Mama got a byline

Two days ago there was a 8x5.5, unevenly folded, two-stapled magazine in my mail box, it's light lavender cover showing a pregnant mother earth holding up the sun and moon. I don't usually subscribe to such "hippie" mailings but I was particularly excited to have this publication show up at my door. Before I had even broken the tape seal I was jumping up and down in anticipation of what was inside.

And there it was... on the very first page!

My essay, my name: my first published work.

I don't care one bit that I was not paid or that it isn't in a full-sized glossy printed somewhere bigger and more important sounding. I actually love the fact that my first published essay is in a zine, lovingly put together in a small town just over the mountain by people who know people I know (I even know one of the other authors through my former job). I don't care that the number of readers will be tiny compared to those of the big "shinys." My only care is that I am on my way - to where exactly, I don't know, but I am on the path I have envisioned for myself for over a decade. And I sincerely thank the editor of Mama Says for giving me a leg up.

In March 1997, I wrote in my journal:

When I peer into an undated future (maybe 10 years)... I see myself in my own home, married... I never think of myself working [outside the home], no I'm writing... in a sunny room with birds singing outside the window...

Well, here I am twelve years later writing at a big desk in a sunny room (well, it would be sunny if this wasn't Vermont in mid January, and granted, I am only home from work today because my children are full of the ague). And next to me pinned to my cork board is the little magazine opened to a page with the title, "God and Condoms" with my name printed right below it.

I truly believe in manifesting your dreams, especially in writing. So many things have fallen into place for me because I had visualized and wrote about them first.

I have put in writing many times before my hope of becoming a freelance writer (and I am kind of partial to those paying types of jobs, please) but I am visualizing it here and now for you all to share (bear with me, s'il vous plait). I also have a new dream brewing.

OK, it's 2014. It is actually sunny in my sunny writing room. My children are at school (because in this dream they are never sick and preventing me from working) and I have a deadline for an essay I'm submitting to Brain, Child (my 5th one for them). This evening I will be walking over to the studio I have created in our converted garage to teach a journal workshop.

There's my mini dream. My nose is pointed down a path. I don't know the twists and turns the path will take but I know I will get somewhere good in the end.

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The irony is killing me, literally

Well, my back, anyway.

I can't afford to go to the chiropractor. Why?

Because my health insurance premiums are too high.

Let me repeat that.

I can't afford to get my health taken care of because the health insurance premium I pay each month to keep me and my family healthy is so out-of-the-park expensive compared to our income that I can't pay the out-of-the-park expensive co-pays.

Of course, if my child is peaking a fever of 104.7 then $30 is a small expense compared to her well-being. If I am doubled over with a spine as crooked as a Chicago politician, then OK, $30 it is. But if Mama is feeling a little stiff, it hurts when I move my neck like this, and there are knots the size of walnuts across my shoulders, then $30 is a bottle of milk, a loaf of good bread, and an afternoon at the skating rink with my children. I can keep my neck immobile while performing a perfect pirouette, no problem.

Now, some could say, stop yer gripin', at least you have insurance. I know, I know... don't get me started on that subject. I think it is despicable that families are having to decide if that fever of 104.7 is worth a trip to the ER or if they can just ride it out with some Tylenol and a bath. But that's not my topic today. The bottom line is, this insurance business is a bunch of rotten broccoli: touted as an essential anti-acci-dant but not worth one penny of what you actually get, and leaves a really bad taste in your mouth.

I went back to work for the sole reason we needed health insurance. My husband's employer offered it at an insanely high rate. My place of work offers a more reasonable premium (and when I say reasonable, I mean, are you freakin' kidding me?). I don't want to be working but I also don't want my children (or my junk-food lovin' husband) to be without insurance in the case of an emergency. So everyday I tear myself away from my writing to go sit in a dank office with a office mate who talks into the phone as if the person on the other end is actually at the end of a can and string in Alaska just so I can, after paying the insurance and daycare costs, bring home approximately $3.53 a week. Does that make ANY sense?

Stuck. I have to stay at work in order to get "affordable" health insurance which we don't use on a month-to-month basis because we are essentially healthy, can't use because we don't have $30 for the co-pays, but can't lose because it is insurance for an unknown future.

So, today I am eagerly awaiting the "crowning" of our new leader. I am not expecting miracles from him, just a little more judicious policy-making... and a nice deep muscle massage for me achin' back.

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Knee, meet Eye

Tator has a new habit. 4AM, rock-hard knee, my eyeball. Need I say more?

Well, as this is supposed to be a blog about writing and being a writing mama, I'll expand this to say, that when knee meets eye, my brain fires into action and starts forming sentences about the experience before Tator has even finished squirming into position between B and me.

So, at 4AM I am forced out of bed, not by my sweaty son, but by my compulsion to write.

Today I was lucky. It was 7AM and I only have a fat lip rather than an empty eye socket. But here I am telling my few loyal readers about it as if it is the most important event to have happened this side of midnight. Meanwhile Tator is pulling on me demanding his breakfast as if he hasn't eaten since Monday.

Who wins? The words bouncing in my head, itching to get out and onto the paper (screen) or the hungry 2-year old who can say, Ieee wan cer-e-AAAL, fifty-seven times in increasing volume with no breath in between?

Tator wins; my ear drums can take no more and I don't fancy getting arrested for child neglect today.

And so the battle continues between my two lives....

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Can't I poop in peace?

Yes, actually I can... and that was exactly the problem. I should have known. It was too quiet.

"Yay-eee!" From the other side of the bathroom door I hear his cute little sing-songy voice. While I manage to flush the toilet I don't give myself the time to do up my pants - I have a feeling this is going to be a bad one...

"Look, Mama, look."

He holds up this blackness that I can't distinguish as anything familiar. And then I realize it's dripping. Dripping black. A bottle. And it's empty.


I grab the bottle and then him, not knowing what to do with either. I plop him on the sink. My hands are now covered in ink... and my pants are still undone.

He stands up, his feet bleeding black down the drain. When I ask him to sit down he grabs my arm for support, leaving a long smudge on my sleeve - thank goodness I'm a drab dresser and always wear chocolate brown. I'm trying to figure out what to clean first and with what. I don't want to ruin my towels. I'm also aware that when presented to me the bottle was empty, which means the contents (that aren't all over Tator, me, or the sink) are somewhere else.

I finally get my hands sufficiently clean to do up my pants and I venture out into the hall. Little black footprints lead me to the scene of the crime. There I am presented with an oil spill of toddler proportions... and a cat... about to walk through it. I grab him, but not before his front paws hit the puddle. I shoo him away and he skitters off leaving a trail of kitty prints along side the human ones.

My house was built in 1870. The floors are oak with cherry inlays. Beautiful. They're one of the reasons I fell in love with this house. 139 year-old floors in almost perfect condition and in less than one minute - big black splat. And I discovered I don't own a bucket. A mop, yes; bucket, no.

All this happens at 8:48AM, two minutes before I am supposed to leave for work... and then I discover T has pooped in his clean diaper...

Honestly, I'd be surprised if he hadn't.

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I heart Fudd

Stratched into the metal railing of a bridge are the words, "I "heart" Fudd." I was 13 years old, and for that week I did indeed love Fudd. Twenty-three years later I am waking up on an icy morning knowing I still love him, as do many, many others.

Today at 11AM I will attending the funeral of my classmate (whose nickname I never learned the origin - probably will today), aged 36, husband and father. He died last weekend of a heart attack. I learned the news on the modern day grapevine, Facebook. I couldn't believe what I was reading. A friend's status said she was saddened by a classmate's sudden passing. I did some investigating by browsing other profiles. Each hour another classmate's status was changed to reflect their shock as the word spread. The Class of 1990, along with hundreds of others in this community, was dumbfounded and grieving. Within hours there was a memorial page put up for him. At my last look 168 members had joined with almost all writing messages to their lost friend (or to his wife and daughter). His own profile page has countless other notes of love, written, no doubt, with the hope Fudd can still log on from wherever he is. His guest book linked to his online newspaper obituary is also over flowing with words of thanks and love for this man.

Fudd lived on the same bus route as me during school and I can remember the giggly wiggles I would get in my stomach when he "let" me sit next to him. He was always funny and sweet. I can picture his smile in my mind right now. Everyone knew Fudd. He somehow escaped the harsh catagorizing of high school - he was liked by all cliques. He played the drums and sang in the choir. He hunted. He loved sports. I think he may have played basketball - from the bench mostly, if I remember right - but he had the guts to play because he loved the game.

When I returned to England for a while before I began high school, he became my penpal. I carried his wallet-sized 8th grade photo with me over the ocean where my best friend promptly fell in love with him too. They wrote to each other for a while, he even called once (I wonder how much trouble he got in for that?!)

My over-riding memory of time spent with Fudd was the time I and three boys (most of my memories seem to include me hanging out with a bunch of guys) got into the college performing arts center one Saturday. There was no one around and that empty stage beckoned me. I don't know what Fudd and Brent were doing, but Jason, my gay friend who dreamed of dancing to "Gloria" in New York one day (I hope he got there... we lost touch), and I, who dreamed of singing on that stage (I did four years later), were pirouetting and prancing around having a grand time. Half an hour later all four of us (or was it three? I think one of us may have escaped) were standing shaking (well, I was) in the hallway under the glare of a green uniformed security officer. He wrote down our names and told us never to enter the theater again. The next time I went to a performance with my parents I was convinced I would be arrested.

After high school Fudd became a paramedic. He stayed in the area and helped save lives. He may even have been one of the responders to my sister's accident when her car slid down an embankment and almost onto (and into?) the frozen lake. He apparently, according to Facebook, touched so many lives.

I did not see Fudd (or even give him more than a random thought) for twenty years. When I came home to visit my parents his name would sometimes be included in the "hometown update" (a.k.a. gossip) - I knew he had gotten married, I think I knew he had a child. Until we discovered each other on Facebook (along with classmates I had long forgotten), he was basically just a memory. And now he is again.

36. Thirty-six. Heart attack. Heart. Attack.

My current Facebook status reads: Joanna wants to remind everyone to tell those they love why they do *now* because there may not be facebook in heaven.

I have always thought it so sad that people only hear now people felt about them after they're dead. With the epidemic of low self-esteem we need to spread the love NOW.

My heart goes out to Fudd's wife and daughter and I will be loving my family and friends a little bit harder today. Will you?

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My husband's gone...

... and I was alone with the kids overnight for the first time ever. I know, boohoo, right. He's only been gone for three nights but my anxiety went through the roof. (I'm not afraid of boogie-men in the night, I just have a slightly dysfunctional panic button.)

Haul in 40lb-put-the-chiropractor-on-stipend-bags of pellets to keep the stove running? No choice there. Take the garbage and recycling out when the windchill is -20? Er, it doesn't smell that bad, it can wait another week. Scoop out the cat litter? The cats are standing outside the door with their little legs crossed... guess I can't skip that one, but I won't like it, not one little bit. Put gas in the car? Do I have to? It's stinky and so... so unfeminine.

You did not just say that! Oh, yea, I did. And I won't apologize...

Truth is, I'm a traditionalist at heart.

And I blame my mother.

Growing up, my mother told me I needed to find a man who spoiled me and treated me like a princess. She also told me respect was the most important part of a relationship. So what did I do? Go out and date the most controlling and disrespectful men (boys) I could find. One pushed me down the side of the bed and threw clothes on top of me, just for fun (which might explain the panic button issue). One just wanted me around to wash dishes while he entertained his ex. One told me my dreams were just that. Another allowed me to go on loving him (and criticized me for it) while he loved another. You might say I wasn't taking out the garbage back then either.

And then my prince came along. If being told you're beautiful and that your dreams are important enough to pursue no matter what is being spoiled, then I was... rottenly. If hauling bags of trash and (wo)man-handling feline excrement was also taken off my to-do list, as well as removing rodent remains from the carpet or wiping up dog vomit, I wasn't going to argue. Can you really blame me?

I do the mommy-stuff around here. I won't up the gross-factor of this post any further by listing them, but we all know the disgusting bodily fluid messes in which we mothers dabble. It's not that my husband won't do them, he'd just rather not. Well, call me a princess, but I'd rather not pump gas, inflate tires (I have an irrational fear of explosion), empty garbage cans, or scoop poop.

He's been gone a few days and I would say I enjoyed having the expanse of our bed to myself but I spent the night being kicked in the back by Tator who missed his Daddy and needed to sleep next to me. I would say I didn't mind snoring through the arrival of 2009 (while insane people stood outside in zero degrees to watch a ball drop - who does that?), but today felt no different than any other day because I hadn't shared the moment. I would say I can handle everything because I'm a Woo-oo-oo-man, but I'd be lying. I was a single mom for three days and my respect for real single moms, while already high, has sky-rocketed.

I don't intend this to sound as if I only need him around to help me get through life. I also need him walking through the door all tall and handsome, cheeks red from his cold walk home from work; I need him animated when he talks to the kids at the dinner table; I need how my head fits perfectly in the indent of his shoulder. I need how he listens. I need our partnership.

Thank goodness he's back tomorrow - the trash does smell rather bad.

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