Welcome to my lake-side reading spot.

OK, sorry for the click bait-y title. The gallows humor. I neither take lightly “these uncertain times” we’re enduring, nor do I think we’re in for a siege of locusts next. But then there were murder hornets, so who knows? Those who’ve been around here a while know I’m a worrier. Uncertain times always feel dire until the next round of uncertain times comes along to take their place.

I mean, who here remembers the joys of labor, delivery, and early motherhood?

*raises both hands at once*

End Times at every turn, right? Maybe that’s a bridge too far, but hear me out…when I say that my children’s birth–my guys I love like mad now–felt like the End Times. It was the end of my childlessness, of course, the end of my marriage as one with no children. It was also the beginning of a wonder-filled new stage of life, but that was hard to see through the haze of sleeplessness. I watch the quick videos my husband captured of those times, now, and I train my eyes only on the boys–round-cheeked and elbow-dimpled–because if I glance at then-me, I think of what I wasted. Busy worrying, instead of laughing, through it.

I’ve been drawn to novels with strong themes of motherhood, this summer. (Maybe seeking some kind of fictional map to follow?)

Margo Orlando Littell’s The Distance from Four Points, which I reviewed here last month, features a mother and her teenage daughter, and answers the question (among many other interesting questions): How does motherhood change when a mother takes her teenage daughter from their comfortable present to a past of painful secrets–the home the mother thought she left for good when she herself was a teenager?

Aimee Liu’s Glorious Boy is an ambitious historical novel that follows an American couple and their “beloved but mysteriously mute” four-year-old boy. Family ties are tested–and severed–as the family is evacuated during World War II from their home in the remote Adaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. At the heart is a question of motherhood: how does one best mother a child so unlike herself he seems, at times, a stranger?

Which brings me to my current read (or one of them), Lydia Kiesling’s debut novel, The Golden State, which draws the reader into the panic-inducing, tear-filled, amorphous days of mothering a young toddler, alone. Here’s a taste:

Finally we sit in the big bed and have milk which is warm in the sippy cup from this morning because I haven’t brought a carton and we have two stories Goodnight Moon and Goodnight Gorilla, trying to emphasize the goodnight aspect and the sleeping aspect, and I decide to forgo brushing teeth and then think no no no it’s too easy to fail to establish good habits and I haul her into the bathroom and poke at her with the toothbrush and she clamps her mouth shut and cries and then I lay her in the Pack ‘n Play turn on the sound machine say “I love you I love you I love you” and close the door and listen to her scream.*

from Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State

Are your palms sweaty, like mine are, after reading that? Really, the prose is as funny as it is visceral. Though I don’t think I would have found it as funny when my boys were small, so there is such a thing as coming to a book at the right time.

As for my writing, it’s been both heartening and depressing that one of my most popular blog posts remains a post from March, which ties these times to my own Dead Mom Club in highlighting Kübler-Ross and company’s stages of grief. These times can feel like the End Times, but there is still escape, and even laughter, if we look for it.

What are you reading–and writing–this week? Are you able to laugh at all through these uncertain times? Show us whatcha got in the comments!

* Did you notice the quote from The Golden State is one long sentence? (How I love a well-done run-on!) Up for a little writing challenge? Task yourself with writing just one sentence, when you feel stuck. Learn more from “The Case for Single-Sentence Prose in the Age of Insecurity,” by Jason Thayer and featured on the Brevity blog, yesterday.

27 thoughts on “Laughter in the End Times

  1. Oh, how different the early parenthood days were with my second compared to my first! The first 2ish years of Anya’s life, I don’t think I ever fully exhaled. I was happy beyond measure — happier than I’d ever been — yet at the same time more terrified and miserable than I could have dreamed possible. She was colicky and contrary as a newborn. Stormy and taciturn as a toddler. There was no me in those early years. There was only her, and my complete, sucking inadequacy to be her mom.

    My second was a miracle by comparison. So long as I was in sight at all times and nursed him on command, he was the most easygoing child. After his sister, I was more than willing to concede those things. In return, he made me the center of his world, and would beam at me every time I looked his way.

    So I both do and don’t miss those early days. But oh, how I love to look at photos from back then. Mostly I’m looking at them, but sometimes I look at me — especially me after Anya. I have no memory of myself from that time outside of those photos. I remember me at 3 better than I remember myself during her early years.

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    1. I know what you mean. Yes, all a blur, really, those early days. I was wasted (really, thin and drawn, and withdrawn)–tandem nursing and not sleeping, around the clock. I did think at one point that I deserved to have another pregnancy, a nice, normal singleton pregnancy followed by moments of truly enjoying one infant at a time. But, then I would have also been chasing twin toddlers, so my story of their early years is what it is. We all made it. And it’s probably a blessing I don’t remember much of those days. I get lots of hugs and squeezes in now, and writing helps me cement these good times in my mind. I certainly wasn’t writing anything when my guys were small! Btw, I love seeing your photos of your babies, too. Really, there can’t be too many chubby cheeks on IG–especially these days.

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  2. A great post, no matter how “click-baity” the title! I am working on a profile of a cult movie Queen of the 70’s for a magazine…fun looking back at classic horror films and talking to people about life in the business!

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  3. I’m on vacation at a lake with my daughter and son-in-law and their twenty-two month old, so your post hits the spot. He’s a marvelously good natured little fellow, for which we are all thankful and take zero credit. But, he is a toddler! Yesterday he figured out how to unzip the side of his pack and play while supposedly napping and appeared at the window face between the venetian blind slats, grinning and saying “Hi dada.” It was hysterical and also absolutely terrifying.

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    1. That teeter-totter of childhood–terrifying to hysterical and back. I’ll be ready to witness those moments again when it’s my kids’ kids, I think. I’m glad you’ve gotten away for a little break. I found the change of scenery on our recent lake-vacation really rejuvenating, and I hope you do, too! Plus, you get toddler snuggles, I’m sure, which is delightful. Enjoy!

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  4. Oh those early days were tough! Baby boot camp, I called it. Where they break you down and mould you back up as parents. I am writing less for myself these days, but I did write a 23 word story about a giant elephant in the room! 😁

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  5. Well, I can’t relate to the motherhood issues, but these crazy times just add to my appreciation of where I live. I’m trying to build more laughter into my days, too.

    I’m reading a book by Nathan Dylan with his protagonist, Morton Farrier, a forensic genealogist. You can guess at his target audience! But it’s really a fascinating story with spies and such in the Middle East after WWII. Plus some great genealogical sleuthing.

    I think that single sentence challenge sounds fun, too. Don’t know if I’ll get around to it. Masterful writers can really do great long sentences. Mark Twain wrote one that was two pages long in Life on the Mississippi.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Eilene, and I’m glad to hear you’re still laughing–and reading–through it all!

      I enjoy those post-WWII books where the spies scramble to somehow make good with the winning side. (Ondaatje wrote a novel like that I enjoyed.) With the genealogical angle–that sounds right up your alley. Oh, I thought of you on my trip to OH and to the cemetery. In addition to viewing my mom’s stone we took a little tour of other family members’ stones. Among them was a great aunt, I think, of my dad’s with the first name–get this–Experience. I’ve got to write about that lady!

      I’ll have to look up that 2-page sentence by Twain–if anyone can do it (and probably make it funny, to boot), he can!

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    1. That farce def sounds like your cup of tea, Geoff. Is it inspiring your edit of Pearl Barley (ah, that name makes me miss soup in winter!)? Happy editing. I hope to be reading, pool-side, this weekend.

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  6. I have 2 small kids very close in age so I definitely relate! I find that I generally avoid books about motherhood or babies, it’s just too close to real life at the moment but I guess there might be a time when I’m more up for it.

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  7. Being a writer enables worry. My mind monkey-jumps from one worse case scenario to the next.

    I was a full time mom and had all kind of adventures with my kids. The time flew and then they graduated from college. That’s when I reinvented myself as a writer. Courtney is here in Colorado but I miss my son, who is in LA. I won’t fly with COVID, although, I give those super ugly gas-guzzling Winnebagos a second look when I see them on the highway!

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    1. Yes, there are certainly pluses and minuses to having a very active imagination!

      Separation from family has to be the toughest thing about this pandemic. The rest we’ve learned to deal with. Hopefully, a vaccine or something will come about before you have to drive one of those road beasts!

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  8. I’m not a parent so I can’t relate. Thank god! Hahahhaha. Just kidding. Sort of. But I did like the excerpt you pulled from Golden State. At this point in my life, I’ve heard enough baby stories that I can nod and listen sympathetically, but that’s about it.

    Interesting that you are in the motherhood reading theme these days. Do you know why?

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  9. Mothering twin infants was (oddly–since there were two of them!) the most isolating time of my life. I could have used some sympathetic nodding, or should have started blogging then, I guess. Dealing with babies is also sometimes hysterical, a dichotomy The Golden State captures beautifully.

    I think I’m probably drawn to books around motherhood to inform my WIP, but I find the majority of novels written by women who are mothers deal with that theme. (My guess is that the same doesn’t hold true for novels written by men who are fathers–but don’t get me started, ha!) Thanks for reading, Lani!

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  10. I remember those sleepy days when my boys were toddlers. I wish I would’ve captured more pictures instead of gotten drawn into family dramas. Sigh. I did stay home with them and I’m proud of them. They surprise me every day with their cleverness and the way they pick on me tells me they love me. 🙂 That’s been the hardest part, transitioning from a doting mom to dealing with their independence. Sniff. I’m interested in your Mom books and I may have to grab one when I finish the one I’m reading. Thanks for the recommendations!

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  11. Thanks for reading, Lisa! Yes, the budding independence in my guys over here is a little hard to take, too. Though you’re truly in the thick of it, with teens! We joke we’re going to put bricks on our boys’ heads to keep them small forever. Trying to savor the time together–as you said, a positive byproduct of this pandemic.

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  12. Laughter is the best medicine so I really try to laugh my ass out on the silliest of things these days and find pleasure in simpler things. Also, being around positive energy and interacting with content that uplifts you on social media has also been key in helping me hold my head above water.

    Blessings to you and yours. 💛💙❤️

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    1. Agreed! For all its pitfalls, social media (but especially blogging, I think) can help keep us connected to our favorite people, even when we have to be physically distanced. Stay well, and thank you for being here!

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    1. I think you might be in his league–you both have that way of infusing humor into tough spots. Thank you for thinking of me, Poppy, and for linking to that piece. “I’m not Catholic. But I watch professional sports.” I’m still laughing! I hope your funk eases–and that you get back to writing. Your posts always refresh me–just as Dietrich was refreshed by his roadside stop. I think that’s about all we can ask for in this life, is to push on and hope for some refreshment along the way. Peace–and good health to you and yours!

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