All the Balls

I’ve been a bad writer. Any of you who have taken on writing know that sometimes it just doesn’t happen. The words go away, and your computer screen or blank page seems to mock you. In my case, it’s never for a lack of ideas, it’s not writer’s block in the traditional sense. I literally block myself, stepping into the path of my own writing and grinding it to a halt.

Until I’m clear on why I do this, I’m not sure how to break this cycle. My momentum will be going strong and then, bam! Something happens and I derail myself. In this case it’s been months away from the page, as evidenced by my disappearance here.

My issues with writing are attached to value, guilt, worth. All ugly stuff really, and the kind of stuff that I speak so passionately against where everyone else is concerned. Why are we all so bad at following our own great advice?

Life without writing isn’t awful. I have enough meaningful work, volunteer gigs, beautiful moments with friends and family to keep my days filled with good feelings and a sense of purpose. Life without writing does feel a lot like the difference between eating well and laying into foods that just don’t agree with you. Or skipping vitamins for too long. Something wasn’t working quite right underneath all of the good stuff. Something felt off.

So, on Monday I dusted off my novel and got back to re-writes. I entered a contest. I decided I’d do NANWRIMO (national novel writing month) and write a Christmas present for my daughters. Can you hear my writer’s knuckles cracking?

I’d like to say that I motivated myself. That the feeling of not writing was worse than the struggle and uncertainty of a daily practice. I’d love to tell you that I gave myself a pep talk and decided my passion for words and stories was worth the time investment, even if I never made a living off my writing. I’d be thrilled to say that I’ve decided to take myself more seriously as an artist. But those would all be lies.

Last week my four-year-old son came home from junior kindergarten with a package. It contained a very simple book about colored balls. We sat on the couch and he read each page to me, clear and sure, and my heart exploded out of my chest. It was the first book he’s ever read to me.

I remembered how as a child, books saved me from loneliness and filled my soul to the brim with possibility. I saw his own potential for reading his way through endless adventures open up right there in our cozy living room. I felt an ache so deep and strong pushing me to make sure my kids get to read one of my books someday. A book that I’ve written.

“This is me in all the balls.” That was the last line of the book my son was reading. I may have to juggle a whole bunch of them, but I can’t drop this one again because it’s just too important.

Kids Make Sleep Impossible

Back in July, I had almost an entire week of proper sleep. This was right after I visited a naturopath because I thought for sure my hormones must have been out of whack – I was irritable, emotional, exhausted and kind of all over the place. She decided I wasn’t sleeping enough and that I needed nine uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. Nine hours. That meant a 9:30 bed time, which is frankly impossible. She gave me herbs to help me fall asleep faster, and I slept with a mask to keep the sunshine from waking me up before I wanted to be awake. After that week, I felt like a new human. The problem turned out to be a lack of sleep, (my hormones are just fine) but since that glorious week of rest, I haven’t been able to nab another nine hour stretch. As I type this, I feel a bit weepy. I wish I hadn’t experienced what good rest feels like because despite those few days, the reality is this: young kids make sleep impossible.

why kids make sleep impossible

Why Young Kids Make Sleep Impossible:

  1. They insist on sleeping with you. Okay, maybe yours don’t. Maybe you chose not to co-sleep with your child from day one because getting out of bed for feedings in the middle of the night seemed a small price to pay for the freedom you would enjoy later on. Maybe you don’t have to convince your almost-four-year-old that his own bed in his lovely room is perfectly safe and awesome. Good for you. My nipples were like hamburger meat and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown in my early days of motherhood. But you were probably smarter, and you’re probably a much nicer person than me in the mornings.
  2. You can’t sleep when they don’t sleep with you. My little guy isn’t the only one who got used to sleeping with another human every night. Whenever he sleeps with his other mama, or has an overnight with the grandparents, I inevitably hit a spot in my bedtime routine where I suddenly feel like a limb is missing and my heart and soul aches for his sweaty little head on the pillow beside me. The truth is, I sleep the very best when it’s just him and I in bed. He’s the only biological child I will ever have, and he’s growing up so fast. Go ahead and laugh. You can probably see how I got myself into this mess.
  3. Daddy starts to resent everyone. When your husband wants you all to himself, do you think it’s fun to have to race against the clock to get ‘er done before the little boy (who managed to finally fall asleep in his own bed) comes pounding on the door because he wants to sleep with you? It’s not, believe me. There’s nothing fun about knowing that having an orgasm will be next to impossible because you can’t stop wondering when one pounding will start and the other will end. Then, with two adults and a four-year-old squished together in a queen sized bed, nobody’s sleeping well. There are toes where toes should never go. Inexplicable scratches in the morning. Flailing and maiming of all varieties. I swear, my man has started snoring like a beast just to get back at me for insisting on co-sleeping in the first place.
  4. They spit in the face of progress. Just when you think you’re getting ahead with a new routine, your kid brings back some disgusting virus from day care and ends up with a fever for an entire week. A WHOLE WEEK! The doctor sends you home with a Roseola diagnosis, no big deal really. Except you aren’t sure how to keep a close eye on them and regulate their sometimes terrifying temperature spikes without setting an alarm every hour, and so back into your bed they go. You start to wonder if the weird little tic they’ve adapted where they compulsively lick their fingers is a small part of a much larger, much more diabolical plan.
  5. They try to touch your boobs. Like, constantly. Even when you tell them you don’t want them to touch your body because you’re trying to teach them about consent. God forbid they end up growing up to be some asshole frat boy with a sense of entitlement and a healthy grasp on misogyny, but you can’t explain that to a three-and-a-half year old, can you? No way. I say “It’s my body and I don’t want you to touch my breasts right now.” He says “But Mommy, you fed me with them when I was a baby so they belong to me too.” Then he flashes that winning smile and his huge brown eyes dance. Or he has several ‘accidents’ where he’s quick to apologize, but a boob is inevitably touched. My grandma had a boyfriend like that once. I know consent is important, (believe me, I know) but sometimes it’s too hot to sleep with a t-shirt on, and honestly I’m just so freaking tired. If I pretend I’m asleep, is it still wrong?

How to Reclaim Your Right to Sleep

Obviously the answer is ‘get the kid to sleep in his own bed’. Or maybe it’s ‘Daddy and son can switch rooms half way through the night.” Whichever the case, it’s easier said than done people. We’re long past the point where we can leave him in his room to cry it out. I’m not about to lock him in there, or barricade the door to keep him in because it’s really not his fault that he’s learned to depend on someone in bed with him to sleep with.  Last night he said to me (through tears) “I want to be like daddy. Every night he gets to sleep with either you or Ulla Mumva*.” I tried to explain that when he was a grown up, he could find someone to love and sleep beside too. Then he trumped me with “But I thought you loved me?” Soul-crushing, really.

*His name for my partner Sarah, which grew out of his original name for her ‘Other Mama’.

We are in tense negotiations over here. Deals are being brokered every day:

You can come for a morning snuggle.

I will sit in this chair beside you until you fall asleep.

I’m taking you back to your own bed, and I’ll tuck you in again (x 1,000)

If you sleep in your own room for five nights we can get that stupid, over-priced plastic piece of junk you saw on YouTube and decided you must have.

Look, here’s a sticker! (you only made it until 2:30 am before daddy was so tired from re-tucking you that he lost all reason, and mommy ended up sleeping in your tiny bed because daddy was snoring so loud and you wouldn’t stop touching my boobs.) If you get four more, you can pick a new toy at the toy store.

Your sisters always slept in their own beds. (To which he responds “Yes, but they always shared a room so they had somebody to keep them company.” Can I remind you here that he’s THREE AND A HALF?)

He’s starting full time school in a month, and part of me wonders if this is really the time to introduce more change. I mean, we just phased out night time diapers for godssakes. How much is too much?

Co-sleeping parents how did you do it? How did you finally make the transition? How did you have uninterrupted sex with your partner? How did you convince your little one that sleeping alone is a great skill to master and that it didn’t mean they had to sleep alone every single night?

I need some advice, some encouragement, and some rational thinking. After all, I’ve only slept truly well for about a week in the last three-and-a-half years.

 

What Forty Feels Like

On July 24th I turned forty, and I welcomed my birthday with some of my very best friends who greeted me in the morning naked in my pool. We’d shipped the kiddos off to spend the night with their grandparents so we could enjoy an adults-only party, and we gave the neighbors plenty of warning. The people behind us got the hell out of Dodge, which is a shame, because of the naked burlesque troupe in my pool. It’s classic that they would all wait to the light of day to shed their swim suits.

what forty feels like

If you had told twenty-year-old me that life would look like this at forty, I would have been very delighted. And probably a little shocked. Back then, I thought I would end up being a classical actor, and I was pining away for a guy who didn’t know I was alive. Now I’m the retired Artistic Director of a cabaret burlesque troupe, a burgeoning writer, and an entrepreneur. I have a sexy husband and a gorgeous wife who believe in my talents, and three beautiful and healthy children. All three of our families are wonderfully supportive and loving. I have a quirky and spacious home to host all these wonderful people in our lives. I make money doing work I love, and work that I can do anywhere in the world. I’m better looking than I was at twenty (yep, I said it) and I’ve healed so many old hurts that my heart is bigger than it’s ever been. I’m in my skin in a way that I couldn’t possibly have been decades ago, and I love it.

Forty feels like I’m finally ripe. It feels like I know myself a little better. I feel like I’m not afraid to look vulnerable. Turning forty feels like I know how to be grateful.

As far as goals are concerned, this year I want to continue to move forward with my writing. I also want to add a comprehensive fitness component to the lifestyle changes of last year (we gave up grains and sugar, and now I’ve kicked dairy too), I want to meditate every day, and I want to grow my businesses. As far as the rest goes, I’d love to keep up simple living, volunteering, eco-friendly shopping (lots of thrift stores in my life), awesome family moments, commitment to my own passion, and balance of life, work, and creativity.

Where I come from, birthdays are precious. I’ve seen some very near and dear people not get nearly enough of those milestones, and I want to savor each and every one. Part of what makes that possible is keeping my mind and body as sharp as I can. The rest is about balance.

We each have a daily list of ingredients required to keep us at our best. Click To Tweet

Here’s my daily list of happiness ingredients:

Reflection
Exercise
Clean Eating
Creativity
Nature
Family
Reading
Hard Work
Domestic Bliss (I like this better than ‘chores’)
Love (giving back, helping, holding)

I’d love to hear how turning forty made you feel, or how you imagine yourself at forty. Leave your stories in the comments below!

Four Ways to Maximize the Last Days of Summer

How can it be August already? I mean, actually, how? I feel like I was just packing up teacher gifts and bracing myself for summer vacation to begin, and now we’ve only got 30-ish days left before the kids are back in school and (gulp) my little one begins kindergarten. July was filled with incredible family time and epic birthday celebrations (I turned 40, more on that later!) and we’ve promised ourselves that we’d slow way down this month and focus on relaxing, being as lazy as we can get away with and spending time with our kids. Here are some ways to maximize the last days of summer:

four ways to maximize the last days of summer

1. Make a Wish List

The last weekend in July was the first we had free in over a month, so we spent some time as a family chatting about the things we’d like to do before the warm weather is done. This was a great way to connect and get a sense of our family’s needs.

Here’s some of the stuff we came up with, in case you need inspiration:

More gardening time when the heat lets up (we’ve had a drought here this year.)

A family trip to an amusement park

Sleeping outside in the tent

Visiting with cousins

Lazy meals cooked outside

Family swim time

A weekend in the big city

Visiting our in-laws

Reading books

Laying on a blanket in the park while the kids play

2. Make Some Plans

With a fairly open schedule, we’re lucky to be free and flexible when it comes to some of these plans. Our first step was to try to secure some dates for family visits. For the rest of the wish list, we’re staying open. The extreme heat doesn’t lend itself well to long days wandering around amusement parks or busy trips to the city, so we’re watching the weather forecast and trying to take advantage of more favorable weather.

3. Focus on the Feels

Sometimes the best way to make the most of your time is to tune in to the way you want to feel. A word that kept coming up in our family meeting was ‘spontaneous’. Another was ‘relaxed’. Here are some others to consider:

easy

budget-friendly

connected

unplugged

creative

fun

adventurous

4. Plan to be Flexible

Above all else, don’t get stressed out about trying to get everything on your list done. It’s easy to get caught up once you set those goals, but remember these are the LAZY days of summer. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t knock out everything on your list. Carry some of these activities and ideas into the early fall months and use your weekend time. Cooler temperatures might actually make some of these activities more fun.

What’s left on your summer wish list? What are you most looking forward to for August?

A Pep Talk for Creative Types

Hey you artsy soul, trying to make an impression on the world…

a pep talk for creative types

You’ve picked a hell of a path, haven’t you? People think it’s crazy to spend so many waking hours living with your imagination once you’ve hit age eleven or so, but you just can’t help yourself, can you? I’ll bet there are days you think it’s crazy too.

Sure, you have a job that pays the bills. Sometimes you probably even like it. You and I both know there isn’t a single second when you aren’t thinking about your other work. That creative work that doesn’t pay you a dime most of the time, but fills your soul until it’s near to bursting. Except when it doesn’t.

You know those moments where you take a good long look at yourself and say “Seriously, why are you still doing this?” When you stop and count the hours you’ve devoted to your creativity and measure that against the financial dividends of that time investment, do you feel a little sick sometimes? Is there a niggling voice inside your head telling you that it’s time to ‘grow up’? Is that voice telling you that your art isn’t going anywhere?

Well, guess what? I feel the exact same way. Especially right now as I’m typing this. My nay-saying inner monologue is practically screaming, but I know with certainty that as sure as I will not make a cent from my writing this month, I will also come back to it again and again. I will write until my dying day, and it’s not because I have some delusion that I’m poised to become the next bestselling novelist, it’s because I have to write. Even if my stories are absurd, even if I never quite master this craft, I know that when I am not writing I am slowly dying inside.

I’ve had a lot of creative pursuits that I’ve left by the wayside. You’ve probably done the same. There are other avenues I’d like to explore (like pottery!) before I leave this life, but writing is in my blood. You know the feeling. Even in your most frustrated moments you can’t walk away from something that is so much a part of you.

And you shouldn’t.

If your art does nothing more than feed your soul and give you a reason to keep moving through your days, that is a gift worth more than any pay check. If your art helps you contextualize the insanity of the world and seek out the beauty in any situation, you are armed with a power few possess. Build your life carefully around your gifts so you can support your creative space and keep enjoying those personal rewards. I have total faith that if you invest so deeply and create from a place of personal pleasure and power you will make exactly the kind of mark you hope to leave on the world. You probably already have.

xoxo

cat skinner