A Laptop Naptime Mama

Saturday, February 16, 2008

People often ask me how I’ve managed to write and sell two novels while a.) being a stay-at-home mum, and b.) being at stay-at-home mum with a four year old son who is homeschooling/unschooling/not-bothering-with-that-whole-school-thing and therefore is always by my side…or thereabouts.

Well, if any of you’re interested or crazy enough to want to try such a motherhood-meets-author lifestyle, here’s five insights and tips:

1. rearrange traditional sleeping schedules – I have managed to train Benny into sleeping incredibly late in the mornings. In fact, he gets up at noon. Yes, noon! This means, of course, that he also stays up late at night. Now, I know a lot of mother’s would shudder at the thought of their children staying up beyond nine because they need their “me” time with a glass of wine and watching The Late Show without the whines of “mama” ringing in their tired ears. If your such a mama, this sleep routine might not be for you. However, if you can stomach it and you can train your child into enjoying The Late Show and pouring your wine for you, I’m telling you there’s a whole lot of writing you can do between 8 and noon every morning while Sleepy Head is still in the world of Z’s.

2. sneakily sharing childcare – If you manage to train your child into this sleep routine and you have a partner in the house, this means childcare will be shared for a good proportion of the day. For me, I only really have to care for Benny on my own from noon to 6ish each day. Brad comes home from work after that and Benny’s whines, demands for juice, and pleas for more books to be read to him, can be equally divided between us.

3. educational kid’s DVDs – Yes, I rely heavily on the TV for those moments when I need to simultaneously do the laundry, reply to my editor’s email, update my blog, finish the paragraph I was working on that morning, and finalize the details for Benny’s afternoon play date. I only put DVDs in the machine for Benny and don’t let him just idly flick between channels (while sitting in his underwear). I get to choose what he watches, therefore, and I’m careful to pick DVDs which are teaching him things which I, at that moment, am currently too preoccupied to teach him. Thanks to the Leapfrog DVD collection, together with Word World and Between the Lions, Benny is pretty much reading – if sentences like “The cat sat on the big mat” count as reading.

4. reading in the bathroom – A lot of people already do this, I know. But if your going to follow tips 1-3, you must take bathroom-reading very seriously. Every time you go – yes, every time – you must commit yourself to quickly reading a few paragraphs, ideally a page. It leads to a herky-jerky feeling with novel. But, there is little time to read if your writing in the mornings and entertaining your little ‘un in the evenings. And reading other novels is a must for wannabe and established authors. So bathroom reading is essential. I have finished a good number of novels while sitting on the john, getting those delightful red marks on the back of my thighs and a slightly chilled behind!

5. surround yourself with good people – A sympathetic mama-crew is essential. Of course, they don’t have to all be mamas. They can be dads or nannies too. But what is important is that the people you hang out with must be understanding. They mustn’t grumble if you’re always late for play dates because you just had to answer that one comment on your blog or someone posted something interesting on the online writer’s forum you belong to or an interesting chapter in a book meant you couldn’t get off the toilet. Your crew must smile and nod when you blather on about a scene in your novel that you’ve been struggling with for weeks. Furthermore, they should understand that talking about this tricky scene is far more important to you than talking about children’s learning levels or whether a four year old boy should be standing to pee or sitting. Most importantly, they must not judge you for your seemingly crazy lifestyle.

So there you go. Not a life for everyone, I understand. But it works for me, and my novels, and my sanity. Plus, Benny doesn’t seem to complain too much…yet.

For more of Joanne Rendell's writing, Click Here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Shoes that Broke the Camel's Back

A while ago, a mum friend of mine recounted how she “completely lost it” over a pair of child size sparkly silver shoes. Her husband was off at a wedding in California for the weekend while she stayed home with her immensely loveable yet abundantly lively three year old twins. Her son and daughter kept my friend on her “temporarily-single-parent” toes for most of the weekend with their differing demands and their uncoordinated highs and lows (for those of you who have twins, let me say, I am in awe. How do you do it?).

Anyway, my friend was surviving… just about. But on Sunday afternoon her daughter took off her sparkly shoes just at the moment when the trio were about to leave the house – after a good half an hour of preparing for the departure, finding coats, getting on shoes, hunting for lost toys. That was when my friend “lost it.” That was when she bawled, red-cheeked, at her little girl sending both wide-eyed and startled kids into floods of tears.

As much as we don’t like to admit it, those of us who look after little ‘uns have probably all been there. The moment when we can endure no more the whines, the cries, the “no’s,” the flailing arms, the rigid refusing little bodies, or the mischievous runs and jumps in the exact opposite direction we want our child to go. It’s the moment where we loose our rag, our twig snaps, and the anger bubble rises up and pops. Harsh words escape our mouths, our eyes narrow, our cheeks flame, our nostrils flare, and sometimes we stomp out of the room.

I don’t loose it too often. Benny is a pretty easy going kid; I’m pretty easy going too. But, yep, I admit it, there have been times. Only the other day it happened and, funnily enough, it was also over a pair of shoes. Not sparkly in my case, but a similarly child-sized and innocent-looking pair of red sneakers.

For a while now, Benny has been a real home body. He loves nothing more than to be in our apartment, cozy in his pajamas, playing with his trains, or his magnetic letters, or tapping away on his computer. But staying in all days drives me a little bonkers and also when Benny does get out, he always loves the park or playgroup or library or whatever adventure I take him on.

However, he never remembers this at the moment when I say, “We have to go now, Benny.” He puts up fierce resistance regarding getting dressed, going to the bathroom, having his hair brushed, and putting his coat on. First, he tries the sweet “Let’s go later, mama.” Then, his tries the impish running away, laughing and hiding. When that doesn’t work, he starts to whine as I manhandle him into his clothes while telling him I understand he doesn’t want to leave his trains but he will soon be having fun at the library/playground/whatever.

The other day we were going through this familiar routine and just as I managed to tie up the second and final shoe onto Benny’s resistant foot, he somehow managed to kick off the first shoe. Looking back I don’t think he did it on purpose. But at that moment, after minutes of struggling and pleading with reluctant Benny, it really seemed he’d done it to infuriate me. My annoyance, which was already simmering, bubbled over into fury. I yelled at him in a voice I hardly ever, almost never, use. I kicked his shoe against the door. My pulse raced.

But, then, as I turned to face Benny, I saw his eyes sparkling with tears. “Don’t shout,” he said in a beseeching and frightened whispers. Guilt stabbed immediately, deep and hard. Before I knew it, I was hugging him tight and apologizing for raising my voice. If Benny hadn’t said, “That’s okay, Mama,” in a sweet and joking voice, making me laugh, I might have shed a tear too.

Thankfully, kids seem to forget and forgive pretty damn fast. Only a little while later, Benny was happily skipping through the library and then snuggling on my lap to read books. My guilt, however, lasted all day.

It’s understandable that we loose it sometimes. Kids certainly test us to our limits. It’s also understandable that its often innocuous looking shoes which are the trigger. After all, getting those darn little shoes on kicking feet is often the last in a long line of tiring battles we’ve had when trying to get our kids ready and out of the door.

Yet, however understandable or common amongst parents these moments of fury are, the guilt always seems to follow and the memory of our kids shocked faces lingers. Perhaps it leaves us feeling uneasy mostly because, in those moments, we are confronted with our humanness, our volatility and unexpectedness, and the fact we’re not so different from our passionate, indignant, and temperamental little charges.

Check out Benny’s blog at http://theworldaccordingtobenny.blogspot.com/ and my own Naptime Writer blog at http://joannerendell.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 02, 2007

Who are the Real Freaks on Halloween by Joanne Rendell

I party-pooped all over Benny’s fourth birthday by not throwing him some sugared-up extravaganza with clowns, bouncy castles, bells and whistles. And I have to admit I party-pooped with Halloween too.

Although this time, in my defense, I was following Benny’s lead.

Benny’s imagination is in full and colorful flight at the moment. He plays and talks endlessly with his toys and lives in all kinds of interesting and fanciful worlds. I love watching him, hearing him. However, this growing imagination comes with the inevitable flipside. The bad dreams, the sensitivities, the fears of even the smallest, most innocent seeming things.

Although I am very careful about what Benny watches and reads (even “Finding Nemo” is considered too scary in our house), dreams of monsters still wake him up at night. Books with even a vaguely dark or creepy cover are thrown back on the library shelves. Fighting or shouting on television makes Benny immediately snap it off. And even, sometimes, the New York skyline at night looks to Benny like a “huge scary dinosaur.”

I knew, then, the moment the plastic Jack-o-Lanterns started appearing in the stores, Halloween wasn’t going to be Benny’s favorite time of year. And I was right. As soon as he smacked eyes on the lanterns and the creepy costumes in the Halloween store in our neighborhood, he was horrified.

Last week, in the run up to the big night, I thought I better explain in more detail what this whole Halloween thing is all about. (Benny’s not doing the preschool thing, so he doesn’t have a group of excited peers to explain the ins and out of ghouls, ghosts, and trick or treating). When I’d finished with my explanation and asked if he wanted to dress up, he looked at me with a firm gaze and said, “No. I don’t like Halloween. It’s scary.”

So, the other night when Halloween rolled around, Benny and I ducked out of the parties we’d been invited too, ignored the trick or treating knocks on the door, and laid low with not a costume in sight.

Later in the evening we nipped out to the store to get some milk and on our short walk were confronted by numerous concerned people asking Benny “where’s your costume?” “did you get any candy?” “do you want my scary mask?” (cue terrified glances and near-tears from Benny). It occurred to me, as I tried to dodge and escape these well-meaning people, that in not joining in the Halloween-mania, Benny and I were perhaps the biggest, most ghoulish Halloween freaks of all.
For more of Joanne's musings, visit her blog at www.joannerendell.blogspot.com. To return to Role Mommy, Click Here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

If Men Did the Strolling

I stumbled on this picture the other day while procrastinating on the internet. My first reaction was “How crazy!” Something about the woman being perched on that weird motorized contraption, trying to maneuver a stroller, whilst in the middle of a road, just gave me shivers. What if a car screeched around the corner at any minute? Would she be able to hop off and scoot the stroller out the way in time?

But then, as I looked at the picture some more, I couldn’t help feeling a growing respect for the mama. After all, there’s been many a time, I’ve been trudging home from our favorite park (which is over twenty blocks away), my feet aching, but the stroller too clumsy and loaded up to feasibly take the subway or a cab; these many times I’ve fantasized about some kind of motorized sit-on stroller much like those snappy little sit-on lawn mowers. How great would that be?! Zipping around the city, trundling up and down sidewalks, Benny’s forty pound heft strapped to some sort of seat at the front, me at the back, steering us where we want to go, the wind in my hair…Plus, when those nasty big cars and cabs speed across crosswalks, as they do so often in the NY, I would be able to put the pedal to the metal and Benny and I would have some chance of survival.

Of course, its just a dream. Something so clever, useful, and kind on mamas is probably a long time coming. I don’t want to generalize here, but I’d imagine the majority of people designing strollers these days are men. Most of the people pushing strollers are women. I’m not implying male stroller designers don’t have a clue. Sure, there’s the bugga-boo which (from my one brief experience pushing one in a store) corners like its on rails. And now there are a whole slew of other sexy looking strollers on the market which have natty wheels, clever hidden pockets, adjustable seats, sexy colors. But do any of these strollers save a mama’s tired feet? No. Would the bugga-boo help you zip away from an oncoming fire truck? No.

The designers of strollers aren’t generally doing the pushing and thus they don’t pay much heed to the pusher! If men were doing the pushing, however, we might see all kinds of sexy, zuped-up, motorized strollers on the market.

If you don’t believe me, just think about lawn mowers for a second. Men are generally the ones doing the mowing, they are also the ones (in general) doing the designing, and thus there are all kinds of wild, fun, and fast sit-on mowers to choose from. They know the hard work involved in mowing a lawn and therefore the design machines that will help them with the task.

In the patriarchy in which we live, it seems that the super-stroller-machine which I often fantasize will only come about when men are the dominant stroller pushers or when women get to storm the design studios.

In the meantime, I’m off to buy yet another pair of running shoes to keep my stroller-pushing feet comfy and blister-free, quick and nimble …

Don’t forget to come visit me at me “Naptime Writer” blog at joannerendell.blogspot.com.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Birthday Madness

Benny will be four in a week or so and Brad and I have been talking about how to mark the occasion. Neither of us make any fuss about our own birthdays. We prefer to just hang out together rather than run around to a zillion shops fretting over and buying presents that neither of us need.

On Benny’s previous birthdays we didn’t organize anything. We didn’t even buy him a present because he was too young to know any better. But in the end, we found that impromptu parties and presents were thrust upon us. Not that we complained, of course. Its nice when friends roll up at your place, bringing cakes for kids, presents for Benny, and beer for the adults, and even nicer that your kid’s birthday is an excuse to see all your favorite friends.

Benny is now much more aware of what’s going on these days, however. He knows that his birthday’s coming up. He also knows that birthday’s are generally marked by a cake with candles to blow out. But, because we never make any big fuss about presents and because he doesn’t go to preschool and thus doesn’t hear all the birthday-chat from his peers, he isn’t anticipating presents or any of that kind of fuss. All he thinks of when anyone talks about his birthday is the cake and most importantly those candles.

So, during our most recent discussion on the topic, Brad and I finally decided that to mark his birthday this year, we’ll go out for dinner, take a cupcake and some candles, and have a little party for three. I know this might cause raised eyebrows amongst friends and family. “Wont he want a party?” they’ll worry on his behalf.

And maybe I should worry. Will Benny be forever damaged by such party-pooper parents? Will he be one of those kids that yearns for the presents and toys and paper hats he never received on birthdays past?

Perhaps he will.

But, I don’t know, if I were to throw him a party and make a big birthday fuss, he might end up with a deranged mother and, let’s face it, that would be a whole lot worse than missing out on a few birthday parties.

First off, I hate trying to shop these days. Battling my way through New York crowds to seek out presents for Benny gives me chills. Second, big groups of kids make me wince and grind my teeth. The idea of hosting a party full of sugared up four year olds make me want to cry. Third, all my spare creative energies these days goes into my writing. If I had to spend hours attempting to bake a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake, I would be livid – and I dread to imagine what my appalling baking skills would muster up as an excuse for a cake.

Then there’s all the waste and needless consumption associated with Birthdays which makes me so sad and despairing about the world we live in. The pretty paper thrown in the trash, the crappy plastic toys (labored over by third world workers and probably played with once by the recipient), the popped balloons, the half-eaten cookies and cakes.

Worst of all, though, is the idea that I’m creating another wanting and needy consumer. If Benny sees birthday’s as a time for a zillion presents and big parties, is this what he’ll want all the time? Will he never be happy unless he’s getting something new, something brightly wrapped, something he’ll probably discard when a desire for something even newer rolls around? And thanks to the over-consumption of our world and the consequences this over-consumption are wreaking – rising sea levels, floods, financial slumps, disease related to pollution – Benny may in the future not be able to have all new things he desires. I will have created a desiring consumer who is unable to consume.

Okay, okay, I’m not sure how I’ve just went from a light-hearted chat about a four year old’s birthday party to global warming, disease, and economic despair. But you can see what I mean, can’t you? A kid’s party might send me to the brink of madness.

Ah well, Benny will get his candles and cupcake in a couple of weeks. And when birthday number 5 rolls around next year and Benny had been more sucked in by the consumption crazy society in which we live and demands presents and parties, I’ll probably have do a little therapy and get over my birthday anxieties and party phobias.

Until then, I’ll take advantage of his blissful ignorance and enjoy the moment.

For more musings by our laptop mama, visit her blog http://www.joannerendell.blogpot.com/ or to return to Role Mommy, Click Here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Flash Card Genius...Perhaps Not.

Benny is learning to read.

Okay, no, that’s overstating it a little. What I should say it that Benny is learning to recognize and spell some basic words. STOP is his current favorite. Every stop sign he sees, he shouts out “S-T-O-P- Stop!” He also knows his name, Brad and my name, and a growing list of little words like cat, cow, dog, hat, and (strangely) gas.

He’s not exactly a reader yet, but he’s on his way.

To encourage this interest in words, I decided to make some flash cards (how crafty, of me!). You can buy packs of pre-made flashcards, but I figured if I made some myself not only would it be a whole lot cheaper but also I could tailor make them for Benny – in other words, make cards for the words he’s learning and words that mean something to him.

So, I cut up some card, found a felt tip pen, and …voila…an hour or so later, I’d created a nice stack of Benny-centered flash cards. They’re not quite as sleek as the shop bought kind, but Benny likes them and I had a lot of fun making them.

Last night, Brad, Benny and I had the cards out and for a while it looked like they were proving even more successful than I’d anticipated.

As we held up each card, Benny - after some thought and a little sounding out of the letters – got over ten words right. Some of the words he knew already, of course, but well over half he didn’t. Brad and I were pretty flabbergasted that our nearly four year old had got the hang of the reading thing so fast. Like goofy, proud parents, we mounted lots of praise and high-fives upon him.

A little later, however, I held up a new flashcard I’d made. On one side was the word “shack” and on the other, my rendition of our little cabin upstate (which we lovingly call “the shack”). I held up the word side to Benny who hadn’t seen the card before and said, “What does that say?” He pondered and stared for a few seconds and sounded out the letters: “Ssss” “Huh” “Aaah”… Then he clapped his hands and shouted, “House.”

At first, I was floored. How did he come up with the word “house” from the letters in “shack”?
But then I realized what had been going on. I held up the flashcard of the shack and saw it for myself.
Benny, it turns out, isn’t quite the genius we thought he was. Even though he looked like he was reading the words – and his little act of sounding out the letters seemed to confirm this – he was actually just looking through the flimsy cardboard I’d used to make the flashcard and seeing the pictures I’d drawn on the other side!

Ah well, he’s not the reading prodigy that, for a second, we thought he might be. But he’s a damn good actor. Perhaps the Oscars await, rather than the Pulitzer.

(Tip for crafty mamas and papas: use thick cardboard for flashcards and not-so thick felt tip pens for the pictures). For more of Joanne Rendell's musings, Click Here to visit her blog.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Where's the Little F**ker Gone?

If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you’ll know about my aversion to kids movies and my desire to have Benny side-step the Nemo/Cars/Ratatouille phase and move straight onto enjoying the kind of movies which I enjoy – from chick flicks to indies to, one day when he can deal with the loud noises, the Terminator movies.

My plan has been partially successful. Benny does sit through a myriad of films from Volver to The Devil Wears Prada, both at home and at the movie theater (just last night we took him with us to see Sicko). He even seems to enjoy them.

However, he has seen Cars and, I’m sad to say, is rather obsessed with the movie (we now can not leave the house unless we have Benny’s Lightening McQueen, Sally, Mater, and Flo toys in tow). Some might argue it’s like the candy thing. The kids who’re denied it, crave it even more. Which I can see up to a point, but at least Benny does enjoy his green beans (read Volver) too.

But I digress…

Another potential problem with Benny’s more mature movie watching is the language. Some people might not consider the movies we watch appropriate for three year old Benny. We don’t watch anything violent or scary, but so far we haven’t censored films in terms of there “adult” language. I once wrote a blog about Benny seeing a poster for “A Squid and A Whale” and calling out “Fuck, fuck, fuck” as he remembered the scene in the movie where Jeff Bridges plays ping-pong – rather badly.

The language “problem” has not gone away since then. Although, these days I’m seeing it less as a problem and more as noteworthy stage in Benny’s language development. And a pretty funny one at that.

The other night, while staying with my in-laws, we all watched the movie, “Venus.” In one scene, Peter O’Toole is cutting the toenails of his old friend, only to have one rogue toenail ping off and disappear into the abyss of the living room carpet. O’Toole then scrabbles on the ground saying, “Where’s the little f**ker gone?”

We all laughed at the scene. Benny too. But that, it seemed, was that.

But, lo and behold, the next day, we realized that wasn’t that. Brad, Benny and I were traveling back to New York and stopped off at our favorite little café/pub in small town Harrisonburg. During lunch, Benny managed to drop a tater-tot on the floor and before even blinking he shouted out, “Where’s the little f**ker gone?”

Now, perhaps I should be ashamed. Or at least a little worried. After all, does is this a bad sign of things to come? Will Benny become the notorious potty-mouth child that every kid and parent in the park talks about in hushed, shaking-head whispers?

Maybe. But you know what? I’m not ashamed or worried. I’m proud. Proud that my little minx has learnt to swear in the correct context. Not only that he did it in an endearing and rather amusing British accent.

It was a precious parenting moment.

To find out more about our fabulous first time novelist Joanne Rendell, visit her blog at http://www.joannerendell.blogspot.com/.