Who says what?

Novelist, mother, minister, and yoga teacher muses on books, babies, motherhood, and what matters with reverent humor.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Mother? You Will Survive

A dear friend of mine recently had a her first child and sent me a tiny email about her labor and the first weeks post partum that brought me back to those glorious days of sore nipples, monster maxi-pads, and no-sleep induced crying jags. Since I love to give unsolicited advice, I gave some to her, and now I'm going to give some to you.

Actually, the truth is, whenever I see or hear from a first time mama, I want to wrap her up in my arms and hug her (after I clean her house, do all her laundry and settle her in for a nap, of course). But since I can't do that, here's a small slice of my new mother survival guide.

New mothers often suffer in isolation, thinking that they are the only ones who have a hard time with...(pick two, three or more) nursing/sleeping/emotions/marital relations/ healing/ bonding with the baby/ going to the bathroom/ adjusting to not being yourself any longer (I could go on for a long time). When IN TRUTH, most, if not all mothers, have had some if not all of these troubles. Some mothers will talk about it. Find some moms who aren't afraid to say how hard it is. There is great comfort in knowing THERE ISN'T ANYTHING WRONG WITH YOU IF IT'S HARD. It's supposed to be hard. Especially if you, like many moms, have spent a decade or more being an adult without children. You are not alone.

Vagina displaced? Breasts the size of small boulders (and just as hard)? Small, vulnerable, crying being placed in your care that won't let you sit down/ go to the bathroom/ talk to your husband, friend/ read a book/ eat a meal/ think a thought? If you love to read, you will find humor at the ready for the post partum period. I consider Operating Instructions a must read. Of course, This Little Mommy Stayed Home is sure to get you peeing in your pants (for a good reason). My short reading list includes:
Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, I WAS A REALLY GOOD MOM BEFORE I HAD KIDS
Doesn’t the title say it all?
Naomi Stadlen’s, WHAT MOTHER’S DO: ESPECIALLY WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE NOTHINGRadical stuff, this book. Awesome, especially for a new mother with a small baby.

Nursing and reading is a lot easier than bottle feeding and reading, but if you love to read, sneak it in. Even one page and one laugh can be life saving.

I don’t make a habit of reading Dear Abby, but my husband reads the comics that get printed on the same page. I read an awful response she wrote to a new mother who thought she needed some post-partum meds because she was bored to tears playing with her infant son. I sent Dear Abby a long and not so dear letter that I reprint here, in case you too have experienced some boredom playing with your precious angels. (Who you love beyond reason, of course. But we KNOW that!)Needless to say, Dear Abby didn't publish it.

Dear Abby,
I am writing in response to the letter of 11/4/08 from the New Mom in Las Vegas. Whether or not you are able to publish my letter—in full or in part—I would appreciate it if you could pass it on to this new mother.

Though it may be possible that she has post-partum depression (although it didn’t sound like it from her letter), MOST stay-at-home-mothers (SaHM) are bored, at least sometimes, especially if they’ve left interesting, busy or creative careers to spend time with infants who don’t walk or talk!

Telling this mother that she has a condition that might need medication (as post-partum depression often does) perpetuates a dangerous myth about the stay at home mother. Staying at home with a young child is hard work, tedious, repetitive and often quite lonely. Our mothers may not have had the same experience; they may not have been raised to expect as much as we do in terms of personal satisfaction. Babies, meanwhile, don’t interact as adults do. They are demanding and not always interesting. I have friends, in fact, who love their daughter immensely and always have, who said “we didn’t even enjoy being with her until she was one!” This woman should know that by the time her son is walking and talking, her feelings may change.

Not only that, our ideas of child raising are so different from reality. Life with two children, 6 and 8, may have been what she imagined—school, games, fun times. Even life with a toddler can be more engaging—playground, play dates, singing funny songs together. Most women find that they enjoy certain ages more than others. That’s normal! Being bored is normal!

Here are some things that can be done to make the first year or so of life more fun for everyone.
*Find a family center where parents go during the day. These places are usually packed with toys and other mothers and fathers to commiserate with and enjoy.
*Join a local library story hour. This is a great way to meet other mothers.
*Join another class for babies—swimming, yoga, music. Check out the YMCA or town recreation center. This will be another place to make friends.
*Have play dates with other moms—once you’ve found them—at least weekly! If you can’t find one, start one.
*Read up on baby development. Some books have great ideas for playing that can make it more fun for mom, and an active mind, like this mother obviously has, might enjoy the playing more knowing about what’s actually happening in the baby’s mind
*Hire a babysitter—maybe a young neighbor so it isn’t too expensive—and take an hour every day or so to read, walk, have ADULT time. Many mothers find if they spend some time away doing what they love and what feeds them, they appreciate the time with the baby much more.
*Know that it will pass, soon enough. She might find she enjoys being the mother of an active toddler or even of several children more than the mother of one young baby.

READ about how it is for other mothers so she doesn’t feel so isolated in her feelings. There are some great reads about being a new mother—funny, HONEST, and live-saving.

Most importantly, this mother is doing a wonderful job! She is an excellent mother. Not only is she doing hard, often dull work, in an isolated setting (no chatting at the water cooler for her), she is doing it despite the fact that it, as she wrote “bores me out of my mind.” It’s a myth that all mothers enjoy every stage of babyhood and have a great time. And it is long past time to shatter the myth. We can LOVE our babies and not love being with them—all the time, or some of the time. Some of us love it more of the time, some less, some find it harder than they thought, some easier.

This mother, and all who feel the same, ought to know that they are good mothers. Motherhood is much harder work than ever gets spoken about.

Yours truly,
Samantha Wilde
A mother of two

P.S. Did you have children, Abby? I am dismayed by your response. Motherhood is hard enough without having someone tell you that if you don’t find it fabulously fun you need Prozac!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Following Ellen Meister

One of the gals in the GCC network I am a part of (Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Network for the uninitiated) is the very funny and very talented Ellen Meister, who in addition to being the author of The Smart One and the fantastic Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA which I raced through, gave me a awesome quote for This Little Mommy. Her next novel is due in 2011. She's doing a cool promotion through her website about her newsletter and I wanted to share it here with you. (Cause I'm a sharing kind of gal.)

Ellen Meister has an exciting new book coming out next year and she wants to keep you abreast of the news. So she has a special offer ... sign up for her mailing list now and you will automatically be entered in a drawing for a $25 amazon.com gift card.
Just click here, fill out the form, and remember to click through when you get the confirmation email. That's it. Ellen only sends out a few updates a year, so you won't be bombarded. Besides, I think you'll want to hear about her breakthrough novel, THE OTHER LIFE (Putnam/2011), which is already getting great early buzz.

That's it for my public service announcement for the hungry readers of the world.
More later from the land of motherhood, where reading is for me as good as weekend retreat. (I am not even kidding. Okay...almost as good.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Come see me!

If you are in Eastern Massachusetts or anywhere near by, or know people who are, please come on May 8th to the Danvers Literary Festival. My mother and I will be speaking at 4 p.m. about our books, our writing, and what it means to be a published mother and daughter. I promise to be utterly serious, not crack a joke, and act like a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who spends her days drinking martinins and smoking heavily--alone in a room with a notepad.


Find out all about the Danvers Literary Festival.

Find out more about my famous mother who is about to publish her 20th novel, Nancy Thayer!

Please post around on Facebook and the like and share the word. It would be awesome to meet some of you who've read This Little Mommy! Even if you're far away, your cyber-friends are probably all over. Leave a comment if you tweet or facebook or put up a link on your blog so I can send you a free coffee maker. (Just kidding. This blog is totally un-commercial. I never try to sell anything except my novel, and I don't do a very good job at that, now do I? DO I?)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Laundry

I did manage to get out of bed this morning and begin my laundry, propelled primarily by the fact that I no longer have any underwear of any kind to wear, including the variety I save for period days, fat phases, and times when I haven't been able to do my laundry. Which means that yesterday I wore the pair that falls down around my ankles.

I noticed as I was putting things into the washing machine, that other than underwear, I seemed only to be washing pajamas. Oh. Well, being so sick these past days, I have been wearing my pajamas. I've carried around a box of tissues, a cup of tea, now my antibiotics and my thermometer. The worst part of this sickness has been a violent cough that gives a nasty headache.

So why so many pajamas? I must have stuffed six pair in there. Unfortunately, this volcanic-erupting cough also made me pee. And this despite marathon like kegeling done for months on a regular basis!

Perhaps this is also why I have no more underwear. Go ahead. You can call me the leaky lady. Really, I wouldn't mind. I'll wear it as a badge of honor. So much childbirth...so much loss of bladder control. If we lived in a tribal environment, I'd probably get a special dance for this amazing rite of passage. (Sniff. Sob.) I am a real woman now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April Henry's Latest

On a completely different note from feminism and motherhood (and books are such good escapes for mothers), April Henry's latest has just been released. Just after she toured with the GCC last year, she hit the NYTimes best seller list.
Here's the scoop on the newest in her Triple Threat Series, Hand of Fate.

When the host of a popular radio talk show is murdered, the only thing larger than his listening audience is the lengthy list of suspects glad he's dead. Outspoken radio talk show host Jim Fate dies when poisonous gas fills the studio during his polarizing show, "The Hand of Fate." In the ensuing panic, police evacuate downtown Portland.
FBI Special Agent Nicole Hedges, TV crime reporter Cassidy Shaw and Federal Prosecutor Allison Pierce begin piecing together what happened. And this time it's personal, since one of the women was secretly dating the host.
In the days following Fate's murder, these three colleagues and friends uncover the not-so-public life of Jim Fate. Together, they race of find out the stunning truth of who killed him, how close the killer really is, and the twisted motives behind the cold-blooded murder.

April's touring around now and I'm so glad to have her here to tell us what it's like to be famous! ;-)

If Oprah invited you on her show to talk about your book, what would the theme of that show be?
Unintended consequences.

What was the most fun scene in your book to write? The most difficult?
The most fun was the crazy mayhem when downtown Portland was evacuated. The most difficult was what happened with Allison’s pregnancy.

Do you have a muse, good luck charm, writing vice?
My vices are all not writing related. They usually involve food.

Have you had a "rock star" moment regarding your writing career? If so, what was it?
I was loading towels in the dryer when I got a call from our publisher. A bunch of folks were on a speaker phone yelling, “You’re on the New York Times bestseller list!” I jumped up and down and squealed and felt unreal - and then I kept putting towels in the dryer.

What do you do to celebrate your writing successes?
I am very bad about celebrating.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
“Tireless self promoter” sounds ugly to everyone but your publisher.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Run, go to kung fu class (the most fun ever! it is great to hit the bag really, really hard), read, try out new cookbooks.

Describe how you got your first book deal.
It was actually the fourth book I wrote. The first book got rejection letters from agents, the second got me my agent and some nice rejection letters from editors, the third got me curt rejection letters, and the fourth sold in three days. So it was my five-year overnight success.

What do you think readers might be surprised to know about you?
Roald Dahl helped me get a short story published when I was in grade school. It was about a six-foot tall frog named Herman who liked peanut butter. Alas, I have lost the story, but not Dahl’s postcard to me.

Can you share some particularly memorable fan mail you received about this or previous books?
With our last book, one eighty-something guy told us he had to live for another year so he could read our next book. Since we are contracted for seven total, we might keep him alive a long time.

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance?
Reviews are just starting to come in - but I do like Publishers Weekly calling it “Excellent.”

I wish you many more rock star/laundry moments, April! (Makes me think of the Jack Kornfield book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry--it's just the truth of life!)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mama, Are You Feeling Mediocre?

It did occur to me the other day that the cause of much of my angst (can I have angst being over twenty-one? Can I have angst if I neither drink nor smoke? I mean, I do wear black), has to do with a prevailing since of my own mediocrity. But here's how it happened.

I was visiting some blogs in an attempt to figure out what blogs would be best to review my novel (and the next one upcoming) when I happened upon the Most Famous Mommy Blog of All Time. The chick who writes this thing? Her husband QUIT his job because they make so much money from the advertising on her blog and she gets one zillion visitors every micro-second (or something like that). I'm savvy. I think to myself. I'll advertise on this thing. Then those one zillion people will buy my book. Only once I see the cost (think about $1000 an hour), I realized no way/no how.

Then a tiny bout of envy set in. Why don't I have all those visitors to my blog? Why can't my husband quit his job finding a cure for cancer and run my media campaign? Why didn't my book sell more/become a movie/make me a million?

Yes, the big, green monster of envy reared it's ugly head. And I don't even want to be a blogger! Certainly not a professional one. I'm not even much of an amateur blogger and I don't even know if I LIKE blogging, so why in the world do I envy the blogging Diva?

Well, because, not unlike many stay-at-home mothers (as well as working mothers and all the rest of the female race and possibly the entire male race too), I struggle with feelings of my own mediocrity. The trouble with feeling mediocre is that it never seems you are doing enough. If I play with my children all day, tickle them and go to the park, I feel I ought to have done the laundry and cleaned the house and made a better dinner. If I spend the morning working on the novel, I ought to have been playing with the children.

I love the feminists. I am a feminist. But one of the distinct downsides of the second wave of feminism (1970s), that pushed women into the work force by giving them choices, is that now it's nearly impossible to feel as though you've ever made the right one. Not only that, most mothers, whose time and attentions are divided, feel that they are doing many things, and not one of them to excellence.

Most of you who read this know that among my many assorted eccentricities, I love the Duggar family (and others like them). What I can see in communities that support, uplift, encourage, and call women into motherhood, is a greater sense of satisfaction for the mothers. I don't even know what it would look like--in isolation--to excel at mothering. Because the truth is--in isolation--we don't have a sense of ourselves. Communal identity is essential. If we live in a community that thinks more of working mothers than stay-at-home, the sense of meaning in taking care of children full-time falls apart. This is not theory; I can speak from personal experience. (And, of course, the opposite is true).

Not that I have a solution to this problem. Or I do, but it comes in the long run, in revising (again) our sense of the worthiness of mothering, it's value and place in the world--not simply in the family. And, of course, it can't be lip-service, but action that makes all the difference.

So for now, if you are a mother, working at home or working somewhere else, perhaps you will honor yourself for the outstanding job you do. My high school advisor famously said: "Maybe we should all be mediocre and live happily ever after." I think she meant, lower your expectations. Find the contentment and savor it; it's yours. Am I doing a good enough job? I don't know. I'll tell you one thing, though, when I am joyful, I don't care. I don't want to be some famous blogger. I just want to be me. Oh, yes, we are on our way to an affirmation here. Say it with me: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and dog gone it, I'm an awesome mom! (Did you say it? Or did you just laugh at me? Go ahead, say it. I bet it will make you smile. If it doesn't, you can have your money back. Woops. This blog is free. Never mind.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Motherhood is so hard...

But it's the little things that make it all worthwhile.

"This is my brown baby," says the baby about her doll with the brown cloth body while I'm changing her poopy diaper.

"This is my brown baby. This baby is brown," goes her chatter.

"This baby is brown. Just like my poop!"

Oh, such sweet moments for the memory book!

And this baby is TWO today.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spread the Word

A wonderful review just appeared for THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME!

Novel Escapes has given the book 4.5 (out of 5) stars, and does a great job of wrapping up what's good about it. (And The Time Traveler's Wife which everyone--even my husband read--and that's been made into a movie, only got 3.5! Eat your heart out, Audrey Niffinger!)

"I loved this novel and laughed out loud from the first page right through to the end, and I haven’t even had a baby," writes one of the reviewers. And the other chimes in, "I absolutely loved the concept of this book! I just had my first child last winter so could relate to everything she was writing about first hand- however I don’t think that this book is only entertaining for a current mummy- it’s full of useful insights into marriage and finding oneself too so don’t be put off if you’re not right in the midst of the baby thing at the moment."

I'm still convinced that my novel hasn't made it in to the hands of all the mommies (and non-mommies) who would feel the same way as these two women.

And, since I don't socially network with anyone but my children these days, if you're reading this and you're also on Facebook or Tweeter or Goodreads, would you be willing to post a link to the review and mention the book? I think it's possible that most of us think books sell themselves, but there's a lot of work, especially with a debut novel, to get the word out, and I would be every so grateful! If you do, send me a comment about it. Maybe I'll even give out a free book to someone who helps spread the word!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Gone Crazy

I don't suppose anyone is particularly happy to say that they're crazy, although, as far as I can tell, the few unfortunate people who aren't crazy tend to run on the boring side. That said, of the many crazy mothers I know, who in the post partum whirl of life changes and hormonal side-effects have gone a little kooky, few of us wouldn't happily shed the madness for a boring afternoon or two.

After my daughter was born, I was able to come up with some truly crazy post partum anxiety induced forms of craziness that included a mortal terror of Tsunami (while vacationing on Nantucket), the conviction that a plane would fall on my head (as we live along the army base's flight path), griping fear that I would die of the Swine flu (never did worry about my children), and certainty that my ongoing heartburn could be none other than a heart attack (only about 400 times or every time I experienced it).

What is happy is that I am not alone. Mothers everywhere are telling me how crazy they are. Just what does happen when you pop out a kid? Luckily, I was saved from the post partum depression that is all the rage these days, but the anxiety is not a lesser problem, it's just much more funny.

What I most appreciate, since I have been teaching yoga for about a decade and practicing much longer, is when my doctors suggest I do some yoga.

As one of my dearest, wisest yoga teachers said to me once: "I teach all the time because I need this stuff more than anyone else."

At any rate, I would love to bond with all crazy mothers everywhere. Surely there is strength in numbers. In the meantime, please feel free to reassure me that I will not have an airplane land on my house.