Tag: Failure


Happy NaNoWeen!

I’m staring down November, but it shows no intention of letting up. It occurs to me that I am procrastinating before the month even begins and that this cannot possibly bode well. I add “Preemptive procrastination” to my list of Reasons Why NaNoWriMo Is Doomed To Failure. Other items on the list include “Motherhood,” “Inability to operate on less than eight hours of sleep (preferably twelve),” and “Being 99.9% certain that I cannot write a book in one month.” I add “Lack of confidence” several times to emphasize the scope of said lack, and I finish the list with a flourish: “Two days left, and I still haven’t decided.”

Each November, I think longingly of all the artsy, motivated writers adjusting their wire-rims and churning out page after page of latte-inspired prose. Every November, I would willingly jump into that world if not for the tethers anchoring me to reality—a child at home, social obligations, medically-induced depression—or so I’ve claimed, at any rate. Now that I actually have mornings to myself, a de-cluttered schedule, and the returned use of my mind, I see the real choke chain around my neck: a paralyzing sense of pessimism.

I simply don’t think I have it in me. I don’t think I’ll be able to play alchemist with the hours I have and turn them into something marketable, something worth letting the dust bunnies procreate for a whole month. I don’t think I’ll be able to sit at my desk on Day 13, look the remaining 30,000 words in the face, and find the courage to keep start writing them. For that matter, I don’t think I’ll be able to whip up 20,000 words during Days 1 through 12. Maybe if I’d already written a book, I’d see this as possible, but from here, it looks like Mt. Everest… and I’m a paraplegic. Without any gear. Mortally allergic to snow.

I add “Paraplegia” to the list, but it doesn’t really matter. No matter how long the list gets, it will never trump my one and only Reason To Go For NaNoWriMo:  “Because if I don’t try, I will never live past the what ifs.” It seems I’ve reached a decision after all.

Forget Halloween. The day after is when the real terror starts.



No One Starved

This morning, I was up by 7:30. This counts as a significant Bethany accomplishment even with golden sunlight streaming in my windows, my husband bribing coaxing me out of bed with a hot cappuccino, and health on my side… none of which being the case today. The only thing streaming in my window this morning was afa, that dense Italian haze that transforms air into swamp water. Dan is out of town for work, taking his cappuccino-making skills and our family’s sense of solidarity with him. And a spiky bowling ball with aggression issues has taken up residence in my previously healthy skull. So in my estimation, being up at 7:30 this morning was a victory worthy of an epic Old English poem.

I say this because from a more objective standpoint, today qualified as an epic FAIL. I did not manage to get Natalie to school or to stop by the store for diapers or to leave the house at all. In fact, the three of us never made it out of our pajamas. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I slept so long after breakfast that lunch wasn’t made until 4 in the afternoon. (“Are you hungry?” I asked the girls, forcing my throbbing head upright and trying to beat back waves of child-neglect guilt. “Uh, sure, I guess,” answered Natalie as she sat back down to play computer games. “Melmo’s World?” suggested Sophie.)

In the end, no one starved. The girls played happily all day, and I kept the house passably clean. Bedtime was unexpectedly lovely—because the girls were already in their pajamas, we had some extra time to read stories and snuggle. I was even able to talk to Dan for a few minutes over Skype, and I realized that while I miss him to a rather ridiculous extent, I am capable of keeping the family afloat (if not exactly clothed) in his absence. I’m going to go ahead and chalk that one up as a significant accomplishment as well.


Cinder Block

Our living room is breaking out in boxes. With less than a week till we’re handed keys for our new house, I shouldn’t be caught off guard… but I am anyway. A psychological cinder block is sitting squarely on top of my packing mojo, and I really wish I knew why so we could get on with this move already.

I feel distracted by nothing in particular, my brain wandering in the annoying, aimless way of ten-year-olds on summer break. The agenda for this month had been impressive: potty train one child and teach the other to read and write. Both are ready for their respective milestones, and I feel the responsibility to teach, the urgency to do it now. But first chores take my attention, and then laundry, and I have to finish the grocery list, and what in the world are we going to do about our empty house in the States? And then everyone’s hungry and lunch is late, and our afternoon gets knocked so far out of orbit that not even coffee can help, and I plug the girls into the TV so that I can get some pressing things done on the computer… and before I take a single focused breath, it’s too late to go to the park, and the motherguilt sweeps its cloud cover over the evening. And then the girls are in bed, and I’m cleaning up from their dinner to make ours, and we finish eating at bedtime exactly, and I realize I have gotten nowhere for the sixth day in a row.

It’s frustrating. As is the rash of empty boxes in our living room. Somebody should really start packing them.



When Natalie was born, I had some doubts as to her origin. There was absolutely no question that Dan was the father—she was a tiny Bassett photocopy with his Lebanese ancestry peeking through her impossibly dark eyes—but who her mother was, none could tell. Neither her features nor her easy acceptance of being alive pointed to my genetics. And while I loved seeing the many bonds she shared with her daddy, I ached for more proof than leaking milk and a C-section scar that she was my girl.

Fast forward four years. I am yelling at Natalie out of frustration, and feeling guilty because I’m not a yelling mom, I’M NOT, and wondering how my sweet preschooler ends up so deep under my skin, and wallowing in the shame of misplaced intentions when I finally see it: her personality. Proof that we are cut from the same emotional fabric… and yes, the reason why we so often run into each other like road blocks when we’re trying to connect.

She and I have precision wound tightly into our DNA, a virtue I finally started to see as a fault in adulthood. Things must be just so, or the world will fall to bits. We are right, and if this is not universally acknowledged, our heads will implode. The IKEA mug goes there. “Caramel” is pronounced like this. Blue-green is so very different from green-blue. I was at least halfway through college before I realized people are allowed to have various and conflicting opinions, and I continue to be grateful that the burden of rightness is no longer mine to foist on humankind. However, relativism is still beyond the grasp of four-years-old. I get frustrated that she will not taste my soup created from ingredients she loves, and she gets frustrated that I force her to use dinnerware that is neither pink nor princessy. Our brains lock.

And then the next morning, she wakes up with a fever. It’s nothing serious, more summer flush than griddle-hot skin, but her small voice wakes up every mother-urge in me. Natalie finds a nest on my pillow, and I find another piece of proof: tenderness, the kind that cannot be manufactured for anyone else’s children. Fierce, elemental tenderness, strong enough to carry us through any kind of sickness and deep enough to carve allowances into our personalities. And I realize this, this, is my daughter’s origin.

Sweet girl 2






For instance, the one in which I entered names and addresses from handwritten cards into a computer for eight loooooooooong hours every day. I bribed myself to keep on living with Mrs. Baird’s cupcakes and one Sunkist a day from the vending machine. Still less fun than it sounds.

…Or the next summer, at the same company, in which I weeded out duplicates from the universe’s longest list of churches. In French. Which I don’t speak. It took me the entire summer.

…Or the summer after that with a company that hired me without actually having a position for me. I occasionally made copies, chatted with the secretaries, and tore sticky notes into miniscule bits to give myself some job security. Oh, and I also avoided their mandatory company-wide “spiritual strengths” meetings, which sounded as pleasant to me as steel wool underwear, by hiding under my desk. (I kept a pile of paper clips on the floor to give me an excuse were I ever caught. I wasn’t.)

…Or my first job out of college—pregnant and newly moved to Unemployment City, U.S.A. I searched high and low for English-nerdy jobs, particularly ones that I could do at home with the baby, but I ended up settling for a part-time position at a dusty resale store in an abandoned shopping center. (I still kick myself for not at least applying to Starbucks. Why? Why? Why? Why? Oh right, placenta brain.) I stocked dusty shelves, reorganized dusty knick-knacks, and coughed over the dusty cash register while dealing with unreasonable customers. I also dusted. And then quit.

…Or the next job I got as a church custodian since it allowed me to bring newborn Natalie along. She slept in the nursery cribs while I scrubbed bathrooms and vacuumed between pews, then I’d read novels from their library while she nursed. It wasn’t such a bad setup (besides leaving me exhausted and grumpy at the end of every day), but I couldn’t deal with my bosses. I would single-handedly clean up debris from a giant church dinner, steam clean the carpets, scrub the urinals, wash the windows… and one of the elders would complain that I had left some dust on the underside of a table in the attic. Perhaps I have a problem with authority figures (make that probably), but (okay, definitely) my days as a “sexton” were over.

…Or the last teaching job I took in the States. I was hired to teach several different courses to students ranging from kindergarten to college in both one-on-one and classroom settings. And now I need a nap. I loved the teaching experience itself (Have you ever played Study Skills Jeopardy with 7th graders? Or taught anything to first graders? They were a blast!). However, the company I worked for required me to make my own curriculum for each of the different classes from scratch. I also had to drive myself across town to different schools throughout the day, and I consistently put 60 unpaid hours a week into the job. In addition, I kept getting called to the principal’s office for:

1) Wearing the wrong kind of jacket.

2) Taking too long to drive from one school to another across town during rush hour.

3) Failing to adequately prepare my English student for his math test.

4) Not allowing a student to do unrelated homework in my class. (After a parent complained… “But my little girl is just so busy! She doesn’t have time to be paying attention in class!”)

5) Breaking the ice with an international student by telling him I would be moving to Italy the following year.

6) Failing to come prepared to a tutoring session. (I brought colorful worksheets I had written and printed up myself, my own books, two packs of markers, a homemade memory game, and a timer. But I made the mistake of asking my student if she had a favorite pen she wanted to use. Her parent called in irate that I had come “unprepared,” and my boss refused to hear my side of the story.)

That last one was the kicker. Irrational parents are one of the most insidious forces in all of nature, and I simply could not deal with them without support from my employer. I was stressed from my peeling toenail polish to my split-ends. Ironically, we were also losing money due to my work-related expenses—gasoline, daycare, vodka by the truckload. I called it quits after one eternally long semester.

Wanted poster

Only two of the fifteen jobs I’ve held over the years met my needs for both creative outlet and a boss who didn’t make me cry. However, something tells me that I am unlikely to find a career as a university student worker. (It’s too bad; planning freshmen orientation was fun AND involved free food!) So where does that leave me now?

☑ Large, sticky psychological issues with authority figures

☑ Unsatisfied with my [quite lengthy] résumé

☑ But absolutely no desire to re-enter the workplace

☑ But wishing I could earn some money all the same

☑ Dreaming of the day I can write at home in my pajamas as a professional writer rather than just an errant blogger with a snarly job history.




Hello to all of you up there in the land of the living. Hello to you in the land of make up and home-cooked meals, to you who leave your front door on a daily basis, to you who get up the first time your alarm rings. You’re within my sightline now, and that’s good.

Civilization has been clouded from view lately, or rather, limited to a dim series of doctors’ offices. The four of us have been trading sickness like collector’s cards for weeks now, and our schedules ordered by nebulizer sessions and naps. Sophie and I are the lone holdouts at this point—she fussing inordinately and rubbing yellow goop from her eyes, I holding my cough-wracked sides together and sleeping while my husband cooks dinner. However, I left the house twice yesterday and realized I haven’t forgotten quite as much Italian as I thought. I can still say “buon giorno” to friends, and that’s good.

My list of failures is extravagant at this point. I have consistently been two days behind on house cleaning, and I’ve only managed to make one grocery trip in the last month. I’ve abandoned my friends and my inbox and my fingernails. The balcony planters are still sprouting last year’s twigs. Editing work is piled up around my ears, and the many blank pages in my writing folder feel like the worst failure of all. There is one and only one thing I’ve done well in the last week: loving my little family. I’m hopelessly smitten with them, my daughters with their sunny imaginations and deep blue eyes, my husband with his warm smile and oh-so-scrumptious hugs. Tender moments are alive and well in our family, and that’s good.

And spring is here.

Our wardrobes are switched out, the windows are open, pink and yellow flutter in our periphery. The world is a hundred shades brighter, and… well, that’s good.



They’re sleeping in the next room… or at least the older one is, curled up neatly on her bunk bed where I left her, propriety intact. The younger one is still dancing around in her slipper socks, strewing books and toys across the floor and shouting “Da da da da da!” in blatant disregard for all known rules of naptime. Instinct tells me I should be stern with her, but I can’t help giggling. I adore those girls.

In just over a week, my oldest turns four—an impossible, terrifying, glittery-pink age that will suit her perfectly. I don’t know how this happened, and it occurred to me that the girls may be in dentures and Depends before I reconcile myself to their growing up. It’s like getting hit over the head with a final exam for which I’ve never studied: How can you raise your strong, vibrant preschoolers into strong, vibrant women? Present your answer in 14 years or less.

Uh, I have no idea. My own formative years were sponsored by the decade 1860 and the planet Mortificationus; no help there. I’ve worked with children from infancy through college age without ever unraveling the mystery of parenting, learning which colors and patterns work together to keep the kids out of therapy. I know an encyclopedia’s worth of Don’ts, but only two and maybe a half Do’s. This scares me.

The only two things I have going for me are that I love my daughters, as immensely and achingly as a mama can, and that they trust me. I doubt every molecule in my body from time to time, but they haven’t yet learned the logic of parent = human = fallible. And even though that feels like cheating, their good impression of me boosts my confidence until I begin to think I could actually nurture them without any disastrous side effects. And maybe it’s not cheating at all…

Because my daughters absolutely can trust me to stick with them through the best and worst times of their lives. They can trust me to give them honest answers on sticky topics and to encourage their independence. They can trust me to teach them about boys and bodies and creativity and forging a future. They can trust me to read family bedtime stories as long as I can force them to sit still they’ll let me. They can trust that their precious hearts, their technicolor personalities, and their treasure troves of dreams are held securely in their mommy’s love. And they can always trust that when I embarrass them beyond all hope of recovery, I’ll be able to embarrass them further still with a cautionary tale from my own childhood.

I may pass this exam after all.

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