coming up on the end of the year

This has been an interesting month. John has been promoted, which means his schedule has been upended. This is good (more time with husband!) and bad (less time to write!). Luckily, the good more than outweighs the bad, and I have an amazing son and husband. They’ve done their best to create space for me to write.

In fact, my son and I agreed that on Sundays, we would turn off the tv and gaming systems and focus 100% on reading (him) and writing (me). This last Sunday, I wrote 2000 words. Today I wrote 3000, when my husband left the house for the entire morning to get some shopping done. They’ve both been incredibly considerate and helpful in doing what they can to help me reach my goal of writing and someday publishing a book.

John is helpful in other ways, too — a week or so ago, I was venting about how I’d lost the thread of my story and it had become a dystopian action adventure. I said I needed to backtrack about 25,000 words and start re-writing. He asked why, and I explained that about 25,000 words ago, I had taken a lazy shortcut and said something like,

It didn’t take long to settle into a routine, especially with such familiar work to do. Merci often griped that they weren’t allowed to go on patrol yet, but Bex was secretly relieved at the extra time it meant for research. She managed to wrap up two unsolved cases by the end of Harvest, much to Merci’s amusement.

Obvious shortcut is obvious. With three short sentences, I manage to skip past months of character development and world-building, and my entire plot suffered because of it. I’m not trying to write another futuristic dystopian sci-fi about a corrupt totalitarian government, but by taking that shortcut I ended up having to manufacture action and drama in order to try and flesh out the plot. It jumped from a sci-fi vision of a future with a functioning government worth defending to another generic no-hope post-apocalyptic fiction, all because I got lazy one afternoon.

So I was bemoaning the fact that I would have to backtrack by about 25k words and start over, when my husband made his brilliant suggestion. He said, “Why do you have to start over? Just go back and add in the character and plot development for that time frame, then use what you have for the conflict arc, then wrap it up. You don’t have to tank 25k just because it doesn’t work right now.”

It was perfect advice. Whether or not I end up trashing those 25k words of plot, my husband took the weight of making the decision at this point in the process off my shoulders. My daily writing counts skyrocketed after that — I was trailing down to about 1100 words a day when I was struggling with the realization that I’d lost the plot, but now that I have the story back to where I intended, I’m averaging about 2500 words per writing day. I’m feeling pretty stoked right now.

Aside from writing, life is going well. I’m still walking the dogs every morning and trying to get in regular every-other-day exercises (squats and push-ups). I’ve lost about 15 lbs since I started my #exercisealifestyle goal in September.

My sister in law has inspired me, too, and I’ve begun making homemade yogurt after she posted her results online. We both like canning and home food prep, so it’s pretty cool to follow her recipes and see what she’s trying. It gives me some new ideas. We went shopping together last week and I picked up some kefir grains so I can try that too — I’ve recently realized I’ve developed lactose intolerance as I’ve gotten older.

It’s cool, because I never really liked milk in the first place, but it does mean that I can’t eat cereal or drink milk with cookies/ cake when I wish to. That’s kind of annoying. Also, ice cream appears to be a bad idea. Mostly I’ve dealt with it by … not dealing with it. I and my family have been subjected to my intense gastrointestinal distress the rare times I do drink milk. Then I discovered kefir at the store, and when I realized it was essentially drinkable yogurt, I figured I could make it at home just like I can yogurt. I’m super excited to try this.

I signed up to volunteer at my sons school, too. I did it partly because I want to contribute to the school, and mostly because I felt bad that John is always surrounded by people. As an introvert, I get the necessity of quiet/downtime, and how even when other people are simply being in the same room (or house), there’s still a sense of … personal intrusion. Of expectation. Of needing to be “on” for other people. I get that you can love/ adore someone, and still need space away from them, time to mentally and emotionally recharge.

Recently, I realized that while Kidling and I both get quiet/downtime to mentally and emotionally recharge, John doesn’t. He gets up in the morning, and we’re both here. He goes to work, and is surrounded by his coworkers. He comes home, and both his wife and son are here. All day, every day, people surround him. There is no privacy, no sweet solitude. So I signed up for volunteering at the school to give him at least an hour a week of time alone.

The days are odd and jagged, stops and starts of busy quiet. I will have no plans for days on end, and then abruptly discover I have a full calendar of appointments and social activities. I often whittle away the hours on things like shopping, baking, and writing, and when the sun sets I wonder where the day has gone. I don’t feel particularly productive, yet an assessment of my activities composes a satisfying list of daily accomplishments. Or minutiae. I’m not entirely certain.

For example, today I vacuumed, washed/dried/ folded two loads of laundry, took out the trash, emptied the little box, walked both dogs, took a 2.5 mile walk with my husband, baked a batch of cookies, wrote 3k words, crocheted two rows on an infinity scarf, oversaw Kidling’s homework, and cooked schnitzel and spatzle for dinner. I also plan on making yogurt tonight.

So was this a waste of a day? Minutiae? Or were these necessary and useful activities? I often wonder where the line is. All these activities are rolled into the useful and bland title, of “homemaker,” which calls to mind anti-feminist stay at home moms enjoying leisure hours.

But these activities are also things that are outsourced or abandoned when I was working. When both John and I were employed full time, the daily chores slid. We often debated hiring a weekly housecleaner to handle the chore load while we worked 40+ hours/ week each. Neither of us created homemade meals, either — the closest we came to “homemade” were quickly heated freezer or deli items from Costco, like their pre-made frozen lasagna. Now, I make lasagna from scratch. It saves money and is healthier, but it takes an investment of time and know-how. There is a trade-off to be made.

When I worked full time, my writing and personal interests suffered. Rather than craft homemade gifts and spend time with my son, I came home and napped on the couch while my son played videogames. His homework suffered as both John and I were too distracted by the demands of work and household to maintain a regularly watchful parental eye to keep him on task.

So when I fill my day with these tasks, I am aware that the investment of my time, talent, and skills is saving our household money. I am aware that I am not, in fact, wasting time and filling out days with minutiae. I am aware that if I were to disappear or cease existing tomorrow, somehow that slack would have to be picked up. Perhaps my husband would hire a maid, perhaps he would find another partner. I know I am not useless. I just don’t really get that message from our culture.

In America in the 21st century, the middle-class stay-at-home parent is many things: A status symbol signaling financial stability; almost necessary to the smooth running of the household; a replacement for outsourcing cooking and cleaning. What the middle class stay at home parent is not is valued by our culture. Sure, certain conservative religious factions praise the stay-at-home mother for her fortitude and maternal nature, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not bemoaning a lack of benevolent sexism in the culture at large; I am bemoaning the fact that being a stay-at-home parent is still so often seen as (somehow) a cop-out, a lazy shortcut. I am bemoaning that it isn’t validated and financially reinforced through workers’ rights legislation, targeted tax rebates, and similar measures taken by other developed countries to support families and stay-at-home parents.

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