On NaNoWriMo, Birthdays and Thankfulness

Every 5 to 11 years, Thanksgiving falls on my birthday.  It’s been a long stretch this time around, and I haven’t celebrated a Thanksgiving birthday since 2002, when I was 19 turning 20.  So, in the past 11 years, my life has changed drastically, and so, so much for the better.  Since then, I’ve gotten to write, to travel, to fall in love, to have adventures, to become a mother, and to evolve into someone that I actually like pretty well most of the time.  I’ve become happy.  Sure, there have been some hard spells during those years, but overall, they’ve been absolutely amazing, and I’m grateful to have lived them the way I have.  This year in particular has obviously been quite the capstone to the stretch of years between Thanksgiving birthdays.  I didn’t do any sort of thankfulness blogging this year because I was relearning how to have a daily writing habit with NaNoWriMo.  Oh, speaking of which…

2013 NaNoWriMo Winner

That happened on Nov. 22. BOOM.

I’ve written before about what NaNoWriMo means to me, but this year it’s taken on a new significance.  I really hadn’t written much since NaNoWriMo 2012, save a short story here and there.  I just didn’t have the drive or the ideas or, especially after Pip was born, the energy.  I thought about not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but the thought of sitting out after having “won” eight years consecutively just didn’t feel right.  I figured it was better to try and fail than to not try at all.

But a funny thing happened.  Turned out I actually did have plenty of time to write on a daily basis.  It was just a matter of actually using the time I had productively instead of, you know, playing Candy Crush.  It was the most delightful discovery to find that, if I put my mind to it, I really could power through 1,000 words in the 4 o’clock hour in the morning before work and another 1,000 words in the 7 or 8 o’clock hour at night after Pip went to bed.  The hardest part was reigning in my brain and convincing it to do the job set before it.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The 50,000 words I wrote? Pretty much all drivel.  But the whole point for me this year was really just to prove to myself I could have a daily writing habit again.  And so I did.  And in the process, I think I actually ended up with enough to go back to at some point, which is a nice bonus.

And that’s really just the cap on a really amazing year.  So, in no particular order, some things I’m thankful for.

[FridayFlash] Guardian

Here’s a bit of #FridayFlash one day early for Halloween. To those of you partaking in the grand adventure that is NaNoWriMo, best of luck & see you on the other side!


GUARDIAN

Rose by Elizabeth DittyThe cat had wandered into her yard again. She had tried everything — coffee grounds, citrus peels, cayenne pepper, even moth balls.  A spray bottle was no deterrent, and neither was the hose.  Even her dog was no match for the mangy thing, and he now had a gash on his nose to prove it.

Every time she stepped outside, every time she came home, her eyes began to itch, her nose began to drain, and her anger began to swell.

Through her window, she watched as the cat sprayed her flowerbeds, soaking them in ammonia-scented urine.  She thought of the hard work she’d put into planting those flowers, of the hard-earned money she’d spent to make her house a home, and of the excruciating back ache the next day.

She was done.

She bolted into the garage and grabbed her son’s BB gun, a gift from her ex-husband despite her insistence against it.  She barrelled out the front door and met the cat right at the front stoop.  It froze at the sight of her — nostrils flared, flyaways escaping from her ponytail.

For a second, as their eyes connected, she had second thoughts.  But then the cat lifted its leg and sprayed the front step.

A loud POP.  A louder screech.  A trail of blood drops.  Likely not enough to have killed it, but enough that the cat was gone and likely for good.

Her lips hardened into a line.  She didn’t like resorting to violence, but it had left her no choice.  She walked back inside and replaced the BB gun in the garage.

That night, long after her children were tucked into bed, she sat in a rocking chair by the window, as she often did when fighting insomnia.  Normally she read, but tonight she felt distracted.  Her gaze drifted out onto the dark lawn.  The street lamp was out, and had been for weeks, despite her calls to the city and electric company.

So when she saw the two red slits appear in the blackness, she was confused.  And then another set appeared.  And finally a third.  A low rumble sounded, at first nearly imperceptible, growing, deepening, finally working its way into her eardrums where it settled and reverberated in the space between her lungs.

Her eyes adjusted to the dark just enough to make out horns, fur, black pupils in a red sea.  The creatures clawed the ground, paced back and forth, but did not approach, as if held back by an invisible line.

And then they saw her, and the rumble exploded into a shrieking growl.  She scrambled away from the window and dove beneath the covers, shivering so hard that the bed creaked.  A million thoughts ran through her mind, too fast for her to comprehend any of them save one: she would add cat food to her grocery list in the morning.


© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty

My 10 Commandments of NaNoWriMo, New Parent Edition

I’ve thought long and hard about attempting NaNoWriMo this year.  There are plenty of reasons not to do it, but let’s be honest — there are always plenty of reasons not to write 50,000 words in one month.  This will be my 9th year, and in the end, I decided I would feel better about trying and failing than about having not tried at all.

I’ve been out of the daily writing habit for a long while now.  In the midst of my pregnancy, I was saddled with an overarching lack of desire to write.  Which really sucked a lot.  And while I’ve churned out a few short stories since Pippin was born, harnessing the energy at the appropriate time has been a struggle.  So, if for no other reason, NaNoWriMo contains the potential power to get me into a daily writing habit again.

NaNoWriMo 2013 Participant Banner

My 10 Commandments for Surviving NaNoWriMo as a New Parent

Here are the strategies I’m hoping to put into place to get me through the month and to 50,000 words.

Commandment #1: Trade Off Parenting Duty

I’m very lucky that I have a super supportive partner, who has also participated in NaNoWriMo the past two years.  This November, he’ll be starting a new adventure — returning to school to get a teaching degree — at the same time I’m buckling down for NaNoWriMo.  We’re typically pretty good about taking shifts watching Pippin while the other one goes off to do whatever we need to do — work out, create something, sleep, etc. — and that will become even more important moving forward.

Commandment #2: Take the Writing on the Road (or the Kiddo Out of the House) At Least Once a Week

A subcategory of trading off, we’re going to try to ensure that we both get distraction-free time each week.  We can drop into our local Starbucks, or one of us can take Pip out for an adventure at a play place or a trip to the grocery store.

Commandment #3: Stop Wasting Time on the Internets

I know, I know. This is old advice. I tend to have screen-induced ADD, to the point where I tell myself it actually helps my productivity to pop over to facebook or twitter or Candy Crush (Dear God, why did I ever download that awful, terrible, horrible game?!) every five minutes.  Well, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right?  Well, there you go.  If I have 15 minutes of downtime, I should use it to tap out a few hundred words instead of messing about on something useless.

Commandment #4: Get Some Exercise

My brain works best when I get my workouts in, so I need to continue making those a priority.  I’ve already lowered my expectations for what I consider workouts these days, but if I can manage to fit in something active just about every day (a very brisk walk with Pip in the stroller, a 15- to 20-minute strength workout after he goes to bed, etc.), then I’ll be in good shape (both mentally and physically).

Commandment #5: Don’t Throw a Healthy Diet Out the Window

Our crockpot is going to see a lot of action this November.  So are our freezer and our oven.  It turns out babies and school are expensive, so ramping up the eating out isn’t really a great option for us — plus doing so generally tends to work against my previous strategy.  But our budget can handle some frozen stuff we can just pop in the oven, like healthy fish, organic burritos, or pre-frozen casseroles from Costco.

Commandment #6: Write in the Morning; Write in the Evening

I get up at 4:15 a.m. in the morning to pump before I go to work, and during that pumping time, I am basically tethered to my computer.  Same in the evening before bed.  Those are also the times when Pippin is (usually) sleeping.  If I can knock out 1,000 words at each go, I’ll be in very good shape.

Commandment #7: Jot Down Ideas All Day Long

Whether it’s scribbled on a piece of paper, hastily typed into my iPhone, or inarticulately blabbed as a voice memo, I will do my best to capture thoughts so I can incorporate them into writing later.  No more ideas lost to the ether.

Commandment #8: Know What I’m Going to Write Next

I’m going to make an effort to plan the next bit I’m going to write whenever I’m getting ready to wrap up a writing session.  I don’t think I need to go so far as stopping in the middle of a sentence, but knowing what I’m going to do next will enable me to jump in more quickly the next time I have a few minutes.

Commandment #9: Write Every Day

Even if I don’t think there’s any way, shape or form I can hit the 1,667-word quota, I can still write something.  One hundred words are better than zero words.

Commandment #10: “Side Projects and Hobbies are Important.”

In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how having a hobby and actively pursuing it in the midst of his other “real” projects improves his creativity.  I think it’s important to stay engaged with the world in as many ways as possible, which is one reason why I take so many photographs.  It helps me see things I wouldn’t have even noticed had I not been looking for an interesting photo — and that in turn leads to interesting things popping out at me because my brain is trained to do that.  And the hope is that that brain elasticity transfers to my writing.  So I plan to keep taking photos during November (I participate in #fmsphotoaday every month, sometimes more fully than others), and I plan to take the time to make some physical art.  I’m also going to hang out with my kid, watch some TV shows and go on a few dates hopefully.  Because the best writing comes from what we discover while living life.

Join the Challenge — Sign Up for NaNoWriMo

The best and worst fact of NaNoWriMo is there’s always someone busier than you.  If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, stop making excuses and take the plunge. It’ll be a grand adventure and one you most certainly won’t regret.  No time like the present, so go sign up!  If you’re planning on participating, I’d love to hear (and potentially steal) your strategies for making it through the month — leave me a comment!

[FridayFlash] A Familiar Gift

Figured I’d better start gearing up for NaNoWriMo, so here’s a short (and quickly written) dose of Halloween fiction. Please enjoy, & don’t forget to visit the rest of the #fridayflash community!


A FAMILIAR GIFT

When the man arrived at my doorstep, I barely glanced at him.

“Can I help you?” I asked.  I wanted to be polite, but I was really quite busy.  Three half-carved jack-o-lanterns sat on my kitchen counter along with a pot bubbling on the stove, not to mention the sewing project on the table waiting for my return.

“I’ve been watching you,” he said.  His voice felt like gravel being poured over my head.  It made me pay attention.

He was thin and dressed all in black, and so it wasn’t until I heard the purring that I realized a black cat was lounging in his arms.  I took a step back, but the man remained at the same distance from me.  The cat kept purring.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied, or at least tried to.

The man smiled a grin full of teeth, but I couldn’t tell if they were rotten or perfectly maintained.  When I tried to look directly at him, it was as if I were in a house of mirrors lit with strobe lights.

“I had my initial doubts,” he said.  “You were such a good girl growing up.”

The cat’s purrs were beginning to reverberate in my ears.  I could barely hear his voice over the sound.

“But you’ve proven very worthy in the past few months.”

A chill ran up my spine, and then a burst of fire shot back down it.

“The effort you’ve put into your research is quite impressive.  I don’t find many like you in this day and age, especially in mid-American suburbia.”

He looked around the subdivision in which my house resided and chuckled.  I was reminded briefly of a grinning skeleton before he fixed his dark eyes back on mine.

“I’ve brought you a gift,” he said.

The purring quieted.  He held out the black, furry creature to me, and without any intention to do so, I received her into my arms.

“She’ll help you in your efforts,” he said.  “I’ll return for her after seven years.  Look after her well, and you will be rewarded.  If not, well…”

He stepped off the porch and back into my driveway.  He looked back over his shoulder and grinned that ghastly, beautiful grin once again.  “Happy Halloween.”

I don’t know how long I stood there or quite when he disappeared.  I fear I might have stood there forever if not for the cat’s meow.  I looked into the creature’s yellow eyes.  It was as if she were encouraging me to get back to my to-do list.  So I did.

As I wandered past the half-stitched doll and stick pins on the table, the smell of the concoction in the cast iron pot told me it was ready.  I walked to the gas stove and turned up the flame with my free hand, and then retrieved the remaining ingredient from the cabinet.  The cat jumped out of my arms and onto the counter, where she kept a watchful eye as I dropped the lock of hair into the cauldron.

As it bubbled, the cat began purring again, and I knew that we would soon become very familiar companions.

Viola the Black Cat by Elizabeth Ditty


© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty

[STILL] Post-Production is Complete!

Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues, I have finally been able to complete post-production on STILL. And this is wonderful because, while I am pleased with the final cut of the film, I am also so sick of looking at it. I’m definitely ready for others to be the ones watching instead of me. :-)

Unfortunately, the whole thing is a little anticlimactic because I can’t post it for public consumption until we’ve completed the festival submission process, which probably won’t be for some time.  But hey, I can show you guys this little poster!

STILL, a short film by elizabeth ditty

Right now, the film is on its way to several festivals.  This is my first time submitting a film, so I’m sure there will be a big learning curve here as well.  In any case, I’m excited to see what happens next.

Thanks again so much to my cast and crew.

  • Michael Burgess, the best human statue Kansas City has ever seen
  • Amy Elrod, my amazing and tireless director of photography
  • Kate Dittmann, my disgustingly talented art director
  • Meg Cloud, the most stunning statue bride
  • Ross Bruns, the next big thing in composing
  • Jon Arnold, my trusty, patient sound mixer
  • and my lovely supporting cast: Scott Burgess, Lisa Hood, Jillian Hood, Danny Burns, Ashley Burns and the People of Kansas City
  • (and a special thanks to T for encouraging/bugging me to get this thing done)

Obviously, this was a huge team effort, and I am so grateful to have so many talented people in my life.  Stay tuned for (hopefully) more news in the coming months!

On Babies and Boobs

So, we’re right in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week and right at the beginning of National Breastfeeding Month.  Everything I’ve seen so far basically feels like it’s “International Pretend to Be Supportive But Actually Silently Judge All the Moms Month/Week.”  Like we need a specific week or month for that, right?

In any case, I’ve talked to a number of my mom friends, and I’ve heard the guilt about not breastfeeding, about how hard it is to pump once you go back to work, about the heartbreak of the choice to stop breastfeeding at or before 6 months because you just can’t keep up, etc., etc., etc.

Here’s my confession.

I Was Never in Love with the Idea of Breastfeeding

I know a good number of moms who adore breastfeeding their babies.  It’s their time to connect and bond with their children, and they take great pride (and rightly so) in nourishing them.

But I never felt the romance of it.  My own mother has told me I wasn’t a big fan of the breast as a baby, and after trying for a few months, eventually she gave me what I wanted, which was apparently a bottle.  So perhaps it’s just something in my nature.  And god bless my mom for trying.

My Kid Thought My Boobs Were Boring

But nonetheless, I was determined to make an effort at breastfeeding when the time came to feed Pip.  I’d seen the research (and the discounting of the research), and I wanted to at least give it a shot.  When people asked if I planned to breastfeed (and oh, did they ask), I told them, as long as everything went according to plan, I’d do it for a minimum 3 months.  If it was going OK, I’d go for 6 months, and beyond that, we’d see.

A sub-confession: What I rarely expressed was that my major motivator in wanting to breastfeed was financial rather than maternal.  Formula is expensive, and babies are expensive enough as is.

Tired Mom & Baby

I think my original caption to this was, “Tired but happy.” It wasn’t untrue, but other applicable adjectives included: “exhausted,” “on edge,” “worried sick,” and “constantly on the verge of tears.”

In the hours after Pippin was born, he latched like a pro, and I thought, “Hey, maybe I can actually do this, and maybe I’ll even come to enjoy it like all those other moms.”  But that was the high point of my breastfeeding experience.  In the next two days, every time I tried to nurse, Pip would latch, take a couple of drinks, and then promptly fall asleep.  The nurse who came for our home visit had told me I’d need to feed him for 20 minutes on each side — 20 minutes of active feeding.  I was lucky to get 10 minutes total of active feeding within an hour.  Coupled with the insistence that I feed him every two hours — starting from the beginning of each feeding — it didn’t take long for me to lose my effing mind.

By Day 3, I was a total mess, and I could tell Pippin wasn’t eating enough.  His little lips were dry, and while he wasn’t unconscious, he wasn’t interested in really waking up for any length of time.  In a panic, I started pumping and managed to get a few ounces of colostrum — plenty to fill a newborn’s marble-sized stomach, despite what hospital nurses sometimes tell new moms — which I promptly spoonfed to my barely-awake infant.  Between bouts of crying, I managed to call the birth center, and they said to bring him on in.  Tyler’s parents came to visit that morning to meet their grandson, but I couldn’t pull myself together enough to join in the happy experience.  I was too worried about Pip and too weighed down by the guilt that I was failing at feeding my baby.

The Discovery of the “Third Option”

At the birth center, they confirmed what I knew — that Pippin was losing more weight than was ideal.  He was just past the 10 percent threshold.  They gave him an ounce of formula from a bottle, just to make sure his sucking reflex was working (it was).  Instead of feeling guilt, I just felt relief that my tiny guy was getting some food finally.  He didn’t have to work so hard to stay awake with the bottle; he could doze and eat much better than he could dose and nurse.  That sealed the deal for me.

I tried to nurse him only once more (same result) and gave him half a bottle of formula to tide him over while I pumped enough for him to eat.  My transitional milk came in quickly, and that started us down a new path: exclusively pumping and bottle-feeding breastmilk.

Dad's First Feeding

Bottlefeeding Bonus: T getting to help feed Pip meant he got to have the same bonding experience as I did, which thrilled us both.

It was GLORIOUS.  Bottle-feeding meant the pressure was no longer solely on me to feed this little infant.

We could split the night shifts — and that meant I could SLEEP.  And sleep meant I could stop crying for half of every hour of every day.  (I still had to deal with the effects of post-partum depression, so there was still crying, but there was less.)  My co-parent, who had felt sidelined by his inability to do much of anything to help, was thrilled to be able to do something (though probably less thrilled at no longer getting all the sleep).  We were both able to get close to 8 hours of sleep a night (though I was still getting up every 3 to 4 hours to pump, in the beginning), and as new parents and probably especially new moms know, that is GOLD.

 A Pair of Boobs Without a Home

There were some dark nights of the soul around 2 months, when I was dealing with clogged ducts (pretty sure a mammogram will be no big deal now, thanks to that) every single day.  (Supplemental soy lecithin is what worked for me, if anyone else is dealing with that.)  Pumping time became “research how expensive/nutritious/good/bad formula is” time.  In the end, it was always the financial side of it that kept me pumping.

Now, about 4 and a half months in, I’m still exclusively pumping.  And because my boobs were trained to respond to the pump, my supply is great despite only pumping 3 times most days.  I’ve got more than 2,000 ounces of milk in a dedicated freezer, which would get my son just past 6 months if I stopped now.  So it’s been a good solution for us.

Bottlefeeding Pip

Our Life in Bottles

And I think it’s a wonderful middle ground that rarely gets mentioned.  Even at my incredibly supportive, wonderful birth center, I faced a tiny bit of resistance to my solution.  “It’s not too late,” was the refrain even at my 6-week follow-up appointment.

So now I find myself without much of a home when it comes to solidarity about feeding my baby.  I’m not breastfeeding, but I’m not formula-feeding.  When we first started, it felt like we were cheating the system — in a good way.  But a couple months down the line, I felt a little alone.  While I probably could have gone to La Leche League meetings, I would have felt like a poser.  And yet there wasn’t really much to discuss with formula-feeding moms either, since I couldn’t relate to the hassles of formula and they couldn’t relate to the annoyance of pumping, transferring milk from container to container (though I’m sure now we could definitely relate to feeling like we spend half our lives washing bottles).

The Most Important Thing is That Your Baby Gets Fed

But to be honest, I rarely give it much thought except when I encounter various breastfeeding internettery like I have the past week.  And it’s not like any of this hoopla is meant to shame formula-feeding (or exclusively pumping) moms, but that’s the unintended side effect a lot of the time.

Baby Playing Cards

Rarely mentioned developmental skill: learning to play cards.

But here’s the thing: my kid is getting food that helps him grow and develop.  So are breastfed babies.  So are formula-fed babies.  I know we’ve made the right choice (out of three right choices) because he’s growing like a weed (a much better saying that “sleeping like a baby,” I might add) and adding new skills every week.  That’s what we really need to be caring about.  While it would have been nice (and probably still would be nice) if there were more awareness of the “third option” or to have a support group for moms who made the same choice I did, I’ve got bigger things to worry about.

So, in celebration of this week and this month, let me just say to all the moms out there:

IF YOU ARE FEEDING YOUR BABY, YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT.  GOOD JOB, MAMAS!

[FridayFlash] A Place to Outlast

A PLACE TO OUTLAST

Gargoyle Overlooking Paris by Elizabeth DittyMy laptop bag tugging my left shoulder out of alignment set off a litany of complaints in my mind as I stood in the baggage check line at the airport.  Another trip to another grand city, where the only landmarks I’d see would be in a blur from the taxi window on my way to and from the windowless boardrooms where I’d spend my time.

I’d then return home to find my wife, understandably frazzled from wrangling our two toddlers and unfairly angry at me for having spent the last week living it up in the City of Lights.

An impossibly old woman stood in front of me, and I took notice of her only because I assumed she would add to my unpleasant time in line.  On either side of her were two large bags, going nearly up to her admittedly not-too-far-from-the-ground hip.  The baggage handlers would have to come help her and coddle her and get her up to the counter that everyone else was expected to make it to on their own, no matter how pinched the nerves in their shoulders were becoming with each passing moment.

So, it was much to my surprise — and chagrin — that, when the attendant hollered, “Next!” the woman picked up the two bags without so much as a grunt and carried them to the counter.  I told myself they must be filled with pillows — my own wife refused to go anywhere without hers — but the attendant struggled to pull them up onto the scale.

“Business or pleasure?” the attendant asked, not bothering to look the old woman in the eye.

“Oh, a little of both, I suppose, depending on how you look at it.”

Her voice was clear over the din of airport noise, and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.

“How long do you intend to stay?”

“Well, I imagine my body will remain there so long as the earth still keeps its place in the sky.”

At this, the attendant finally looked up, confused.

“I’m going to Paris to die, young man,” she said, and then she chuckled softly at her own frankness.

The attendant grimaced and returned his gaze to the screen.  “Your visa is good for six months.”

“I know how it all works,” she said.  “Don’t you worry about me.”

He handed her back her documents, and she patted his arm as she took them.  He looked at her again, as if seeing her for the first time.

“Have a good trip, ma’am,” he said, quieter than before.

“Thank you,” she said with a kinder smile than he deserved.

We both watched her walk away, and it wasn’t until a fellow traveler behind me muttered loudly enough for us both to hear, “Some of us have planes to catch,” that we both snapped back into action.

While this woman had worked the miracle of pulling our heads out of our asses, the miracle proved to be short-lived.  By the time we lined up to board, mine was firmly back where it had started.

But, as fate would have it, as I teetered my way to my seat, my eyes landed on the old woman, sitting next to the window — where I was assigned to sit for the next 12 hours.  Her previous words should have sealed my mouth shut, but by the time I reached the row, my brain had already queued up a rant to unleash.

Before my vocal cords could initiate, though, she turned and saw me, smiled, and started to get up.

“Oh, sorry, love, I was just enjoying the view for a moment.”

To my surprise, I found myself telling her it was all right, that she could stay there if she wanted, and that I didn’t really like the window seat anyway — which was a lie.  I loved the window seat.  It was my one solace on these long flights.  I could look out and imagine everyone I didn’t want to deal with as insignificant ants, waiting to be squashed.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

Against my better judgment, I nodded, and then I took my new seat beside her.

She was quiet until the plane was safely at cruising altitude, but once the seatbelt light had dinged off, she turned to me.

“You overheard me saying I was going to Paris to die,” she said.

I stared dumbly in response.

“You’d never have given up the window seat otherwise.”  She turned and looked back out the window.  “I wouldn’t have used that as an excuse to take it from you, but I appreciate that it worked in any case.”

She grinned at me, and I could see a young, cheeky girl with pigtails from long, long ago.

“Are you really dying?” I asked, and then I nearly clapped my hand over my mouth in horror.

She laughed out loud.  “It’s quite all right.  I suppose it depends on your definition of dying.”

“How long do you have left?”

“Damned if I know.  Damned anyway, come to think of it.”

“So you’re not dying?”

“Well, we’re all sort of dying, aren’t we?  But no, I don’t think my death is imminent, certainly not from any natural causes.”

I felt the burn of anger in my chest again.  Here I’d given up my seat to a woman who wasn’t even dying.  I settled into my seat and clenched the armrests.

“Have you been to Paris before?” she asked.

I made my intention not to talk clear by staring straight ahead and uttering nothing more than, “Mhm.”

“Isn’t it wonderful?”

I shrugged.

“Ah, you’re one of those,” she said.

“One of what?” I asked before mentally upbraiding myself for inviting more conversation.

“Business traveler.  Never smelling the roses.”

“How can you tell?”

“Anyone who sees Paris — truly sees it — falls in love.  Plenty visit, but not everyone really looks.”

I found myself admitting I’d seen very little of it.  She scolded me now and insisted I do three things: descend into the catacombs, climb the stairs of the towers of Notre Dame, and find the little ice cream shop on the Île de la Cité and get the biggest scoop of caramel de beurre salée they offer.

“You sound like you’ve been there many times,” I said.

“I’ve been to many wonderful and exciting places in my time, but I always come back to Paris,” she said.  “This time, I intend to stay.”

“What about family?  Won’t they miss you back home?

“Do you have children?” she asked.

I nodded and felt a pang of guilt at the thought of my wife struggling with the two ragamuffins I’d coproduced.

“I miss my son,” she said.  “More than I ever thought I could miss anything.”

“Where is he?”

“Gone.  For a long time now.”

“I’m sorry,” I said weakly.  Does anyone ever know what to say in response to a statement of grief?

I felt the question forming on my tongue, and I knew I shouldn’t ask, but something about this woman compelled it off my lips.

“What happened?”

“Oh, nothing.  He lived a good, long life.  Gave me a lovely granddaughter.  I miss her, too.”

“Where does she live?” I asked, giving in to my curiosity.

“She’s gone, too. Only a few years ago, though.  Also lived a good, long life.  Never had any children, but that just wasn’t in the cards for her.  And that’s OK.  She was gem enough herself.”

I began to suspect the old woman was senile, and yet I was the one with no filter.  “How old are you?”

She turned to me and smiled again.  “Don’t you know you should never ask a woman her age?”

I managed to stutter out an apology, but she just chuckled and patted my arm.

“I’m only teasing, my dear,” she said.  “I honestly wouldn’t mind answering, but I lost track decades ago.  But rest assured, there is no one left to miss me.”

“That can’t be true.”

“Don’t worry about me, son,” she said.  “It will be a relief to shower my love on something that has a shot at finally outlasting me.”

“Maybe you’ll find someone else,” I said, feeling inexplicably desperate.

“Nah, I’m done with flesh and blood, love.  Stone and steel are my paramours now.”

She yawned and covered her weathered face with her hand.  “Pardon me, darling.  I took a dramamine right before take off, and I’m afraid it’s kicking in.”

She smiled at me and then nestled into the wall with her airplane-issue blanket and pillow. In minutes, she was out cold.

She slept the rest of the flight, through two meal services and some nerve-wracking turbulence.  Only when we were making our final descent did she stir.

We walked together toward baggage claim in surprisingly comfortable silence.  Her bags, in a minor miracle for any air traveler, were together and first on the conveyor belt.  She grabbed them with ease, her bones suffering no apparent stiffness from the long flight.

“Remember your promises, yes?”

I smiled.  “Catacombs, Notre Dame, ice cream.”

“Caramel de beurre salée.  Accept no substitutes.”

“Oui, madame,” I said, giving her a faux-military salute.

She squeezed my arm, picked up her bags, and headed down the terminal.  I soon lost her in the crowd.


© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty

On Gem-Hunting

I feel like I’m doing a poor job documenting my constant evolution into parenthood.  My co-parent has written a couple of eloquent and humorous posts about our adventures as parents, and I both love him for it and have to stop myself from becoming actively resentful of the fact that he’s doing such a great job.  My only consolation is that I take better (or maybe just more) photos.

Pip & T

And it’s not just the literary documentation of parenthood that T has been doing better.  He has dropped into parenthood with nothing short of extreme grace.  Maybe he’s like the proverbial duck, paddling like crazy beneath the surface, but he’s just so damn good with Pippin.  I’m so used to seeing new fathers sort of bumble about, not really knowing what to do with their babies, but not T.  There’s no doubt in how he interacts with his son; he seems to instinctively know that, as long as he’s doing his best, he’s doing it right (which he is, judging by the way Pip lights up any time T enters his line of vision).

Part of the equation, by my judgment, is that T has no frustration-to-anger trigger, or if he does, it hasn’t been discovered yet.  A screaming baby doesn’t phase him, and he can move from one potential solution to the next with no dismay about the ones that don’t work.  Perhaps his greatest asset is that he doesn’t expect a baby to follow any sense of logic.

I am not so graceful.

I often joke about the fact that Pippin waited two extra weeks to arrive until the astrological calendar flipped to a fire sign — Aries.  A calm, tranquil water baby he was not meant to be.  No, sir — he would be stubborn, adventurous and feisty, just like his Sagittarius mother.

And while he has his father’s ability to make friends with just about anyone, he also has his mother’s tendency to get pretty darn cranky when he can’t do something he feels like he should be able to do.  His wants are many — to grab, roll, crawl, stand, walk, fall sleep when he’s tired — but these physical abilities come more slowly than his cognitive capacity to understand what he can and can’t do.

I feel his frustration, too, because I also want these things for him, and patience has never been one of my virtues.  I catch myself saying things like, “Come on, Pip, you know how to do this. I showed you yesterday.”  And somewhere in his developing mind, I think his sentiments are the same.

Pip Wants to Crawl

I can’t count how many times people have told me to enjoy every moment while it lasts, that it goes by so fast.  It’s not that I don’t believe them.  It’s just that, no matter how hard I try to enjoy the present moment, I can’t help wanting to fast forward a bit.

I want to fast forward to the time when we can have conversations, even if they’re simple or one-sided ones, where I can experience his expression of the connections his brain is making for the first time.

I want to fast forward to the time when we can run around outside together and have adventures where we marvel at how mysterious and magical and weird the world is.

I want to fast forward to the time when I can teach him how to kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball or ride a bike or climb a tree.

Mostly, I want to fast forward to the time when the fact that our personalities are so similar means we get to connect instead of exhausting each other.

And then I want to pause.  Because those are the times I know will go too fast.  For now, though, I’ll keep looking for gems and hold tight to the ones I find (his honking laughter, his babbling, the way his breath sounds when he falls asleep on my shoulder after a particularly tiring fit).  I’m new at this, but I think maybe that, rather than shaming myself for not enjoying every moment, is the way to a fortune.

Me & Pip

[FridayFlash] A Poor Playmate

I’ve started having a little fun with instagram the past week, trying to capture images that lend themselves to narrative.  I wish there were easier ways to embed the video here, because I think they make neat little #fridayflash entries.  Anywho, here’s a link to the first one I did (my favorite so far).

The Poor Playmate, by Elizabeth Ditty

No embed capabilities, sadly, so click to see the video & open comments to read the fic.

Blue Skies

It’s both hard to believe it’s already been two months and that it’s only been two months since I stopped being pregnant and started being a parent.

It’s also been six weeks since I wrote my post about postpartum depression.  And while I still have days or collections of days where it’s a harder fight than others, for the most part, things are definitely better.  I feel more like myself more days than I don’t, and I also can go several days without crying, which is AWESOME.  (I know that sounds super depressing, but if you’re going or have gone through it, you understand.)

The Sun Shines Through

How to Get Through Post-Partum Depression (or Any Depression Really)

If you or someone you know is struggling (this sounds like the beginning of a PSA for a helpline, but it’s not), here is the three-prong strategy that helped me (and continues to do so).

#1: Know That Some Days are Simply There to Be Endured

This is especially hard to swallow if you are a bit Type A like I am.  I generally have a list of things I want and expect to get done, and when things start hitting the fan, it starts this spiral of guilt, frustration and ennui that’s hard to break out of.

For instance, there was one evening where I was on my own with Pip, during which I intended to get some freelance work done, fit in a workout and clean up the kitchen (while also fitting in at least one pumping session).  Pip slept long enough for me to pump, but he woke up crying literally 5 minutes into my workout.  Not just whimper-I’ll-put-myself-back-to-sleep-don’t-worry-Mom-crying, but full-on wailing.  I stared at the monitor for a few minutes to see if this was temporary, and then I went up, dutifully replaced his pacifier and calmed him down, and then went back to my workout.  A minute later, more wailing.  I tried to ignore it for a few minutes (please no lectures about cry-it-out), since I knew he was neither hungry nor needed a diaper change, but it was not to be.  He kept crying, and I couldn’t complete the strength moves because I was also crying and couldn’t pull enough energy to complete them, even though I knew I had enough muscle strength.  I retrieved Pip, who was not content to be anything but held, and we spent the rest of the evening watching Mad Men on Netflix.  And once I gave into the fact that that was going to be the extent of my achievements for the night — and forgave myself for it — I felt strangely better.

There will be days like this.  Forgive yourself for letting go of your to-do list on those days.  Even when those to-dos are imperative to accomplishing your big goals and/or lifelong dreams, they will keep.  The Universe is understanding.

#2: Give Yourself Things to Look Forward To

Whether it’s a date night with your significant other, a solo trip to a coffee shop with a book or a laptop, or an hour to get in just one focused workout, schedule things during the week — EVERY WEEK — to look forward to.  Preferably several times a week.  These events are absolutely necessary in my experience to surviving those Days That Must Be Endured.

I have an incredible network of support here (code name: Grandma & Grandpa with support from The Aunts) who love to babysit and have yet to turn down my frequent requests.  I know not everyone has a network like that, but it is very important that you still find a way.  Here are some quick ideas:

  • If you have a significant other, give him (or her) some bonding time with the kiddo.  They will both be fine (even if he or she experiences a few Hours That Must Be Endured).
  • Hire a babysitter.
  • If you cannot afford a babysitter, find a moms’ group and offer to trade.

#3: Tell Yourself a Different Story

I was reminded of this when I attended Jillian Michaels’ Maximize Your Life tour on Mother’s Day (an accidental but great gift to myself).  The ability to choose our own narrative is perhaps our greatest power as human beings.

Super Pip

Here are two ways to put this into practice.

  • Reframing: Wikipedia does a pretty great job of explaining the psychological concepts of cognitive reframing/restructuring, but in short, it’s the process of looking at a negative situation and reprocessing it into a neutral or positive one.  For instance, my Night of Defeat and Mad Men could be reframed from “my failure to get stuff done” to “my success in soothing my kiddo and catching up on Mad Men.”  Finding the humor in situations is also a fantastic use of reframing.
  • Look for small victories: Instead of focusing on the things that go wrong (or not according to plan — see the reframing in action?), look for the small victories — the super efficient diaper change, the spit-up you caught with the burp cloth before it landed on your clean shirt, the phone call you got through without the kiddo crying in the background.  I think it is probably always possible to find more small victories than defeats. Sometimes you just have to look for tinier victories.

Better Days Ahead — Really

Everyone always tells you that it gets better, and it does, but that doesn’t make the Now any easier to handle in any real way. Because the truth is, no one can really tell you when it will get better.  For someone you know, it may be six weeks.  For another, it might be six months.  For you, it could be even longer.  That’s why it’s important to find ways to endure right now.  Try the strategy above, but also, let me leave you with a little affirmation.

Even at your weakest, you have enough power to create moments where it feels better, at least for a little while.  When you start finding those moments more often, they will start finding you back.  Seek irony and laugh at it.  It takes a lot of effort, and some days you will fail.  That’s OK.  It’s not really failure.  It’s a test of endurance, and you are building strength for new challenges.  You have permission not to enjoy every moment.  You have permission not to miss every moment years down the road.  But do what you can to find those that you do enjoy and that you will miss, and cherish the heck out of them.  That’s enough, and so are you.

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