The Eight-Hour Author

Today, I sit alone in my house.

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Sunlight plays on the silver streamers left over from Biff and Bash’s fifth birthday. The breeze chills warm ground–Wisconsin, in transition.  Life is still lush and damp with dew that never quite dissipates, yet some of the older trees have already given up their leaves to gold and red.

Today, the school year has truly begun. Today, and now every weekday, all three kids will be in school.

Some of the time, anyway. Biff and Bash have begun attending preschool (aka 4K) in the afternoon at my town’s public school.

Today, and many days beforehand, I’ve been asked with a smile and a laugh, “Well, what are you going to do with yourself without kids in the house?”

For the record, I have not responded with my fist, damn tempting though it may be. No, I just glare, and say: “Work without vehicles flying in my face.”

Awkward pause. “Oh.”

Today, and God-willing for many days to come, I don’t want this time to be sucked up solely by teaching. It’s a fine excuse for people who don’t know I write, but for you, friends and strangers, you know how precious quiet time is. Day care is expensive. Babysitters take their cut. Family members willing to “help” would rather just sit and chat and watch you do all the parenting instead of the job you were supposed to get done. And once every child’s in school all day, you know your partner’s going to give you that look: the “now you can earn more income” look.

I know it. I already got it. And only by breaking down the time frame with the kids’ school schedules did Bo see that me taking on a 2nd part-time job just didn’t make any logistical sense.

So I’ve got one school year to prove that writing can and should be my second job. That I can I teach for a [mostly] steady income, meager as it is, while I strive to create, research, analyze, and reach out with my words to others…and ye gods, maybe get a little monetary compensation.

z8079-writerdayjob11-200x300So many writing manuals intend to guide you in making the most out of spare time: you can be a “night-time novelist”; you can “write your book in a weekend”; you can make more of mornings “without sacrificing the important things”; you only need help to “boost your productivity,” and so on. Let’s be realistic: with little kids, you don’t have a night-time, or a morning-time. Bash will get up as early as 5:30am and will sneak out of his bedroom long after bedtime to use the potty…and to talk. And sing. And wake his brother Biff, who gets equally ornery. Oh yeah, I have a daughter, too, she needs some attention. Plus I’m supposed to actually hang out with Bo at some point because of this whole “married” thing, so there’s my night gone anyway. Weekends are family time and when I teach my classes, so those are gone.

But today, and for every school day after, I have approximately 3 hours.

So, fifteen hours a week isn’t bad, right?

No, not even that.

Because we must, again, be realistic: I have to schedule appointments in those hours. I’ll have projects to grade in those hours. I’ll have to get off my sorry ass and do some walking or other exercise because writing ain’t exactly a move’n’groove activity.

So with the errands, the job, the drives to retrieve children from different cities, and the attempt to be healthy, I’ve got: eight hours a week for writing. At most.

I haven’t had that much time a week to write since before motherhood.

And unlike that time before motherhood, I will not waste the time I’m given.

 

Perhaps you’ve been struggling with this time management thing, too. Well, feel free to let me know how you maintain productivity, because I’m all for ideas and options. In the meantime, I’ve plotted thus far:

1. No social media during writing time. No scrolling, no “just checking quick,” no responding to those little infernal dings my phone makes. Unless it’s the police, Bo, or maybe my mom (maybe), the phone and social media sites stay off.

Woops! My half hour is up. Time to work on a story.

~*~*~

I’m back! Let’s see, where did I leave off…Ah yes, my attack plan.

2. Have project objectives for each day. Nothing depresses like a pile of unfinished work. I’m notoriously good at not finishing things: half-done crocheted blankets, half-organized book shelves, half-completed baby books, and so on. I’ve got some WIPs that have been sitting on my computer for years. Enough already. We’re getting those suckers DONE.

But again, reality here: nothing’s getting done at once. It’s going to take several hours to make decent headway on any old project. This doesn’t even include my current MG fantasy-in-progress Beauty’s Price, or the co-writing project “Eowain and the Boar.” Plus, I like writing here. And here takes time.

So let’s break the time up into wee snippets. I read in Writer’s Digest a while ago that 38 minutes is the ideal time to allot for anything; why that particular number I have no idea, but I’m really not far from that. By giving a project half an hour of the day, I can at least get somewhere on it before I move on to another task. So, I could write a little BP, work on the blog, send Michael some thoughts on E&B, and then edit a WIP for sending out. Nothing may get done in one day (like this post), but nothing’s getting ignored, either.

3. Experiment. Like the squeeze-your-arm-flab autumn sweaters I struggle with in a dressing room, I want to try on other styles of writing. They may also be equally pretty and irritate the bejeezes out of me, but how will I know unless I try? It’s been years since I attempted poetry. I’ve simply ignored flashfic. And outside of fantasy, I haven’t done much toe-tipping into other genres. Now I probably wouldn’t dedicate weeks to a poem, but half an hour? Sure, why not?

4. Be okay not writing sometimes. Aside from exercising, I do like getting out to take pictures when I can. I’m no professional, or even an amateur, but this place, this land where I live means so much to my writing state of mind: its hidden roads among the hills. The forests under siege by farms, and the farms under siege by suburbia. The marshes, the cities, the rock towers, the lakes. Together these elements make a world, rich and complete and all its own on the page. I want to share images of these places as best I can.

~*~*~

Day 3 on this entry. Yay, snippet-writing!

5. Start putting myself out there. In the past three years, I’ve queried all of three agents with an incomplete WIP. Yeah, not my smartest move. Repeatedly.

With these new hours, though, I’d like to both experiment and learn. One can’t be a published writer unless one actually, you know, publishes stuff. Traditional and online journals almost never take 10K-long stories, but essays and stories 1K and under would at least get a once-over before a refusal. During the school year I hope to get at least one short story published of my own creation. More would be awesome, but as I’ve learned the hard way, too many expectations promise derailment. I’m not making that mistake again.

I already have a story in the works to be published online with co-conspirator and fantasy author Michael Dellert. He’s invited my cantankerous Shield Maiden Gwenwledyr to hunt alongside his King Eowain in the holiday short story “Eowain and the Boar.” Can a pantser and a planner co-write successfully? “Eowain and the Boar” will be the experiment to find out.

Just as every moment with my children is precious, so is every moment I have to write. No more wasting. No more moaning. This is the time to create people and places. This is the time to explore and to chronicle. This is the time a Mommy can let her imagination run free. And unless the cops call that Biff and Bash are playing with chainsaws on the school roof, that’s just what what this Mommy’s going to do.

 

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Tales of 100 Hearts

I never linger in sight. Last time I did, Bash screeched his head off the entire march down the stairs from his classroom, and Biff nearly pushed the child ahead of him down the stairs. So I remain around the corner where a small corridor leads to the church’s daycare.

February holds two major events for an elementary school: Valentine’s Day, and the 100th day of school. I don’t remember celebrating the 100th day as a kid, but Blondie assures me this is a big deal that requires special games and treats all revolving around the number 100. O-kay.

The boys’ school was in the spirit, too. I couldn’t stand far enough away to get a complete shot, but I was able to take a few close-ups.

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I loved studying the variety of writing styles, of what must have come from adults vs. tweens, of kids vs. teeny ones. And the choices made in both topic and writing fascinated me. Take that pink heart in the bottom photo–why history? And why write it with the teensiest letters possible? One seems to enjoy her cursive “friends” (because I’m guessing a boy’s not going to change font, let alone write the cursive so carefully), while another is equally writing friends so long as it can be in nearly invisible red ink. Two kids apparently like Spirit Week, though one’s definitely younger than the other…

I love the creativity little ones put into spelling words they don’t know, with letters big and proud. And then you have some who wrote at a weird angle–why? And one who really digs the teacher but must have forgotten how to spell her name, so a few letters had to go above the “Mrs.” Then, of course, there’s the over-achiever who had to explain why she picked what she did, and needed to make extra hearts to emphasize her love for it.

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Yes, being a Christian school, there were bound to be a few God-related hearts. But the heart in white is the one that really got my attention.

Bo’s certain it was written by a grown-up, but I’m not so sure. I studied that heart quite closely compared to the others, and the letters are a bit stilted and crooked when compared to the other more rounded, brighter teachery lettering.

The political climate of the United States has become a nightmare for many. I’m not going to lie–Wisconsin feels very cut off from it all. Milwaukee’s always been racially tense, Madison’s always been loudly liberal, but the rest of the state is, well, quiet. It can be easy to forget such a basic want is still very much a want everywhere: to be safe. To be where one is wanted, protected, and loved.

Every heart shares a piece of life tied to that school. I look upon how these words are rushed, curled, misshapen, stiff, and cannot help but wonder what else is tied to these hearts. That if I were to pick a heart from the wall I’d find a string, a string leading up and down stairs and around the playground and back into the room where the heart’s maker sits. I’d look upon the maker, tied to all the scraps and bits of life that brought the heart maker to write that word above all words.

And I’m betting I’d find a story.

Lesson Learned in Writer’s Music from the Rolling Stones: Don’t Misunderstand your Villain.

sympathy_for_the_devil_coverA rare moment when I get to listen to music of my own choosing during the daylight hours. The moment comes with sacrifice: no writing.

Normally, when I take the boys to school, I walk to a bookshop a few blocks away and settle in for a morning of school work and writing. Today, however, was Parent Visitation Day at my daughter’s school one town over. “You can come this time, right Mommy?” Her toothless smile looked tenuous. She was so used to hearing “I can’t come because I’d have to bring the boys.” “I can’t leave the boys behind.” “I can’t when I have work, honey.” I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I’ve written before how hard it is to get time without her brothers. This time I gave her a hug and said, “I can’t come for the whole thing.”

She groaned.

“But, I can be there in the morning for a little while.”

Blondie’s smile broke loose and spread to her toes, throwing her into a hopping frenzy. “You can dance with me at brain break! And see my desk! And hear my story!”

So here I am, driving between schools, with, of all things, the Rolling Stones blasting because it’s the only CD that’s not Weird Al” Yankovic or Veggie Tales. “Sympathy for the Devil” comes on, and my mind starts to wander…

Why, of all beings in the big ol’ Cosmos, would we give sympathy to the Devil? Yet, well, as writers, that is what we want to do. I’ve read stories where the villain has less development than Snidely Whiplash of the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, all cackles and mustache twirling, and have been utterly, utterly bored.

Now 2-D characters do have their place, like, say, Michael Myers of Halloween, but slasher films are where cookie-cutter characters thrive best: The Virgin. The Jock. The Slut. The Jealous Boyfriend/Girlfriend. The Nerd. Etc.

When it comes to novels, we need more than one-note characters: we need songs, harmonies, percussion, the whole sonata. And not just from the hero.

We want to be just as intrigued with the one whom the hero is up against.

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste

There’s something to the tribal feel of the percussion here counter-balancing the piano. A unique style of class. It makes me picture a man with tailored suit and cane, someone at ease in the bar who for all his drink loses not one iota of wit, something like Alex from Clockwork Orange. Just listen to that opening stanza: He’s polite. Rich. Cultured. Seasoned. Sounds rather like a philanthropist, doesn’t he? One who smiles sincerely as he offers you a drink and a stool in return for your ear…

…and soul.

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

He starts with one of his oldest and dearest triumphs. You’d think this would turn you away, that you’d never want to listen to someone who sealed the fate of Christ. Yet you’re still sitting there, because here’s a man who reveals Christ had doubt. He takes the Big Good Guy and shows He’s no better than the rest of us. Everything feels a bit more level now, doesn’t it? Those Hoidy-Toidies ain’t got nuthin’ better than us.

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

How curious this man wants us to guess his name. But he, like most villains, wants to be known. Understood. And what drives him? All villains need something to keep them on the path they’ve chosen.

And for this particular fellow, it is one of the most basic and most frightening of motivations.

He’s bored.

All that he shares with you is part of his “game,” and as he shares, the music builds and you find yourself awestruck and horrified and fascinated all at once…

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made

I shouted out,
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me

How can we possibly sit at this man’s side and listen to him share all this like it doesn’t matter?

Hey, a game is not supposed to be serious. A game is fun, harmless.

But his actions are everything but. Why, why listen?

Because we like him. Because he’s not simply “evil”–he is a complete creature with a nature that gets bored and wants to have fun.

Just.

Like.

Us.

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint

This must reside in the core of our villain’s creation: they must have some essence of us, of the everyday person. Even the most alien of villains can have a nature with passions and repulsions. When we forget to give our villain a nature, we deny our heroes a true conflict. Without conflict, we deny our readers a true story.

And you know the cost of such a sin.

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah

Songwriters: KEITH RICHARDS, MICK JAGGER
© Abkco Music, Inc.
For non-commercial use only.
Data from: LyricFind

Lesson Learned from Charlie Brown: Dream Big.

mv5bnte5nzmxnzkwnl5bml5banbnxkftztgwotq0nzk5nze-_v1_When one walks under the weight of depression, life itself aches. Despite therapy and the writing regimen both creative and confessional, I have felt little hope for the future. My school has me on reserve to teach not just 40, but potentially 80 students. Bo’s schedule has gone haywire, and we find ourselves in survival mode. I can’t get ten minutes’ peace on the computer when the boys were awake. The church wants me to do A, B, and C in a month–wait, actually 7 days. That’s fine, right?

All this over the past few months, plus taking notes on The Tellinga memoir about recovering from sexual abuse by @ZoeZolbrod. I had already shared two parts of my reflection: of facing the pain within myself, and coming to terms with how an abusive past impacts motherhood.What remains is the final, most painful facing: that with The Monster himself. It will end with either reconciliation and healing with my family as a whole, or severance, and the destruction of several blood ties. We await on when the children can be watched, when life will make it “convenient,” and all the while my lungs knot when my mother brings him up, of having him over for the holidays, and sleepovers, and….

A rather not-fun time, that.

Music, thankfully, alters my insides for the better.

Desperate for a change from Veggie Tales sing-a-longs, I got a copy of The Peanuts Movie soundtrack. My folks both enjoyed Peanuts comics, toys, and cartoons, and that joy passed down to me and my kids. When word came of a new film, I remained skeptical.

Now? My whole family loves it, and I strongly recommend you watch it with or without little ones. Oh, the kids love it when Snoopy the World War I flying ace saves his beloved Fifi, and Bo enjoys all the tightly executed homages to the beloved Charlie Brown Christmas, but I see something else: I see the journey of a writer.

No, not Snoopy (though he’s quite the author with his typewriter!). Charlie Brown.

He’s the odd one out, the one never really understood by others. He keeps trying to succeed with his passions such as kite-flying, but just. Can’t. Do it. The same old obstacles, like the kite-eating tree, snatch his hope away. He’s scoffed and ridiculed by his peers. When a new kid–the little red-haired girl, no less!–moves onto his street, he is awestruck. All he wants is a chance to show her the real him, the Charlie Brown no one else sees.

“Charlie Brown is not a quitter.” -Charlie Brown

How many of us have felt misunderstood, simply labeled and discarded as hopeless cases? How many of us come down with “a serious case of inadequacy,” as Charlie Brown puts it?

He tries different things to impress her: he prepares a magic act, only to give up his chance so he can help his sister Sally instead. He learns to dance for the winter dance competition, only to slip and set off the sprinkler system. He spends the weekend reading War and Peace and writing a book report for their team grade only to watch his paper get shredded by a toy.

Time, and time, and time again he gives his all and gets nothing in return. Even the star he wishes on falls from the sky. All he can count on is his dog, who remains loyal and loving no matter the disaster. (Dyane, I can’t help but think of you and Lucy!)

When I hear Christophe Beck‘s piano melody for Charlie Brown’s moments of defeat, I’m on the verge of tears, especially here, during his school assembly.

And yet, despite all the hopelessness, Charlie Brown dreams on. He sees the success of another kid’s kite-flying attempt, and hopes for his own. Don’t we have those moments as writers, too?

Then, out of beyond-nowhere, the little red-haired girl wants to be his summer penpal. His. Charlie Brown’s. All he’s been through, all he was ready to give up on, and…and he didn’t even DO anything this time! Why, why now? She tells him: she had watched him and all he went through over the year, and felt him a friend worth knowing.

How many of us have reached out with words, and wanted nothing more than to feel a reader’s hand find ours?

Perhaps you’ve been feeling nothing more than the football pulled out from under you. That the world has deemed you a failure because:

“You’re Charlie Brown, that’s why!” -Lucy Van Pelt

Well, guess what? Charlie Brown may be gullible enough to still run for Lucy’s football, but he’s also a thoughtful, kind, and giving person who never gives up, no matter how many kites he loses. He dreams of a chance to meet someone who can see him for all he is and could be, not just his failures and shortcomings.

Dream big, fellow writers. Charlie Brown is worth knowing. So are you.

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Discordant Melodies of Heaven

Some places only have character because of memory. This street, for one. It’s the primary thoroughfare for students between campus and the rest of the town.

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Rather than ride a bus and attend a “normal” high school, I attended a boarding high school where teens were prepared to attend a ministerial college. College graduates and seminarians were obligated to watch over us in the dorms, cell-like structures as old as my parents and older.

I should know: my parents met here.

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Some buildings have been left untouched. The auditorium, for one, an important place: it is where my mother practiced music, where my father performed on stage. Where I did both.

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Some spaces have changed. This new dorm was built on the only open green space on campus. Yes, I’m still miffed about that. It’s only been sixteen years…

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At least the little things still thrive. This fruit tree, for one.

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Crab apple? I honestly don’t think of the fruit much. It’s the blossoms I adored every spring. Each morning on the walk to the first mandatory chapel service of the day (for day must begin and end with Christ) we went by this tree. The petals are only waking up now, thanks to Wisconsin’s wonky spring temperament. One can never predict when the blossoms will peak, but I remember walks past that tree when the petals rained down as the organ marched off another hymn, calling His Disciples forth to be counted. I often tuned the organ out to watch the petals dance to their own song, one only they could hear in the breeze from heaven. It was always a beautiful melody. It must have been, the way they swirled about before laying spent on the sidewalk and trod under our feet.

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One day, I don’t know when, I stopped following the march. Oh, my body went along, sure, but my soul stayed behind with the petals. We sang “Here I am, Lord,” and I felt myself a liar, for I knew I was no longer among The Counted. As every pew creaked with our five-hundred-strong bow for silent prayer, I asked God if it was okay.

Please, God, let it be okay.

~*~

I turn to leave the campus. My boys will be done with school soon. Still, I can’t help but pause by the blooms:

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Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matthew 6:28-29)

Hope fills me as my fingers grace the branches, the flowers.

Just before my enrollment, the school changed its mascot to a phoenix. I always found that a bit strange, choosing a mythical creature to represent God’s Followers, but then, the phoenix rises up from the ashes of its old life to live again, brighter and stronger than before. There is certainly a bit of Christ in that.

And, I’d like to think, in me, too.

As My Sons Turn 3

What is it with schools and fluorescent lights? They do nothing to ease my pounding head as I pace in front of an empty classroom.

“They must be in the gym now,” says another mom, bland to this whole First Day of School affair. She’s been through it all, by the looks of her wrinkles and hips, at least once before, likely twice. Whichever one is in 3K is not the Troublemaker of her brood.

She does not know my sons.

~*~

Biff and Bash were evicted after 37 weeks with the help of any and every drug doctors allowed. They slid out, two minutes apart: Biff pale, Bash ruddy. They were given stocking caps straight out of M.A.S.H. with smudged permanent marker: “A” and “B.” It took longer to remove the placenta than to give birth.

Two little souls, so different before they even left my womb: “A” so quiet, so tucked away, while I couldn’t sleep because “B” kicked and somersaulted. Two sets of sleepy eyes, clasping hands. Bo and I held, traded. We had our sons. We had both wanted a boy. God blessed us with two. At last, our family, overwhelming, perfect.

~*~

“Do you want to use the potty today?”

“N-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o,” says Bash.

NOOOO!” says Biff. This fingernail scrape of a scream is new, and drives me fucking nuts.

“Fine. Fine. Then get over here. New diapers and clothes. You have school today!” After several more No’s and kicks to my chest and arms, the boys are changed and dressed. Biff wears a white polo patterned with motorcycles and classic cars; Bash wears a blue plaid button-down shirt. He looks…old. Like, “I’m off to first-grade, Mumsy” old. Could they really be ready to exit this house and co-exist around other human beings of various sizes?

~*~

November. The boys are eight weeks old.

Blondie naps soundly. Thank God she’s a heavy sleeper like her father.

The boys have nursed. They are changed, swaddled, laid in their cribs. I close the door. Exhale.

The afternoon is cloudy, plain. Nothing new in the house or outside to dwell on, work on. Nothing to consider but an hour of peace, of me conscious, by myself, in the quiet. I look at the half-wall in the middle of the living area; it surrounds the stairs to the basement. Yes, I’ll go below, get some Mystery Science Theater 3000, and—

Screams. Again.

I bolt into the room and remove Biff before he can wake Bash. He is crying. He’s fucking crying, like they always do, because they can’t just fucking sleep at the same fucking time.

They. These two. Why the FUCK do I have two, I can’t handle two. Why did God give me two

The half-wall is lit in sunlight.

There is no sunlight today.

It’s perfect.

Perfect for what?

It’s an accident.

Oh God no

It’s a fall, it could happen.

No it can’t please GOD no it I can’t

A trip.

A drop.

Shut up shut up SHUT UP

An answer.

Biff howls in my arms as I cower in my bedroom, afraid of my own house. Of my own mind.

~*~

Bash’s smiles are made of pure cheek. He half closes his eyes and peers about, and you know his wheels are turning. He revels in running away from command, laughing with maniacal glee. He sees a game to be made in everything, from hiding cars in every drawer of the house, to provoking Biff with a whack on the back.

If reality doesn’t amuse him, he creates his own. He gathers little trains, or takes a picture of the latest Thomas and Friends line, and begins. “Once upon a time, there were three engines…. ‘Hello, Thomas, I’m Toby!’ Toby peeped. …. ‘But Diesel, you can’t go to the sea,’ Gordon chuffed.” And so on. You can hear him change character, stretching his voice for each train, adding dialogue tags for of course, one must have dialogue tags. His imagination bores Blondie, occasionally amuses Biff. Impresses Bo. Brings me to tears, knowing this could not be happening had I left him on the roadside one winter night years ago. (I describe this night in “The Machete and the Cradle.”)

~*~

“Come on, little dudes, let’s get some breakfast.”

“No I’m NOT it’s time for breakfast.” Bash never misses the chance to contradict.

Biff never misses a chance to rattle Blondie’s cage. He goes to the seat next to her. “Hi, Mr. Blondie.”

“I’m not a Mr. I’m a MISS!” Blondie tries to scream, but morning phlegm makes yelling hard. Shuckie-darn.

Fork battles, tossed milk cups, crumbled muffins everywhere.

Bo comes in, unfazed, and sits by Blondie for breakfast. Muffin shrapnel lands in his milk. He sips it anyway, and looks at me. “Just wait until they’re with other kids.”

I imagine bruised legs, scabbed faces, and pissed off moms pointing at my hellions. THEY did this, Can’t you DO anything about them

~*~

Biff teeters between fixation and boredom. He took to books in infancy, sitting alone or laying on his stomach, blanket at hand, slowly turning the pages. Vehicles fascinate him. Numbers and letters fascinate him. If it’s in a book, he’ll stare at it for ages.

But if he’s bored, trouble brews. You know he’s bored when he rests his head in his hands, eyes wide and off and up, mouth slightly drooping. Everything falls under his disinterested gaze. He’ll half-close his eyes, just like his brother, as he sits there, checking out the dining room, the living room. Bash has cars, cars are boring today…and you can see his head nonchalantly turn towards his sister’s room, and the look of boredom fades.

~*~

The drive to 3K lasts roughly twenty minutes. Ten minutes in I realize the birthday treat they were due to bring because the first day of 3K also fell on their birthday is still in the fridge. No time to turn back. No time to stop on the way. Where to stop, how to stop… Of COURSE I forgot the one thing that would impact others because I was too worried about clothing and shoes and diapers and change of clothes and backpacks and car seats and coats and DAMMIT.

All the while the same song repeats, because if I let the next track start, the boys scream. The boys call it “The Song.” Blondie calls it the “Dinosaurs Die” song. Adults may know it as “Demons” by Imagine Dragons. Not a bad song, especially when a five-year-old explains which part of the song is for the T Rex’s eating everyone, which part is when the dinosaurs die, and which part is when they come back to life.

I rush Biff in. The principal, a Wonder Bread version of Jason Bateman with crusts removed, holds out his hand, “Hi, welcome to—“

“Hi.” Up the stairs, dump the boy. I don’t look back.

“Have a good d—“

“Not done.” Out to the car, grab Bash. Rush him in.

“Hi.” Mr. Wonder Bread Bateman holds out his hand and then realizes it’s me again. “Oh, yes. The twins.”

Yes. THE twins. Dumped and I’m gone, because all I can think of is where the hell to buy a birthday cookie to drop off before snack time.

I didn’t hug them. Didn’t say goodbye. First day of school, and I’m stuck on a God damn cookie.

~*~

Both boys adore Blondie’s room. It’s filled with the “good stuff”: little boxes, sparkly toys, cars she tries to keep for herself. Plush ponies and a bed without another bed directly on top of it, which makes it perfect for bouncing.

Yet today, when I find them there, they are not playing with her toys, nor are they bouncing. They are both focused on something hanging from a clip of her picture string. It’s a printout of two pictures my dad took in 2012.

Me, in the hospital, holding them, newly born. Blondie a wisp of a toddler with even wispier curls around her ears, clings to Bo. One other picture: my parents, each holding a grandson.

“Mommy, Mommy, who’s that?” Biff says, fat finger on the middle of the paper—near no one, of course.

“Who is that?” I repeat him to avoid the Shrill Anger of Misunderstanding.

“Daddy.”

“Mommy, Mommy—there’s Grandma!”

“Yes, Bash.”

“Mommy, Mommy!” Biff stiffens his back as he sniffs his blanket. “Who’s that?”

“I don’t know.” I really don’t—he wasn’t even looking at the pictures.

Biff turns around and thrusts his face into the image of my parents. “It’s Grandma and Uncle Matt!”

“No.” I choke. “That’s Grandma and Grandpa.”

I have to correct them every time. And every time, it hurts. My father died some months after their first birthday, which means they will never, ever have a memory of him.

Had my postpartum won out, there would be no boys to remember anything at all.

There would be no boys before me, staring at their newborn selves. I would not have memories of train stories, dutiful board book study, or maniacal giggles. I’d have none of the pain, which, yes, was pain, from scars on my psyche to the bruises on my body. These boys brought so much pain into my life. They still do.

But that is not all there is to them. They are mischievous, imaginative. Fearless. They’ve shown me I can face the worst darkness in myself, and fucking beat it.

~*~

Screams from the stairs below.

“Oh, someone’s unhappy,” Bland Mom says with that stupid sing-song tone that makes me want to slap her.

“Yeah. Mine.”

Pause. “Oh.”

Which one of mine I don’t know, and I don’t feel like explaining.

The door opens to Bash, sobbing, gently prodded along by the Teacher. He isn’t throwing himself to the ground, skinning his knees to blazes. He isn’t slapping her. He’s letting her guide him back to the room.

My. GOD.

Some more sniffly ones, and there’s Biff, white polo covered in paint, birthday crown still atop that big head of his, wandering away from the line. Teacher’s Aide calls to him, “This way!” He immediately turns and follows the other children inside.

“Someone had a birthday,” Bland Mom keeps it monotone this time. Good.

I exhale for the first time all morning. “Yeah, mine.”

More cries in the classroom. I approach the doorway and see Biff and Bash refusing their backpacks. They look up, and rush towards me.

“Time to go?” whimpers Biff.

“This way!” Bash points to the stairwell out.

Teacher hands over the backpacks. Not a mark on her. Hell, her hair ain’t even frazzled. “It took a while for them to calm down, but they had fun. They really did.” She emphasizes that last bit. I know she’s seasoned enough to tell a mother her kid’s not ready for school. She’s not telling me that. Just the opposite.

I half-carry, half-escort the boys down the stairs. Mr. Wonder Bread Bateman stands at the door. “Hey, you kids have fun today?”

“N-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.”

NOOOO!”

He stares, toasted.

So I say “See you next week!” and head out the door.

In the car, buckled up and unable to escape, I risk asking for myself. “Did you two have fun at school today?”

They pause.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

I pause.

“Had fun at school today!”

“No, I didn’t have fun at school today!” Oh, Bash, you can’t stand not contradicting.

“The Song” repeats the whole way home as the two debate over whether or not they truly did have fun at school today.

I wonder how next week will go. How 4K will go, Kindergarten. The time would come when these boys won’t fight me over using the potty or who gets what car….well we’ll probably fight over who gets what car, just not, you know, the teeny ones. God willing we’re not in tiffs over who uses what toilet.

Unique souls from the get-go.

Unpredictable in thought, word, and deed.

Unequivocally my sons.