Bodily Liquids

Recently, another far more cerebral copywriter than I am asked me, “What kind of a writer are you?” 

I stared at her blankly, not knowing how to answer. I’ve never been a copywriter with a secret screenplay, collection of comical Haikus or coming-of-age zombie novel in the works. Since I primarily write ads, my words come in short sentences and 30-second time blocks.

And unlike a lot of writers I know who are voracious readers, I don’t pour over Hemingway or even the #1 reco on Oprah’s book list. Nope, I read, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and “Geronimo Stilton, Mouse Detective.” Out loud.  I also enjoy Allure and Food & Wine magazine, in luxurious three to four minute bouts of solitude, while sitting on the toilet.

Don’t be jealous. 

Just some of the Important Books I do not own.

Just some of the Important Books I do not own.

But then a very astute, inspired answer came to me:

“I want my writing to make people cry or pee.” 

Actually, my first answer was “I want to make liquid come out of other people’s bodies.” But I had to quickly rephrase that, for obvious reasons. That’s E.L. James' territory. And nobody’s reading that stuff for the amazing literary quality. 

(Okay, yes, I did read the entire Shades of Grey series. But as an approaching middle-aged suburban mom, I had to read them so I’m up on popular culture. Had to.)

My intellectual writer friend was super impressed, as you can imagine.

I’m kidding. She wasn’t.

But that’s okay. Because by answering her question, I have become more aware of what I'm putting down on paper. The best kinds of writing elicit emotions from the reader (or listener or watcher.) They connect on a visceral level. Otherwise, it’s just words bouncing off your brain. So if I’m always shooting for emotional extremes, to hit someone’s funny bone or yank at their heartstrings, I’ll occasionally get there. Because, let’s be honest - tears and pee aren’t easy to achieve. Unless we’re talking babies, weddings or jumping on a trampoline after giving birth to two 10-pounders. Or so I’ve heard.

So even if my writing doesn’t always reach bodily liquid territory, I’m at least hopefully creating a chuckle. Or a knowing sigh. Or a smirk. I can live with a smirk.

But to me, tears and pee mean ultimate success. 

Pretty sure that’s a Hemingway quote.

Have Hobbies

I strongly believe everyone should have a passion they can completely pour themselves into that’s separate from work and parenting and everyday life. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Could be running or playing clarinet or nude crazy quilting. Just something that’s all your own. Something that brings you joy and keeps you sane, when everything else seems crazy-nutso. And, this is important; you shouldn’t feel one tiny bit guilty about it.
I think it’s hard for most of us to justify doing something simply for ourselves. Work and kids and spouses and friends and gutter cleaning always seem to come first. But being selfish, in small doses, is vital. Because it helps you get your “you” back.  It allows you to win tiny victories. It gives the big, heavy things in life less power, because while still important, they aren’t your everything.
My passion is horses. It began with an unrequited love at age 4, but then kicked into hyper drive when I got a pony for my 10th birthday. Now, so you don’t hate me, you should also know I had open-heart surgery shortly after my 9th birthday to correct a heart murmur I was born with. So it kinda makes sense on the karmic pendulum.
I also fell off a lot at first. In the mud.  If that helps.

Yep, he's sticking his tongue out at me.

Yep, he's sticking his tongue out at me.

For me, my horse hobby is not just a passing fancy, but a definitive part of my life. It taught me responsibility and dedication and empathy and teamwork from a very young age. Because you cannot convince a 1000 plus pound animal to do what you want if he’s not on your side. So while other teenagers were learning how to French kiss and fake their IDs, I was spending hours in the saddle, conditioning my horse’s tail with Infusium 23 and learning how to clean a sheath. (Google that if you want. I once cleared a room of male co-workers explaining it. Super proud moment.)
But while I love horses in general, (Morgan horses and dressage, specifically) as an inherently competitive person I love showing horses even more. I love it so much that the actual event of a horse show is like air and food and water to me. In fact, I need very little else to exist the entire day/weekend/week I am doing it. 
I can easily get up at the crack of the crack, have a donut and coffee on the way to the show, and then go all day on just the anticipation of competing and a room-temperature Fresca.
This single-minded focus makes me passionate! And driven! And a really horrible horse show parent. The worst. Because children, being small and motivated by annoying things like low blood sugar and the need for love and attention, can really cramp my style.
Son:     “Mama, I’m hungry!”
Me:       (To Dave, sighing like I’m an impatient teenager.)  “Why are they being so needy?”
Dave:    “I dunno. Maybe ‘cause it’s 3:15 and we haven’t had lunch yet?”
Me:        “Oh. Well, there’s yogurt pretzels and a Costco bag of horse carrots in the cooler...”
Dave:     “If I don’t eat real food soon I will chew my own hand off.”
Me:         (More pubescent eye-rolling.) “Fine.  But I need to be back in 25 minutes so I can (insert time-sensitive horse related activity      here) before I show tonight.”
Now, the realization that I was doing neither showing or parenting well when both kids were small forced me to take a break for a couple years. Instead of bringing me joy, my passion was causing me stress. And that’s just dumb. Cause showing horses is expensive and I can get stress for free from work or by hearing the words “Mama, my leg is stuck.”
So during my hiatus from showing, I have had a chance to reflect on how important my horse hobby is to me. How my accomplishments on horseback, both in the competitive arena and out, have led to successes in the rest of my life. I have a deep well of incredibly proud moments to draw from when I’m feeling less than kick-ass. I have an amazing network of “horsey” friends from around the country. And my kids have grown up surrounded by this village of people who watched me win, lose, fall off, get back on, mature, succeed and have a family of my own. It’s pretty special.

I’m thrilled to say that my daughter now loves riding and competing as much as I do. My husband is as patient and supportive as ever. And both kids are old enough to carry their own snacks.
So this year I plan to be back out there, pouring myself into my hobby with selfish gusto. Getting up before dawn, feeling the butterflies, giddy with potential.
It’s a feeling everyone deserves. So if you don’t have a hobby, get selfish and find one. If you’ve got a passion that’s been on hold, reignite it. Give yourself permission to do something just for the joy of it. (And give yourself permission to take a break if joy is not what you’re finding.) You’ll have more to offer the world when you do.
Here’s to hobbies. I’m raising a room-temperature Fresca to them right now.

Hores and Spaceships

You’re looking at my two favorite pieces of art my kids have ever done.

These are my favorite because I love imperfection. Inappropriate things make me really happy. If I meet another mom who reaches into her purse for a pen and instead pulls out a tampon with a half-eaten Tootsie Pop and a hair band stuck to it, I know we’ll be instant friends.

Not because we can complain about how bad it is, but because we can commiserate about how good it is. How funny it all is.

I am a big believer in sharing the mistakes, comparing the messes, admitting my faults and laughing (sometimes crying) about it all.

A friend and art director partner of mine has four kids. FOUR. Whenever we work together, we spend a lot of time sharing stories. Mostly about how, with the help of our husbands and friends and families, we’re barely holding it all together. Her stories trump mine every time (she has twice as many everythings, afterall.) But we both take solace in hearing that we’re all in this together, each doing the best we can. It’s not a competition, it’s a club.

I love my kids (duh.) And I am left breathless by their beauty and sweetness and budding talents almost every day. But you’ll rarely hear me talk about it.

Because I’d much rather laugh about my daughter’s horrible meltdown at the Halloween party. Or describe the adorable way my son sucks at karate.

The beauty is in the imperfection. The stories are in the screw-ups.

This is why I grow so tired in my job of advertisers worrying about portraying parenthood as negative. Of clients insisting we round the corners on the truth, concerned about alienating moms because we’re reminding them of the chaos in their own lives. Newsflash: THE CHAOS IS REAL. And if we embrace it, laugh about it and move on, we’ve shown that we understand what it’s really like to be a parent.

Aspirational is a popular word. “Don’t show the reality, show what moms aspire to be

Nope, sorry. Calling BS on that one. Because I will never be, nor aspire to be, that mom with no clutter on the counter of my unnaturally clean house and perfect hair and no visible panty lines who smiles in utter delight when she opens her dryer to see her kid has thrown a pack of crayons into it. 

In reality, I would LOSE MY SHIT if my kid threw a pack of crayons into the dryer. Even in the name of “science.”  But after I calmed down and used a lot of stain remover, I would begin sharing the story. With everyone I knew. And it would probably spark an even better story from my friend about how her son finger-painted his nursery room wall … with poop. Or how my other friend’s daughter built her entire first grade project out of champagne corks and cages, cause there just happened to be a lot of them lying around.

I don’t want to hear stories of perfection. Good for you, if you have them, but what I really want to hear about is how you spilled breast milk on your male coworker. Or how your 4-year-old walked in on you and your husband, and you told her you were “wrestling.” Tell me about how you burst into tears after dropping your son off at preschool this morning, because you’d yelled at him for picking up gum off the sidewalk and you haven’t slept well for 3 nights and you think the cat may have peed on the jeans you’re wearing because you haven’t had time to clean the litter box. I will laugh and cry and commiserate with you every time.

Cause that stuff is the best. The imperfect moments are the best.