutes!"


This scenario plays out in my house at least three and probably closer to 17 times a day.

While I appreciate the unadulterated power the girls have bestowed upon me, the assumption that the sun rises and sets at my command, I simply do not have control over how fast the Earth spins on its axis--believe me, kids, I wish I did.

Yet, somehow, no matter how many calm sit-downs we have about this where I explain that time moves independently from my personal will and obvious crusade to ruin their lives, they cannot separate the unyielding hands of the clock from my person.

So, on top of having to do the dishes five times a day and make the food and generally take care of these two little things I helped create, hoping to God that in spite of me they end up being good people, I also get to be responsible for the fact that time isn't stretchable.


And to foil my nefarious undertakings, in my house the phrase 'hurry up' now means 'go at an exaggeratedly slow pace while glaring belligerently at mommy because she can go eff herself with her making time go extra fast bullshit.'

Which is frustrating as hell.

Over the past few months, I have made a concentrated effort not to yell at them when this happens. I admit, when this first became an issue, I lost it a few times because how could my intelligent, literate, amazingly quick six year olds not understand the simple concept of minutes always being the same length regardless of our intent?

But apparently they cannot grasp it.

I am sorry to say that the only improvement my not losing my shit at them when they slow down after I tell them to hurry up is that we're not all screaming at each other in a Tasmanian devil paradise as we bust through the front door to get where we're going.

So, while it has slightly improved morale, it has had no effect on our arrival time.

And, yes, I have talked to them multiple times about how "hurry up" is not a moral judgment on their character, and has actually nothing to do with them. That we are all on the same team. That it's me helping them. We've tried other ways to say hurry up. The countdown only makes it worse. Looking at the clock pisses them off. Let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go, sung in the way of Little John used to work 18 months ago, but the novelty wore off and now it just gets an eye roll or perhaps a nostalgic giggle.

I need to figure out why this is so hard. It's one of those super-simple-for-grown-ups concepts that we all just take for granted. Time moves. It moves at the same pace day in and day out and is completely out of our control. It's so natural a concept that we never think about it.

Until a six year old is stomping around in slow motion just to show you what you can do with your stupid time model.

Then all bets are off, and it looks like you'll be getting a late pass.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Open Letter to Employers -- Guest Post

An Open Letter To All Employers.

While I, myself, am not a mother, I work for mothers. Or, should we say in the past I have worked for them. Between daycare jobs and nannying jobs, moms have been my bosses for the majority of my work life. And there’s one thing that always comes up. And I do mean always. This is very much a solid happening. I get at least one call per month from a mother who needs me to come sit at home with her sick kid because the daycare won’t let them in and mom can’t stay home from work without being penalized in some way.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind filling in for mamas when it comes to sick littles. But it’s not the same thing. I have a friend who will remain anonymous, along with her company, who could still lose her job even with a doctor’s note. Now, I get it … to a point. You need your workers so that your company can be productive. But how productive is it when you have four workers show up with various flus and pneumonias and other contagious illnesses that they are now passing around to each other. Nobody can ever get well because the moment their immune system tries to make a comeback, it gets hit by another germ.

As some of you know, little kids are germ factories. If one gets sick, they’re pretty much all going to get sick. You want to know why? Because they’re too little to understand how to taking universal precautions. I mean, let’s be real here - there are plenty of adults who don’t follow universal precautions themselves. How can we expect a child under the age of say … 5 to be able to take them. Sure, as daycare teachers we do our best to sanitize everything every chance we get. We seclude the sickies at naptime away from the healthy kids in hopes of creating a barrier. We even wash their hands and faces as much as we can.

But that’s not the problem. No, the problem lies with you, dear Employer. Because there are parents who have such strict sick day/personal day/time off policies that they will dose their feverish child up before bringing them to school. Do you know how long Motrin lasts? 6 hours. That means that if they drop their child off at 8am, we won’t find out until said child wakes up from their nap that they’re running a fever. And guess what? A fever masked by medicine doesn’t mask the germs they have. They’re going to make other children sick.

At the age of 28, I came down with a virus usually only seen in toddlers and infants because so many of my toddlers had it, that I just couldn’t escape it. And even though it was my own illness and not a child’s, it cost me my job because of how sick I was. My Hand, Foot, and Mouth turned into bronchitis which lead to me still running a fever. The doctor would allow me to go back to work and DCYF’s attitude is “well, you better be in ratio” so they had to let me go and find someone that could help keep them in ratio.

And again, I go back. I really do understand that you need your workers there. I understand that if they don’t do their jobs, you can’t do yours, and your company fails. But there has to be something that can be done. Leeways that can be put into place. For office jobs - let your secretaries and clerks and accountants come in on a Saturday to get work from the week done. Yes, I know, you’re going to have to pay them, but the day(s) they took off during the week were either sick time or personal days and in a lot of jobs, if you don’t have any hours logged, you don’t get paid.

If your employee can work from home, please let them. Maybe it’s not the most professional thing in the world, but it is the best of both worlds. Baby isn’t Patient Zero at daycare and while Baby is napping, mom (or dad, but I see this happening more with the moms) can get her work done. There has to be a solution that you, the Employer, can come up with that will make you, your employee, and the sick wee bairn (sorry, I went Scottish for a moment) all happy at the same time.

It’s tough out there these days. I understand that better than anyone. There’s so many unemployed people and not enough jobs to go around. So you, the Employer, can give the ultimatum. “If you can’t do this job, I’ll find someone else who can.” But you know what. Stop for a moment and think about that. Think about your employee. Will you really be able to find someone as good as them? Aren’t they with you company because they do good work and you like how they get along with the rest of the staff?

In the end, it comes down to people. We have to stop looking at people as employees and nothing else. We have to start appreciating their whole. Their value to their employer, their family, and to themselves. I bet more people wouldn’t need anti-anxiety drugs if we could all start treating each other like humans and less like cogs in a machine. A little understanding, in my experience, is going to go a very, very long way.

Kindness is free. Sprinkle it wherever you may go.


Bridget Frazier:
A twenty-something young woman who, over the years, has come to realize that hopes and dreams don't always coincide with reality. Take a journey through what it means to accept what life has given you, to be happy with the blessing bestowed, all while mourning the loss of dreams once passed.


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