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Thursday, April 30, 2009

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On Being Good (enough) Mothers.


So last night I had this awful anxiety dream that I was running over an hour late for the above book-signing event, and I was convinced that no one would come, and that I was neglecting my family by even being there, and also, I was out of money and out of gas, and the next door neighbors were excavating giant turnips from their backyard.

Throughout all the drama, my editor at Good Housekeeping, who in real life has the serene energy AND magical powers of Glinda the Good Witch, was standing in the background, providing silent reassurance that all was well, a visible reminder of the magazine's refreshing mantra "good enough." And so it was, because somehow everything worked out. Except the turnips, which are an abomination in my opinion, no matter how much sugar you sprinkle on them.

I've been promoting this book locally because I'm proud of my piece in it, but also as a mini dress rehearsal for when my own book comes out. When I went to Houston this winter, and saw that Katherine was giving out cupcakes to promote her book, I realized I was going to have to get some game.

It's been mostly very fun and easy. The book store event has come together seamlessly. I've gone on two local radio morning shows to talk about the book (and will go back on 94.1 The Point tomorrow morning around 8), and the city paper ran a small Q&A piece about it yesterday.

I think the anxiety of the dream was triggered by a segue in the edited interview that made me wince a bit, where the sample confession cited from the book was one where a mom frames one of her kids for stealing from a piggy bank. I don't remember that particular example coming up in the oral interview, but seeing it in print, as a lead-in to my own enthusiastic support for the book made me wonder if people might think I was endorsing the act itself. When I did one of the radio shows, I had the same qualm about someone confessing to keeping booze in a take-out cup while driving her kids around. In that instance I was able to say, HA HA, NOT COOL. Seriously. Don't drive around drinking with or without your kids in the car.

You know, a lot of the confessions in this book are truly relatable. Telling the kids that Haagen-Dazz is special medicine for Mommies? My ten year old and I had a good giggle over the devious deliciousness of that one. There's some that are poignant, like the wife who has lost desire for her husband. There's a few that are unimaginable, like paying for Christmas presents with money earned as an escort. There are some that are wonderful, like the woman who secretly loves her post-partum body and doesn't care what others think. And then there's a handful that are kind of despicable.

The point of the book isn't to condemn or condone the particulars, but to tell the secrets, relatable, poignant, unimaginable, wonderful, despicable. To bioposy a slice of motherhood and just hold it up for what it is: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hilarious. The Today Show coverage of the book got that. The commenters to the Wall Street Journal story didn't. Romi, the book's editor, summed it all up nicely on Huffington Post recently. I don't know what it is about our society that we have such a hard time accepting the multitude of experiences there are in raising children, or why we mothers are so jumpy whenever motherhood is up for discussion.

When Oprah ran the hour-long Secret Lives of Moms special the week this book came out, my twitter stream contained people (women) complaining there was too much focus on motherhood, and others complaining it didn't treat motherhood seriously enough. It was just one segment on one daytime talk show. The weight of our expectations is staggering. We pin so much on every statement about mothering. As if we could arrive at one singular, unchanging gospel truth. We act like a disenfranchised people: combative, insecure, split into factions.

Where is it getting us, or our children?

Does it really make us feel better to be able to say, about another mother, she's doing it wrong?

Or is that external judgement just the visible tip of the outsize judgement we bear against ourselves on the inside?

That reminds me, now that I think about those turnips, I remember one of my favorite childhood books was The Enormous Turnip, a russian folktale in which the whole village has to form a chain to uproot the vile thing. I don't know why I loved that story so much, given how I hated even a tiny turnip. I guess I just loved the idea of people coming together.

Speaking of which, if you're in town, I hope you can (sorry) turnip for Saturday morning at Wordsworth Books, R Street, from 10-noon. Swing by, have a mimosa, pick up a book, and let's all lighten up on each other, and mostly, on ourselves.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

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So Long, Four.


I have loved few things more than being the mother of a four-year-old. I retired yesterday.

We had a very fancy party yesterday to usher in FIVE. You can read more details on Noteworthy today.

Five, twenty-five, or fifty-five, whenever I look at my baby's face, I'll always see this:



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Friday, April 24, 2009

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Nock, Nock, Who's There?


My mom is on her way today, to stay for a week, the last leg of a long trip begun early this month! This will be her first visit to our new house since we moved in. I can't believe it's been a year since I've seen her. We're all very excited.

So much so, some of us are requesting a moment's notice in which to compose ourselves.


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Blogging 101: Session III

My House, My Rules

This is not my favorite topic, and I think we should spent as little time with it as possible. But trolls do exist, and newbie bloggers need the heads up. A friend of mine started a blog a few years ago, and was attacked by a very nasty troll in her first month. His/her vicious comments shook her up badly, and she locked the blog down.

In her case, it was a drive-by troll, the kind of belligerence that Kate of Sweet Salty once perfectly characterized as a dog barking out the open window of a speeding car. It's just random meanness—the online equivalent of vandals tipping over flower pots. I hope it never happens to you, but if it does, I hope you won't stop planting flowers.

A troll is someone who is unhappy, bored, unhinged, or just plain mean enough to want to take it out on someone else. Trolls are looking for a diversion from their own misery. The general consensus among bloggers has been not to give them one. If you encounter a troll, treat it as if you would a wild dog. Cross the street. Don't make eye contact. Wait for them to move on. Most trolls are just really lonely people. They'll take negative attention if it's the only attention they can get.

Sometimes, trollish or threatening behavior needs to be called out. But proceed with caution. We bloggers can be a little defensive sometimes, and not every critical or clumsy comment is truly hostile. From time to time, solidarity goes overboard, and the torches and pitchforks come out. There have been comment wars that made the blogger and her supporters look worse than the offender. It hurts people who aren't really trolls. And it rewards those who are, because feeling victimized is many a troll's preferred drug.

In my experience, registered comments will filter out most trolls. Yes, I know I lose a few commenters who are shy, or have trouble with the verification codes. They can always email me. I put my name on my opinions. I require that others do so with theirs. There are old-school bloggers who are very rigid about letting every comment stand, no matter what. I think that's nonsense. The paper doesn't publish every letter to the editor verbatim, and neither do I.

I've deleted comments where offline friends and family have shared personal information (like the kids names) that I choose to keep private (sorry, mom). I delete spam comments. I've deleted religious prostyletizing that I felt bordered on hate propoganda. Not in my house, not on my blog.

And that's the acid test for me, really, in deciding how to handle hostility, the rare time it occurs. How would I handle this offline? Would I permit it in my living room? Would I dignify it with a response if it was shouted by a crazy person on the sidewalk? Would I round up all my friends and neighbors to shout back at them? If someone kicks over my flower pot, and tells me I had it coming for putting my flower pot out there on my front porch, do I accept that?

Of course not. Those people can keep moving. The rest of you, come in! Let's put some coffee on. I'm so happy you're here.

Up next week: Blogging kids.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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Blogging 101: Session II

I really loved all the intelligent and varied perspectives that were offered in the comments section of Part I of this series. Keep it coming—we're all of us making this thing up as we go along.

Today, let's talk about the place where our blog and offline life intersect.

Who's Life Is it Anyway?

No one who's ever written anything worth reading in any genre has done so without drawing on real-life experiences, relationships and observations. To never employ third person pronouns is to write from a very sterile, ego-centric space, and it will collapse on itself in a hurry.

You have an offline life (I hope). You have conversations, encounters, and conflicts that involve other people; interactions that are the grist for reflection, storytelling and opinion. Can you blog about them? Yes, with some caveats (these apply to adults; I'll address child-related issues in it's own session).

Back when I pretty much knew all five people who read my blog, I was less circumspect about bringing offline friends into it. I didn't give much more thought to mentioning a relevant offline anecdote in a blog post than I would dropping it into a conversation at the park. Nothing slanderous or gossipy, just segues like, "That reminds me of something funny my friend so-and-so always says..." or "When this happened to my friend so-and-so, it made me think about the time I..."

Show me a columnist or memoirist who doesn't use that device, and I'll show you someone who ran out of material a long time ago. But not all my so-and-so's were comfortable turning up in my blog. Some were and are perfectly cool with it. Some, I eventually learned, weren't. I was naive, but I also never dreamed the things I wrote here would travel as far as they have. (See "worst-case-scenario test, " Session I.)

I probably err too much on the side of caution these days. I used to love taking photographs of celebrations with friends, and now I leave my camera home, because I'm tired of giving the verbal disclaimer that the pictures are not for my blog. I need a hat that can display OFF DUTY, like a taxi sign. Beyond my immediate family members, I don't post photographs of people on my blog without permission. When my daily traffic grew beyond a few dozen people, I stopped posting them to my public flickr set. Even for a closed network like Facebook, I only post pictures of friends that are a) flattering, and b) portray only subjects I know are okay with being seen on Facebook.

I'm actually kind of a nerd about the picture thing. Your mileage may vary.

When it comes to referencing offline conversations and anecdotes, I try to make sure my motives are pure and the focus is not on the other person, but on what it brings up for me. Sometimes I miss. Sometimes my words are not, as I would like them to be, impeccable. Sometimes I disguise a person's identity in every possible way, changing the details, throwing out decoys, and still, someone whom it's not about, thinks it's about them. Unfortunately, this has happened more than once. Sometimes, more than one person thinks it's about them at the same time. At which point, I just throw up my hands. Someday I'm going to put all the people who think my writing is all about them in a room and make them fight it out. The victor can just have this blog.

I guess what I'm saying is that you can only be so careful. For all the hundreds of people who feel my writing speaks to them positively, there's always a few who are convinced it's speaking to them negatively. I can't do much about that. For some people, there's a pay-off in taking offense.

Which brings us to the wonderful world of trolls.

Up next: My House, My rules.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

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Where the Wild Things Are

Patrick told me last week that he spotted a bunny in the backyard.

"You're a bunny!" he said to it. The bunny chose not to dignify that statement with a remark.

"Did it have great, big teeth and horrible claws?" I asked, not quite believing him.

But this morning, I raised one of our bedroom blinds, and lo, there was a bunny.


I love this neighborhood. We're in the heart of the city, yet we have deer, chipmunks, rabbits, turtles, and even a wily coyote Patrick spotted from our front porch one night. To the eight year old great-grandson of a woman who could charm bees and whisper horses, it's a wonderland.




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Friday, April 17, 2009

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Like a Rolling Stone


None of us know what lies in store for our children. But I look at this kid some days, and I see backstage stadium passes in my future.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

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Blogging 101: Session I

Two friends asked me within a few weeks of each other if I had any pointers for new bloggers, and I think I looked up from my work long enough to send them each a very helpful link to google. Over the weekend, it occurred to me I can do better. I started this blog a little over three years ago, anonymously posting as "K.," never dreaming it would lead where it has. I've learned a few things along the way. It's only fair to pass them on.

From the beginning, I made it a rule to not have rules for my blog. The beauty of a blog is that it's a continual work in progress. The context evolves with you. So these aren't rules, as much as marks scratched in tree bark: "I came this way." I'll keep moving beyond them. So should you.

Author! Author!

I used anonymity as a safety harness while I figured out what a blog was, and what I wanted to do with it. A redundant move, since hardly anyone was reading anyway in the beginning. But I felt more secure knowing that a google search of my name wouldn't bring anyone to my blog before I was ready. After a while, it became clear to me that what I was writing here was as much my "real writing" as anything I'd written offline, and it only made sense to claim it. I think long-term anonymity is a tough row to hoe, from what I've seen. The internet is an increasingly small world, and your chances of being outed become greater with time. I think it should be regarded as an eventuality. Can you withstand a worst-case scenario? If not, should you blog about it?

There's a middle path, and that's to adopt a persona. People see that word, and think it means "fake," but persona is simply a protective layer, like an outfit you put on to go in public. There's nothing phony about it, unless it becomes your whole identity (if you sleep in your work clothes they WILL get smelly). Many bloggers have developed personas (usually a nickname, or actually using the name of their site as their online identity). They don't hide their real names, but using a nickname signals that the person behind the blog is more than the sum of her posts. You'd think that would be obvious, but the immediacy of the medium heightens the illusion of a 360 degree view.

A reader once confessed that she couldn't shake the feeling that she was snooping through my underwear drawer, because my blog seemed so personal.

"Oh honey," I laughed. "My underwear drawer is way more interesting than my blog."

Maybe it's a pocket of Canadian reserve, or the fussing mother hen in me, but I worry about bloggers who over-share, though they would probably reassure me, as I did the reader above, that it's a controlled transparency. To each her own. But I think it's healthy for your soul, if not your site traffic, to reserve some mystery. It's the new radical act.*

Can't please some of the people any of the damn time.

Let's get back to the worst-case scenario test, because if there is a rule to follow in blogging, I think this is it.

Picture someone in your world with whom you share nothing in common. In a million years, you will never be friends. You presume they don't care for your kind, and you preemptively don't care for them back. Now picture this same person becoming an ardent fan of your blog in a few years. Hey, aren't you glad you didn't post that snarky thing about them that one time? Whoops, you did post it? I guess you feel like a dumbass. I know I have.

Take it from me, it is an iron-clad law of the blogosphere that the person you least want or expect to find your blog will find it and read it. Everything you post needs to be considered with that in mind. Everything. Note I said "considered" not "censored." Writing is risky. If you are putting out anything at all meaningful or interesting, in any medium, you will lose a few friends and alienate some people. It's Dale Carnegie in reverse. There's no avoiding it. Someone, somewhere, is going to hate something you've posted. Someone, somewhere is going to hate the fact you blog at all. Not everybody is excited about the way social media is transforming and levelizing communication. It's getting better, but there are still people who recoil as if I cleared something nasty from my throat when I say "my blog."

Learning to be okay with not being okay with everyone is a necessary (and sometimes really painful) part of maturation, both as a writer and as a person, but that doesn't mean you should be reckless with your words. Don't post anything you're not prepared to take responsibility for. Be mindful, but not timid. No matter what, if you do this long enough, you will stumble across an old post from time to time and cringe. And that's a good thing. It means you've changed and grown.

Coming up: Rules of Engagement (blogging kids, friends, enemies and innocent bystanders) and Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Trolls.

*"mommy-blogging" was famously declared a radical act at the 2006 Blogher Conference in San Jose.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

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Kill Da Wabbit


The only suitable caption I can come up with for this photo would be a mash up of the "Psycho" violins theme and the Looney Tunes overture.


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Saturday, April 11, 2009

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This is the way we wash our clothes...


For now, anyway. Our clothes dryer died this week. It needs to be replaced, and that's going to have to wait just a bit. I made a trip to the laundromat midweek, with several days' worth of our laundry, and I'm sure the other customers assumed I had come into town off the compound where my polygamous family live. I was contemplating another trip there this morning, when I remembered the old clothes carousel in our backyard. Though makes it sound as if I grew up in the 1870s instead of the 1970s, when I was a little girl, my mother washed our clothes in a round washing machine with a wringer attachment, and hung them out to dry on a clothesline.

I'd forgotten how gorgeous white linens against a blue sky are. And tonight, I'm sleeping between sheets that smell like this morning's sun.

Everything old is new. Happy Easter.


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Friday, April 10, 2009

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Bless me, mothers, for I have sinned.

What better day than Good Friday for a baptized Catholic to fess up? My true mom confessions:

  • Sometimes I nod and make noises like I am listening to my kids when I am not. Especially before nine a.m.

  • Something made me laugh from the belly once a few years ago, and all the boys stopped and stared at me, alarmed, because they'd never seen me do that before.

  • I gave up on daily baths for the kids shortly after the second one was born.

  • I rarely do crafts or play with my kids, and I don't help with homework unless I see that one needs it.

  • I forgot to bring my fussy-eating middle son his lunch today. Again. I keep his cafeteria card loaded in this event. He'll at least eat the ice cream. Crap.

  • On more than one occasion, I have forgotten to pick up a child. My five-year-old off-handedly mentioned "that day you forgot about me" recently, and I thought my heart would break.

  • I'm not a "baby" person. I loved my babies, but I couldn't wait for them to be old enough to have conversations and play board games with me.

  • I used to have very strong opinions about how people should nurture their kids. The third one kicked me right off my high horse. Thank goodness.

    Whew. Glad that's off my chest.

    Can I have easter chocolate now?


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  • Thursday, April 09, 2009

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    A Face For Radio


    I'll be on the morning show with Jennifer Trafford on The Point 94.1 tomorrow around 8:30. Classic rock, baby. We'll be talking about living out loud, social media, and the newly released book, True Mom Confessions: Real Moms Get Real which I am so happy to have a "conf-essay" in. Heads up, this is a great Mother's Day present for anyone who's "been there, done that" or just thought about it. These confessions are what the ladies of Sex in the City would discuss over cosmos if they all had children.

    On Saturday morning, May 2, 10-12, Wordsworth Books, Little Rock Family and Hot in Little Rock are co-sponsoring a bookstore True Mom Confessions event, complete with mimosas and door prizes! I'll be reading, signing, and hearing confessions! Save the date. More deets to come.

    Note: the Amazon affliliates link above is for yokels who aren't local. Little Rockers, please come out May 2nd, and support your friendly independent bookseller.


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    "Does this dress make me look fat?"


    A portrait of a man, walking into a trap. The socks signify whatever you want them to.


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    Monday, April 06, 2009

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    Your Song Playing?

    Plain and short, last week kicked my ass. To give you an idea, I spent all day Monday stuck on one sentence of my manuscript. Spring break, winter vacation, and allergy season (you try to focus when all the oxygen going to your brain has been displaced with tree pollen) have put me behind word count. It's nothing I can't make up, but enough to turn on the pressure.

    My solution? Increase the pressure. My self-talk most of the week went something like this: NO SUGAR! EARLY BEDTIME! MORE EXERCISE! WRITE HARDER! WRITE FASTER! WRITE NIGHTS! WRITE WEEKENDS! DOUBLETIME! GO! GO! GO!

    So very conducive to creativity.

    While I was writing myself this prescription, the universe was writing its own. A friend showed up with a bottle of wine. Another took me to lunch. I was ambushed by a sale at Ann Taylor Loft. Patrick told my inner drill sergeant to stand the hell down. Repeatedly.

    Finally, I surrendered. I took a sick day Friday. I had some fun with the kids and did a few chores Saturday. I went to church for the first time in a lot of Sundays. I ignored my manuscript.

    This morning, I woke up way too early and realized I was having that "crap, it's Monday" feeling about getting back to it. Hold the freaking phone. When did I start treating my dream like it's a cubicle job? I think somewhere way in the back of my belief system, there's a rotten notion, like an old pair of gym shoes, that says if I'm getting paid for it, it has to be really hard.

    One of my favorite movies of all time is the much-maligned Joe vs. the Volcano, because I think it's such a great little fable about expectations and how they color our reality. Plus, Abe Vigoda! You know the first act, before Joe leaves his desk job, and it's all shot in blue-grey? My attitude last week.

    I needed a reboot. Instead of marching myself grimly to my desk this morning and buckling down, I put on fresh coffee, plopped down in my chair and fired up Itunes. "Get up now, baby, it's your song playing," The Weepies cajoled.

    Oh yeah, I thought, beginning to peck at the keyboard. It is. Blue-grey brightened to warm color.

    I even grooved a little in my seat. It's been way too quiet around my desk lately. Played at low volume, the tunes cancelled out the drill sergeant. I think I need a whole playlist dedicated to that task—songs that are stirring, without being demanding. Suggestions?


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