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Why Our Household Has A Zombie Apocalypse Surival Guide, Defending Facebook, and Various Other Reasons Why I’m a Good Mom

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Mar 25, 2014 in Mothers and Daughters, Relationships
My daughter's Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide

My daughter’s Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide

We are a family of full obsessions. We get involved in them deeply and then one day wake up and find a new one. Just like that. My husband and I have managed to make our biggest ones into careers—his as a historian and mine as a writer.

These days, my younger daughter is obsessed with zombies, and I for one can’t wait until this particular interest of hers disappears. Some may argue that at almost 13, she should NOT be watching The Walking Dead. I would agree. I would prefer that she not watch it, period. But she became hooked at a friend’s house, and there’s no turning back. Now she watches it every Sunday night—and has even been inspired to write her own zombie apocalypse novel. It’s very good—and I don’t like zombies–but I’d read her book. Of course.

I know I probably should not let Tess watch The Walking Dead. But I also know that if I make an issue of it, this will become a bigger issue than I want. So I’m waiting it out. I’m waiting for the next obsession.

I took the same tack with my older daughter’s middle school donning of the “emo” or “goth” clothing. Emma wore dark eye make-up and as much black as humanly possible for several years. Then somewhere between middle school and high school, she started embracing color again. Just the other day she said neon pink is her favorite color. Not that I care for the color, but hey, it’s progress.

Sometimes letting our kids explore who they are is uncomfortable for parents. They may embrace things we’ve long given up respect for—like guns, which I’ve outlawed in my house—much to my daughter’s dismay—because, after all, the folks on The Walking Dead use them all the time for their survival (in fighting against the zombies‑-not something we will ever have to worry about). So this prompted some very important discussions in our house, conversations we may not have had if she had not become such a Walking Dead fan.

Ultimately, this is why I’ve let her watch the show—as uncomfortable as I am. Keeping open lines of communication is a number one goal in my parenting. I want to know if my daughter is thinking about guns, drugs, or sex. Or any other sticky life situation. Sorry, but I do. Then I find we can reasonably discuss these issues, rather than being shocked into them by a real situation where it’s much too late to handle it objectively.

The same daughter—Tess—is also fixated with all things Disney. I think it’s a good and healthy obsession. She practices drawing the characters, likes to research little-known facts about Disney, and has asked for a trip to Disney for her 13th birthday—coming right up. We celebrated her sister’s 13th birthday in New York City and told Tess then we’d take her where she wanted to go—within reason. So Disney it is. I’m hoping our trip will ignite that passion a little more—with The Walking Dead fading into the background. Where it belongs.

Sometimes it takes a shift in location to jar your perspective a bit and find something else to think about.

I’ve taken a lot of grief from some members of my family for my “lenient” attitude when it comes to things like goth attire on Emma or watching the Walking Dead in Tess’ case as well as the fact that I allow my kids to be on Facebook. But you know what? I am on Facebook and see what they are doing. I know their passwords. I know what they are up to—because I myself am on it—probably way too much, promoting my books.

One of my husband’s relatives was very upset about Emma’s possible exposure to foul language and sexy content on Facebook. This is someone who is not even close to our family. And I had to sort of laugh. It’s been years since her kids were in school—and even longer ago since she herself was in the pubic school system. And while our first inclinations as parents is to protect our kids from growing up too soon, there’s not much we can do when we send them off to school. I blush to think of the language my daughters hear on a daily basis—words that I never knew until I was in college. (I am not happy about it, but there it is.) So I’ve switched gears a bit from what I thought my efforts would be at this age.  I have to trust my daughters will communicate with me— so far, so good—and we can discuss things. We can disagree. We can argue. And we do. I think that’s okay.

I’m adamant in my struggle to let my children find themselves and be who they are. For example, I’m a vegetarian—yet I don’t impose it on them. Nor do I impose my religious (or lack of) feelings on my children. I firmly believe that these things only have meaning in your life if you come to your own realizations, and I also believe in not giving them much to rebel against. Even so, however, Emma went through a rebellious meat-eating stage that still makes me cringe and laugh at the same time. “Look at me, Mom, I’m eating meat,” she would often say. Sometimes I’d scowl—but then I’d turn from her, hiding my grin. That’s the spirit, I wanted to say but wisely kept to myself.

I think becoming parents later in life has given both my husband and me a much longer view. As the cliché puts it, we’ve learned not to sweat the small things. Some may argue that we shouldn’t let Tess see The Walking Dead or let Emma dress like a goth girl, or let either be on Facebook. But we like to think we’re giving them what they need to discover who they are, within limits, of course.  (We are carefully watching them, commenting on what they do, guiding them, as well).

I’d bet whatever money I have in the bank and then some that my sweet, thoughtful, smart Tess will never wield a gun to fight off zombies—or any other kind of creature. Tess, on the other hand, has a written a book of instructions on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. “You just never know, Mommy,” she says. Indeed, you don’t. But I’m hoping our mother-daughter discussions will help us be better prepared when that “unknown” happens.

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Shirley Temple, Miley Cyrus, and My Daughters

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Feb 25, 2014 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters

On the day Shirley Temple died, my daughters and I spoke about her over the breakfast table. We were sad to see her go but knew she had lived a good life. Dying at the age of 85, after living an incredibly full life is not a bad thing.

“Shirley Temple died today and I really liked her,” Tess said. “Class act.”

“Now, there is a child star who didn’t die from an overdose or get all skanky like Miley Cyrus,” Emma said.

“You’re right,” I said. “She went on and did something meaningful with her life.”

“I think Miley will die of an overdose in some cheap hotel room,” Emma added.

“I think she will die by a wrecking ball,” Tess said.

Ba-da-bing.

But seriously, Shirley Temple’s life speaks for itself.

And so does Miley Cyrus’—or at least that’s what we think. As I tell my girls all the time, we think we know these people, but we don’t. But what we do know about Miley is that she’s a mixed bag of wasted potential and bad cliché.

When they were younger, my girls loved the show “Hannah Montana,” which starred Miley Cyrus and her dad, Billy Ray. I liked the show, too, even though the premise was kind of silly, wherein a girl lives a double life. Nobody knows who she is except her best friend and family. She is superstar “Hannah Montana” by night and a school girl who hangs out at the beach with her friends during the day. In the show, there was a lot of exploration of what it means to be famous—and what it doesn’t mean. I liked it because of the music and because Miley portrayed a good kid. Billy Ray played an attentive and involved father.

This prompts me to wonder where he is these days in the young star’s life.

Unfortunately, Miley has become quite the teen star cliche. We can see this coming from a distance—yet the people around her seem helpless about how to rescue her.  Now is the time for someone in her family or in her circle of friends to step up. Or is so she “powerful” that nobody has the guts to try to help?

The young star “drama” happens so much I think our culture has become jaded about it even when it’s still deeply disturbing. I think of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Justin Bieber. Jail. Drugs. Bad relationships and bringing children into the mix.  I also think of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. The whole fame at young age thing often leads to tragedy. With Miley, there have been drug arrests, films of her doing lap dances, the horrible music award fiasco, and so on.

My daughters and I watched her latest video together, and Tess said, “That’s so disappointing.” It was great hearing that from my 12-year-old’s mouth.

Miley’s “new act” doesn’t seem to be an artistic exploration as much as it is a privileged young woman profiting from acting like a spoiled brat and flaunting that she can do whatever she wants. She’s also buying into the whole “I need to rebel because I had this sweet image” thing and wants her fans to think she is strong and sexy because of it. And yet it’s unsexy, weak, and seems incredibly fake and gratuitous.

I can see some people pointing their fingers and calling me a “slut-shamer.”  I want to be clear my attitude is not about that at all. I’m all for a young woman owning her sexuality, and I don’t even use the word slut when I talk about Miley. (In fact, I love some sexy female singers who strut their stuff–Madonna for one.) It’s not about the sex. It’s about the rest of it.

It’s about how precious this life is and how you can choose to make it matter or not. How if you are born into privilege, it makes the rest of us sick to see you squander it. Not just the money—but the opportunity to make a difference, even if that’s just by way of living a positive example. And what is she rebelling against anyway??

Do you know what would be rebellious for a 20 year-old superstar? To NOT go down that road. Like Shirley Temple. On that, my daughters and I quite happily agree. Shirley Temple, from a cute talented little girl, to a teen star, and then as a woman who served her country on an international scale, is a much better role model—not just for girls, but for all of us.

 
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Six Rules for Dating Your Wife…And Why You’re an Idiot If You’re Not

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Jan 21, 2014 in Men

I loved both of Deborah Huso’s posts on rules for dating: “Nine Rules of Dating for Clueless Men” and “Information Control and Perception Management: 9 More Rules of Dating for Really Clueless Men.”  I’ve been married almost 24 years, so her posts make me chuckle and cringe at the same time. Sometimes I’m very happy NOT to be “dating.” And to tell you the truth, I was never much of a dater.

But Deborah’s posts take me back to some of the jerks I did date…or almost dated. One guy hounded our mutual friends for my number, and when I finally said I’d go to a party with him, along with some of our other friends, we all went and then he ignored me most of the night, talking with another woman who was at the party. Then he didn’t understand why I wanted to go home. NOW.

Another jerk whose mom was a friend of my mom wanted to take me out. I thought the date went fine—but I was on the fence as to whether or not I’d go out again with him, and he was being persistent. But then his mom told my mom how intrigued he was with me because I didn’t sleep with him on the first date. That was a first for him.  Ewww. And really? That’s why he was intrigued with me?

Ah yes, men can be clueless.

But it’s not just single guys—married guys, even after they’ve passed the dating bar—can be pretty clueless as well, especially about dating. (If you’re a married guy reading this and thinking “Dating? We married. We don’t go out on dates anymore,” there’s your first clue that you are, indeed, clueless.) Yes, even if you are married, you should attempt to date.

Here are some tips (Very important disclaimer: My own husband is not guilty of any of these clueless behaviors in husbands. Just in case you are reading, honey.):

  1. Do take your wife out on a date from time to time. Even if you enjoy the company of your children on outings, it’s so important that you spend time together alone and outside of the house. This is really a no-brainer. But it’s so easy to forget during the craziness of life. Don’t bitch and moan about the money you’d rather not spend. That’s not a good way to start the night.
  2. Remember your manners. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you get away with not opening doors. It also doesn’t give you carte blanche to pick your nose, burp, and fart in public.
  3. Make an effort in the clothing department. Your clothes should be clean and wrinkle- free. Don’t blame your wife if they are not. (After all you are a big boy and should know how to tend to these things yourself.) Also, NEVER wear sweatpants outside of the house unless you’re going to the gym or hospital.  And please make certain your stomach doesn’t show between your shirt and your pants. I personally have seen married men in public with stomach skin hanging out and over their pants. I don’t like it, and chances are your wife doesn’t either, so cover the gut. (And, as Deborah said, skip jean shorts, pleated pants, and tighty-whiteys, too.)
  4. Talk with her about something other than the kids, your job, or yourself. Be interested in what’s she’s doing with herself. Married folks sometimes forget what fascinating people they’ve married.
  5. Let her know what you like in bed. So Deborah mentions that one shouldn’t discuss one’s BDSM proclivities on date one.  Agreed.  But if you’ve been married awhile and haven’t let your wife know that you’d like a little nipple-twisting, now is the time. But then again, if you have twisted her nipples (or anything else) and she’s told you to back-off, she probably means it. No reason to ruin a night out—so just don’t “go there.”
  6. Please DO make a move for sex on your date. Speaking for many married women, everywhere, there simply aren’t enough “moves” in our lives. There are plenty of other places you can have sex if you can’t do it at home because of the kids—how about the car or van? How about getting a hotel room for a few hours? Hmmm?

Married guys are pretty lucky. After all, they know their dates will be going home with them for the night. Don’t kill the advantage you already have by overlooking these simple steps for getting her to do more than sleep in bed with you….

 
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Learning How to Write…From My Daughters

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Dec 18, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Writer Rants
Mollie daughter

My daughter hard at work…

My girls are both writers. I’m not sure how I feel about it, given how difficult life can be as a writer. But even though they’ve gotten involved with things like theater, music, and dance, what they do at home when they have downtime is write. For fun.

These days they are both working on entries into a national competition. They both have such different working styles, but it’s been fascinating for me to watch and even  learn from them.

Yep. I’ve been writing my whole life, now as a mystery novelist, cranking out a series and, believe me, I still learn things every day. It’s really not so surprising that I’ve picked up some writing tips from my daughters when parenting has been the most learning-intensive experience in my life.

Now, to be fair, these things that I’ve learned are not necessarily new, but they are excellent reminders. That’s one of the best things about parenting, isn’t it? The way your kids remind you, take you back to certain youthful moments—opening Christmas gifts, the magic of birthdays, learning to read, and to write.

Here’s my daughter-inspired writing reminder list:

  1. Figure out your working environment. Now this may seem simple enough. But working at a desk in front of a computer is not for everybody. Watching my oldest daughter Emma writing brought back a flood of memories to me. She takes a notebook and sits in front of the TV (while it’s on) and writes. Which is exactly what I used to do at her age. She then transposes it on to the computer. My younger daughter, Tess, loves to sit at the computer and write—but she does have notebooks filled with her thoughts as well. There is something about putting pen to page, about the way the pen glides across the page that is meditative for me. I must not forget that, even as I pluck away at the keyboard. But at the same time, writing by hand was a major obstacle for me to overcome in college—learning to write on the typewriter (now computer) and not in the notebook. Tess already has made that leap—but Emma’s process is important, too. In her transposing of text, she is also editing and reworking, and that is a huge step forward for any writer. That first draft is never worth much, so get over it and get on with the work.
  2. Write what you DON’T know. Writing is the best way for some of us to learn and live out our fantasies and dreams. If you follow “writer’s rules,”  one of them is “write what you know.”  It always makes me cringe. Part of my process has always been writing to discover, to learn, to communicate, and entertain. One of my daughter’s stories is about a gang. (My first novel was about a gang, too.) There’s something to be said for working that stuff out on the page—instead of real life. Feelings of not fitting in, finding others like you, and yes, even exploring darker, deeper sides of yourself. Writing about it gives you the emotional texture of having experienced it without the real dangers.  My other daughter is writing a paranormal story about a young woman with special powers who is facing great changes in her life. Wow. Without the paranormal element of “special powers,” that could be any teenage girl’s story as she faces so many changes every day, right?
  3. Write what you love. Once again it sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But I think especially as we mature and other things enter into our process—like keeping the market in mind—this might be one of the hardest lessons of all. Our time is finite, and we feel like we need to write what will sell to a publisher. If we are lucky, we hit a sweet spot where we enjoy what we’re writing and can sell it. Some days, I can hardly pull Tess off my computer to eat or watch TV because she says, “I’m writing, Mom.” And I have to tell you the only kind of writing worth doing is precisely that kind of writing. Because if it doesn’t hold your interest, it’s not going to hold your reader’s interest either.

 

I love what I do. It’s my sanity, my escape, and my work all rolled into one. If I didn’t love it, if I could think of something else I’d be good at, something else that could hold my interest and earn me a living, I’d do it—because writing is also a heartbreaking, lonely, gut wrenching experience. The business is one of the toughest and cruelest. One of the edges I walk is trying to don a vigilant thick skin, while allowing myself to open up enough to write honest words on the page. Sometimes when I read a negative review or I get a rejection, I hibernate awhile and lick my wounds. But the words and the page pull me back every time.

“What if I don’t win this contest?” Tess asked me one morning. “What if I work so hard on it and I don’t win, then what happens?”

“Are you writing the story just to win the contest?” I asked.

She thought for a moment or two. “I’m writing it faster because of the deadline, but I’d probably write it anyway. I like the story, and I’m having fun.”

And that, my friends, is exactly what I wanted to hear.

 
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Resisting the Beast Is Hard: First You Have to Acknowledge There Is One

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Nov 19, 2013 in Men, Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Relationships
Belle

My daughters with Princess Belle

When my daughters were small, we’d play the princess game.  I’d make up little quizzes about each Disney princess and they would guess which princess belonged with which trait. I also played this game with Goddesses—but that’s another story.

I always told them that Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was my favorite for two reasons—she loves books and she sees the beast for who he really is. And hey, it worked out for Belle, didn’t it?

I think a lot about myth, story, and fairytale. My girls and I never miss an episode of “Once Upon A Time,” which is a modern-day mash-up of fairy tales. I also loved the “Beauty and the Beast” show that was popular in the 1980s. The “beast” lives beneath the streets of New York City in this fabulous underground space full of books and antiques. So romantic. He was another beast that had that softness underneath him.

I love that kind of man—sort of rough and bristly on the outside, but a real sweetheart underneath. Part of the deliciousness of a relationship with this kind of man is that very few people know him like you do. My own husband is kind of like this. There’s something about a man who is confident, in-charge, and knows what he wants—and feels good about taking it.

But the danger in falling for a beast type, of course, is that sometimes a beast is just a beast.

Which leads to the arduous trial of trying to separate the real beasts from the crusty on the outside but soft on the inside ones.

So much of that can mean years of sorting through our own personal mythologies where we tell ourselves things like “boys will be boys,” (or Goddess forbid) “If I give him one more chance, I know he won’t drink/cheat/hit me again.”  These are the kinds of beasts that deserve no second glimpses. Maybe someday he will change, but probably not, and who has time  for that crap?

Move on, sister.

On the other hand, a cool part of the story is that Belle overlooks the beast’s horrific face to see him for who he is. And this is a great lesson. I can point out several men that I’ve been attracted to immediately; then they start talking and reveal they are sexist or stupid, and suddenly the attraction is gone. I’ve had it work the other way, too, where an attraction grows as I get to know someone. This is definitely, for me, the best way.

So as the mother of two daughters who love story, I use the “Beauty and the Beast” story sometimes in my parenting. My oldest daughter is almost fifteen, and she flits from crush to crush and boy to boy. But every once in awhile, a boy comes along that she falls hard for—and most of the time, he’s more of the “beast” variety.

For example, her current crush is a high school senior. (She is a freshmen.) One minute he seems to be leading her on, the next minute he acts like a jerk. Of course, I took the opportunity to point out that, first of all, he’s too old for her. Secondly, whether he really likes her or not is not her problem. You judge people on how they treat you. Period. Okay, he’s basically a kid and maybe a bit confused himself. I get that. But his confusion is not my daughter’s problem. She needs to believe that.

I also took the opportunity to point out that he may be very cute on the outside, but may be a beast on the inside. It’s so hard to see people for who they really are. In truth, I still struggle with this in my own life. I wish I could see my own friends, colleagues and so on as clearly as I can see hers. The cute guy on the outside really will do nobody any good if the inside is beastly.

Sounds very simple doesn’t it? But the truth of the matter is we are emotional creatures, responding to attractions on base levels at times. I’ve made those mistakes where I don’t listen to the voice in my head, but instead I follow the more fun lusty voice that made me feel sexy, even for just one night. Or two. Hell, maybe even more than a few years. “He’s not really as bad as he seems.” Or “I will be the one who can save him.” It never led me to a good place.

I’m not exactly Belle, who ended up living in a castle with a prince—most of us are not. And while I find myself wanting to sharpen my swords and cut down the beasts in my daughter’s lives, I know it’s futile. They will each have to find their own way, learn their own lessons of the heart and body. I can advise, but mostly, I will have to watch from the sidelines, open mind, open heart, open arms.

But I’ll keep my swords nice and sharp—albeit tucked behind my back. You never know when there might be a real beast to take down.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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I’m a Writer, Not a Stay-at-Home Mom (Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That)

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Oct 28, 2013 in Motherhood, Success Guide

After quitting my editing job about 15 years ago and moving to a different area of Virginia to stay at home with my new baby, I expected to feel a sense of relief. But what I felt was isolation, frustration, and a sense that, all of a sudden, I had become invisible to certain segments of the population.

In some ways, I still struggle with those issues—but I like to think I have a better perspective on it now.

The relief I expected to feel was a sense of freedom away from the pressure of deadlines, of selling my writing and editing to people who really had no appreciation for the skills I offered. In fact, some of them could barely put a sentence together. My writing was just another task they checked off their list. In the meantime, I sweated over every word and stayed late to meet my deadlines.

I was starting to make decent money in my career—but the lack of respect wore me down. That, along with the daily D.C. Beltway grind of just getting from point A to point B and loads of my time being sucked away in the process, pointed me in a new direction. As did the fact that my husband and I were lucky if we saw one another by 7 p.m. every night. We knew we wanted to spend more time together and more time as parents. What was the point of having a baby if we would hardly ever see her?

Freelancing, after close to twenty years of publishing experience, and moving away from the D.C. area, seemed a viable option. My role in my family began to be a shifting balance between writer and stay-at-home mom.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m pretty much broke, ridiculously busy shuffling my girls to all their activities, am never caught up on anything, and am still dealing with feelings of isolation, frustration, and invisibility.

Part of this is self-imposed.

I am a writer of novels.  It is my choice to sit in front of the computer alone each day, spin stories, and meet my word count goal. The other part of it is that I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where there’s no real outside work for me. When I’ve tried to enter the workforce, it’s been an utter failure. I’ve written and grown myself out of the local market.

So I need to make this novel thing work.

And my books do well enough to offer hope. I’ve been able to patch together a sporadic professional life freelance writing and editing, along with book writing and consulting, while maintaining a certain focus on my family.

Even with the financial woes and the other frustrations, I don’t regret the choice we made for me to stay home, freelance, and write, and for my husband to take a job eight miles from our house. This has allowed him to be an active partner in our parenting.

I know that the confident, secure, bright, and fabulous daughters we are raising owe a big part of their magic to my husband. But they also owe a part to me—the one who is always just a phone call away if the girls leave an important paper at home or if one of them gets sick in school. I’m also the parent waiting at the bus stop every day— and the one who asks how their day went and talks with them about the boy who’s their crush-of-the-week. All of that matters.

And then there’s all the volunteering I’ve done over the years—school, music, and dance studio functions—even when I’m not as available as what some people think I am.

I am not a stay-at-home mom. I have deadlines. I write books.

Yet I do try to be available because I want to be an active parent in my kids’ lives. Sometimes I stand back and think: How did I become THAT person? I often shake my head when I remember that at one point in my writing career I was called a “radical feminist poet.” Heady stuff.

So on the face of things, I’ve gone from radical feminist poet to mini-van mom in a matter of a few years. But I’ve also penned a couple of cookbooks, four mystery novels, and countless articles in magazines and on blogs.

My accomplishments outside of parenting are also for my daughters. I hope someday they will see and appreciate how I’ve managed to maintain a sense of self and patch together a writing career in a world that is constantly chipping away at selfhood.

I’ve decided the sense of relief I was after is not ever going to come. Deadlines are like heartbeats to me—part of what gives my life energy, balance, and structure.

Knowing who I am and what I can realistically accomplish has been a gift of maturing.  Now I wear the skin of novelist, mother, and wife. In a few years, I’ll be a different kind of mother as my kids go off to college. My writing self will adjust. But for now, I walk a precarious line, gathering new strength along the way for whatever comes next.

Neither the path of mothering, nor the path or writing is an easy one.  Some of us are compelled to do both. As writer Julianna Baggott so succinctly put it: “My fear was that if I gave up writing because of my children, I’d resent my children. If I didn’t spend time with my children — or didn’t have them to begin with — for the sake of my writing, I’d resent my career. I had to do both.”

And so have I, balancing my roles precariously at times but balancing them nevertheless. I am not a stay-at-home mom, but I am a mother…and a writer…who happens to work from home, the deadlines of editors and the deadlines of parenthood ever looming. And no matter how old I get or how much my girls grow, I will always occupy these roles–writer and mother, crafter of words and crafter of heartbeats.


 

 
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Am I the Only One Who Can Pick Up Socks Around Here? And Why I Fold Laundry in Front of My Husband

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Oct 3, 2013 in Men, Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Success Guide

I’m not the world’s best housekeeper. As you can imagine, living in a small house makes it even more of a challenge. When you need to put things away, where do you put them exactly? Under the bed? Squeezed between some furniture? How about one of those nifty pretty storages boxes? Wait. Where will you put the pretty box holding your stuff?

It doesn’t help that my husband is as much of a slob as I am. He’d rather be reading than doing anything else, so he reads in his free time, rather than pick up his socks from the bathroom floor.

Would I rather be reading or cleaning? I’d rather be reading. Better yet, I’d rather be writing my novels. It’s much easier to live in my fantasy world than to open the door to either one of my daughter’s bedrooms and carry on as if the piles of clothes and books don’t really matter. It shouldn’t bother me, I tell myself, the rest of the house is pretty untidy, too. But at least I can walk across the floors in the rest of the house. (A good thing, don’t you think?) Not so in my daughters’ rooms.

Sometimes I do try to pick up and keep things clean—but I’m not sure anybody really notices what I do—unless I perform the task in front of them.

For example, the other day my husband was surprised that I laundered a load of towels. “Do you think the clean towels just fill the hallway closet on their own?” I asked. So I try to do my housework in front of everybody when I can, with as much moaning and sighing as I can muster. “Look at me, I’m folding the laundry!”

But seriously, this was not an issue in our lives until I decided to stay at home with our children and freelance. Before children, my husband and I lived in the D.C. area, and I worked outside of the house as an editor. We divided chores much more equitably—when we actually did the household chores. We didn’t keep up easily because we were too busy bookstore hopping, going to concerts and readings, and eating out to worry about a clean house. Ahhhh, those were the days.

It’s really been a struggle for me to justify not doing the housework every day when I’m home all day long. But it’s not as if I’m eating bon-bons and watching TV. I’m actually writing books. And blogs. And proposals. And so on.

But the sad truth is most people have some sort of lala-land image about what I do, as if writing isn’t working, as if writing is nothing but joy and happiness and money coming in by the droves. And yes, even my own husband of almost 23 years has a hard time with this concept. From his point of view, if I’m not making money, it’s not a job. He has a point.

I am making money with my writing, even though it’s not enough that if I were alone on this planet without a spouse, I could earn a living by penning my novels. No way. Maybe I could do it with freelancing, but then I’d have to give up writing books because freelancing deadlines are tighter and must be met if you want to keep working. The kind of a novel you could squeeze in between the deadlines of another kind of writing might not be a very good novel. Or even a very good idea of a novel. Novels take long tracks of uninterrupted time.

Okay. Seems I’ve gotten sidetracked, away from my original subject, which was housekeeping. You see how easy that is for me—to just forget about it?

Right this minute I’m thinking “Just step away from the keyboard and put a load of towels in the washer.” But the very next minute my thoughts progress to the next sentence on my computer screen and how I’m going to finish this blog post in time for my deadline. Next, of course, I think about my next book and that’s where my thoughts always lead me—which is a good thing because that due date is looming, too.

In the meantime, I’m not sure how important a clean house is to the happiness of my family. And thank goodness for that. I’d much rather spend quality time with them than nag at them to clean or to be cleaning the house myself. While trying to keep the house passable, at least, I try to keep the bigger picture in mind. In the words of the wise-cracking Phyllis Diller, “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.”

 
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Trying Not to Panic: A Mother’s Woe When the First Born Enters High School

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Sep 15, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters

In the midst of the craziness of day-to-day parenting, sometimes we have moments that force us to pause and experience some strange mix of awe and gut-wrenching fear. A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those moments as I sent my oldest daughter off on the bus for our school district’s “Transitions” program.

Emma, you see, is heading to high school. Those words cycle through my brain and strike a numb feeling across my chest, as if I have just lost my breath. Then I take a deep one. Exhale. We’ve made it this far.

Oddly enough, it reminded me of the time a friend handed me a photo of Emma in her dancing costume years ago. I gasped. I wanted to say, “Wait, there’s been a mistake. That’s not my daughter.” But it was. She was beautiful in her blue costume and tutu, kneeling, hands crossed, one shoulder lifted, as if to hint at the joy of being a little girl. A big smile spread across her little face. Shades of the woman she might be someday.

I hardly recognized her.

When I think of Emma, then five, I think of her thick mane of strawberry blonde hair tussled and blowing freely as she ran and bounced around. Hair that I brushed into a shining golden beauty, which lasted about two seconds. I think of her dirty face that I washed eight or nine times a day. Her teeth that I was constantly after her to brush, her hard-to-keep-clipped, let alone clean, finger nails. She was the wind and the earth all wrapped into a big, messy wonderful little person. So to see this other version of Emma, perfectly coiffed, startled me.

And in some ways she is still more wind and earth than perfectly polished at age fourteen. I only see traces of that girl now. She is somewhere in-between, slipping through my fingers one minute. The next she is crawling into bed with me to cuddle.

These days she is more concerned with her appearance. I don’t have to “make” her brush her teeth or her hair. She sits in front of the mirror for long periods of time, primping.

Of course, she is so much more than what she looks like. I want her to know that. I want her to celebrate who she is every day even though I know that is an optimistic order in today’s world. I want it so much for both of my girls. But I guess I worry about it more in Emma. She is my sensitive one. There’s not a mean bone in her body. When her sister Tess used to take swats at her, Emma ran to me and hid behind me. She has veiled this characteristic with a tough girl attitude all the way through middle school. But I know her native sweetness is in there, underneath the skinny jeans and combat boots.

And so I worry about what the world will do to my oldest daughter. I think about it every day, more and more, with each step she takes. I try to point out to her that it is a good thing to be sensitive and nurturing, but we need to be careful where we place our hearts. I think she understands—well, as much as a fourteen-year-old can.

For some, high school is the pinnacle of our lives, shaping us in ways we try not to think about. For me, an outsider in high school, I couldn’t wait to finish, leave the area, and get started with my life elsewhere. But in many ways, I’m still an outsider. I struggle to find my place on the planet after years of painful letdowns and broken hearts. I’ve donned my tough-girl attitude to make it through rocky times as well.

I see shades of myself in E. It can be hard to see yourself in your children—they are almost like little mirrors, giving glimpses of ourselves as we struggle to understand it all.

I used to think the toddler days were like the Olympics of parenting —days of runny noses and diapers and poop on the floor and one more cup of milk, and, God help me, macaroni and cheese again for dinner. So many days I thought, if I can just get through this, it will be okay. Tomorrow will be easier.

I’ve reached one of my tomorrows. Is it simpler? In a way, it is, in that Emma pretty much takes care of her physical self. I am no longer responsible for brushing her teeth and unruly hair, for example, and I don’t have to worry about her sticking an electrical cord in her mouth. Or something. But I can’t afford the lull of a false sense of security now that she’s a bit older. The dangers and heartaches are still there—prevalent—but in a very different way.

Sometimes I’m excited for her and confident that she will be fine. We will be fine. We will get through shopping for the proms and homecoming dressess, the heartaches and the joys of dating, and the academics and everything that goes with that. We will be fine. Other times, I’ll ignore my racing heart, my feeling that time is slipping away too fast, and simply try not to panic.

But then again, just yesterday Emma asked me if she could put petroleum jelly in her ears because they felt itchy. “No,” I said. “Don’t put anything in your ears!” I think it’s safe to say she’ll be needing me for many years to come.

 
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“Where’s My Yurt?”: The Failure of the Home Office

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Jul 15, 2013 in Men, Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Relationships

“What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. Look at us. We run a tightrope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now! This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring us grace; it destroys the soul.”—Ann Morrow Lindbergh

A simpler way of putting this would be “Honey, I love you, but get the eff out of my space. You’re destroying my soul.”

Okay, maybe that’s just my interpretation.

When I thought about my efforts, as a writer, to create a home office, a space for myself, I thought about that quote from Virginia Woolf. You know–the one about women writers needing a room of their own. How lovely. How romantic. But it simply didn’t work for me. It didn’t have the right flavor and feel for my more Erma Bombeck-ish life.

Unfortunately, I found no quotes from her about etching out space and time to write while mothering, taking care of her house, and so on. She was probably too busy living that reality to really think, let alone write about it.

Come to think of it, I don’t read much Erma Bombeck these days because if I want to read about dirty houses, piles of laundry, and the ups and downs of family life, well, this is my reality and I lost the fascination with my “exciting” domestic life years ago.

But I do keep Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s famous book Gift from the Sea close at hand. She inspired many women in her generation to follow their dreams and gave a voice to their emotions and struggles. She also struggled to maintain her own identity–both literary and personal–in the immense shadow of her husband, Charles.

She was a mother and a well-respected writer. Her “circus act,” of course, was probably helped by the fact that she was wealthy. She probably had nannies for her children, maybe a few maids.

Most women writers don’t have that option. And for most of us, writing is more than a trade—it is a compulsion and a passion. So when you don’t have the time to write because say your children are taking up most of it, it’s not only a professional but also a deep personal sacrifice.

My husband and I purchased our three-bedroom home 14 years ago. With one baby, 1,400-square feet seemed plenty. One bedroom for each of us and an extra room for an office. That lasted about a year—or until we knew another baby was on the way.

Then I moved my desk into the dining room, where it stayed for awhile. I remember slipping Emma in the baby bouncer and dashing off a quick column or article to my editor to the bounce-bounce-bounce rhythms of the contraption. I also remember trying out the playpen and a dog fence while I worked and Emma played. As wily then as she is now, she eventually escaped.

And she stopped napping when she was about 18 months old. So working during naptimes wasn’t much of an option for me either.

The next step in my quest for workspace was a groovy desk/armoire in the living room, where I could work and sort of watch over both girls playing. We could close the doors on my computer and papers so the girls wouldn’t mess with them, and we could have some semblance of a normal living space when people visited.

In the meantime, we had decided to turn our sun porch into an office for me, with a little space for my husband, who, after all, has a rather large office where he works. Renovating the sun porch was no easy task. Between our lack of time (toddlers) and dwindling funds (one-income household, basically, with an unsteady freelance income on my end), it became an issue of a physical, financial, and time balance in our household. I remember a vivid conversation with an editor while I was in the middle of painting the walls. Finally, there was heat, flooring, and even lovely pond-moss green walls.

But as we finished the room, I began to worry. My husband liked it too much and was becoming enamored by this private room of many windows, books, and music. There was a gleam in his eye as he looked over my space. Okay, I told myself, hey, he’s worked on this room, too, and he works at an office, so he won’t spend A LOT of time in here, right? This was just another one of those compromises in a long marriage full of them. I’ve had to fight softly to maintain my space to write and think.

Well, at this point, a few years later, the office is the room he spends the most time in on the weekends and in the evenings. He loves it and now has a huge rocking chair in the corner where he sits and listens to music on his headphones. Every time I step around that chair to get to my desk, I think one word: yurt. Yep. you read that right. I am now longing for a backyard yurt.

You see, it’s not just him, but also my daughters who have taken a shine to my office. Many times, we are all crammed in the office together—the smallest room in the house. And I am not writing. It’s such a nice space that the whole family gathers there. This is a problem. In my quest for space to work, I find it’s also a search for acceptance and acknowledgement that my writing matters in my own house, to my family, as well as to the outside world.

So I eek out my space. However I can. And I won’t give up.

Sometimes the guilt sets in, and I adjust my writing schedule and tell myself I don’t need to be working when my family is home. On the other hand, when I’m on deadline or have an important phone or Skype meeting or interview, I give them fair warning. The door will be closed.

Sometimes my balancing act veers to one side or the other. Sometimes I spend way too much time writing and lift my head and wonder what the hell is going on in my own house. Doesn’t anybody else know how to unload the dishwasher? Other times, I’m on top of the house and the family schedule, and my writing suffers. Did I really send that to my editor?

This summer my balancing act is working by getting up earlier than the rest of the family so that I can write in peace. It doesn’t always work out. Even as I write this at 5:38 am, my husband is in his rocking chair, reading, and he just let loose with a loud sneeze. “Bless you,” I say. But what I’m really thinking is “Yurt.”

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