With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Non-Writing Life

Last week I organized the files on my computer for the first time in fifteen years. I am not kidding; though I have had three or four different computers in that timeframe, I just transferred massive amounts of files from one to another. It took hours to read through and delete outdated lesson plans, Christmas letters, and swimming workouts, but in the process of cleansing I found some personal treasures - journals of my first pregnancy. My face burned and my gut clenched with some remembered emotion as I read through the months leading up to Aden's birth.

One bittersweet note was the number of references I made to writing, to hopes for editing and freelancing jobs, to classes taken and books purchased (last week I also had to throw out the 1996 and 1997 Writer's Markets since both are obviously outdated, pre-twitter, pre-everything). Here is one note I made to myself from February of 2001;

"I got really busy with school and two coaching jobs sometime after my last entry and have not had time or extra energy for writing, just for emails and checking the pregnancy websites J However – I got a letter from a friend asking to exchange some writing material for critiquing purposes. I’m intrigued by the suggestion and asked her for an “assignment” to complete since I don’t have any other writing to give her! Definitely need to keep in practice."

I was often "intrigued" and given to exhortations to "keep practicing."  I made other references to writing up to August, and then - after a detailed description of Aden's birth - everything stops for ten years.  While this decade of delay is not uncommon after women have children (see Meg Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap link), I felt constricted and teary at the thought of so many false starts and delays.There's no doubt that - while motherhood pushed everything else out of the way - it has also provided deep and lasting topics for writing and discussion, which are 'intriguing.'  Now I just have to "keep practicing!" and finally make that dream happen.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Mom's Battle Against Sugar

I'm supposed to be "off" sugar, which is more difficult than getting my teenagers up in the early morning. The sweet stuff is in everything from catchup (can't eat it) to tea to tacos (well, not so much in tacos but I was looking for alliteration).  As I struggle to keep sugar out of the house and out of my mouth, the kids and Rob are dragged into the fray - not a lot around to eat, and lots of begging to buy more. Here's a poem I wrote this summer in honor of the Dravenstott war on sugar:


Sugar, the Enemy


Sticky-spray confections at swim meets,
Popsicles at the ice-cream truck,
Syrup on French toast golden in the pan,
Washed down with apple juice from a tin can.

Youth’s energy squared by Splenda,
Attention deficits blasted by corn syrup,
Wild gazes snagged by adverts and TV games,
Ability to focus gone up in flames.

Frenetics fueled by toxins addictive as cocaine,
Point to the proof and be called insane.
Cower at the store if you say “not today,”
Be clipped with the cart if you get in the way.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Where I Am From

I spent a thought-provoking weekend in poetry class at Regis. One of the exercises we tackled was the Where I Am From poem, based on the original poem written by George Ella Lyon (http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html) and a template created by Levi R0mero (template) inspired by the original poem. Each student created his or her own piece in about twenty minutes, and we had a blast reading and listening to everyone's brief synopsis of growing up. I asked my sister to write one of her own and was tickled that we picked several of the same words or images. Here's my version:

Where I am From

I am from pea green shag rug
from mustard yellow wall phone and long, long cord.
I am from the blue-shuttered salt box without air conditioning
holding the odor of lentil-barley soup.
I am from the rhubarb patch, the weeping willow,
whose tentacle limbs and gnarled roots hid secret notes and Barbie dolls.

I’m from living Christmas trees and loud sneezes,
from Herman and Ruth.
I’m from throat-clearing and garage-sale shopping
and Mass on Sunday mornings.

I’m from suck it up and respect your mother
and “My Darling Clementine” on guitar.
I’m from eggy-cheese casserole on holidays.
I’m from Pompton Plains and Ann Arbor,
turkey tetrazzini and 31 Flavors.
From shipwrecked child-bride Mary
passing a ten-spot down the queue at Ellis Island,
from many wood-paneled living rooms on which hung
photos of Montana tree farms, mountain sunsets,

 and family crests of keys.

-Laura Dravenstott

Friday, August 21, 2015

Back To School Nights

I've been a hamster on the Back to School treadmill for the past two weeks and now slump over my laptop with the first of many cups of black tea, sighing in relief for Fridays and trying to plan a big sleep over the weekend. We're blessed to live in a school district where teachers and schools welcome parents and community members, plan for BTSN, and dedicate entire evenings to the process of greeting and informing thousands of parents, but these first ten days have exhausted everyone.

And yes, I did say "thousands.' Last night at Aden's high school, one of the assistant principals told us that he estimated between 3500 and 5000 parents would attend the BTSN.  I was in shock for a number of reasons: my fitbit said that I walked two miles to get to all of Aden's classes, we had just walked into - and out of - the special college prep counseling room with hundreds of collegiate pennants hanging from the ceiling, and Rob and I had just finished musing on the lack of any kind of back to school night at our high schools. In fact, what memory tells me (and it could be lying) was that my parents took me to seventh grade, wished me luck with college planning, and did not set foot on my middle school or high school campuses until graduation.

So we either live in an incredible district or just see the real-time effects of helicopter parenting, or both, as we jostle for space in crowded corridors and wipe sweat from our brow in overcrowded classrooms. I almost laughed out loud on Tuesday at the 7th grade BTSN; William's science teacher was absent due to taking her own daughter to college, so she recorded a video to play for parents. As we filed in and sat down, another school employee greeted us and explained, then started the video. The classroom was full, the video playing, and I looked around in disbelief as everyone focused intently on the screen, taking notes of the teacher's contact info and requirements. Surely this was the moment for idle chatter, comic relief, or even sneaking out early - but no, we were rapt. Anything to guarantee our children's success.

But of course, we can't guarantee success, any more than we can prevent heartache and disappointment. To that end, we were gratified by the high school's emphasis on students' reaching out to their teachers whenever they need help; teachers have office hours each day and set up other special times by appointment. They expect the freshman to need help and ask for it, and that might be the greatest skill they learn this year. I didn't learn how to ask for help until my mid-thirties, so our kids will be way ahead of the curve, no matter what grades they earn.




Monday, August 17, 2015

A Room With No View

I'm writing for the first time in the new basement office, which Aden and I cleaned and arranged over the summer. She plans to do art here and I, (dare I say it out loud?) I plan to write. And I might as well make a full confession; I plan to write blog entries, magazine articles, poetry and possibly even . (drumroll please). . . a young adult novel. Take that, universe! I actually typed it 'out loud.' No take backs.

It's weird being down in the basement, hiding from housework, the phone, and the cat. When I plugged the computer into the unused wall outlet - after working for ten minutes to get the child protector piece out of the socket with various coins, and banging my head on the desk in the process - I thought I might be electrocuted, either by the ancient outlet or by a lightning strike from God, angry at my hubris. But no electrocution, only a frightened spider.

Stephen King gave me the motivation to clear 200 pounds of toys and old clothes out of the space in order to create my writing haven. In his wonderful book, On Writing, King strongly recommends that a hopeful writer finds a place of their own to write. King says, "it really only needs one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk." (2000, page 155). The kitchen counter and our converted dining room / office space do not have doors, which is great when I need to see what the kids are doing on their computers, but counterproductive for me, when all family members and pets can find and distract me at will. This little room has a door, it also has a small desk and a bookshelf. It's humble, but it's a start. If you'll excuse me, I'll get to work.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A New School Year

Up at 5:45 this morning to get Aden off to the school bus by 6:15 (are the school administrators CRAZY?) and spent the following three hours prepping bagels, smoothies, sausages and toast for three different kids off to their first days of school (at three different schools). I'm somewhat used to getting up early to work out, or squeeze in some writing, but my mind boggles at the thought of getting up so early just to keep someone company. All I did before work was putter around the kitchen and make messes so that I could clean them up.

Nerves were at play with all the kids and I felt the emotional weight of the milestone, so we'll all be jangly this afternoon, for sure. A few of my friends had tears (their own and their kiddo's) at the elementary school, and while I feel more excited for the adventures to begin than sad at the start of crazy school week routines, I understand the emotions. Though time passes quickly all year round and the children grow and change daily, parents notice the growth - the sharper cheekbones, extra inches, newly practiced eye-roll - much more at an official start date like the first day of school.

It's shocking as a cold rainstorm in August to realize that my child started high school today. She's ready, and I'm curious and eager to hear about all of her adventures, but I do thank my lucky stars that she has four full years left before college. (By that time I plan to have invented a college that she can attend in my living room).  Now the hard part will be buckling down myself to get writing done, and hopefully acquire a writing job. With no kids to distract me, with the house mostly cleaned out and ready for new adventures I have no excuses - except maybe to finally get my 5:30am workout in before everyone comes home.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Home from Hawaii

We made it home in the early afternoon yesterday and spent the rest of the day shuffling with glazed eyes from suitcase to washer to dryer. As beachy-salty sandals and swimsuits full of seashells spilled out of the hamper we reflected on our amazing week and already missed Hawaii. Despite our joy at seeing the cat again and our relief at sleeping in our own (well air-conditioned) beds, we miss the breeze, the carefree island attitude and above all, the ocean.

I have been to Hawaii four times and this trip was my favorite. Highlights included: snorkeling with the kids - seeing a green sea turtle with Aden and swimming through a school of white and black striped fish with William; sea kayaking out to a small island / bird sanctuary and down Lanikai beach; taking turns on a paddle board in both the calm canal and the choppy ocean and watching Aden and William ride the waves (standing!) all the way back to shore; shopping and eating out at the Kailua farmers' market (trying local kombucha, dragon fruit, lychee popsicles and macadamia nut candy); playing high-speed, competitive solitaire with Grandpa Bill and Grandma Connie each night, and wandering through a brilliant plumeria grove at the Koko crater botanical garden. Of course, food cost twice as much, and the kids almost killed each other in the back seat of the rented minivan on more than one occasion, but all things considered it was a vacation beyond compare.

We did miss the meeting of the Clavadetscher cousins, aunts and uncles in Montana, and we watched Aunt Karen's compilation video with full hearts and eager eyes. We hope to see everyone next year - maybe back at our other favorite ocean off the shore of Cape Cod?  And lastly, I want to ask for prayers for Andrea Himmelberger, Rob's cousin's wife, a wonderful lady who starts chemo for lymphoma today. Sending love to all!