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November 14, 2010

The fabulous, talented Anne Lamott wrote a book regarding the writing life, entitled Bird by Bird.  She shared a simple story about her brother, who had a huge report due and waited to the last minute (hmmm, sound familiar?). One Sunday evening, he sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by masses of books detailing every bird that had ever lived, and began to completely freak out. Lamott’s father sat down and patted him on the shoulder and gave him this advice: “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird. (19).”

This, at the moment, symbolizes my life. Not just in writing, where I am steeped deep into NANOWRIMO – which translates to November madness: write 50,000 new words in the month of November. This comes with all the other tasks crammed into a day and the burden of responsibilities I despise, such as house cleaning and cooking. To make matters worse, I now have two full days at home during the week, which is supposed to be used as time for the children, writing, and and getting a jump on the house.

 Yeah. Right.

 My little one clings to me most of the time, overjoyed at the idea his brother is banished for an entire day and he has his mommy slave all to himself. I got rid of my beloved cleaning person, who came every other week to make sure the court doesn’t take my children away. Of course, my husband logically said we don’t’ need a cleaning lady now that I am home TWO full days per week, I can clean. Especially since I took a large pay cut.

I rather get a root canal. And I am needle phobic.

Yesterday, I gave the kids a bath and noticed some stuff on the tub. Then I realized: I hadn’t scrubbed the tub since my cleaning person had gone. Which was how long ago? OK, never mind.

Why is there always so much STUFF to do? Just cleaning off the kitchen counter takes tons of time. That is where the bills, and coupons, and children’s notices from school pile up. I am the only one that dares to attack the pile – my husband is afraid of it – and it’s almost impossible to get rid of half of the papers. I literally get excited when I find a coupon had expired that I never used and I can throw it out. The junk drawer won’t close anymore. The coupons are escaping from their container in a frenzy. I can’t keep track of what to bring in on what day and what kid has what and I only have two, for God’s sakes.

And the holidays are coming. That means I will need to Christmas shop and cook more stuff and eventually do something so people can actually come over my house. But when? And why don’t I want to?

I want to write. And I want to read romance novels. And I want to cuddle underneath my Spiderman blanket and watch reality television.  And I want to order take out until I am sick of it and play with my kids only when I want to and not for hours on end because I feel guilty about consistently writing in every spare moment I can wring out.


Yeah, well, who doesn’t want all this? It’s the frikkin American Dream, isn’t it? So, we must march on and take it Bird by Bird. One task at a time, one day at a time, and enjoy what we can squeeze in during the day.

I was reminded of this late Sunday evening, when horrified; I noticed we were out of all the basics for breakfast and lunch for the week. I had to trudge to the supermarket – horror of horrors – on a cold, windy night. My older son begged to go with me no matter how I tried to discourage him. So, I let him accompany him and I literally found joy in my chore. How? First, he opened the door for me, bowed, and said, “After you, Mommy.” He sat in the cart the whole time and held the shopping list, sounding out the first letter of the words to try to figure it out. “SSSSSS, spaghetti,” he rolled off his tongue, his face proud as he looked up at me. My baby is learning how to read and this continuously amazes me. We had a wonderful bonding time in the supermarket. Yes, I had to get him a donut while he was there. Yes, he snuck in some extra snacks, and even begged for the SpongeBob DVD at the impulse checkout. Yes, I went slower than if I would have been alone. But on a cold evening, in the dregs of the supermarket, my son and I shared a moment. It took more time and was a bit more frustrating, but the reward was worth it.

Those are the moments we need to squeeze from. Because our journey here is not when the kids grow up and go off to school, or when the book is finally written, or when Christmas finally arrives. It is just today.  It is just the blank page in front of us. It is just your child’s sun breaking smile amidst the exhausting demands of the day.

Lamott, Anne. Bird. By. Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994.

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  1. I was totally with you until you got to the reality TV part. I’ll just substitute House and The Good Wife and NCIS and stuff for that. Never got into reality TV and still don’t get it, really. Or reality, as the case may be.
    LOVED Bird by Bird. Man, that really takes me back. I think I stole Janet’s years and years and years ago and never gave it back. I don’t see it on my shelf, either. I wonder if I paid it forward and handed it off to someone else?

  2. Hi Jen!
    It’s so important to live in the present, to take the opportunity for special moments with your children…even at the supermarket. They grow up so fast and before you know it they’re in college…sniff, sniff. And one day at a time is essential. You’re a great mom, even if there’s a ring around your tub. I bet the boys didn’t notice it and didn’t care if they did. What they noticed was their mom giving them a bath, playing with them, and loving them. Those are the important things.

  3. Jen, This is life. Know how you feel, I once had a cleaning lady and gave her up, actually she became ill and I couldn’t even think of looking for another one. Then I went back to work and the writing ended on the back burner, actually in boxes in the basement that flooded but that’s another story. Now I know where my book went but the mystery continues.

  4. Nancy Chaudhry says:

    Hey Jen, very well said! I’m glad you took the job to be home more. I miss you and the boys! Bird by bird or one day at a time. I totally agree.

  5. Liz says:

    You are such a great mom. You are so right to enjoy the here and now – you won’t moment when the birds fly the nest – they will always come back to you.

  6. Kimberly says:

    It’s funny you wrote this. I was just out yesterday running errands on a beautiful fall day and all of a sudden my mind starting racing over all the things I needed to do not just yesterday but for the next couple months. Then all of a sudden I pulled in the reins of my thoughts and thought instead “when did all people become like this” (especially woman) OVER ACHIEVERS who rack themselves with guilt if they don’t meet every long and short term goal they set for themselves. I forced myself instead to take in the day and enjoy it’s warmth. Roll down my window and listens to songs on the radio from a time in my life when I wasn’t trying to be perfect and I was truly just in the moment. I hope to get that back some day…. without having to force it anyway. 🙂

  7. Regina Richards says:

    Bird by Bird. I love it!

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