Finding Christmas

Freelancing has an odd flow to it, or no flow at all, really. A bumper month is the payoff of work from two months before. Once I got a couple of regular gigs that together are a steady stream of money coming in, I stopped pitching stories to other outlets. I worked on my book proposal, and sometimes just didn’t work at all.
It’s easy for me to sink into the ebb and flow of my kids’ constant needs and wants. I allow them to drain me.
This morning Coraline woke up at four, making an odd kind of desperate wheezing noise. She’d cough, and cry a little, but still directed me to the kitchen to get her something to eat. I relinquished, got up, and turned on the coffee maker.
These are moments I wonder what it’s like for parents who have a partner. Does one person get up at night if another has to work early? I imagine the “off-duty” one still getting up, offering help, or relief. Maybe when one finally gets up for work and finds the other half asleep, watching Sesame Street with a sick toddler in their lap, they smile at each other a bit, trade places, and one can take a shower or stretch or pee. I guess I don’t know. I only have what I can imagine. I’m not sure I’ll ever have anything else.
Photo on 12-17-15 at 5.26 AMCora’s been saying her version of words lately, and asked to go in her backpack. I paced around in my living room and kitchen, handing her apple slices, starting my day in the stillness and dark, except for the glow of the multi-colored lights on our fake Christmas tree.
I’ve been struggling with getting in the mood for Christmas this year. Mia has been relentless with her requests for gifts. It doesn’t seem to matter what I get her, there are always five more requests in line after it.
I sat on the couch this morning and watched her get ready for school. She sneezed, and coughed, flipping her bread with an egg in the center in the pan to cook on the other side. She put her snow pants on, then sat next to me on the couch. I could tell by the dark circles under her eyes that she was sick.
“Let me feel your head,” I said. She wasn’t warm. Or at least not as warm as the limp baby in my lap, who roused at the sound of my voice. Coraline sat up and immediately hugged and kissed Mia.
I wish sometimes that this could be Christmas. Quiet mornings, in the glow of lights, and not a build-up to another early morning of opening gifts. I want to enjoy these two warm bodies next to me that were once part of my own.
This year will be the first Christmas in a very long time that we’ll spend with family: Coraline’s grandparents and aunts and uncle and cousin. Her grandma came to Mia’s Christmas Pageant at school. Her grandpa comes over and cooks dinner with them. They’ve taken Mia in as a bonus grandchild. I sit back and try to enjoy these things without my lack of trust keeping them at too long of an arm’s length. I’m happy for my girls. I’m happy for me, too, if I allowed myself to admit it. I’m still getting used to grandma and grandpa calling once or twice weekly to ask when they can see the girls again. That’s never happened to me.
10173640_10152613732603282_2581214178596635514_nWe do have much to be thankful for at the end of this year. Last year, I had nothing. The girls’ presents were bought with money from donations and money I literally found. I sent Mia off to her dad’s on Christmas Day and when I called to ask if she’d landed okay he called me a dip shit. I dread her leaving for a week this year again. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.
Lately whenever Coraline’s tired and wanting to nurse, she drags around the U-shaped pillow, following me as I try to eat and use the bathroom. I’ve been trying to not let her take these little naps during the day so she goes down by nine at night. The other night we both sat on the floor, taking turns pulling the plungers out of syringes with her laughing at the popping sound they made. It was almost midnight, and I’d tried to put her down three times already. But I sat there on the floor with her for an hour, knowing she’d never remember it, but I’d never forget it.
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Quiet Moments of Success

2015111095125545Coraline’s been sleeping on her own lately, and this morning I sent Mia off to catch the bus to school and am now sitting in a quiet house, enjoying hot coffee for exactly 35 minutes and counting. I want to poke my head in to the bedroom to check on her, but I know it’ll wake her up. I get moments to myself at night, too, and end up pacing a little, ready to jump out of my seat if I hear her whimper. Her sleeping on her own has been one of those quiet moments of success that give me a chance to breathe without asking someone to help me do it.
Yesterday I did an interview for a radio station in Australia about the housecleaning essay Vox published back in July. The essay I’m turning into a book. I have to pinch myself often that this is my life. Yesterday was definitely not an exception, feeling a literal 15 minutes of fame. I had friends come over to listen to it, had a few beers, and ordered out for pizza. Coraline covered herself in spaghetti and we all patted our bellies full of food we didn’t have to cook ourselves.
It’s hard for me to celebrate, and it was especially hard for me to invite friends over to celebrate with me. I usually allow moments like this to pass. I believe that if I give them attention, I might jinx them in some way. If I poke my head in to check on them, recognizing they exist, they’ll vanish.
DSCN2175I’ve been going out on dates lately. I’m not totally sure I even want a boyfriend, and “relationship” has the same ick-factor of the word “moist” when I say it, but I thought it’d be good to try. I am happy single, but there are moments, during the holidays especially, where walking down a street alone in the midst of bundled up couples is too much to bear without feeling a little tug of sadness and wanting.
One of my dates asked about my writing, since I put in my online profile that I wrote for a living and it was something I’d dreamed of doing since I was ten. I told him I’d published some essays, and had kept a journal since I was a kid. He nodded in a “that’s nice” sort of way.
Later in the date he asked what I had going on that weekend and I told him about the Australian radio live interview. His jaw opened and his eyes got wide, and I went on to explain who I wrote for regularly and that I was preparing a book proposal for an agent who’d contacted me.
“I didn’t realize I was sitting across from a famous person!” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was saying that in a joking or sarcastic way or not.
I turned my head and said, “Yeah, I guess I’m a little famous.”
Being able to tell people about my job isn’t about that, though. For years I battled overcoming an inner voice in my head, the voice of my ex, who said I was worthless and that no one was ever going to love me. He said I was selfish for pursuing a college degree in writing, because I’d always be struggling and costing the tax payers money from being on government assistance.
Being able to tell people about my job is being able to say that I am successful. A professional, even, though most of my writing is done half-lidded and in pajama pants. I’m just at the start of my career, and it’s something I have to pinch myself over daily. I’ve had so many years, the last five especially, of showing my writing to people and being rejected, heavily edited, or watched them frown and tell me it needs some work. So I worked at it. It’s exciting to have things click, to find my voice and have the courage to use it, and get paid to write.
I almost threw up yesterday after the interview. It was only 15 minutes and I had no idea how many people had tuned in to listen, or just happened to be in a place on Monday morning in Australia where the radio was on that channel. My dog had horrifyingly barked through the middle and I fought through the distraction, but still felt awful. I had to stop. And breathe. And give myself that quiet moment of recognition. Not to relish, but to give credit: “You’ve worked hard to get here. Sit and enjoy it for a second.”
I guess I could say that about just about anything, but those moments are my favorites. Getting a chance to drink hot coffee in a quiet house ranks pretty high on the scale, too, though.
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