“How Do You DO This All Day?”

Banana-bread“How do you DO this all day?”

Pearl looked up from behind her laptop (my old, old laptop) to ask me this, with a heaving sigh and a cheeky grin.

A couple of nights ago, she decided to write a book of stories (“almost 100% true,” the subtitle tells us) about each of the members of her family.

I had just finished reading her a short post I wrote this week for the Inky Path blog, about my niece Hannah–her cousin–screaming her head off. I told her I’d shared it with Hannah to make sure it was ok with her before we used it as a writing prompt. Hannah, who is now almost 17, said she “laughed so hard” and that it was fine to share.

“Can the next one be about me?” Pearl asked. I asked her, in turn, what story she’d want me to tell. She started remembering various (in)famous stories about herself, either ones she remembered or ones she’s heard so many times she may not even know if they’re memories or stories. Amazing, how that happens, isn’t it?

“I know! Why don’t you write them?” I asked, with no idea if she’d bite.

She lit up. A minute later, she was back with her computer. “Can a kid get a book published?”

“Why not,” I replied, adding that it might depend on what she meant by published.

“Like your books,” she specified. My books are self-published.

“Definitely,” I told her.

Historically, while her sister has been writing stories and novels and song lyrics for what seems like ever, Pearlie has opted for hiking trails and soccer games and juggling balls and Google research. She’s a great storyteller (says her mama), but this first the first time I’d seen her so excited about writing her own book.

If there’s one thing that’s true about Pearlie across the board, no matter what she sets her mind to, she will persevere. She might have a few freak outs or meltdowns along the way, and I’m always gently trying to redirect what seems like an inherent streak of perfectionism. It could be learning to tie her shoes, swim, play the “Rocky” theme on the piano, or get the damn formatting the way she wants it in her newly opened Word doc — the kid does not give up.

After she nearly lost it trying to get the page breaks to cooperate, I told her she must really be a writer. That seemed to ease her frustration a little. Then I went back to reading and commenting on the amazing posts by Winter Joy Retreat participants, and did my best to leave her be.

Working side by side felt pretty amazing. At one point, she apologized for distracting me, and I told her it was no bother at all; I was happy to help out, and to have her company. From time to time, she stopped to ask how to spell a word — “characters,” “decided,” “mention,” and “iffy” among them — or to read to me what she had so far.

It was when she sighed, though, and asked me how I DO this all day that my heart exploded. A way with words, indeed. I laughed out loud, but could not even answer.

Then Aviva came in the kitchen so see what we were doing. She glanced at my screen. “You’re always on Facebook, Mama.”

I started to explain that much of my work actually takes place in Facebook groups, but before I had even finished my sentence, Pearl chimed in.

“Facebook is how she gets our money, Viva.”

Seriously. Don’t ever, ever think our kids don’t “get it.” Au contraire, they are paying attention to our every move.

Meanwhile, Aviva is working on her third novel but will only let Mani give feedback. I thrill at their shared love of writing fiction, and also that Pearl doesn’t feel like the writing territory is all taken up around here. There’s always room for more stories, more words, more pages, more margins, and more books.

**

Friday night. Sixteen minutes left on the stove timer, the heavenly smell of banana bread baking filling the kitchen.

I’ve been in a strange rhythm this week, going to bed past midnight, up early to work and get kids off to school, a mid-morning nap. Getting myself out for a 20-minute walk each day. One of my high points with the girls this week was at dinner two nights ago — it may have been the same night that Pearl started writing her book, come to think of it.

The girls were picking at each other and bickering (my parents used to call it that; they’d tell me and my sisters to “stop bickering!” I usually say “fussing,” but for fuck’s sake, they were just being unkind to each other at the dinner table and I wasn’t having it.)

I tried to divert things with a question about the school day, something parental and ridonkulous — a word I attribute to Mani. Something like, “What was something that surprised you at school today?”

This kind of thing might have been effective when they were six. But now? Not so much, or at all.

“You haven’t been to school in a looooooooong time, Mama,” V replied. Well. Right. (Later, Pearl would ask if she could start out one of her stories about me with this intro: “Back in ancient times…”) But I digress, again.

Somehow, by some stroke of genius or sheer luck, likely the latter, I landed on a topic they both got into: Nature vs. nurture. Neither of them knew that term, though they certainly understood the concept behind it, and I was surprised by how much they both believed that we are who we are due more to “nurture” than anything inherent.

I don’t write all that much about those two these days; when I started blogging, they were little (Pearl was nine months, Aviva, four), and so much of my daily practice writing had to do with my daily experience showing up as their mama. This is as true as ever, but as they’ve grown, my writing, my work, and this space have, too, and I simply don’t feel that their stories are mine to tell. They probably never were, and of course this is the grey area of what’s ours and what belongs to other people.

But these moments — of sharing something I love with them, or of the three of us having a peaceful mealtime and conversation — I don’t take these for granted, especially as they grow up, up, and away. And from time to time, there are one-liners and sweet moments that are just too wonderful not to share. Like “How do you DO this all day, Mama?”

**

No prompt, no purpose, no reader in mind, no participation in a group, no timer, no agenda, no goal — just me and my little blog: It is a luxury right now to do this kind of writing, and I miss doing more of it even as I’m bowing-down grateful for how I spend my days these days.

If I was to answer her, I’d probably say something about how I don’t do this all day, which is precisely why writing for the sheer pleasure of it, to just sit down and see what happens, is more satisfying than ever. Whetting my appetite, reminding me what I’ve always been hungry for: More.

I dream, as ever, of whole days uninterrupted, to work on longer projects. Chapters and chapters and books and books. Until then, I will dip in, again and again and again, without complaint.

And just as I type that last sentence, the stove timer starts beeping. Mmmmmmmmm.

6 thoughts on ““How Do You DO This All Day?”

  1. dhenryb says:

    It is some experience to realize how much your children know and how they are in a different generation and how much they really want to be like you, but need to find their own way. (I once had a wonderful teacher in psychoanalytic school named Yonata Feldman. She taught child therapy. She was from Lithuania and remembers the Cossacks bopping the Jewish kids on their heads with their long stick/weapons, riding horses while the kids walked to school. She taught us that the earliest learning of the baby/child from the mother is that if you are like me—you like me. I never forgot her, an amazing teacher.)
    Pearl is so special (as is Viva) and she is on her way to telling the family story—-the first step of the writer.

    Like

  2. Christine Organ says:

    There is so much I love about this — like how you make these little peeks into your daily life feel so rich and poetic, yet so accessible and relatable — but I think this sentence sums up what I love most about this: “It is a luxury right now to do this kind of writing, and I miss doing more of it even as I’m bowing-down grateful for how I spend my days these days.” I have been thinking a lot lately about how gratitude and wanting can co-exist, and this touched on that for me. Have a lovely weekend!

    Like

  3. Cait Lynch says:

    Hi Jena!

    I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

    My twelve year old daughter writes stories on my husband’s old lap top too. I love reading her work and am honored when she asks me to edit (which I do lightly).

    My hope for her is that she starts to journal. Journaling daily keeps me sane and fires up the writing side of my brain to create.

    Love that you and yours are thriving!

    Like

  4. Dakota Nyght says:

    Ah Jena, this was so lovely to read a glimpse into your life and your girls’ lives. I think I had a few specifics to mention, but they’re clean out of my head now… I just want to wrap your writing about me and sleep…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jennifersekella says:

    Love this – how real you and your family are becoming to me through your writing. And I can sometimes see myself in you, Mani, Pearlie, or Aviva… Which is neat as I have no spouse, no children. I hope someday I’ll get to meet you all.

    Liked by 1 person

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