Whatchoo talking ’bout, Hilary?

I don’t usually do opinion pieces on this blog, for a variety of reasons.

Nevertheless. When one begins to fear that a significant percentage of the populace has lost their ever-loving minds, one feels obliged to speak up.

In the byte heard ‘round the world on Wednesday, Hilary Rosen, a democratic “strategist” who was being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, stated that Ann Romney, the wife of one of the wealthy politicians lobbying for the Republican presidential nomination (a woman who happens to be the mother of five children), had “actually never worked a day in her life.” Continue reading

My (very short) Road to Publication – and a Book Giveaway!

Right now, as we speak, the first (and so far, ONLY) story I’ve ever written is in bookstores. In an actual book. It’s a little hard to believe.

Since I’ve already received my ten author’s copies, I am giving one away here – and all you have to do, to enter the drawing, is leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

Here’s the story behind the story. (And here’s the cover of the book.)

Last June, as I was fiddling around with ideas to start up this blog, a friend asked me for the email information for a story contest – the winners would attend a prestigious Writer’s Workshop in New York.

This was on a Thursday. The submission deadline was that Sunday. I hadn’t thought about submitting anything myself because I had only started writing the previous Fall, and the only things I’d written so far were: three essays that I’d posted on Facebook, part of a fictional short story, a handful of poems (mostly about my boys), and a couple of posts to use on my future blog.

I knew I had a long way to go, so I was planning to “practice” writing for a year or so before trying to submit my work anywhere. And then only if I thought it was good enough.

But after I gave my friend the information, I thought (in an uncharacteristic burst of pluckiness) Well, why not write something yourself? And on Friday, I sketched out a story.

The next day, my husband took our boys fishing and I started writing. As a newbie writer, the biggest puzzler for me was: How on earth do you know what to put in and what to leave out? There are, after all, at least a quarter of a million words in the English language.

It’s no wonder so many writers are a little nutty. That’s too many options.

So I wrote and rambled, and rambled and wrote, and I didn’t even realize I’d worked clear through lunch until I started feeling a little woozy, at which point I ate some peanut butter on toast, and kept right on going.

Writing non-stop for hours was simply more fun than a human being should have. I would do it every day, if I could.

By that evening I had my 2000 words. I had not, obviously, had enough time to edit the story properly. I knew it was a little bloated, but I sent it off, with a rather long-winded cover letter, wherein I ran on for an entire page about – well, about how I had no writing experience.

I never heard back from the Writer’s Workshop. (I’ll take “Things That Surprise No One” for $500, Alex.)

But a publisher friend had told me I should try submitting to Chicken Soup for the Soul, and when I’d looked at their website, I saw that their next book was for “New Moms.”

And it so happened that the story I’d just written was about how, during 17 years of marriage and through several miscarriages, I’d fretted over whether I could ever even be a good mother, since I had no idea what a good mother looked like – my own mom had been mentally ill and abusive. I wrote about my internal struggles after my first son was born, and how I finally realized (after an agonizing year) that yes, I was a good mom.

Chicken Soup’s deadline was a few weeks out, so I had time to edit and polish the story – and whittle it down. Way down.

The word limit for the Workshop had been 2000. Chicken Soup’s was 1200. I had to cut my story almost in half. (My fellow writers will probably shiver in appreciation at that.) But it was excellent practice; and, of course, it made the story tighter and better.

Months later, Chicken Soup notified me that they were very kindly buying my story for their book. And on a rainy day in February, the postman delivered a box full of my “author’s copies” of Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms.

What a thrill to pull open the cardboard flaps and see those pretty, shiny books inside! Even if my name was nowhere on the cover. Even if my real name was actually nowhere in the book.

The publisher had asked me to use a pen name, because of sensitive content in the story. So my story appears under the name Lynn Juniper, and is titled “A Good Mother.”

And I’m giving away one of the copies! If you are a new mom, or if you know a new mom (which covers just about everyone, right?), you (or they) will enjoy this very cute book containing 101 stories from empathetic Mommies who were once in the newborn trenches.

All you have to do is leave a comment below, and I will put your name in a hat. Next Wednesday, my husband will draw out a name, and I will send your copy out by mail.

Here is a question to answer: Have you ever accomplished something you really didn’t think you’d be able to do?

And if you don’t like that question, you can simply write anything at all.

I like “Howdy’s” just fine.

My So-called Age

I now understand the term “coltish.”

My running route takes me onto the campus of the local high school, and when I run there, in the evenings, the various fields are full of teenagers practicing sports. They seem to be all arms and gangly legs, and they resemble nothing so much as baby horses, playing in a meadow. Coltish: it describes them perfectly.

I no longer resemble a baby horse, and it’s difficult for me to believe I ever did. The last seven years have not been kind to my body. To whit:

A half-dozen pregnancies, half of which lasted long enough to become physical experiences spat up from the bowels of hell. (Cumulative weight gain: about 120 pounds. Number of days spent thinking I was dying: all of them.) Two deliveries, one torturous. Twenty-eight months total of exclusive breastfeeding. Punishing insomnia. And so on.

All of this at an age, and a stage of marriage, when I should be sending my kids off to college.

Several months ago I finally started running again, after four and a half straight years of pregnancies and nursing. The first time I went out, it was as if I had commandeered a stranger’s body, heavy and stiff and foreign. My arms couldn’t get in sync with my legs. I struggled through a mile, stopped, and thought My God. What was that?

But I went back the next day, and the next – five days in a row, that first week, feeling like a cadet at boot camp. My knees ached and my shins splinted and my sides stitched. Over the months, as I lengthened my mileage, I ended up running through that high school, past all those teenagers. And it dawned on me, as my lungs burned a hole in my chest: That used to be you. And now it isn’t.

Profound? No. But I had never been forced to confront it before.

Sometimes one of those young girls runs across my path, chasing an errant ball, and then waits to one side until I have passed. I always avoid eye contact. Not just because that’s my Standard Operating Procedure, but because I don’t want to see what I imagine to be in her eyes, what was in my eyes at that age.

A vague censure. That, or complete indifference.

Wait, I want to call out. I am old enough to be the mother of your older siblings. I’ve had two babies recently…there’s a good reason for the cellulite, for the plodding motion. I don’t sleep well. I’m doing the best I can.

If I feel churlish enough, I’ll mentally cry out, Let’s see if you look so good after a quarter century and two babies!

(Did I mention that I’m operating on very little sleep?)

It’s not these girls’ fault – they probably barely notice me. No, it’s my own mind that provides the negative commentary, the comparisons. Most of the baby weight is gone by now, but I feel so different – I am different. I am no longer young, not like that, certainly not mentally. (Nothing will make you feel older, faster, than trying to lift a 34-pound toddler from his crib when your back is spasming because you ridiculously injured it yesterday while getting out of the freaking car.)

It is difficult to reconcile the changes that have taken place. First I was one person, then – days and years later – I was another, and there was no line I crossed, no light that changed to signal the passage. It didn’t happen to me – one day it just had happened, and there I was.

(Having babies late in life probably condensed all of this, for me. When they scrawl “Geriatric Pregnancy” across your chart, it’s not exactly subtle.)

I will be forty in a few weeks. I feel about fifty, but I am fighting back. I take vitamins, when I remember. Three times a week I pull on my running shorts and my good shoes and my cheap stopwatch, and I force myself out the door. The first twenty minutes are torture, every time, but I persist. For my boys, for myself. I try not to do useless, disheartening math problems in my head. Like, “When the youngest graduates from high school, I will be…this old.” Or “When the oldest has his third child, I will be…this old.”

Sometimes, ignorance is best.

We have many, many miles to go before our babies are up and out. Many years of sports and trips and sleepovers and high energy and noise. I will patch this body and mind back together as best I can, and I will keep going. I will try not to drag. I will try not to act my age.

I have brought forth two boys who dazzle me in every way, and I want to explore the universe with them, for as long as I can.

Fading is not an option.