Poems & Essays

20 Mar

An Extra and Ordinary Wednesday

In Mother Words Blog No Response

“Mama! I peed in my bed!” my three-year-old yells as he slams his bedroom door shut behind him. I check my phone: 6:57am. It’s earlier than my earliest riser normally wakes, and it feels like a black cat has just waltzed its way across my path, foreshadowing dread into the day to come.

“Quiet!” I whisper yell down the stairs, “Come up and hop in Mama’s bed.”

His tiny, naked body rounds the corner and he shuffles up the stairs, unintelligible phrases about all things pee flowing out of him like the drip of a faucet that’s been just barely left on.

“Yes, yes, we will sort it out later, just be quiet and climb in my bed now, buddy,” I reply through sleepy eyes and retainer-taste mouth.

We both crawl into my bed, him in my spot, me on my husband’s empty side. I drift into a half sleep as the steady rhythm of his breath begins to slow and the sun continues its rise in the morning sky. Just before his breath calms completely, he whines about wanting milk. I stumble my way out of bed to heat up a sippy of just-so warm milk like I do for him every morning. Back in bed, he snuggles close to his milk, eyes closed, as I curl my body around his and we drift off to sleep.

“Mama! I’m hungry,” he says.

 I check my phone: 8:26am. Not bad. I pull on an old gray t-shirt and we make our way down to the kitchen for breakfast. The first thing I see are the eggs overflowing on top of their carton, thanks to our four ducks who have recently begun to lay. I slice up a few apples and peanut butter and start scrambling eggs. My three-year-old eats peacefully as I divvy up the eggs into four equal portions, anticipating the rest of the circus waking up, and then head into the laundry room to fold the clean clothes.

When I hear a scuffle outside, I peek out the back door to find my seven-year-old and eighteen-month-old tossing rocks into a bucket they use for catching toads. My oldest is happily chattering away to his baby brother as they bask in the glow of the golden morning sunshine. The sight of them sends a warm glow through my spirit. It’s both extra and ordinary, and it’s just what my heart needed to keep pattering away in the middle of a long week. 

Before long, all four boys are huddled around the table eating. My oldest fidgets, his body a constant rotation of sitting, standing, kneeling until I begin reading Harry Potter aloud to them. We all make it through Harry almost falling to his death in the middle of his first quidditch match, and the boys, who’d spent their breakfast on the edge of their seats, jump up to clear their plates and head downstairs to play. I’m reminded of the captivating power of stories, and I sit for a moment to think about the kinds of stories their lives will tell. Stories, similar to Harry’s, of bravery and heroism, I hope. Stories of fear and frustration; laughter and joy; success and failure; and all things in between. I’m sure of it. I think about how, like Harry’s story, their stories have completely captivated my life.

My husband texts me, pulling me out of my reverie to remind me of the mosquito people coming. I yell downstairs to let the boys know I’m headed outside to mow the lawn before they arrive. Somehow, they are all hungry, my very own pod of tiny hippos, so we grab some fruit to bring with us. I turn on an audiobook for them as they sit on the back porch to eat, and then I run to the garage for the lawn mower. The next hour feels like rush hour in Chicago, stop and go–for banana peeling and squabble refereeing and slowly pushing the mower along in the blaze of a hot, summer sun.

Somehow I finish the lawn before the techs come, and we all settle in the driveway for some morning schoolwork. My two preschool-aged kids are tracing letters in chalk, practicing writing their names in the driveway. They match uppercase letters to their lowercase brothers, their wobbly handwriting like the path forged by a new bike rider. My oldest is reading aloud to me as the others work and pops into their conversation every once in a while for a little “encouragement” (“E says elephant and egg, what else does ‘E’ say?”). It’s an ordinary scene and, yet, the most extraordinary thing to me that my boys get to learn and grow together, spending their days teaching each other, listening to each other, and working together side by side.

When the mosquito people arrive, we head inside to finish up our study of frogs. They eat bowls of oatmeal as we look through a wordless picture book about a little boy who tries to catch a frog. My sweet four-year-old decides to tell the story in his own words. I write down his “story” word for word and then read it aloud. We all cheer and praise him for being an actual author, and the smile on his face makes up for countless bad moments.

I put the baby down for his nap while the older boys head downstairs to continue building whatever Magnatile rocket ship they’ve been working on. When I come out of the bedroom, the house is as quiet as a sunrise over a still lake. I settle in at the table with my journal to document our day and pray over the rest of our week. 

My husband comes home shortly after. It’s only 2pm, but he is working overnight tonight and is hoping to take a long nap in preparation. We spend some time chatting uninterrupted, an occurrence almost as rare as a lunar eclipse, and it feels like nothing and everything all at the same time. It’s a luxury to sit across from each other in the middle of an ordinary Wednesday and share our hearts. 

Before he heads up to bed, he makes a quick stop in the basement to see their “hunormous” rocket ship and to give the boys a hug.

After math, a quick card game, and schlepping everyone to and from soccer practice, we are back on the front steps, reading once again from Harry Potter and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The evening light fades to a dusky blue. It’s almost 8 o’clock, and my husband is leaving to go back to work for the night. We all kiss him goodnight and shuffle inside, bodies tired, resisting the promptings of rest. I pretend to be the kissy monster and chase them all around the house until I catch them, one by one, and kiss their faces. They shriek with laughter. Each time I catch one, he is sent downstairs for teeth brushing and climbing into bed, and, by the time I get downstairs with the baby, everyone is ready for bedtime stories. I read about Josefina Javelina, May and her roller skate wannabe dog, and of course Harry Potter. As my three-year-old climbs into bed, I realize I never washed his bedding covered with pee from this morning. Too late now, at least it’s dry! We’ll tackle that in the morning.

I dole out kisses and I love yous like I’m Santa and it’s Christmas morning and then softly click the door shut behind me. My stomach rumbles, and I realize I never actually ate a full meal today. I heat up some leftovers and sit down at the table.

I think about how ordinary today was. I think of all the small, extraordinary moments like little shooting stars beaming across my field of vision: fast and fleeting, yet so beautiful when you catch a glimpse. I think about how easy they are to miss, these moments of extraordinary beauty, and how I long to keep my eyes and heart open wide enough to see them.

I think about the four beautiful little boys slowly sinking into sleep beyond their door. The four little stories I’m privileged to play a small part in writing. A light switched off, a door closed, one more page turned in the novel of their lives.

I think about my husband, the one who’s made all of our dreams come true: mine of mothering and homeschooling and being fully loved, theirs of adventure and excitement and being fully loved. He works hard every day to give us this life, and he comes home every night to remind us that we are, indeed, loved.  

I think about this morning, how I thought the day was off to a horrible start. Bad mixed with good; good mixed with great; beauty and mess all seamlessly woven together.

This, I’ve realized, is really the essence of life–of motherhood. That on the heels of every hard thing comes something good, just like the crash of a meteor into the earth’s atmosphere becomes the beautiful burning of a shooting star. Blink and you miss it, but lend yourself to full awareness and the magic of it changes your whole being. Each small moment noticed.

Bonnie LaRusso is a homeschooling mom of four boys. She married her summer camp sweetheart, and they live in a lodge in the suburbs of Chicago. Her work has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs, The Kindred Voice Blog, and Holl and Lane Magazine. You can find her on Instagram @blarusso

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04 Mar

MAW Spring Cross-Genre Literary Workshop

General/Column No Response

What is a Literary Writers Boot Camp?

An online Boot Camp for those interested in perfecting their literary writing through extensive one-on-one coaching by an editor of MAW. Our camp also offers the opportunity for peer review and discussion with other writers through our camp’s FB group. And, if you’re looking for writing support once camp is over, we’ll place you in a writers critique group with other camp participants.

What are we calling it a Cross-Genre camp?

We are offering something different this time. You may choose to work on either poetry or an essay during camp. Bring a poem that you wrote, and we’ll help you turn it into a literary essay. Or, take an essay you wrote, and we’ll help you turn it into poetry. The benefit of this type of camp is that you will have access to our instructional material and group discussions relating to both poetry and literary essay writing. The boot camp runs for two weeks beginning Monday, April 20, 2020 and ending May 1st. Tuition is $130 (Proceeds in part are used to support MAW’s mission to pay its contributors). Space is limited to fifteen participants per workshop. Our Boot Camps fill up quickly. Register here on Submittable.

What makes a piece of writing literary?

Literary journals seek writing in which the language itself is the experience. The story, while strong, shares the stage with craft. Literary writing relies on figures of speech that enhance the reader’s understanding of the theme. This workshop will help writers strengthen their creative writing.The workshop will provide: 1) An outline of reading materials on the literary essay/poem; 2) Sample teaching essays/poetry with annotated comments; 3) An opportunity for brainstorming on your essay/poem topic; 4) A general critique of your piece for content and back and forth discussion sessions with your mentor; 5) Specific line-by-line edits including explanatory comments and suggestions; 6) The opportunity to ask editors questions about writing and the publication process through live FB chats; and 7) The opportunity to have your essay/poem considered for publication by MAW as well as a list of suggested sites for publication. We extend our workshop to two weeks so that participants have ample time to fit writing in between life’s other demands.

Boot Camp Instructors:

Sarah Clayville is a Creative Writing and 11th grade English teacher as well as freelance editor and writing mentor. Her fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Central PA Magazine, StoryChord, and other journals. Her areas of expertise are short and flash fiction. She is a poetry and essays editor for Mothers Always Write.

Michelle Riddell has earned her B.A. and M.A. in English from Wayne State University in Detroit. She has written for Ford Motor Company, MSX International, The Cornerstone, MomSense Magazine and Hello, Darling. She is a two-time recipient of the Albion College Cathy L. Young award for French poetry, and has written a novel. She is a poetry and essays editor for Mothers Always Write.

Julianne Palumbo has worked as an attorney, a writer, and a writing coach. Her poems, short stories, and essays have been published in Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, The Manifest Station, Literary Mama, Motherwell,and others, and she has been a columnist for Literary Mama. Julianne has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and for Best of the Net. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), and 50/50 (Unsolicited Press, 2018). She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Mothers Always Write.

Guest poetry instructor: Alexandra Umlas is the author of the poetry collection At the Table of the Unknown (Moon Tide Press). She serves as a reader for Palette Poetry and on the board of directors of Tebot Bach, a non-profit literary organization. She holds an MFA in Poetry from CSU Long Beach and an M.Ed. In Cross-Cultural Education. www.alexandraumlas.com

Read what participants in our previous workshops had to say:

“I think every Writer, whether aspiring or established, could have benefitted from this Boot Camp. I appreciated our Mentor’s feedback, as well as what was given to me by my co-horts. The idea of having a deadline, articles to read, and a private Facebook page to share on, really brought this whole Boot Camp to life. I kept saying that I felt as though I had enrolled in a University-level class. Michelle [my Mentor] didn’t just push me to do my best, she provided an array of suggestions. Thank you so much MAW Editors for pulling this together!!”

Susan Goldstein

“The MAW Boot Camp helped provide a workable timeline on writing an essay and taking it from draft to finished product. If you are looking for a way to jumpstart your literary essay writing, this workshop offers the tools, resources and editorial help to guide you through the process. Top notch editorial feedback helps take your writing to the next level. I highly recommend working with Juli and the other editors at MAW.”

Rudri Patel

“I have been participating in a 10-day literary boot camp put on by the editors of MOTHERS ALWAYS WRITE. This magazine is not just a wonderful venue for mother-writers to share their stories, it’s also a loving, supportive community of writers. A family of sorts. I made so many new, wonderful writerly-friends, learned copious amounts of writerly-stuff, and had absolutely amazing (did I mention I’m addicted to alliteration? lol) mentoring from Julianne Palumbo. And, thanks to Juli’s suggestions of where to submit, my essay has been accepted for publication in MANIFEST STATION, an brilliant online literary magazine. I would never have tried to submit to this magazine before. But this workshop, and the support of my mentor gave me the courage to try.”

Leslie Wibberley

“Boot Camp was just what I needed to help motivate me to write. I enjoyed the small group feeling and enthusiasm from the other members. It was helpful to receive feedback both from my mentor and other group members. I feel as if I have made some new connections to other writers.”

Cheryl Maguire

“My editor pushed me without being pushy. She offered thoughtful, probing comments that made me dig deeper into what my essay was really about, and offered encouragement every step of the way (and sometimes receiving permission not to rush the result is as important as anything else!).”

Robin Flanigan

“The MAW Boot Camp was by far the best value writing experience I’ve participated in during my five years as a freelance writer. It’s affordable and accessible, and provided a much needed burst of inspiration. The detailed level of feedback from engaged and excellent editors, along with a supportive and encouraging community of fellow writers, make it a hugely worthwhile investment for writers at any stage of their career.”

Ruth Dawkins

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24 Feb

Some Facts About Baby Birds

Taking Flight One Response

Some baby birds leave the nest before they can fly.

He didn’t leave on good terms. We kicked him out, told him he couldn’t live with us anymore.

I only remember some details: slammed doors, yelling, my wife crying. Everything was ruby red like a robin’s breast.

Baby birds can be altricial, precocial, or something in between. Precocial baby birds are relatively mature and don’t need as much parental care.

He left to live with a friend about a mile away. The river between us calmed. Blue, blue, blue. This word can mean different things to different people.

Baby birds flutter and hop to strengthen their wings and legs. Sometimes people mistakenly believe they have been abandoned by their parents.

For the next two years, we see him here or there. At family events and birthday dinners or when we call and invite him over for tacos served alongside tall glass bottles of Coca-Cola. He is a pop of color. A yellow canary.

Young birds can behave unpredictably.

One day he messages us. He needs a new place to live.

We open our door. We crack open our hearts, which are buzzing fast like hummingbird wings.

Precocial birds have many mature feathers but look scruffy until they lose their down.

He is tall and skinny like a crane with long, wild brown hair he tames with dark flat brim ball caps and a shaggy beard that looks like the down of a baby bird. He wears jeans, wrinkled T-shirts, and sweatshirts frayed at the cuffs. He looks at me with his mother’s round brown eyes.

Young birds need good nesting material and foods that provide excellent nutrition.

We give him clean sheets for his bed and stock up on the foods he likes: whole milk, white bread, ranch dressing, sliced turkey, Pizza Rolls, peanut butter, Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

In some cases, family flocks remain together indefinitely.

His belongings are packed in neat bundles. He carries them two by two, one under each wing, up the stairs and into his old room on the third floor that looks out over our small town. 

He will build a new nest, bringing home things he finds outside. Rubber bands, empty lighters, broken pens. But mostly items that catch the sun like coins and nails and pieces of wire. He will sit tall and fat on his pile of treasures.

Until it’s time for him to fly again.

Rae Theodore is the author of My Mother Says Drums Are for Boys: True Stories for Gender Rebels and Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars, Sister Wisdom and Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender. Rae is immediate past president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association and lives in Royersford, Pennsylvania, with her wife, kids and cats.

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24 Feb

Pippi Longstocking

Toddlers to Teens One Response

I had to raise myself, she might say
not in a disparaging or contemptuous way
but with her inimitable braided delight.
How fun she made it all look 
to live in a rambling, ramshackle house,
sliding down banisters in her striped socks.
We all loved reading about her
on the blue couch that seemed to sink
us into each other, but no one more
than my son. He wanted me 
to make him thick braids
out of red yarn, clip them 
into his black curls with his sister’s
barrettes. So I did, and he became Pippi
for months, soaring around the playground
in his cowboy boots, striped shirt,
those braids stretched out behind him
like red kite strings.

Sarah Dickenson Snyder has written poetry since she knew there was a form of writing with conscious linebreaks. She has three poetry collections: The Human Contract (2017), Notes from a Nomad (nominated for the Massachusetts Book Awards 2018), and With a Polaroid Camera (2019). Recently, poems have appeared in Artemis, The Sewanee Review, and RHINO.

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