By Heart

Love is a fire truck, red as a heart, I whisper to my one-year-old in her pajamas. Her hands, perfect dimples and seashell nails, fumble with the pages, eager to turn them before I’m through with the story. She mimics the siren’s woo woo woo just like her brother did when he was smaller, shuts the last page emphatically like her sister used to do. We know this book by heart.

She knows what’s next, too, in the bedtime routine. We turn on ocean sounds from the owl lamp on her dresser, more static than waves after six years of service. We turn off the light, and my baby rests her head on my chest, pops her thumb in her mouth to listen while I sing and rock.

*

What do I know by heart?

Good Night Moon, its lilting rhythm intertwined with the guilt I felt when sleep-training our first-born. Where the Wild Things Are, the vine of its rhyme wrapped around memories of our precocious talker, who would complete the final phrases of each line: His mother called him Wild Thing, and Max said…? “I eee you up!”

Songs from library storytime. The Paw Patrol theme song. Old nursery rhymes: a penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle–three objects fast becoming outdated, unknown by my children, though they know Mommy’s going to school to become an acupuncturist, to use what my oldest calls my “soft needles” to help people with pain and sadness and sleeplessness.

Slowly, I’m memorizing the Shu Transport points, and the five systems of the Balance Method, flipping through flashcards kept in my jacket pocket, in line at Winco. Little by little, I work this ancient medicine into my heart. Halfway through acupuncture school, half of me is always studying. On the walk to school, tracing the edges of little hands to find Large Intestine 5 in the dip beneath the thumb bone, Heart 9 at the top of a tiny pinky finger.

*

There are some things we can only know by heart. There’s no other way to account for it.

It’s just before sunset and I’m at Fossil Beach with this guy I know. We are 20 and 21 years old and we’ve spent the fall hanging out in each other’s tiny kitchens between classes, cooking each other oatmeal, or sharing jam jars of wine and talking late about Robinson Jeffers and planets and our families. Then today, he asked me to spend the afternoon at the beach, and we packed a paper bag picnic and I climbed, heart pounding, into the passenger seat of his red truck. I was sure he could hear my heart then, and I’m sure he can hear it now, sitting side by side on this driftwood log, staring at a peach sky.

When he asks if he can kiss me, I know — I know. My heart is in my mouth and I’m so sure of the rightness of us, it scares me. Years later, I’ll still struggle to describe what I feel in this moment, how my heart seemed to know who this was. I’ll wonder if I’ve overlaid the moment with every moment since then– 18 years of loving him.

*

Maybe it’s both. A flash of recognition, the heart understanding something you can’t speak aloud. And also speaking words aloud, until they sink deep into your heart. You learn something by heart, by accident or on purpose, through repetition. Until it becomes dull and meaningless (a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush), or until it shines with the gleam of purposeful reuse.

Like the sturdiness of recited prayer: old words gripped tight as a banister, steadying feet for the climb. I started with the Lord’s Prayer as a child, copied it onto paper in Sunday school, then clung to it through childhood nights when I braved the dark alone, whispering the words over and over to myself.

Decades later, I am praying one decade of Hail Marys at a time, learning the Anglican rosary. Running my fingers over plastic beads, I find small spaces of peace between naptimes. I speak the words aloud and feel connected to the millions of people who have said them before me, are saying them now. It becomes both my prayer, and not mine. My words, and not mine. I am a mother with very human worries in my heart, and I am somehow connected to the Holy Mother in the space created by these prayers. The worries still and settle like the beads, sliding into place.

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved,” Paul wrote to the first believers two thousand years ago (Romans 10:10).

Belief and knowing happen deep within us, where there are no words. But belief can be sparked by words, by testimony and prayers, poetry and letters. And when we believe– when we fall in love with God– we have to speak it. Like the circle of beads, belief and words are interconnected. A mystery.

Even Paul, encouraging those early believers from a distance, was sending them older words they would have recognized, from the Torah: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so you may obey it.” (Deut 30:14)

I want the word of God near me like this. In fact, I’m realizing anew how much I need the word of God every day, all day long. Otherwise, I forget. I fall asleep, again and again, just like the disciples. I say I want to hear God’s voice and know God’s purpose for me, but really I have been refusing the simple (not easy) truth that God’s purpose for me is the same as for everyone who tries to follow Jesus: to point others to God, to be used by God.

To hear God’s voice, I need to bring not just prayer but the bible into the rhythm of my days, in whatever way I can manage it. Reading a Psalm and a chapter of a book from the New Testament before I clear the lunch dishes. Listening to a hymn in the car on my way to preschool pickup. Tucking a verse into my stack of flashcards. I want to have more of God’s word in my heart so I can better hear what God has to say to me each day. So I can have the word in my mouth and in my heart.

*

Rocking my baby in the dark, I’m doing what I do every time I put her down for a nap or for the night: focusing every part of my attention on her, taking all of it in, as if I’m studying for a test. I’m learning her by heart, because each day feels like a train that carries us further from babyhood, closer to the future.

Outside the door, I hear my husband ask our son for the nineteenth time if he’s sure he’s done with dinner. Doesn’t he want some of the yummy green beans? We both know all he’s had to eat is the bun around the hot dog, a swipe of ketchup. And still there’s patience in my husband’s voice. Kindness, and weariness too.

After this comes the long trudge across the desert toward the oasis of bedtime– all three kids asleep, and maybe some time for talking again, just the two of us. These days it’s mugs of tea and not wine, but there’s still talk about poetry and planets and our family.

But first there’s teeth-brushing, pajama-wrangling, small-naked-person-chasing down the hallway. No, I don’t know where your bear slippers are. Yes, I will fill up your water-bottle. It’s time for a story. It’s time for lights out. Okay, go to the bathroom then come right back. Yes, I will sing you a song. No, you just went to the bathroom. Good night. It’s time for bed. It’s time for bed.

Most nights, I am so desperate for them to be in bed, I try to speed things up. But some nights, I remember to weave prayer into their bedtime routine. I want them to have this habit. There’s one we’ve been trying out lately that they like, from a little book, Praying with My Fingers. Each finger represents a different group of people to pray for: friends and family, teachers, leaders, the sick, and yourself. I count with my fingers, and learn how to pray.

In a way, children already know how to pray, I think. They have their ears resting on God’s chest, listening to the heartbeat there, like my baby does. I think this is what Jesus means by having a childlike faith. Children know they are small and need help. They know they are loved, and that someone knows what they need, and cares about their hurts and their worries. I am teaching my kids, in my imperfect way, about God, hoping they’ll love Jesus. But they’re also teaching me, about trusting God and resting in his unconditional love.

I think of the routine my son and I stumbled into, through the creativity of desperation, at his first preschool drop-off last year. Let’s tie strings to our hearts! I whispered, getting down to look into tear-filled eyes over his mask. He whimpered, but watched as I pantomimed unspooling a long thread, whipping it in the air like a lasso. He giggled as I coiled it around my heart, then very carefully tied the other end around his. Remember if you miss me today, you can pull on your heart-string, and I’ll feel it. Sometimes now, he runs into his classroom without looking back. And sometimes he gets out his invisible string, and he lassos my heart.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Love Looks Like”.

Joy in Four Parts

1

The baby is both things incarnate: the embodiment of joy, and unexpected. Even now, almost a year later, I still look at her in astonishment. Is she really ours? I take a beat before I recognize our reflection as a family of five. Who is that family with three children, outnumbered? Spilling noisily out of a grocery aisle, or strolling loose and easy to the park like, it’s no big deal, what’s one more? She is our big deal. She is our more, and her whole face shows it. She opens her mouth as she takes her first wobbly steps, holding my hands. Ha! Ha! she shouts, looking at me, eyes wide. Did you know this, mama? Did you know the world contained this miracle, this walking? I have doubts about my own purposes here, but I know our baby’s. She came here to be joy.

2

He is so small, so heavy with tears each day, and so much lighter– like a bird– than his constant motion makes him seem. Every day I wonder: Who are you? Who will you be? Our birthdays are five days apart, with 35 years between us, and when he was born I thought, Here is a child who will be like me. We will understand each other, like January people do. In some things, that’s true. Today, working on the solar system puzzle together, slowly, on the kitchen table. Making a nest of blankets on the couch for us to read books in. How he never wants to NOT be wearing pajamas. But then, the abandon with which he sends his trucks into the block towers, whooping at their destruction. The shock of his delight. The shock that it doesn’t take sameness, that I don’t need to share his tastes to share the blaze of his happiness.

3

My first light, my bright girl, she laughs loud. She’s so silly, so ever in the mood for a game it’s easy to miss how soft she is, how easily, deeply wounded. Her quick hug around my waist at the stove where I’m cooking, seeing me frustrated with her brother, stepping around the baby. The many all-caps drawings in pen she makes for us. LOVE SKY FOR MAMA DADA ILOVEYOU SO MUTH. I had bought all the books, last year, to teach her to read. I was going to follow all the steps and now it’s like she’s taken flight. I’m watching her learn it on her own, among her friends at school, trying out different spellings at the kitchen table, or picking up on letters in the wild when we’re out driving, her whole face lighting up in the rearview.

4

The grass in the meadow had curved low on the ground in a pattern like clouds, and the kids were running in it, in the breathless, expectant way of children. They don’t know what comes next or where they’re going, they just know they have to be there, be in it. We called them back from the edge where the grass darkened into bog, picked them up to take a picture with us, in the spot where we were married ten years before. I remembered looking at the stand of pines in the near distance, thinking to myself– Could there ever be joy as deep as this? With him, with us, together, could life ever really be that hard? Yes, I thought, holding our children close in the meadow. And yes.

Some Imperfect Thoughts on an Imperfect Faith

I pray for others daily, even though I don’t know how prayer works. Does it “move the hand of God,” as a former pastor used to say, prompting me to visualize an arcade game, a claw crane grasping at tiny rubber ducks? Is it more about the person praying, an engagement with the Holy Spirit that changes our own internal state, so that we become God’s hands and feet in the world? Is prayer an act of connecting to an energetic force, something already at work, and allowing ourselves to feel our participation in something huge and real, something that definitely impacts our hearts and others’ lives? All of these feel true to me on some level, and I don’t need to know definitively to believe in prayer, or to pray.

*

My prayers are flimsy sometimes. Little half-sentences tossed up to God as I drive the car, brush my teeth, chop carrots. Other times they are long conversations that blend into that middle zone of consciousness, between alertness and sleep. Sometimes writing feels like prayer. Sometimes looking at a sunset or into a baby’s eyes, feeling music fall deeply into my chest, putting my hands into dirt feels like prayer. Maybe prayer is a bridge, something that can take many shapes, that can lead us from one place to another, even if at first it’s just one step.

*

A perennial worry: That I’m not doing enough to nurture my children’s faith. That my own faith is still forming, still blurred around the edges, so what is it I’m imparting?

*

As a family, we pray sporadically before dinner– short, simple prayers of gratitude for our home, a hot meal, our health, and each other. Sometimes my daughter asks specifically to pray, and surprises me with things I didn’t know she was thinking about. Please help the people who don’t have homes. Please make the virus go away.

*

My husband isn’t Christian, but he’s come along with me to different churches over the past decade or more, as I’ve returned to the faith of my childhood after long absence. He’s sat beside me during sermons, in small groups in people’s homes. He’s helped move couches and tables and loads of compost for parishioners, taken our kids to church events, watched me get baptized for the second time. He’s made me beautiful crosses– a small wooden one for prayer, a metal one I’ve hung near my bed, a tiny silver one on a chain. Sometimes I think he is more of a Christian than I am, in the way he loves.

*

I believe in angels, and have a strange fear of them. It’s getting better. I mean I feel like I’m closer to entertaining the thought of connecting with them. A friend tells me our angels are waiting for us to ask them for help. They can’t help us unless we ask. I love thinking of this. I used to think of angels like the heavenly version of busy state representatives. I have no idea what they do, and it’s better to just thank them and stay out of their way, lest I disturb their work. But what if they’re actually bored, waiting to hear from us?

*

My daughter draws pictures of angels in long gowns with fairy wings. They always look joyful, and breathless from dancing. One of my favorite memories with my husband is of dancing like fools to 70s funk, at a wedding where we knew only the bride and groom. How much freer you can move in a space like that, where there’s neither a past nor a future, just a feast. That’s how I imagine the hereafter feels. I hope there’s still a specificity to us. I want to dance with Lyle there, and know I’m dancing with him.

*

Last night I dreamt about the industrial areas in our city and the people trying to survive there. Concrete, shadow, graffiti, tarps, tents. Places where the housed and the privileged, like me, don’t go, or where we drive past in sealed, air-conditioned cars. In the dream I could see the beauty possible there, resistance like a hand brake, making a space even for a short time where people are fed, listened to, their wounds cleaned, their clothing washed. I’m afraid to do those things. I’m afraid not to. In the dream they were connected, the places and people abandoned, and the things and images pursued instead. Then the city became my soul, the abandoned places became the parts of me that I choose to neglect and ignore. This is the location of the work I think Jesus does in us, and where God calls us to seek him. That’s about as close as I get to defining my faith.

*

It’s only partially true that I’ve returned to the faith of my childhood. It’s more like I’ve returned to the address, but the house that was there is gone. Maybe I am rebuilding, or maybe I’m sitting on the bruised foundations, wishing I could remember to seek God with the simplicity of the child I was.

*

Still at the center of all my questioning, there is someone. A presence, a pulse, a ground. I get annoyed with myself, my whining, my disappointing way of repeating mistakes, but this is what I know to be true: God still calls me Beloved. Has always called me– called all of us, incredibly– Beloved. And that’s reason enough for me to press on, to keep trying to know God and do the work God has for me today.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “True”.

Libraries Foster Connection and Community Resilience: Speaking to Support Portland’s Library Bond

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Today the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to refer a library expansion bond measure to the November 2020 ballot. Along with thirteen other Portland residents, I had the pleasure of participating in a period of public comment before the referral was put to a vote. This is the three-minute statement I spent weeks writing and whittling down.

I wasn’t the only speaker who got a little choked up sharing my story of love for our library system with the very sympathetic board, all of whom seemed ready to vote “aye” even before hearing public comments. The board room was packed with people of all stripes, passionate about supporting and improving the library. One speaker’s family has had five generations use and enjoy the Belmont branch.

Our library system is one of the most-used in the nation, but ranks 102nd in square footage. Officially made a tax-supported public library in 1902, most branches were built in the early 20th century, designed to accommodate an early 20th century population we have since overwhelmingly outpaced. My family has been regularly  turned away from packed event rooms at storytime due to overcrowding, and after one of several such experiences I reached out to the Library Foundation to ask how I might get involved in efforts to fund expansion. They responded with kindness and generosity, and invited me to participate in supporting this bond measure by sharing our story.

What a thrill to participate in this local part of the democratic process. I’ve been hungry for hope and for ways to directly impact decision-making locally, and this morning fed my soul. I can’t wait to vote yes in November.


Chair Kafoury and Commissioners, I am grateful for this chance to speak to you today and ask you to put this bond before voters in November.

I’m a homeowner and the mother of two young children, ages 5 and 2. We live in Lents, one of many neighborhoods in East County experiencing rapid change, not all of it beneficial to the people who live there.

My daughter and I started going to storytime in 2015, when she was 4 months old. Once or twice a week, we walked to the Holgate Library and joined the circle of kids and parents from our neighborhood for stories and songs. Her face lit up whenever we said the word “library.” By preschool, her vocabulary wowed her teachers.

I truly believe we owe her pre-literacy skills to storytime at the library. This free program shaped her because it was easily available to us every week.

Like a good story is more than its plot, and a love of reading is about more than learning letters, storytimes are about more than songs and books. They are about consistency and connection. One of the first names my daughter learned was Juliet, the Holgate children’s librarian who knew her, in turn, by name. These early relationships and exposures matter.

But this magic formula is becoming harder to access at Portland libraries. Since my son was born in 2018, I’ve seen my family and others regularly turned away from storytime due to overcrowding.

One recent morning, after the usual chaos of spilled Cheerios and preschool drop-off, it felt like a minor miracle when my son and I made it to the event room at Holgate— only to find the door closed and a sign saying FULL. As I comforted my son, I was embarrassed to find tears in my own eyes.

But as we walked home that day, I realized I could make this about our small disappointment, or I could see the bigger picture. Over the past few years, I have felt the city changing. Like so many of my neighbors in Lents, I worry for the folks struggling to survive winter in tents and cars. Our city is stretched to capacity, and everywhere we look, we see need.

At the library, though, I see solutions. I see resources made available to people of every age, economic background, race, gender, and ability. I see those resources being heavily, gratefully used.

What if, on that recent day, I had been a first-time library user? A family new to town, curious about storytime? Would I have come back?

I want storytime for EVERYONE. And that’s just one of many library services that Portlanders want and use. The library consistently brings me and my neighbors connection and empowerment. As neighborhoods grow, our library branches need to grow, too.

Give the community a chance to invest in East County libraries like the one my neighbors and I use. Give us a chance to invest in each other.

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When You See the Heartbeat at Coffee + Crumbs 

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In early June, my essay about waiting to miscarry appeared on Coffee + Crumbs.

“When You See The Heartbeat” is a short essay describing the two weeks between an unpromising first ultrasound just before Christmas, when the heartbeat was detectable but weak, and a second scan after the new year. Writing this essay helped me process the swirl of hope and fear I felt as I waited.

In January, we lost our hoped-for baby at 9.5 weeks, in the middle of one of the coldest, wettest, iciest winters in a city wholly unprepared for snow. It was a long and difficult winter. Spring’s arrival never filled me with as much hope and relief as this year.

On June 2nd, when this essay went up on the site, I had my first ultrasound for the baby I’m now carrying. This time, baby measured right on track with a strong heartbeat. I sobbed through that ultrasound, thinking of the baby we lost and this new little one we are so hopeful for. We are praising God that we’re at 14 weeks now, and praying this baby will be born healthy and full of life in early January of 2018.

I share this essay for anyone who is waiting, anyone who is grieving the loss of even the tiniest life. I share it in hope and with an outstretched hand if you are feeling alone in the middle of your own dark winter– even in high summer.

Photo via Coffee + Crumbs.

Creative Lives: In Conversation with Julie L. Moore at Ruminate Magazine

clem-onojeghuo-205193-unsplashLast fall, I received the enormous gift of an extended conversation with poet Julie L. Moore, facilitated by Ruminate Magazine.

Here is Part 1 of the series “Creative Lives,” a slightly edited version of our email exchange in which we discuss the highs and lows of pursuing a life in poetry.

In Part 2, we discuss writing community and the poets and writers who have shaped us. And in Parts 3 and 4, we talk about the process of building a collection of poems, and how we respond as poets to the aching, changing world around us.

I hope you enjoy this conversation on poetry and the creative process.

Photo via Unsplash

On Creativity, Marriage, and Parenting on Coffee + Crumbs

 

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I’m delighted to share my essay “Through,” published this month on Coffee + Crumbs. This essay is about how becoming a parent transformed my relationships– to my husband and to my creative work.

Coffee + Crumbs has been a lifeline in these early years of parenting. I’ve looked forward to each new essay appearing on this collaborative blog about motherhood, because I can always count on the words published there to be affirming, encouraging, and real. I appreciate how this collective group of writers and editors does not shy away from the hard parts of becoming a mother– and how the readers respond with kindness and support.

And as I’ve folded laundry, washed dishes, prepped dinner, or collapsed on the couch after my little one’s bedtime, I’ve LOVED listening to the C + C podcast, with its humor and helpful advice on everything from adoption and being a working mom to making time for spiritual practice and finding the perfect postpartum bra. (PS, there’s also an awesome monthly newsletter you should subscribe to right now. It’s probably the only newsletter I subscribe to that I read, reread, and save. Click here and look for the subscribe button on the right.)

One of my favorite things about growing as a writer has been finding publications that really fit my voice– and becoming part of the community of readers. It seems so obvious: you should publish where you read. And yet actually doing that has made such a difference in my life. It has connected me to other readers who resonate with my writing, and to writers whose work I love, too.

Read my essay “Through” on Coffee + Crumbs, leave a comment, and join this amazing community of mothers, readers, and writers.

Photo via Coffee + Crumbs

Writing in the Margins

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Here’s a short essay on how I write poems, a contribution to the “25th Hour” column at Mothers Always Write, on process and mothering.

As mothers who write, we often stretch and steal and bend time in order to make new work. The writers in this column compose poems in their minds as they rock babies, prepare lunches, or wait in the school pickup line. They carry notebooks in their purses, and write on the back of junk mail envelopes at the post office. These mothers always write, even when we’re not writing.

“In the Margins”speaks to the way I’ve stretched time throughout my life, writing poems since I was young, always at the edge of things.

How do you make time to write? Do you write in the margins of life, too?

Read my essay at Mothers Always Write, then click over to my poem “Sunflowers.”

On Anxiety, Prayer, and Mothering at Hip Mama

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I forgot to post that I have an article up at Hip Mama! In September, I participated in the Literary Kitchen Personal Essay Intensive, and wrote the rough drafts of five new essays in under two weeks. This is one of them. (This was an incredible workshop I highly recommend for both new and experienced writers! Go, go, go sign up for one right now.)

This essay is a chronicle of my relationship with worry and faith, both of which have been challenged and intensified during new motherhood. Since writing and sharing this essay, I’ve learned from so many other women that this anxiety thing is very, very common– and that fact alone has been helpful.

The first few months of motherhood can be especially dark for new moms, and it’s a slightly cruel corollary that they’re also months when it’s extremely hard to get out of the house. So not only are you sleep-poor and anxiety-rich, but you are fairly convinced you’re alone in both. Not true! We moved into a new neighborhood just after our daughter was born, and I had a hard time getting together with friends across the city– even and sometimes especially with other new moms. Changing nap schedules and frequent colds inevitably led to canceled and postponed playdates.

Some new neighbor mom friends and I got together last night. We shared a bottle of wine, some chocolate and popcorn, and lots of good, cathartic laughter about the relentlessness of mothering toddlers. We told stories about new words and potty-training successes, and swapped frustrations over neighborhood issues and tantrums and skipped naps.

I am buoyed by this possibility of new friendships developing. It’s what I’ve been missing in this last year– the chance to be real with other moms and in doing so to realize I’m not alone. In the overwhelm AND the joy. That being a mom can be all of this– gratitude, absurdity, irritation, fierce love, fear, sadness, pride, happiness, and yes, worry.

Writing and sharing this essay on anxiety, prayer, and mothering has been a meaningful experience and I hope it helps other moms feel a little less alone.

Image via Hip Mama

Reviving My Writing Practice Post-Baby

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My daughter was almost one before I began writing again. Her early months were all-consuming, and I simply didn’t have the spare energy to either write or worry about not writing. It was late May when I decided it was time to jump back in and figure out where I had left off. Staring at the haphazard pile of drafts and notebooks in my closet, I swallowed a nervous lump in my throat.

Where do I start?

I want to share some of what I’ve learned as I’ve stepped back into a regular habit of writing. Please note: this is not a how-to. I read so many how-tos during the anxious months of pregnancy and early motherhood, I now recoil at the very sight of a how-to infographic. The last thing any of us needs, parent or not, is another way to feel anxious, or another list of things to do.

As a parent and as a writer, I like learning from others and feel grateful for the people and resources that have helped me along the way. Friends texted us when we were struggling with our daughter’s sleep. Eula Biss’s On Immunity and a big fat history of vaccines helped me grapple with all the fear out there about immunizations. The moms and babies in my breastfeeding support group have shared snacks and hugs and recipes and tips with me as we each made our own way through our little ones’ first year.

So what I want to share here is, like so much of my parenting style, a big collage of trial and error and learning from others. It’s what is working now, but I know I will need to stay attentive and active so that I can respond to the changes in my writing and my family. That’s probably the biggest take-home here:

For me, reviving my writing practice has meant tuning into what works today, and taking one step at a time. It has meant being fierce—I will find time to write today because it’s important. And flexible—I will accept the amount and quality of time I have today, even if it’s five minutes, and trust that both will grow and deepen with time.

My goal is to finish a collection of poems, and write prose for paying markets, while continuing to be the primary caregiver for our daughter. Here are five things that are helping me as I reach for those goals.

1) I’m reading more, especially about writing.

It’s really, really easy to collapse on the couch when my girl naps and zone out on the Internet. This is what Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, calls resistance. It’s easier to fritter away my time on Pinterest, in the name of researching dinner recipes or garden hacks, than it is to feel my fear about creating. That fear is currently tuned into my sense of time having accelerated since becoming a mom. I’m afraid I won’t ever have enough time to complete the projects I really care about, so I don’t even begin. You know what? It’s true. I don’t have enough time. I have slivers and bits and scribbled-on margins of time, littered all over the day. But I feel way more inspired and motivated when I use those margins of time purposefully. Now I try to sit down and write, or I read– especially about creativity and career. These are the books I’ve found most helpful so far:

Writer Mama, Christina Katz
Ordinary Genius, Kim Addonizio
The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing, Gigi Rosenberg
Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

Next step is learning how to be kind to myself when I choose Pinterest or Facebook or some stupid slide-show (Kid Stars of the 1980s! Where Are They Now?!) instead. Your tips requested!

2) I map out the weeks and months.
This spring, I signed up for an 8-week Fit4Mom class. Every Monday and Wednesday night for eight weeks, I worked out at 7:30. Period. When I finished those eight weeks, I felt great and saw a difference. I thought, Why not do this with writing?

Now I put writing time and deadlines into my schedule. To keep track, I use the free Monday Calendar app. I also have two whiteboard calendars: one on the fridge for family life, and one above my desk for writing deadlines.

3) I joyfully hitch my wagon to other wagons.
If you are a new parent, and especially what they (so unimaginatively) call a “stay at home mom,” you’re probably well-acquainted with loneliness. Writing can feel lonely, too. I love being able to connect with others about our writing goals and projects– sometimes while we push our kids in swings or pack them into the backpack for a hike.

From time to time, I connect over Skype with a couple of incredible women from my MFA program. We exchange work and critique via group video chat. The technology is hit-or-miss, so I am on the lookout for ways to improve that side of things. But I love the magic of suddenly being reunited with these powerful, compassionate writers. It still feels like sci-fi or Charlie’s Angels to me.

In the spring, a friend included me in a 40-day accountability email exchange. She had a goal and she just wanted a handful of people she was close to to “listen in” on her progress. I was so deeply impressed with her vulnerability and her courage. I read every one of her emails and rooted her on to success. What I learned was that it wasn’t about completing a task perfectly– it was about discovering more about herself and what she valued. So in August, I asked her to join me in a 30-day poetry challenge. I wanted to do something that scared me, like she had. It was scary. Some days I hated it. But I ended up with about ten poems I think I might actually be able to do something with– and that’s more than I’d written in the past two years combined. Holy sh**.

I’m super, duper excited about this next one: a monthly critique group that meets in the evenings. I just started this last month with a handful of friends. I really hope it becomes a long-term thing, because I love it. We plan to rotate houses, exchange work by email a week before each meeting, and keep the snack thing simple.

Last thing in terms of community: taking online courses. I tried one with Poetry Barn and wasn’t able to get through all of the assignments, but I did my best. This month I’m trying a class called Literary Boot Camp with Mothers Always Write and a Personal Essay Intensive course with Ariel Gore, in which we will somehow write the drafts of six essays in twelve days. Both of these just about scare the pants off me. But supposedly that’s how you know you should do something, right? Right…

4) I found a great babysitter, and I stay home and write.
There is no way–no way— I would take on the “6-essays-in-twelve-days” thing without a solid plan. That plan is called childcare. I feel like I struck gold with our babysitter. She works in early childhood education, lives in our neighborhood, and has a gentle personality that my daughter loves. My husband and I pay her well and give her presents because we want her to be our babysitter forever. In the past, I used the time to get out of the house or nap. Now I hunker down at my desk and write.

This automatically saves money on coffee and gas or lunch or whatever I used to do instead of staying home to write. It also has meant combing through our family budget to cut expenses and be able to afford childcare. I say “no” to a lot of small things so that I can say “yes” to one thing that matters a lot to me.  Which leads me to my last point…

5) I’ve let go of a lot of other things.
I’m an American mom in the 21st century, so there are oh, I don’t know, 82 things I think I need to perfect. Tell me I’m not alone when I say I have somehow got it into my head, as a woman in the United States, that after having a baby I need to focus on having a great body, stylish clothes, an amazing sex life, homemade homegrown vegan meals, a spotless and stylish house cleaned with homemade natural cleaners, and spend all of my time engineering crafty sensory-play activities for baby. Good grief.

Thankfully, there aren’t enough hours in the day. Thankfully, I believe in a God who loves me as I am and covers me with grace, because not only do I fall so very short of perfection, I also believe the lies of this culture and keep wandering down their hall-of-mirror detours. Writing is prayer for me, because I also really suck at praying. But when I write, I feel like I get in touch with who God made me to be, and everything else starts showing up the way it ought to. The important things look important again, and the silly things look really, really silly.

Caring for our daughter is in.
Writing is in.
Connecting with my family is in.
Basic self-care is in.
Everything else is bonus.

I am learning to simplify my exercise routine (… sometimes that means I don’t exercise, but progress not perfection, right?) and keep our weeknight meals really simple. This summer I got fed up with keeping house and kind of just quit. Turns out that isn’t sustainable for any of us, so last night my husband and I sat down over a glass or two of wine and made our very first chore chart. In five years of marriage and twelve years of living life together. I hope we survive this. (Just kidding– like everything I’ve written here, the chore chart is an experiment designed to help us figure out what works for us. I’ll let you know how it goes.)

The best part about writing again— writing even though I’m scared, writing instead of procrastinating, writing myself toward a career I have wanted since I was a little girl— the best part is that the more I write, the more I feel like… me.

I feel motivated to write. Ideas find me. I wake up with lines for a new poem or one in revision. I have more energy. I’m a lot happier and that means I am more focused when I’m with my daughter and family.

I don’t have this nagging sense of work left undone, of missing out on a life I want to live, because I’m living it.

Are you returning to a writing practice after becoming a parent? Please share your ideas in the comments. I’d love to learn from you.

Photo via Unsplash stock photos; Simson Petrol.