Last spring I got a new dog, Khaleesi, Protector of the Dale Kingdom, Mother of Maltipoos. Spring in Georgia is glorious, in spite of the pollen becoming sentient and trying to choke us to death, and every day I put my new little BFF on her leash and took her for a walk. A short walk. She’s the size of a large squirrel and I’m super lazy. We’d trot around the neighborhood and I’d smile as she tried to find the perfect spot to drop her fun size Tootsie Roll.
I wanted to be supportive, so I’d give her verbal encouragement. “Great spot, girl. I think you’ve really outdone yourself this time. I see that you prefer pine needles to grass and I support that. Easier pick up, probably feels cleaner on your paws. I’m impressed with your decision-making skills.” Women should affirm each other’s choices.
When she’d hear the crinkle of me shoving a plastic grocery bag in my pocket, the siren song of an imminent walk, she’d trot excitedly to the door. And as I pulled the bag out of my pocket and bent down to scoop up the poop, I’d sing to her, “I like the way you work it, no diggity, I gotta bag it up!”
Our walks together continued twice a day through the heat of summer and the cool of fall. But here in the winter months, they’ve taken a dark turn. For even here in Georgia, winter is coming. In the morning, there’s frost on the ground, it’s usually dripping just-shy-of-freezing rain, and it’s pitch black outside for both our morning and evening walks.
Instead of sniffing happily, Khaleesi races from bush to bush desperately looking for a spot before her urethra freezes clean shut and instead of singing encouraging songs, I stare intensely at her red eye, willing it to open and release its load into the fell air so we can get the frick inside.
Sometimes making poop is birdies chirping and spring flowers, and sometimes it’s cold and uncomfortable. Kinda like writing and parenting.
Anne Lamont calls the first version of a book the “Sh*tty First Draft” and I am smack in the middle of the sh*t. Every day I sit down and start typing on my manuscript and it’s the worst thing ever written in the history of the written word. But I know a secret, after writing three other books. They all start out this way. You have to push out the bad words, the stupid words, the embarrassing words that you can never let anyone see. Push them all out into the page and once you have a very large pile of them, then you can make them better.
Every book I’ve written has started with a ginormous pile of crap. (Some might think my books have also ended as an enormous pile of crap.) As an author, I’m in the pooper scooping business. Scoop and move it around until it’s better and then do it again.
The ideas in my head seem utterly brilliant until I write them down, and then they turn into swirly turds once they hit the atmosphere. I’ll drive the kids to their various sportsball events in my sticky minivan, lost in world-changing concepts and the most hilarious stories never told. Then when I sit down to pour my words onto the page, my cheeks clench and nothing happens. It’s tempting to quit.
I have a choice. Keep my ideas perfectly pristine inside my head, wowing only myself with my untold wisdom and insight, or force them onto a page, a shadow of their former glory, working them out until they make sense in open air.
Unfortunately, parenting is the same way. Just like writing, I keep editing my motherhood skills, honing my draft. In my head first thing in the morning I think I’m amazing. I’m patient and kind and generous. I miss my kids a little and think they’re cute. And then they wake up and I’m much more terrible than I thought I’d be at this thing. My first draft doesn’t look so good. My parenting needs some edits.
Last week I lost my crap on my kids and yelled at them, so this week I’m taking time to pause, drink an extra cup of coffee, and remember to breathe. I’m tweaking my story, trying to tell it better, learning from last week’s draft and applying my newfound knowledge to this week’s version. Each paragraph of my mothering journey gets written and rewritten and the revisions never end. The kids grow up, we grow older, and we keep revising.
Sometimes it feels like we’re running out of time. What if I run out of time and they head off and I still haven’t become the final version of the mom I want to be for them? Eventually I have to turn in this book on my computer and eventually my kids will be fully grown.
But today, there’s time enough for an apology. There’s still time for revisions. Even when they’re gone there’s time for conversations and letters and calls. And in the meantime, our motherhood edits never end. Each week, each month, each year we’ve learned a little bit more. Things that were hard seem more natural and we make space to learn new things.
When I was working on my first draft of my first foray into motherhood, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to edit my work and I needed other people to give me advice and help me make it better. And even though I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, one million drafts later, because new challenges keep coming and just when you think you figure out one stage they grow up a little more and there are new challenges waiting for you there, you keep editing, you keep trying new combinations and getting other people to help you.
We are pooper scoopers. We take crap, move it around, and make a life. The good news is, as the kids get older, this becomes a metaphor and not reality. I wish I could say as much for the dog.
I like the way you work it, no diggity, I gotta bag it up.