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. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Writers Write (And Think About Writing)

Noticing the world around us is the first step to writing

At a party this weekend, someone asked me if it is true that writers can't help but write.

"Yes," I answered enthusiastically, hoping that he didn't notice that I was blushing.

With all of my scheduling time to write, piles of books to read and lists of ideas and submission deadlines, I haven't been writing this year. Not really. My son has been sick, I've been sick, my husband's been sick, and I'm busy with teaching, not to mention laundry, cleaning up and more cleaning up after a toddler.

Writers write and I should be writing.

As ambiguous and wishy-washy as this sounds, I've been thinking a lot about writing. Lines of poetry have come and gone and some of them have been written down. I've noticed sunlight on the floor and my son's dimple and tried to memorize these images with words.

I have been blogging, which is writing, although different from poetry writing, and teaching writing. I think and talk about writing all day. Last month I went to a poetry reading and drafted one (terribly emotional and not-for-public-viewing) poem.

Writing is how I comprehend the world. Chosen words placed in a particular order and the pauses between them allow me to make sense of things, whether I've read or written them. I leave you with these lines from a poem by Gregory Orr:

from Untitled {a house just like his mother's}
by Gregory Orr

A house just like his mother’s,
But made of words.


Did I mention
That everyone he loved
Lives there now,

In that poem
He called “My Mother’s House?”