Expectations & Derailments

The railway lines of Wisconsin are old and fragile, like the veins on a grandfather’s hand. Few are used for freight, even fewer for people. One runs parallel to the county highway I drive weekly to take Biff and Bash to school. Unable to work with a dead laptop,  I milled about, catching a few lousy photos on that lousy grey day.

When Bo had decided to take a few days off, I told him I needed him to do more with the kids so I could work. I expected swathes of time to revise the website, write several chapters of Middler’s Pride, and establish realistic writing goals with essay revisions and book proposals. “I need BIG chunks of the day. Six to eight hours, at least,” I said. “Okay,” he said.

Well, guess what didn’t happen. Did I let Bo know it? You bet your ass I did. Every night: “I needed to get that done.” “You’ve got to handle the kids more.” “Can’t you take them out? I need to get stuff done.” “Dammit that should have been done by now.” The days sped by, and what happened? A little bit of reading, barely any writing. And of course, if lack of time wasn’t enough, both computers had to up and die.

Enough pictures. The wind hurt my cheeks like matchbox cars wielded by angry sons. Where was I even going to put these? It could be a week before we have a computer running properly at home. Never mind writing, how the hell was I going to teach?

Fuck never mind. Who was I kidding? Even when Bo had off of work, I couldn’t accomplish shit because the boys hoisted everything at me. How in Heaven and Hell did I think I could make a writer’s life for myself when my family needs ME, and needs me NOW. I may as well have picked up the rails at my feet, slung them over my shoulder, and plopped them by the Rock River to make a fun little bridge, perfect for a child’s adventure into another…

Stop it. The Motherhood Line never veers from its goal. Any car that runs its rails better be Mother-related, or it gets left on a siding to rot.


The lousy day turned to a lousy night. My black mood put Blondie on edge. She hovered on some invisible border, watching for an in. “Mommy, can I do the dishes?”

“No.” I didn’t even look at her as I clanked a new pile into the sink. “They’re fragile.”

“But I wanna help.”

Clank. Rinse. “You can help by keeping your brothers out of my hair.” Clank. Rinse.

She slid back to her chair, face down.

Bo came over from laundry. “I can do that,” he said with a hand full of clothes.

“What are you–” I snatched what was in his hand. “These can’t go together. This is a delicate, and this needs to go in a bag first.” Back to the clanking, rinsing. Thoughts washed in gunk that stuck fast: He PROMISED to help and he fucking DIDN’T, HE failed me, it’s HIS fault, I could have done more if Bo would have fucking stepped the fuck UP

Everything grew so rank inside I couldn’t even read to Biff and Bash. Instead, I complained about what never got done, what has to get done tomorrow by some miracle of God, that I was stupid to think I could even do this writing shit in the first place–

Bo rushed the kids to bed, hardly closing Blondie’s door before hauling me into the living room, kicking the boys’ Thomas trains aside to make room for my ass. “Stop. That. NOW.”

I rolled my eyes at him. He didn’t get it, of course.

“For the love of GOD, dear…look. Just…why don’t you go somewhere tomorrow and work. Do your website,” he practically growled the words, “do your writing. Get out and do it.”

Huh? He had wanted his last day off to be for the two of us. Mom was taking all three kids for the day–no small offer, I promise you.

I could just see it: me in a silent place, new computer all set to go, hours for my work…but…”Don’t you want to go out tomorrow?”

“YES! Of course I want to go out with you! We haven’t gone on a date since what, July? But…fuck you’ll think me an asshole…but why should we bother?” He tossed a piece of train track into the bin, such a loud THWACK would surely wake the kids, if they’re not up anyway. “All you’re going to think about is what you didn’t get done. That’s all you’re on.” THWACK. “It’s like you can’t see how far you’ve come in one year. I mean, you got the blessing of Pete Townshend. You get to use songs by The FUCKING Who for your story.” THWACK THWACK. “You’ve got thousands of people on both sides of the planet”–THWACK–“reading your stuff but all you look at is what you should have done by now. Like nothing you do is ever good enough.” He wiped his eyes on his sleeves as he shoved the bin of train tracks aside. “I believe in you, Jean. But it’s fucking hard when you don’t even believe in yourself.”

My mind and lungs froze on the formation of those words from his lips: I believe in you.

Never had Bo said those words. When I started this all in 2015 he saw it as something to quiet my whines about not writing. Whenever my motherhood/teacherhood/depression threatened to quash it, he would go silent, blink it off, wait for the threat to solve itself, or for me to solve it.

But today, Bo believes in my writing. My writing, and of all crazy things: me.


I had always thought this writer’s path, muddy, cold, and unknown, to be a lonely one. The further I’ve gone, the more I’ve met on this same path: others struggling against the elements of their lives to still press on and discover the treasured language we know is hidden up ahead.

That night, I found a hand I could hold, physically hold, on that path. I grabbed it then. It grabbed me back. And for a good long while we held ourselves together, glued by love, tears, and snot.

I’d given up long ago on finding support for my writing from within my family. I was faith-less, and without that faith, I was blind to the growing support Bo wanted to give me. He may never understand my stories, but faith isn’t built on logic, is it? It comes from Hope. Love. Joy. Sacrifice.

Jesus once said that if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

I’ll settle for rails.

59 thoughts on “Expectations & Derailments

  1. Gosh, that was just beautiful! You have me wailing in my coffee this morning! I believe in you, too. πŸ™‚

    I keep thinking if you didn’t have the derailments, the entanglements, the stress, you also wouldn’t have the heart to write this lovely piece. So maybe rather than being derailed, what you were doing was more like research. Cooking up a good piece of writing.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks. πŸ™‚ And you’re definitely right. I wasn’t sure what to write about, and then the computers died, and then WHAM–the depression knocked me like a wrecking ball. But after talking to Bo, I realized I needed to write this out. When I write it out, I can help myself reflect, and therefore put the depression behind me.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I have no idea whether or not you can get BBC Radio 4 where you are. I only say this because I can here this tale of new found hope being reading in a mid-Atlantic accent as one of their afternoon plays. They do quite well at drama and crime stories also. Beautifully penned post by the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ah, friend, I’m working on not tearing up here as my own brood have just extracted themselves from their babysitter (aka a Transformers episode.) You’re not alone, you know, in the motherhood struggle. The NEED the children have, the unending, clinging NEED for Mommy is something it’s hard to see the blessing in when you’re wrapped up in, (sometimes, can I say, suffocated?) by it. Ya love em, would do anything for em, but the days you actually want to ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING that doesn’t have to do with what they want just now can be…well, you summed it up better than I could. I’m so glad that you found that support from Bo when you needed it, and I hope you got out. Wish I were closer to leap in and babysit. (Of course if you wanna ship them out here for a day or two…:) BUT, for what it’s worth, I”ve always been amazed by your talent and your heart, and you’ve been one of my favorite people on God’s green earth since those overalls and plaid shirts days back in boarding school. (Gosh, I remember how busy I thought I was then- HA!) For what it’s worth, I believe in you too. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, Friend, thank you so much. I soooooooo wish you and yours lived in the same geographical region with us, so we could give each other those kid-free days and share some scribbled feedback together! I have fond memories of writing back in the dorm, and as I’ve always said of our school to Bo: the friends I made there, I made for life. πŸ™‚ xxxxx
      As for finding the balance between kids and writing: it’s ever-changing. I thought I had a good formula worked out when Blondie first started school, but the older the boys get, the sketchier my time becomes. Right now the boys are throwing stuff from the beds I insist they get in for “naps” just so I could check school stuff and notes on the blog. And time will become even MORE sketchy if I take on more teaching when all three kids are in school. (sigh) Just one day at a time, some days.
      Love ya, Lady K!


      • One day at a time is it! Balance is a joke- it lasts for a week or two and then it all shifts, at least that’s how things look here! The only way I got writing done this year was staying up obscenely late listening to loud kid inappropriate music. Now that doesn’t work because they’ve decided that they no longer need sleep, which does not make for happy sunshiny mommy, and I need to work on that :p BUT, it seems like when one routine that worked goes, another comes, eventually. Right now they’re on you, but give it time – you’ll find something that works. You’ll get there again!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Here’s what I know. As the mother of three who has sat a toddler on her lap and typed with one hand while jangling a rattle with the other all the while trying to write just one decent paragraph, even when my frustration was at its peaks, I always knew that my kids would be gone one day and the work would still be there. That didn’t make me less crazy about what I didn’t get done as, like you, I had my moments, but I don’t regret one minute I chose the kids over writing (which is also why I am and was chronically sleep-deprived because my work got done around their sleep schedules). Oh, and I had a job, three-days a week until five years ago, but back to full time now. My youngest is 16. I regretted going back full time when she was 11 because I know you can’t get those moments back, not a single one of them. Your life-expectancy is greater than it’s ever been at any time in history. You’ll need something to do when the melee quiets. Writing will fill the void. For now, try not to stress too much and do it when you can. You’re the only one applying pressure, really. I wish you wisdom in this endeavor, Jean. oxo
    Oh, and p.s. Pete Townsend?! WTF?! That’s super awesome. :0)

    Liked by 1 person

      • It took me 13 years to get “Oil and Water” from 1st draft to publication. A slow train for sure but didn’t miss any of my kids things and for that I’m grateful.😘

        Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed. A WIP very close to my heart was first drafted when Blondie was a baby six years ago. I’d love to see it through to publication; if that takes another six years, then so be it. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve got the gift of beautiful prose and it’s not going anywhere, frustrating as it may be to watch it languish. I got really good at writing in 20 minute increments. Not ideal, bit it keeps the ideas flowing!😘

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So happy you had a chance to take this great set of photographs.
    I wish I were closer – I would babysit for you πŸ™‚ When I was young I had a friend, we did babysitting for each other, and I had another three friends to step in when needed πŸ™‚ What would I do without them I don’t know, a working single mother.
    Have a great week, and hope you get a chance to write a line or two πŸ™‚ xxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Inese. We’re still struggling with relationships in our community–not that people are cold. It’s just that we moved here within two weeks of the boys’ birth. Rather hard to meet new people with stereo newborns. πŸ™‚
      I’m thank for you and the friendships you have. Those are the kinds of connections that give the past such a warm glow. xxxx

      Liked by 1 person

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  11. This is why I follow you. The fluid connection between the bleak landscape and the external elements become the “elements of our lives” at the end. Only now the bleak bits are simply a season–a moment in time, flexing away or towards us as our perception shifts.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I understand this so much my friend. This sent shivers down the spine. It’s that mask many people can’t see. I sometimes think it’s like running a marathon. Somedays you run in the pack, all working together to reach the line. Somedays you are supported by the crowd, they help carry you over the line. Then those days when you are running alone. The wind the ice cold rain, you feel wretched. People drive passed in their warm cars and look at you if you are mad. You just want to sit down on the curb and cry. But you worry that you may not get up again. All I can say is that people are out their rooting for you. xx

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