Thursday, October 15, 2015

Crooked Paths

When I was young(er) I envisioned my professional life as a series of switchbacks. Always moving forward and every so often moving up. But when I stayed home to raise the kids, I skidded off that tried and true path and found myself, if not at the bottom of the hill, on a washed-out single track with no discernible destination.

Side note: I would like to encourage the use of a different term for a mom who leaves her career to raise the kids. Because the term stay-at-home mom is the lamest, most watered down version of what being a mom actually looks like. Sure there were many days when I didn't leave the house, had permanent knee and butt imprints in my jammie pants, and cried when Oprah had her a-ha moments. But still, there were many other days I was a mom in the wild, wrangling strong-willed toddlers and slobbery babies down grocery store aisles and past judgmental teenagers.

Now that I am old(er) and the days of questionable diapers and temper tantrums are behind me, I find that my path, while rocky and long, has taken me to a place that the younger version of me would never have considered. Because the 'me' of my early years would have tilted her naturally colored head, scrunched her line-less eyes, taken a sip of her perfectly chilled Viognier and declared this path unlikely, an unreachable dream, never happening. Then she would have enjoyed a blissful night of sleep, one of literally dozens back then. In the morning, she would have woken up, dressed in an unhurried manner, eaten a leisurely breakfast, chatted or made out with her husband before heading out, well-rested and probably singing, to her income-producing job in the city.

Man, that girl was annoying.

But I am on this path of my own making. And on it I am writing, have written, a book. This path I've chosen is not paved, it's not straight, it is riddled with self-doubt, and I'm fairly certain it plummets over the side of the publishing cliff.

But here I am. Trying to be a writer. Stealing moments of time with my keyboard where I get to disappear into a world of my own making.

And I love it. But don't tell the other me. She's a hater.

So there it is. The world I've been living in for the past year and the one I continue to inhabit as I write book two. I don't know where this path will end, but I do know that working towards something that nurtures passion feels, well, really freaking good.

I used to worry that my kids would only ever see me as the mom who did their laundry (not well, mind you), made their meals, kept the house in "order" and managed their busy schedules. I worried that my example wasn't good enough.

Silly me.

One evening last spring, the kids were watching Star Wars, and I was on my computer, earphones in, my music turned up loud enough to drown out Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker's epic battle scene.

I wrote my own final scene that night. When I typed the words The End, I took out my earphones and whispered, "I did it."

Someone pushed pause on the movie and the kids and Sean crowded around me. "What did you do, Mommy?" Sawyer asked, climbing over the computer to get into my lap.

"I finished my book. I mean, I'll have to edit it a million times and then revise it, and then probably rewrite the entire thing. But, I finished it." I stared at the computer screen, shocked.

Sawyer burst into tears and we all turned to stare at him. "Why are you crying?" I asked.

"Because now you're going to get a secret agent and become famous," he said between sobs, "and you won't have time to be our mommy anymore."

We laughed. Hard. I reassured him. "Buddy, that just doesn't happen. Chances are this book will never be read by anyone outside this family."

"Then why did you write it?"

A question my younger self would have definitely asked. But this me, this 40-something mom of three and wife of one, this me knows the answer.

Because I could. And I didn't even have to take off my worn-in jammie pants to do it. Would I like to be able to share that my book will be in bookstores and available for purchase on Amazon tomorrow? Yes, I would like that very much. Will it happen? Maybe. Maybe not.

But that's okay. The other day my daughter told me something that has made every twist and turn of my path well worth it.

She hugged me and whispered, "I'm really proud of you, Mom."

And that beats writing The End any day.



Thursday, May 28, 2015

One space

One space. Just one. Not two. Two spaces are for people over forty. Raise your hand if you know what I mean. You, with your hand raised, are one of two people. A smooth-skinned youth with naught but your future hopes and dreams ahead of you. Or a mature self-starter who read about this rule on another blog or (spare us all) in the Chicago Manual of Style, and who feels just a tad superior about your educated awareness.

Now, put your hand down and get out. Get out, get out.  Get out.

To those of you left, welcome. What I am about to tell you is earth shifting. A truth thrust upon us by this new world we inhabit. It's unsettling and will make you question everything you once believed. Remember Santa? This is just like that, except worse.  

I learned how to type in the 7th grade. And I was good. Fast, accurate, "like a breath of fresh air across the keys" is not what my typing teacher recorded in her grade book. I imagine she would have though, if asked to describe my typing prowess. 

Quick question. When I wrote 'learned how to type' did you picture a computer or a typewriter? If you thought computer, get out. Why are you even still here?

A typewriter is the correct mental image. Until recently, I didn't think much about it. Then a friend of mine (who sprang from a different decade) reacted with bug-eyed shock when I told her I learned on a typewriter. As though typewriters are akin to orange julius, Members Only and Whitesnake. 

It was one of those reality-check, slam you in the face kind of moments. My childhood straddled a technological divide. By admitting an association with the typewriter, I had confessed to being part of a generation who struggled through backspace and whiteout. The tail end of those generations, mind you. It's not like I used an abacus. Geez.

In class all those years ago I learned many important typewriting life lessons. Not the least of which was to put two spaces after every period. Two spaces. For readability and clarity. Two. Absolutely no exceptions. And thus have I practiced and applied this rule with due diligence and pride to every period I have ever typed. 

Until now. 

I wrote a book this year. During my writing sessions a little voice popped up here and there whispering lies about periods and spaces. "Be quiet," I told that little voice. "You know nothing." Then I finished my book and as I cheerily took on the process of revision my little voice piped up again. "One space after a period," it hissed like a traitor. "one space." 

With shaking hands and a brave heart, I googled it.

It's a funny thing, history. Two spaces after a period should be a valued part of ours. Of a simpler time when kids played outside by themselves until sunset. Of Rubik's cubes and Atari. A time when we lived life at a slower pace with one TV and no remotes.  

Those of us adjusting to one space should be revered for our historical willingness to work our fingers to the bone for a sentence. And for our ability to adapt as times change. So I revise my book and with each space I delete, I shed the dated version of me for one who presses the space bar just once. After. Each. Period.   

To you who feel bound to the letter of the law established under the rule of typewriters, come out and into the sunshine of one space. It's fun, it's easy and feels a tad naughty allowing our sentences to get so cozy.

Try it. Go ahead. I think you'll like it.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

10 Tips on Surviving Lice: From a mom who's been there done that

It happened.  Oh, yeah.  It happened.  I thought it was just an urban myth.  A story spun by vindictive women of yesteryear meant to scare innocent moms of today.  A practical joke.  Nothing that would actually ever happen.  To me.

Until it did.

It was summer and we were mountain biking with the kids.  Keira, the careful, thoughtful biker of the crew.  She often stops to check out "something shiny" on the path.  Get the picture?  So it wasn't surprising that she was lagging behind.  But this time it wasn't something shiny.  It was something crawly.

"My head itches, Mommy.  Really bad."

"I'm sorry, honey."  I'm not really listening.  This complaint does not rate very high on my Indicators of Bad Things scale.  It barely registers on any of my parenting scales really.  All I'm thinking is, yeah, probably because you haven't showered in, what, like a week? 

So we continue down the path with Keira stopping every few feet to take off her helmet and scratch her head.  I roll my eyes, so dramatic that one.  When we finally get back to the parking lot, Keira is in tears.  I grudgingly take off her helmet and casually glance at her head.

It was waiting for me.  A smirk upon its tiny insect face.  See, you didn't believe your kid was miserable.  This is what you get, bad parent.

Lice.  The Paynes had lice.  So, parents (mostly moms out there for obvious reasons) this one's for you.  My 10 tips on surviving lice.  An unofficial guide on how you can beat these little buggers.  Without completely losing your mind.


His little beady eyes were staring at me from among the dark strands of her hair.  Ewww!!  The only sensible thing I could think to do at that time was to immediately and loudly alert my husband.

"LICE!!  Honey, oh my god, she has LICE!!"

A bike pump clattered to the ground.  Another family of bikers were staring at us from across the parking lot.  My face burned, Keira burst into tears, and my two other kids chimed in, also loudly,  "LICE?  What's LICE?  She has LICE?"

The family of bikers scrambled into their car and passed by us casting looks of barely contained terror our way.  So dramatic, that family.

Helpful Hint:  That family was not lice educated.  Unless they came over and rubbed their heads all over Keira's, tried on her helmet, put on her shirt, there was no way they were getting lice.  They were just scared, judgmental people with no compassion for the bug-ridden families of the world.


We jumped in the car.  I frantically googled lice, lice products, lice anything.  My head started to itch.  All heads in the car started to itch.  So many options for lice removal.  There was the chemical way.  The homeopathic way.  The essential oil way.   The chanting with incense way. The ignore it and blame it on someone else way.  How could I choose?

The car screeched to a halt in the Safeway parking lot.  Sean walked in.  He walked out, hat low, head ducked, furtively holding a small white bag.

"Did anyone see you?"

"No, it was clear.  No one saw me."


I opened the bag.  Chemical, baby.  We were going chemical.  With the headlights off, we quietly rolled out of the parking lot and headed home taking our creepy, crawly secret with us.

Helpful Hint:  There is much discussion about which method to choose.  The chemical way is harsh and I did have concerns about using it on the kids.  But, if you are a salt of the earth, homeschooling person with tremendous amounts of patience and/or an inclination to wear long, flowy skirts, then you would probably do well with the mayonnaise method.   At this point, I had no strong convictions other than wanting the bugs gone, eradicated, their blight upon our family nothing but a distant memory.  We used RID.


This is a case of hindsight.  We panicked.  I made the kids strip down, briefly considered burning the clothes, but changed my mind and threw them into the washer.  We took the kids up to our bathroom where we removed all rugs.  I gave them towels.  They sat naked and shivering on our cold, tiled, bathroom floor.  It looked like a prison camp for children.  I expanded my search.  Sawyer and Ella both had evidence.  My head itched even worse.

Over the next four hours we shampooed and combed, and combed, and combed, and combed.  It became a game for me.  Like locating and digging out blackheads.  I cried triumphantly at each nit I found.  My head itched.  It was my turn.

Helpful Hint: All live lice should be dead after the initial shampoo.  Your job after the first shampoo, is to comb, comb, comb to remove all nits.  Nits can hatch later and bring all your problems back.  So comb, comb, comb.


You do not need to go over your house with a magnifying glass.  Or burn everything your kids may have looked at.  Just wash and/or dry on high heat everything they may have slept on or have just worn.  Pillows, bedding, blankets, stuffed animals, hats, clothes.  Lice prefer warm juicy scalps.  They are the ultimate mooch and do not generally survive longer than 24 hours away from their host.  Much like a 46 year old who still lives at home.


God really thought this one through.  People lice need people blood.  So the lice on your head turn up their noses to dog and cat blood.  It's true, look it up.  Step away from your dog.  He's not part of this.  


I'm sorry about this one.  I really am.  But it must be done.  And it will feel icky, like you're calling former partners to alert them about a sexually transmitted disease.  But it is the right and responsible thing to do.  I'll give you an example.

"Hello, Nita?  This is Melissa.  You know how Keira was at your house yesterday watching cartoons on your couch and scratching her head?  Well, we just discovered she has lice, so uh, maybe you should hose down that couch?"

Or perhaps your child recently had a play date at an OCD parent's house.  You can fess up using this informational opening:

"Hello _____, long time no see.  How are the kids?  Did you know that lice is more common than you think?  And that also, it's not indicative of poor hygiene?  Interesting factoid, lice actually prefer clean hair over dirty.  Since we're on the subject…."

The only way to stop the spread of lice is to contact those you've been around within the last two weeks.  It's humiliating, I know.  Just grow a pair and do it.  Honesty is like chicken soup for the soul, or something like that.  


At this point you might think you are out of the woods.  You might even be feeling just a tad bit cocky about the whole thing; pleased with your lice handling skills.  That confidence will be your greatest downfall.  Keep combing.  The nits are still there, patiently waiting to bring you down a notch when they hatch in 7 to 12 days.  Keep combing.


You may have already done this.  If so, bravo.  But if you haven't, order it today.  The brushes that come with the kits are crap.  The Licemeister will pull out nits even after you have patted yourself on the back for a nit-free head.


Don't skip this.  If in all your exhaustive combing you have missed a nit, it will hatch.  Then that little nit will become another round of lice yuckiness.  For your own sanity and reputation, do the follow-up treatment.    You do not want to have to make another round of phone calls.  A second round of phone calls will only serve to earn you the reputation as an inefficient lice manager.  Play dates will be cancelled, carpools dissolved, sleepovers prohibited.  Don't let this happen to you.


When you do not think you can take the combing any longer, when you have actually begun to communicate like a monkey because you act like one, when your flashlight has run out of batteries, and all you dream about is nits, then you know that it is the most critical time to KEEP COMBING.   I combed for 4 weeks after our second treatment.  When I went a full week without finding a single nit, I combed for another week.  Excessive?  Perhaps.  But I had to know that the bugs had left the building.  And they had.


For the record, we are currently a lice free family.  But we have been irrevocably changed by our experience.  I'm itching now just writing this.  I itch any time I think about lice.  I find myself casually scrutinizing other people's hair for nits.  I think twice before affectionately tousling the hair on a kid's head.  I'm a tad bit paranoid.  We never found a live bug on me, but we did pull out a few nits  Ick!! Ick!! Double ick!!

Somehow, Sean escaped the lice.  But as a reliable source once shared with me, it is a well-known semi-fact that the family member least likely to get lice even when everybody else is infested is the dad.  Is it the short hair?  A superhero immunity?  Are they like a dog?  You be the judge.

If you and your family are currently enduring lice…be strong and comb.  You will be fine.  If you, like us, have earned a lice survival badge, then fist bump sister, we are family now.  And if you have never had lice and are at this very moment congratulating yourself for your strong constitutions, cleanliness or general wealthiness, well now, I do not wish lice upon you because that is cruel and vindictive.

But, does your head itch?