Friday, December 18, 2015

Writing Isn't Playing Hooky

Giacometti and Calder at the National Gallery of Art

Writing isn't playing hooky from your job, family or endless chores. And that can be hard to remember, especially on a writing day that feels so delicious.

The other day, I had a meeting close to the Mall and spent the afternoon wandering in art museums and writing tentative lines in a notebook. I felt like I was cheating. Other people on the street were rushing in uncomfortable heels while I wrote before art.

That afternoon was just the jolt I needed to return home to edit, revise, cut and otherwise strengthen old poems while drafting new ones. We easily get stuck in writing and life ruts. Seeing something new or looking closely at something old in a new way can be just the muse we need.

Of course, writing is work. It takes concentration and careful study of published work and your own work as you craft your voice, form, words and ideas. Always remember why we write: to understand and experience the joy of that understanding. It doesn't always come and sometimes it need to be more than gently pushed, but it can happen.

In 2016, I hope to spend at least four quiet afternoons looking and thinking. What do you do to nudge yourself back to and further along in your writing? How do you return to that writing joy?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thinking of Peace

Humans continue to hurt each other. Why? How come? These are hard questions that I won't pretend to know the answers to. 

It is devastating. 

For now, I return to the poem Revenge by late Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin. I often think of this reading from the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2006. Perhaps one day it will no longer be relevant. You can also watch it here

For more poems, read through Split this Rock's database of social justice poetry

Monday, October 19, 2015

Moving House

We did it! We moved with an energetic toddler. I was pretty sure it would be impossible, but it happened. We are still working on a lot of things, but our belongings are in this home with us and we successfully sleep and eat here every day.

Well, the move happened a few weeks ago. Now you can understand the relative blog-silence this month.

Do I have advice for parent writers moving with kids? Here's the best I've got: Things will go wrong, like with any move (or really, anything). When they did for us, I tried to think, "here it is! One of the things that will go wrong. Now, let's try to solve the problem." At least I tried my best to take that approach. My husband and I kept saying, "We will laugh about this later. Right? Right?"

We hired movers for the first time, which was an enormous help, except that they arrived late, one of them likely drank some of our beer (before I carried it to the new place myself) and finished much, much later than promised.

In the midst of boxes and a toddler who had worn himself out with excitement over the moving truck, we ordered Chinese food that arrived hours late. In the meanwhile, we ate cheesecake on the floor in the new kitchen. Our toddler loved it. He still points at the floor and says, "we eat on the floor! Cheesecake!"

So, with his refrain in mind, we decided to consider the move a success.

We are waiting to have some work done on the new place, including building a gigantic bookcase for all of our books - my poetry, my husband's political science, with some fiction, nonfiction, comics, cookbooks, Italian literature, travel and art history books thrown in. We really can't wait. Studies show that books in a house will help a child learn to read and explore. Also, we love our books.

Leading up to and after the move, the teachers at our son's daycare were very supportive. In fact, one day they dedicated story time to a book about moving homes just for our bambino. He really appreciated it and seemed to recognize his own experience among pictures of boxes. For a list of books for toddlers and preschoolers about moving, check out this page on Stir the Wonder.

For adult thoughts on moving, check out David Ebenbach's beautiful collection of poetry, We Were the People Who Moved.

I've drafted a few poems about moving, but mostly I'm still focused on unpacking, organizing, fixing things and keeping up with the classes I'm teaching. This isn't a fertile writing time, but it is a cleaning up and out time, which feels good.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

M is for Mamma

Our bambino has started to point out letters. He can find the letter "O," one of our nicknames for him, on stop signs as we drive to daycare. We've started to add in "M" for Mamma and "D" for Daddy. He can mostly sing the ABC song - while humming the parts he forgets the same way I sing most popular songs.

These are the first building blocks to reading and writing. I'm so tickled to be a part of his journey. As for adding more letters to find in his surroundings, he's been taken with this recent library book find:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Writerly Tattoo? No, C-Section Scar

I've always wanted a tattoo. At each milestone, starting with moving abroad in 1996, I'd look for the perfect physical reminder to commemorate the moment. Like most things we search for, I realized later that I already have it: my c-section scar.

A friend on Facebook posted that she wanted to get a tattoo of a typewriter. That sounded perfect for this Woman Mother Writer. I've always been held back, though, by the pain of getting the tattoo and the likelihood of being allergic to the ink, since I've always been quite the allergy-prone girl. So I pushed the thought aside.

Then I remembered that I do have physical reminders of one particular achievement. In addition to the scars and calluses from living life, I have a cesarean section scar from giving birth. That thick line across my abdomen that pauses and then starts up as a thin line before fading away was our son's entry point into our dry world.

When I see our bambino, over two years old and his own person, I don't always remember the fact that I carried him. But the c-section scar is my private reminder of the moment our son emerged, squinting in the bright light and listening for our voices.

With time, the scar reminds me less of the difficulty of pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum depression I suffered afterwards, but rather the achievements my family has made together. Time allows us to grow and shift as individuals and a family unit, rather than forget or live alone in the past.

Did you recently have a c-section? Here is helpful advice from the Mayo Clinic about how to care for yourself after the surgery. You might also enjoy this article from Fit Pregnancy about your scar.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Poetry in the Air: Wedding Poetry Ornaments

photo by Susan Brennan

A dear friend asked me to help create "poetry ornaments" to hang on the trees outside her Austin wedding ceremony this weekend. She emailed her friends and invited them to submit poems, original or written by someone else. My mom and I printed them on heavy card stock, punched a hole in the corners and then another friend hung them up the day of the wedding with blue ribbon. Additional poems were spread on the dinner tables inside the tent.

The end result was beautiful. Poetry was in the air, blowing in the breeze, and feeding us. Guests stopped to read the poems in groups and alone.

Some of the friends who submitted poems wrote original poetry for the brides. What a tribute to a beautiful couple starting this new journey surrounded by love, family, friends and poetry.

Here are a few of my favorites from the published poems chosen by friends:
Jane Hirshfield's A Blessing for Wedding
Audre Lorde's Recreation
Li-Young Lee's The Weight of Sweetness
Michael Ondaatje's Cinnamon Peeler

What are your favorite poems celebrating love? 

Friday, August 28, 2015

"No!" to make room for "Yes!"

Our son, like most toddlers, loves the word, "no." He loves to shout, whisper, repeat and sing, "NOOOO!"

We Woman Mother Writers should probably say, "no" more often ourselves. We can't do everything. None of us wears a cape (at least not to work), we can't fly nor can we stop or otherwise manipulate time. That's all to say that we aren't superheroes and we have limits.

Sometimes we shouldn't take on that extra job (looking at you freelancers and adjuncts.) Sometimes we need to stay home to catch up on laundry and wash our hair. And "wash our hair" is not a euphemism; you know how hard it can be to find time to shower sometimes.

Saying, "no," will give us space to regroup and say, "yes" to ourselves and our kids. In the new children's book Wait by Antoinette Portis, a busy mom trying to hurry her child is reminded to "wait" by her curious son. By slowing down, essentially saying, "no" to her busy go-go-go life, they are rewarded by experiencing their surroundings.

Read more about Wait's author, Antoinette Portis, on her author page and a review of the book on Publisher's Weekly.

I first read about Wait and other children's books in Jessica Ralli's piece, Stories that Help Us Stop For a Minute. Click through to read all of her recommendations.

Monday, August 24, 2015

New Daycare Success!

Our son has been at a new daycare for about a month and a half. Its been a relief that he's (usually) excited to go in the morning and wants to stay in the late afternoon. We've found ourselves immediately able to trust the new teachers and learn from them, too.

I was worried about packing his lunch for the first time and remembering the new, seemingly complicated routine. We quickly got acclimated and we're happy to report that he's been eating the packed lunches. Of course I still worry about everything (like, if he eats 100% of his lunch, does that mean I didn't pack enough?)

The first few weeks were a little tricky as our son became comfortable with the new people and environment. And then the daycare was closed for a week for cleaning, which made the return yet another transition.  But now we're there for good, or at least a few years. It is a relief to know that he's safe and the teachers there are taking good care of him.

Phew. Onto the next transition(s).

Monday, August 17, 2015

Advice, Advice, Advice

A few friends have recently shared their news of their pregnancies. I'm excited for them and their growing family's journey. 

And I want to offer each family this advice: Read as much as you can, ask every question you have, and think about what you've learned. And then, with the guidance of experts, make your own decisions. Don't ignore your gut, science or emotions, but try to weigh them appropriately. 

You will receive endless advice about everything, from what fabric swaddling blanket to use to ... well, everything. Choose what to focus on and try to tune the other things out. It is easy to get swept up into everything, but it can't all be important. 

I found pregnancy and early parenthood to be a whirling storm of advice, but it doesn't need to be. Forza, friends! And Auguri! 

Monday, August 3, 2015


You can offer encouragement in Italian by enthusiastically shouting, "Forza!"

And that's what I say to you, dear reader knee deep in pool laundry, art projects, low-humidty day outings, ice pop clean up and everything else summer:


"Forza" literally means, "strength." I know that's what I often need, especially with the extra distractions of summer. You can do it, writer. Block off some time, even just ten minutes a day, to write something. Anything.

Well, not anything. Let's not count those back-to-school lists and to-do lists. Try something else. You might find some inspiration in some of my writing coach blog writing prompts

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Art Projects: Win Some, Lose Some

Our bambino's daycare is closed this week for training and cleaning, so I've been brainstorming art projects to do together. Some were more successful than others, but the resulting dance party was the best.

First, we tried to color homemade binoculars with crayons. That wasn't a success (markers would have worked better on the toilet paper rolls.) Still, our son liked to run around looking through the binoculars, so they did keep him busy and entertained for a while. I suppose that makes the project a success.

Second, we made homemade crayons. Ok, that's a bit of a misnomer. Rather, we salvaged broken crayon parts and melted them into new crayons following these instructions from Instructables. Next time I'll better plan which colors mix together so the colors are more distinct. Or maybe I'll just use the crayons in the box while throwing out the broken pieces.

Following these images, Daddy drew mask shapes onto paper plates that our bambino colored with the new crayons. Daddy also did the cutting. (I may come up with good ideas, but I'm not too crafty myself.)

The masks and the following dance party with the masks were the best part. Adding music and dancing (or spinning and jumping in our son's case) is always the best part.

Here's to air conditioned art projects (without Pinterest!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Talking and Writing About Racism

How do I talk about our country's deep racism with my son? How do I write about it in my poems? I certainly don't have all the answers, but I know that I need to address it now, starting when he is young and now, in all of my poems. There are too many tragedies continuing in our country and sometimes led by young people. Racism will not die out with older generations, nor will my generation's "color blind" education work.

The subject can't be ignored until my son is "old enough." He sees and hears things and is always growing and being shaped by his world. He witnesses my actions, hears my words and plays with a community of friends at daycare and on the playground. That is all to say that we live in America.

I've been editing a poem that directly addresses race and recent events. But I realize that's the wrong approach. Even when I'm not writing about race, race is implied and present. We can't not talk and write about it.

Here were some insightful  articles on the issue of talking with your kids about race and racism from the Atlantic, Slate and PBS.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Keep a Notebook

"The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself." - Joan Didion's On Keeping a Notebook

I continue to teach Joan Didion's short essay, "On Keeping a Notebook," in writing classes because I myself return to it. We writers find ourselves scribbling down notes - observations, images, thoughts - because we must. There's something we want to understand or remember for later. Sometimes we remember the context, sometimes we don't even remember the moment. But the process of writing something down is dear to us. 

Didion describes us: "Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss."  Do we write what we want to remember, save for later, or relive? We don't necessarily write what happened; this kind of notebook isn't a diary. There could be a color or a sentiment we want to remember and, perhaps, write into another context.

My son is two years old and scribbling with whatever he can find: my pen over the grocery list from the perch of the shopping cart or a crayon on mail or that (damn!) toy's tail that leaves marks on the wall. What is he thinking? Does he want to simply fill in the space or is he preserving ideas? (According to the pediatrician, he's strengthening his small hand muscles.)

I bought him a small wire bound notebook. He's filled most of the pages or, at least, the pages he hasn't torn out. I keep it in my purse to fill the time or save my own pen and notebook when I'm trying to write.

I wonder what he'll write once he learns to write the alphabet, then words and then organizes the words into sentences and paragraphs.

Read Didion's full essay here

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thank you to River Road Montgomery Child Care Association

The Maples' painted garden

On Monday, our bambino started to transition to a new daycare closer to home. We're both back to ground zero as he acclimates (more on that soon), but also so much further along than that first day he attended Montgomery Child Care Association's River Road Center. We will truly miss everyone at River Road who took such good care of all three of us, from our son's presence in the classroom to a certain nervous mamma's regular calls in the beginning.

We want to thank the creative and attentive teachers at River Road for caring for our bambino these last seven months. He learned so much, including sitting in a toddler-sized chair with his friends to eat lunch, which seemed like an insurmountable task at first. He really loved working on group art projects with his group, the Maples. He learned so many new words and actions and tasted new foods, like peas and lemons, that he asks for at home now. We've grown, too, watching him and learning from the teachers, his peers and other parents.

Thank you, all. We'll miss you and never forget our bambino's first school. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Favorite Alphabet Books for Kids

One great joy of motherhood has been reading to our son. Here are some favorite alphabet books that we return to often:

Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli 
Harry N. Abrams; Brdbk edition (August 6, 2013)
This board book includes sturdy cut out letters hiding surprises on the next page. Pages are easy to turn, even by little fingers. The bright, cheery designs are inviting and informative. My favorite one is "X": a cut out X for X-Ray that reveals the bones in a hand on the opposite page.

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! by Kate Schatz 
City Lights Publishers (March 23, 2015)
This new alphabet book is bold in every way: design and content. Great black and white drawings of strong women on brightly colored pages. Across from each drawing is a page-long biography of the highlighted woman to teach older readers history, while encouraging their own futures. An inspiration.

Paul Thurlby's Alphabet by Paul Thurlby
Templar (October 11, 2011)
Each page of this beautiful, retro-inspired book integrates a letter of the alphabet into a design. My favorite is "N" for newspapers, created by cut outs from the New York Times. The colors, faces and variety make the letters memorable for our littlest reader, too. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Money & Kids & Writers

When we were getting married, friends and family encouraged us to discuss finances as completely as possible. Financial disputes are known predictors of divorce. It is easy to see if religious and political views align, but it is harder to talk about the almost endless aspects of individual and merged finances. How much will each make, save and spend? What are we each willing to give up in order to gain something else? What will we teach a future child about finances?

As I make college and graduate loan payments and list things to buy during future holiday sales, I think about this. There's the obvious beginning: counting and how to determine a per unit cost.

Then there are the more complex financial lessons about preparing for a life, starting with choosing first jobs, college, career and social choices. How much to save for housing, retirement, clothes, technology, and more? Everything can be added and subtracted, but surprises happen. There are clear professional paths with likely incomes and murkier ones, like a writer's life.

It is a privilege to dedicate time to a writer's life rather than spending every minute working for cash and worrying about shelter and food. There are sacrifices that need to be made to find that time while also supporting ourselves. Those "sacrifices" aren't painful because of the delicate balance my husband and I have decided on and work to maintain.

How will we teach our son these lessons that we've learned both organically and sometimes painfully? Here are some interesting and (fairly) recent articles on this large topic. What else would you add?

Most People In the World Have No Idea How to Manage Their Money (Atlantic)

Student Loan Facts They Wish They Had Known (NYT)

The Five Biggest Financial Mistakes Young Parents Make (I'd edit that to read "new" instead of "young"...) Parents 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Poem @ The Brilliant Meal

Thank you to Anna Napp for sharing my poem, Permission to Stay, as well as a brief explanation about the poem's creation, on her website The Brilliant Meal. Anna's literary food blog offers beautiful stories, recipes, photographs and insight. I hope you'll look around the site and explore.

Anna's request to share something on her blog came at a fortuitous time - my birthday. As a friend texted me this morning, I'm turning 21 again. As with all milestones, I've been reflecting on the past and thinking about the future. I lived in Italy for four years, one as a student and three as an employee at NYU in Florence. Now, all grown up with a husband, son and different career, I'm living in Washington, D.C. And we're plotting to return to live in Italy temporarily in a few years. Life is filled with circular and straight narratives that intertwine.

The poem's title, Permission to Stay, reflects on the question of who can give and accept permission. The title comes from an Italian police document, but the meaning moves beyond the law. In this new year of mine, what permissions will I be given and carve out for myself?

Thank you again to my dear Sarah Lawrence MFA friend, Anna, for the opportunity to think about these issues and share a poem. I hope we can break bread in the same city together one day soon, preferably with a glass of wine.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Are you writing?

A writer asked me recently if I'm writing.

"Suuurre," I answered, drawing the word out. I have enough projects moving forward that I could talk about something. It could sound like I'm writing. I've been thinking about writing, commenting on student work and picking out children's books for my son at the library. Those are all writing-related activities, right? Suuurre.

But have I sat down in the last week or so and written a new poem? Edited an older poem? Submitted a poem? Read an (adult) poetry book?

Well, no. I have not done any of those things.

I want to do those things. But there are endless excuses: Grading! House hunting! Taking on new writing coach clients! Cleaning! Food shopping! Laundry! More cleaning! Paying quarterly taxes! Weaning our son off the bottle (a second time)! Taking our son to the doctor! Making dinner! More food shopping and cleaning! Afternoon napping after being woken up with our son at night!

And the excuses continue like that. I have my writing-to-do list so that I can use short periods of time to complete a task. Instead, have I been catching up on Game of Thrones during lunch? Have I been shopping online for a booster seat for our son? As the bambino would say with both jazz hands extended, "YES!"

If I were poet Leah Umansky, I might write a poem about Game of Thrones. But I'm not. I just watch the show, talk to my husband about it and forget about it. And I keep window shopping online as I look for sales.

That's it. Today is June 2. It is time to focus and write this summer.

Good vibes to all the writers balancing work, family life and writing. And please send some my way. (When you have time.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Happiest birthday to our Bambino!

An almost two-year-old watching a panda snack 
at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. 

Two years ago, our son was born. He was fairly annoyed at the dry world and I couldn't get out of bed after a cesarean. Two years later, he can run through a field and drink water out of a cup. I can even leave him alone in a room to play for a a few moments as I make coffee.

We stop to look at ants on the sidewalk and clap when a song on the radio ends. He dances in his car seat, on the sidewalk, in his crib and anywhere he hears a tune or creates one himself. He can jump high, flapping his arms for momentum. At the end of the day, he likes to show me the firetruck he played with at daycare. He's started to ask for help to climb ladders on playgrounds and explores places I can't always fit to follow him.

The other day, while pushing him up a hill in his stroller, he kept pointing out "animals." There were bugs and squirrels and birds. I started to tune him out. It was hot and I wanted to get us both home. "Yes, animals," I agreed with him, "uh huh." And then suddenly he shouted, " Mamma! AN-I-MALS!"

I turned to look where he was pointing. There were two horses being ridden by police officers coming down the road and then past us on the sidewalk into the park. There were indeed animals. Two giant ones I might have ignored as I focused on getting home.

To you, bambino, I wish you a year of joy and many, many surprises. And I hope you'll continue to share them both with me.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Library Books Vs. MINE

One night our sleeping son sat up in his crib and shouted, "Mine!" and then resumed a peaceful position.

I wish we knew what he was dreaming. We do know that he (like other toddlers) is challenged by the idea of ownership and sharing. He and his peers on the playground argue about whose turn it is and who owns what, including the slide and Mamma.

Perhaps regular visits to the library will help him to understand what it means to share, take turns and care for something in someone else's absence. We visit almost weekly and always leave with an armful of books. We're hopeful that our bambino is starting to understand the idea of choosing books to borrow for a period of time.

I led a workshop at the local library and returned home with new books for him. When he saw the books, he exclaimed, "Library books!" Happily, he recognized them immediately as not his. We keep these books in a special section of the shelf and he's become an expert at separating them from the books that are indeed his.

In the library, I love watching him look through the books and turn the pages. One day soon he'll be reading the words himself. Right now he points to the words and says, "ABCs!"

What are your favorite books to borrow from the library? We've enjoyed some of the Dinosaur Vs. series. Click through to watch videos and download coloring sheets. We look forward to coloring Dinosaur Vs. The Library!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all the women who mother in many, any and all capacities. To the mammas, grandmothers, aunts, friends, neighbhors, teachers, caregivers, nurses, doctors, nannies, babysitters and more.

Forget the endless competition about everything (disposable diapers! cloth diapers!) and mommy wars. Let's love those near and far and those residing in the past, present and future.

That is to say, three cheers to all the Woman Mother Writers out there. I hope you can enjoy a treat, rest and place to write today and throughout the year.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Out of Town and Back Again

I’m back from a successful visit to Fitchburg State University and an invigorating visit to Boston to visit with college friends. And when I returned, everything was ok with my family. I’m back at my desk feeling both professional and loved.
I was invited to Fitchburg State University by Dr. DeMisty Bellinger-Delfeld to give a reading, food writing talk and Q&A. I loved preparing for the events. I had an opportunity to think seriously about food writing in connection to my Italian definition poems. It was also flattering to be interviewed for the school paper before my arrival. 

Later in Boston with my college friends, it was dreamy to have time to talk, laugh, even cry, eat and drink throughout Boston. It has been almost 20 years (!!!) since we were all on campus together at Smith College. We can still start up right again as if we were back at a round table in the flower wallpapered dining room.

Our children need to see us doing things for our professional and personal lives. And we need to do those things. Is it hard to find the time, money and generally organize such things to happen? Yes, for sure. Did I prepare too much lasagna for my boys and generally spend too much time organizing all the things my husband knows how to do? Sure. Maybe next time I can relax before leaving, too, as my own confidence builds.

Away, I took long showers in the hotel and caught up on Poets & Writers and New Yorker issues over breakfast. What a delight to have some extra quiet time to think and rest. 

I am so happy to be back home with my boys in my arms again, ready to color with the littlest one and catch up on everything he’s done with the biggest one.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Off to Fitchburg State University! Or: "Networking" also means "Friendship"

I'm very excited to be headed to Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts later this week to give a poetry reading and food writing talk. It has been intellectually and creatively invigorating to plan the talk and choose poems to read. Since my talks are supported by the Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio Endowment, which focuses on Italian and Italian American culture, I'll be focusing the influence of Italian food and language on food writing and my own poetry. (Yes, I snacked too much during the prep work.)

I'm sad to leave the bambino again (and so soon.) But both he and my husband did great while I was away at the AWP conference. I know they'll be ok again, just as we were ok the following week when he traveled for a conference.

The trip to Fitchburg State was facilitated by another Woman Mother Writer, DeMisty Bellinger-Delfeld. You might remember her from a post here about writing resources for parents. We met at a Bread Loaf Writers' Conference a few years ago and have kept in touch as friends and colleagues. While the term "networking" can sound cold, the act of getting to know someone can turn into a friendship that includes collegial connections.

DC Freelance Writer Jessica Sillers writes about networking in her recent post-AWP piece, "4 Ways to Keep Up Your Conference High" (with a kind shout-out, too.) I encourage all writers, and especially women, to get to know each other and learn about each other's strengths. Support each other as friends and writers. Be generous and share what you know while listening to what that other person knows.

It can make a difference to everyone. After all, we're all in this together. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cherry Blossom Petals Falling at Dumbarton Oaks' Gardens

One afternoon last week, while I should have been working and writing, Nonna and I snuck out to Dumbarton Oaks' Gardens and Museum. We sat beneath this canopy of cherry trees whose petals were falling with every breeze.

I'd love to write about the magical, fairy-tale experience of being surrounded by pale pink petals, but only cliches come to mind (magical, fairy-tale). Perhaps cliches are cliches for a reason. Regardless, I'll leave you with this video and keep trying to find the words or metaphor to describe this moment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis

After being away for four nights, I returned to... normal. What a relief.

The taxi from the airport dropped me off at home just as our bambino was waking up from his afternoon nap. I snuck in and watched him as he sat up in his crib and rubbed his eyes. When he saw me, he put his arms up, as if I'd never left. I picked him up and held him for a few moments as he adjusted to being awake. Then he focused on my face, dived in for a tight hug and yelled, "mine!"

While the toddler "mine" phase is generally less pleasant, this particular "mine" melted my heart.

I was relieved that flying to Minneapolis to participate in the AWP Writer's Conference was successful all around. I caught up with writer friends I both adore and admire, attended fascinating panels and readings, rested a bit, saw some of the city and returned home, all while my husband and son continued to work, go to daycare and play together.

Yes, I missed them both, mostly the littlest one who can't email or text message, with my full body. I also had the chance to be re-immersed in the world where I belong and I'm not known simply as, "O's mother." I was a writer, as I have been professionally for years.

And that all feels good. Now its time to read, write, edit, submit and otherwise get back to being a woman mother writer.

Monday, April 6, 2015

AWP: Conference & Quiet Hotel Room

I'm excited to travel to Minneapolis later this week to present and read at the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference.

That is to say, I'm excited to wear one hat (the writer hat), for a few days and leave my mamma hat at home. Sure, I'm always a mamma and I'll miss my bambino, but I'm also a writer (with a hat?)

I'm also excited to sleep in a hotel room without one ear alert listening for cries. There have been so many long nights... wait, I don't have you tell you any of that. You know.

This is all to say that there are a lot of contradicting emotions.

I have my business cards and presentation notes packed. I also have old copies of the New Yorker that I hope to catch up with on the plane when I travel alone. Alone at a conference with more than 12,000 attendees that includes over 2,000 presenters and 550 readings. It shouldn't take long to peruse the 700 presses, journals and literary organizations at the book fair. Sure, this should be relaxing and rejuvenating.

In all seriousness, it will be rejuvenating (maybe not relaxing). It is important to be the writer I was and am and stay immersed in the community. And it is good for our son to know that I do these things, too.

Sure, I'm fairly OCD and want to plan everything for them to eat and do while I'm gone, but really, why should their special time be spent trying to mimic what Mamma does? I am nervous about the things that my son relies on me to do and my husband balancing a two-person routine as one, even though I know he can do it. And I'm nervous about keeping up with my classes and taking as much advantage of this opportunity as possible. Luckily, I'll have a few full nights of sleep to sort it out.

In the mornings when my husband is going to be traveling or working late, I tell my son, "tonight we're having a special night together!" This week's mantra is, "You'll get to have some special time with Daddy for a few nights!' And I know they'll look forward to it, too. We should all miss each other sometimes, as well as have special one-on-one time together.

See you on the other, bambino-missing side. I am already excited about the reunion on Sunday. And during the trip, I'll have my phone and laptop with hundreds of pictures and videos to watch when I start to miss him, which means right now, while he's at daycare and I should be working.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Male and Female: Kids & Written Characters

I often read lists about how it is "hard to parent a (fill in "boy" or "girl.") The lists, including things like, "get ready to do laundry, mothers of boys," box our children into gender roles before they can even pronounce the words "boy" or "girl."

Yes, I do have a sense of humor and acknowledge the dominant, traditional view, but we don't need to perpetuate this view. Babies aren't flirting and and don't have firmly set gender or sexual identities.

The other day, another mom told me about how she sewed her daughter's tutu but, after looking at our son, added that I won't have to worry about those things. Another mom told me that she has some plates her daughter doesn't need anymore, but she can't give them to our son because they are "girly." "Girly" things aren't lesser than "boy" things and, perhaps, our son would like them. Or not. It is up to him.

Our son likes to carry my purse because, as he says while pointing at my shoulder, "Mamma!" Mamma does it, and so he wants to do it. He tries to wear his father's snow boots because, as he says while pointing at Daddy's feet, "Daddy!" Daddy wears them, so he wants to, too. 

Our son loves to point out trucks, but he also likes to brush my hair. He's a person learning about the things that people around him do. He needs to eat, sleep, clean himself (or be cleaned) and stay as safe as possible. Beyond that, we hope he has enough choices available to him to make the ones that are right for him. 

Our son might be traditionally male or female for part or all of his life. He is likely to fall somewhere in the middle of this strangely rigid spectrum and move around, too, depending on his current interests. 

When I work as a writing coach and carefully read a manuscript, I sometimes find myself tongue-tied about the gender roles portrayed by characters. I want the author to be true to the characters, but I wish we didn't live in a world where a "soft fabric" is marked as being feminine and "yard work" is marked as a male activity. I advise the authors to be true to the characters as people by avoiding stereotypes and to round out each character as much as possible.

If a writer doesn't take herself terribly seriously in a memoir (i.e. noting faults and failings), then she should do the same for others. Let the characters, fictional or not, be fully developed people who have preferences because they have them, not because someone looked at their body and superimposed gender roles on them. 

Ultimately, the trick is not only to do this in writing, but in real life. We must look at the people around us and notice what they are doing as people.

People. Not men or women. People.

No matter what current laws are or aren't succeeding or intending to do. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Words! Parole! Words! Parole!

Spring day singing

I may be a poet, but my son is better than I am at finding rhyming sounds and combining words in surprising ways. Right now "Elmo," "apple" and "elbow" are getting mixed up in his mind. When he says short sentences like, "eat Elmo," I giggle at the idea and rejoice in his playing with language. 

Children learn extensively from their peers. Our bambino started daycare in December and a combination of the interaction with peers and the developmental stage he's in, he's had bursts of new words. This morning, he surprised me by pointing at the door and shouting, "door!" (He also surprised me by slamming it shut, but... that's something else.)

Toddlers are hard to understand and so I'm only mostly sure that he hasn't said any words in Italian yet. He can point at objects and body parts when I name them in Italian, but he doesn't repeat the words or sounds. There are many myths about bilingual children, including that they learn to speak more slowly. From his actions and spoken language in English, he shows that he understands more words every day, rather than very few. 

Each new word seems to give him a sense of power. Since he could first ask for cheese and then find cheese on his plate, he is visually thrilled by what words can do. I look forward to hearing him not only name things, but describe his more complicated thoughts. 

Toddlers reach linguistic milestones (and every other milestone) at different paces and in different ways. Talk regularly with your kids, even "parentese" conversations that help them to hear and experiment with sounds, reads lots of books to them while pointing at the pictures and discussing the book, and sing, sing, sing. Model correct language use, including vocabulary and grammar, rather than correcting them. 

As for my poems, I'll try to follow his example of surprise and sound relationships between words. I've found my new muse. 

Click through for earlier posts related to bilingualism.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Planning Ahead (or, "Previous Pregnant Panic")

As tax day approaches, I remember being pregnant in 2013 and organizing our tax documents in what is now the baby's room. It seemed to me that if I didn't do everything - everything - before the baby arrived, I'd never get it done. I wanted to organize the documents for my taxes for the last year and the following 18, even though I (mostly) understood the impossibility of it all.

I couldn't imagine having time to do anything once the baby was here. If I could have showered in advance to knock that off of my list, I would have.

My mental do-list was long and varied, including: Finish my poetry manuscript and submit, food shop for every panty item we might ever need and grade papers for classes that weren't yet open for registration. As it turned out, our son arrived three weeks early and so many things were left unfinished the moment he arrived. And we all made it through unharmed.

The morning I went into labor, my husband installed the car seat and I put the last item - socks - into the hospital bag. Maybe we somehow knew the moment was coming or maybe that Saturday was just the time we had. I didn't know that the next evening some poetry friends had organized a small shower for me. I was sad to have missed that celebration, as well as finishing our son's room quietly at midday, without the bustle of visitors and a constantly hungry baby.

We had diapers, a crib, car seat and some infant clothes when he arrived in the dry world. While these were the basic necessities and could ask for help if needed more, I was panicked. What would our son, a then-stranger growing inside of me, think of this unprepared woman placed in charge of him?

It turns out he liked and likes me, unprepared and prepared. And I am quite smitten with him.

Our son turns two in three months and the winter, along with the incessant colds and snow days, has melted away. I've showered most days and not only finished a manuscript, but started to submit it for publication. I have a crazy long to-do list and try to work ahead, just in case something unexpected comes up (as it often does,) but I also try to be here in the moment.

Our taxes are organized and there are growing piles on my desk, but yesterday my son and I played peekaboo under a blanket-fort when he was home from daycare. Today, the piles are still there and the sky hasn't fallen. He's back in daycare, so we couldn't play peekaboo today and I can work through those piles. I'm glad to have spent the (available) time together, even if I did glance at my desk a few times.

I'm hopeful about the spring and having some time to catch up, work ahead and spend more time playing outside with our son. Playing when the sun is shining, regardless of what has or hasn't been done yet.

I try to remember that it will all get done. And when some things don't, I embrace my inner Jersey girl: fuggedaboutit!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Gearing up for National Poetry Month!

National Poetry month is almost here! Over on my writing coach blog, Chloe Yelena Miller,  I'll be hosting guest writers on the subject of poetry throughout the month. A couple of those posts will be about writing as a parent and I'll be sure to share some links here, too.

Not having the time to take an in-person class, I've signed up for a MOOC hosted by Stanford and led by the amazing poet Eavan Boland, Ten Premodern Poems by Women. If you're interested in MOOCs and looking for another course, University of Pennsylvania's MOOC Modern & Contemporary American Poetry will be starting again in September. With videos, online discussion and more, these courses are a great (free, low stress) way to keep up with your study of poetry. The weekly assignments help you to integrate poetry into your everyday life. Perfect for the busy mamma!

For more ways to celebrate, check out the Academy of American Poets' website

Monday, February 23, 2015

Not Writing? Go Ahead and Complain

I often find myself sharing complaints about our lack of time with other parent writers. Or about how we aren't writing. Or reading. And how tired we are. We whine and glorify the "old" days of residencies, conferences and MFA programs.

These complaints matter. Finding a community of other parent writers helps to remind you, the one changing a million diapers, taking the dirty diapers out to the garbage in the snow and then buying more diapers, that you are also a writer.

We are all in this together.

The particular writer-parent friendship can mean the world to another writer-parent. Take a few precious moments to share your frustrations with writer parent friends and then encourage each other. Offer to babysit / have a playdate so the other parent can write and then swap so the other can write. Live too far away from each other to see each other? Listen on the phone or via email and offer emotional support.

As I tell my writing workshop students after a productive, in-class five minute free-writing exercise, we can (usually) all find five minutes to sit down and write. Remember that even just five minutes a day can add up.

As the Italians say, "Forza!" Strength! You can do it, friend. I know you can.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Washington, D.C., Indoor Spaces to Play

Apparently snow is on its way to our nation's capital. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite indoor places to take the bambino to play:

National Building Museum
Big open spaces, child friendly exhibits and rooms built for playing (like the Building Zone)

Soft Playroom in Alexandria
Awesome room built for the youngest crowd - everything is soft and ready for climbing. 

Wilson high school pool
Beautiful and clean facility including family changing rooms (complete with showers) and a warm, kids' pool with a beach entrance.

Need more ideas? I follow the D.C. version of Red Tricycle for ideas and local events. Besides the D.C. library system, which I'm in love with, what else would you add? 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sick Day(s) Turned into One Vacation Day (Giorno!)

My son has been home sick most of the week. Sick days (and nights) are hard on everyone, but this GI virus left us with a final recovery day that was more of a sweet vacation day. Since our bambino spends most of his days at daycare now, it was particularly nice to be together and ignore work briefly (sorry, students.)

The virus started slowly and hit my son hard. There was little sleeping, eating, drinking or peaceful rest; there was endless cleanup, fever and pain. I felt under the weather, too, from illness or exhaustion or both.

We visited the doctor just as the virus was peaking and then we turned the corner a few days after the start. The fever slowed down, but since he can't return to daycare until he's been fever free for 24 hours, we stayed home together a bit more.

Self-directed play has been proven to be best for younger children (and probably, by extension, adults). While I encourage cleaning up toys after he's done with them, I let him lead the way for the last day when he had the energy to move around. He stuck stickers on the Valentine's day owl balloon, added stuffed animals to a diaper box, moved legos in and out of a paper bag, poked his head through a foam puzzle-box we built, danced to the car alarm on the street, watched three huge hawks flying in the distance and lined up toys on the high chair steps.

There was also lots of chatting in Italian. I can't wait to understand more of his sounds and have more insight into his thoughts. I'm speaking to our bambino in Italian as much as possible, but he mostly hears English throughout his day. Over the last few days, his toy-filled bath time has gone like this:

In Italian, I ask him to find the duck toy. He does. I repeat, "Anatra!" He points and says, "Duck!"
In Italian I ask him to find the boat toy. He does. I repeat, "Barca!" He points and says, "Boat!"
And that repeats until we run out of words he can say in English. And then we laugh.

He hasn't said a (recognizable) word in Italian yet. He does seem to understand a lot of it, though. I know it will take him a long, long time to become a descriptive, reliable narrator about his thoughts, feelings and experiences, but I'm very much looking forward to it. In either language, but hopefully both.

For now, I'll rely on the smiles, laughter and kisses distributed evenly to the stuffed owls and his parents to let us know he's happy.

And the writing lesson from all of this? Get down on your hands and knees, even if that requires a gardening knee pad at bath time, and explore. You don't know what new objects and actions you'll discover pair well together.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Vaccinate for All of Us

A new mother suffering from post-partum depression, I watched my husband and two nurses hold down my infant son for two vaccines. The nurses stuck each of his tiny thighs with long needles. I cried as he screamed; my emotions told me what we were doing was wrong.

But my head – the part that has read about vaccines and public health – knew we were right to follow the recommended immunization schedule. There’s a saying that “mother knows best and she should trust her instincts.” In this and many other hard moments in motherhood, my instincts have been proven wrong. Instincts and emotions can lead us far from facts and necessary, hard choices.

I have to rely on the scientific method and results – like our once, not-so-distant eradication of measles in the United States – as I make my decisions. I went to graduate school to study poetry, not medical school to study medicine. I’ve read many articles about health, as well as asked our doctors questions. I trust their knowledge, experience and expertise.

We humans are animals and we need to work to keep our species healthy. Five infants, humans who are too young to receive the vaccine, were diagnosed with measles today at an Illinois daycare. Five infants who can do nothing but rely on adults to care for them and keep them safe. If we had herd immunity, as we recently did, infants and those with medical conditions who cannot be vaccinated, would be safe from the disease.

As Sarah Kliff wrote for Vox the other day, “Vaccination is not a personal decision. It is a social obligation.” As members of a community, we need to care for one another, especially those who are the most vulnerable among us.

This means being vaccinated for ourselves and others in order to stop diseases from spreading.

Right now in the United States, there are loopholes for parents who have “religious and personal exemptions” and can opt out of vaccinating their children. If we close those loopholes, then we will be, once again, safe from diseases we shouldn’t have to worry about killing us.

Hopefully this will happen in California and across our nation. As Kevin Drum writes for Mother Jones, “If this were purely a personal choice, I'd go ahead and let parents decide. But it's not. It's a public health issue, and our top priority should be protecting public health.” 

Read more about vaccine safety from the CDC.