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I’m Writing This While the Baby Sleeps

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I’m Writing This While the Baby Sleeps

Last Thursday, my husband and I talked to the new crop of students in the Bradley Method Birth Class that we attended when I was pregnant.

“Birth is the easy part,” I told them. “It’s everything after that’s hard.”

That night, the baby proved my point by refusing to sleep from midnight until six a.m. In our dark bedroom with the white noise machine blaring, I would nurse her and bounce her on the exercise ball until I thought she was asleep, but the moment I’d stand from the ball, she would startle awake and cry piercingly until I did more nursing and bouncing. Things went on in this manner (with some diaper changes thrown in for good measure) until the first rays of dawn appeared, when she finally fell asleep on my chest, and I drifted into an exhausted one-hour slumber.

On Friday, she slept for most of the day. She slept in the baby k’tan with Daddy in the morning (he was working from home, thank god, so I was able to snag an hour of sleep in bed), and then in the afternoon she slept on me while I slept on the couch.

My husband and I were worried that we’d let her sleep too much and she wasn’t going to sleep come nighttime. We were right to worry. Friday night I was again nursing and bouncing for hours. Not only would she not sleep in her bassinet, she wouldn’t even sleep in the bed with me. She dozed for a few fifteen- minute intervals on my chest, so that’s when I slept, too.

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Daytime nap with baby.

 

By Saturday, my husband and I knew we had to do something differently. We decided to be stricter about both a bedtime routine a daytime nap routine. We also decided to limit the amount of time she spent sleeping on us. From now on, for at least two naps per day we would swaddle her and put her in the bedroom bassinet with the white noise machine going. That way, she would make the association that swaddle plus white noise plus bassinet equals sleep.

And, so far, this new routine seems to be working! Not perfectly, mind you. She did, for example, cry inconsolably from 7pm to 9:30pm on Sunday night and it often takes upwards of an hour and a half to get her to bed. BUT she has also been sleeping IN her bassinet for chunks of the night. (And by that I mean for an average of two hours at a time. It still takes me about an hour in between those intervals to get her fed, diapered, and comforted, but still, I’m not complaining –BELIEVE ME, I’m not complaining!)

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Me and the little bae.

 

The baby has also started taking naps in her bassinet during the day. If she settles into some sort of napping pattern soon, it means that I can start to get into a routine myself. It might look something like this:

  • Early morning nap: Eva eats breakfast, takes a shower, and tidies the house
  • Late morning nap: Eva eats lunch and puts dinner in the crockpot
  • Early afternoon nap: Eva responds to email and/or takes a nap herself
  • Late afternoon nap: Eva does chores and/or some living room yoga

Where does writing fit into this routine? Well, I haven’t figured that out yet.

Up until the baby was born, I had a routine for my writing. I would sit down at my tidy desk in my office by 9am with a steaming cup of tea and usually a bit of chocolate. I’d work on writing until I got hungry for lunch around noon. It was ingrained in me: morning plus my desk plus a cup of tea equals writing. Unfortunately, that meant I had trouble getting myself to write at any other time of day. I had trouble writing if I wasn’t at home alone, if my desk wasn’t tidy, or if I didn’t have a cup of tea and something sweet to eat.

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My writing routine pre-baby:  a quiet morning, a clean desk, a cup of tea.

 

As I’m getting my baby into a stricter routine and getting her to make helpful associations, I’m loosening my own routines and associations. From now on I have to snag writing time whenever I can – morning, noon, or night. I have to learn to write wherever I am and whatever the conditions (especially since my office now doubles as the nursery and my desk is currently a neatnik’s nightmare). I don’t have the luxury to be so particular anymore; I will have to write whether or not I have time to make myself a cup of tea.

People always say, “sleep when your baby sleeps,” and I will do that, but I  will try to write a little, too.

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She’s such a little angel when she’s sleeping!

You Can’t See All the Parades

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You Can’t See All the Parades

For most of the country, yesterday was just another Tuesday, but in New Orleans and surrounding areas, it was Mardi Gras. I should know because my facebook feed is currently filled with pictures of my New Orleans friends whooping it up on the parade route.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but Carnival season officially begins on Twelfth Night (The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6) and lasts until the day before Ash Wednesday.

I lived in New Orleans for six years, and Mardi Gras parades there begin several weekends before Fat Tuesday. Parades roll the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights before the big day, and both daytime and nighttime parades abound on Saturday and Sunday. There are more parades Monday evening (Lundi Gras), followed by a full schedule on Mardi Gras Day, starting with Zulu, which rolls bright and early at 8 a.m.

I remember one year trying to rally for Zulu even though I was running on two hours of sleep and had either a hangover (and a sore throat from shouting), or what was the beginning of a terrible cold. I concocted myself a drink I called my “Mardi Gras Magical Mixture,” which consisted of Emergen-C, Diet Mountain Dew (for the caffeine), and vodka. Then I put on my costume and headed to the Quarter.

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Here I am with a toilet on Mardi Gras Day in the French Quarter.  (2009, I believe.)

 

After living in New Orleans for a few years, I realized that I didn’t need to go to every single parade. The smart thing to do was to save energy for my favorites (Muses, Thoth, Bacchus), and make sure I had enough stamina to make it through Mardi Gras Day.

But that’s easier said than done, especially because, for the last three years of my New Orleans life, I lived one block off the parade route. I would be in my apartment, trying to read or write or organize my closet, when I’d hear the sounds of high school marching bands and jubilant cheering. Anxiety would strike: people were having fun without me!  I was missing out on potentially cool floats! Half the time, I couldn’t stand the thought of missing out, so I’d pull on a coat, pour a cocktail in a to-go cup, and head out to Saint Charles Avenue to whoop it up with everyone else.

This is probably the reason why I, without fail, came down with terrible post-Mardi-Gras illnesses every single year. You can’t do it all, and when you try, your body tends to rebel.

 

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Saturday before Mardi Gras.  (2010, I believe.)

 

Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m much more okay with missing out on fun. In fact, I usually prefer staying at home reading to whooping it up out on the town. But I sometimes still suffer from the desire to want to do it all.

Currently, my baby is five weeks old and requires a lot of attention (and rightly so!), which means the amount of time I have to do other things is quite limited. I have a stack of books I want to read. I have stories I want to write. I have projects I want to complete. I have all these postnatal yoga classes and crybaby movies I want to attend.  And sometimes I feel frustrated when a day goes by and all I’ve managed to accomplish is feeding and bathing myself and the baby.

But the thing is, you can’t do it all, nor should you even try.  I’ll never read all the books I want to read.  I’ll probably only attend a fraction of the baby-and-me yoga classes the DC area has to offer.  And that’s okay.

You can’t pursue every idea either, which can be hard for us creative-types to understand. New ideas are exciting (so bright and shiny!), but chances are high that I won’t be able to write every book or story I’ve ever thought about writing. Better to focus my energy on the strongest ideas (or the ones I feel strongest about) than to chase every single thought that goes marching through my brain.

Just because you can’t do it all, doesn’t mean you can’t do something worthwhile.  For now, I’m going to stay home with my baby and enjoy the small parade of miracles she performs for me every day.  And if I get to sneak in a few minutes of reading or writing or whooping it up every now and then — well, all the better!

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My little bae.

 

A Sleeping Baby, A Finished Manuscript

A Sleeping Baby, A Finished Manuscript

Today my daughter is one month old, and I’m exhausted.

The other night, I had just drifted off to sleep when the baby woke up. Of course I’m used to this by now. She only sleeps for two-hour stretches, so she wakes up multiple times in the night.

Before she could get into full-force crying mode, I pulled her from her bedside bassinet and nursed her. Then I woke up my husband and sent him off to change her diaper while I used the bathroom, refilled my water glass, and changed out of my sweat-soaked pajamas. (Why, by the way, does no one tell you about post-partum night sweats? They’re the worst!)

I re-swaddled the little bae and nursed her until she got sleepy. Then I rocked her in my arms until her limbs went slack and it appeared she had fallen asleep. I gently deposited her in her bassinet, tucked her blanket around her, and counted to fifty before oh-so-agonizingly-slowly slipping my hand away from her soft little head in hopes that she wouldn’t realize she was no longer nestled safe in Mommy’s arms. I rocked the bassinet for a few minutes for good measure, and it seemed like she was fast asleep.

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Baby in her swaddle.

 

Relieved, I flopped back into bed and pulled the covers up to my chin, excited to get another two hours of sleep. That’s when I heard the baby grunt. I stayed put, hoping she was making noises in her sleep. But no, now she was starting to whine and thrash. I sat up in bed and grabbed the side of the bassinet, hoping I could just rock her back to sleep. But soon enough her little eyes popped open, and her face screwed with displeasure. I tried slipping a pacifier between her lips, but she wouldn’t take it, and she let out a giant, heartbreaking wail.

“It’s okay, little baby,” I crooned while my husband moaned in his sleep. I picked her up and started to nurse her again. I went through the whole routine – nurse, rock, put in the bassinet, rock some more. But again, mere minutes after I lay her down, she started to cry.

On the third try, I held her in one arm, and with my free hand I checked my email on my phone. One of my emails turned out to be feedback from a beta reader who had just read the most recent draft of my novel. She had some good things to say about it, but she also pointed out many flaws and gave me suggestions for improvement. She had showed me some very real problems, and I was grateful for that, but the email also made me feel tired. I was going to have to start all over  with the novel, giving it a total revision from head to toe.

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Little bae is very good at sleeping during the day!

 

As I rocked the baby in my arms, wondering if she was deep enough asleep to not notice a transfer into the bassinet, it occurred to me that getting a newborn back to sleep isn’t so different from revising a novel. Just when you think you’re done, you have to start all over again from the very beginning. It’s time consuming, it’s tiring… and yet, you love this baby of yours, whether it be a book baby or a human one, and somehow you find the patience not to throw it out the window.

Annoying as revisions may be, I’m looking forward to having the time and energy to revise this novel.  I know it might take awhile, and I know I this might not be the last revision, but it’s my baby.

Finally, the human baby was fast asleep in my arms. I gently placed her in the bassinet and had begun to move my hands away from her head a fraction of an inch at a time when a loud, wet, squelching sound came from her behind. And then another. A moment later, her eyes blinked open and she began to wail. I woke up my husband and sent him off to do yet another diaper change. It was two a.m., and I could tell we were in for a long night.

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Me and the little bae.

 

Our Birth Story: Timing is Everything

Our Birth Story:  Timing is Everything

I wasn’t expecting her to come early. My due date was February 4th, and I’d been told that first babies always come late. I planned on having a few more weeks to polish up a draft of my current manuscript, not to mention to make freezer meals and organize the nursery.

My husband and I were planning on having a home birth, and everything with my pregnancy was normal and healthy. But then, about a month before the due date, my feet started getting itchy. Like, really itchy. It was so bad I couldn’t sleep. One night, while not sleeping, and with cold packs wrapped around my feet for relief, I googled “itchy feet during pregnancy.”

Turns out, itchy feet is one of the only symptoms of a very rare and very serious condition called cholestasis of pregnancy in which the pregnancy hormones cause the mother’s liver and gallbladder to stop functioning properly. It can cause severe problems for the fetus, including death.

Naturally, I freaked out and called my midwife the next morning. She told me cholestasis was extremely rare but I should get tested to make sure. So I went to get my blood drawn.

Unfortunately, Labcorp botched my first blood draw, and I had to go back for a second time two days later. They then took their sweet time (nearly four days) getting the results back.

“If they hadn’t messed up my blood work the first time, we’d know by now,” I grumbled to Paul. I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have cholestasis and that everything was fine, but I still wanted to know for sure. The cure for cholestasis is delivery, so if the blood work came back positive, I would likely go to the hospital to be induced, thus putting an end to our dream of an intervention-free birth at home.

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I didn’t make it past 38 weeks…

 

Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, guess when I found out that I DID have the beginning stages of cholestasis… About twenty minutes after my water broke!

“It looks like your body is taking care of business on its own,” the midwife said when we called her. Then she came over to talk to us about our options.

She told us it would probably be fine to have the baby at home, but cholestasis is so rare that in her twenty-five years of practice, she’d only ever had one other patient with the condition, and the outcome had not been great. “There’s not a lot of information about it out there,” she said, showing us an article in a medical journal that had only managed to round up thirteen cholestasis patients for the study. “I think, to be safe, you should go to the hospital where they can give you an external fetal monitor.”

“When should we leave?” Paul asked. “Should we take showers first?” (Everything we’d read about labor stressed the importance of not going to the hospital too soon.)

She gave him a strange look. “Um, I think you should go right now.”

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Here I am having a contraction in the squatting position.

 

So we headed to George Washington University hospital in downtown DC, which has a midwife practice within the hospital. And we brought Kathy, one of our home birth midwives, with us to be our doula. By the time we arrived and got checked in, my contractions had gone from mostly painless to the worst period cramps ever. Baby was on the way!!

It was a bit annoying being in the hospital. (The room was cold, they made me get an IV port, and the nurse had to adjust the fetal monitor every five seconds – often while I was having a contraction.) But otherwise, it wasn’t too different from home. We listened to music and dimmed the lights and Kathy suggested different positions. The GW midwife left us alone for the most part to labor in private.

We labored all night and into the morning – for about ten hours – and then I was ready to push. “The NICU team is going to come in,” the nurse told me. “But as long as they hear the baby cry, they won’t take her away. They just want to make sure she’s healthy and then they’ll leave you both alone.”

So there I was, pushing out a baby with Kathy, Paul, the midwife, two nurses, the NICU doctor, and a handful of medical students standing around watching.

“Um, how long is this going to take?” the NICU doctor asked. “Should we come back later?”

That’s when I gave a final grunting push, and my daughter (all 6 pounds 13 ounces of her) was born. The nurses placed her on my chest, and she looked up at me, cooing. Only a few minutes old, and she was so alert! It hadn’t happened like we planned, but it had happened all the same. And I can still hardly believe it. Two weeks later, I still look at her from time to time and say “I have a baby. This is my baby and I love her so much.”

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Baby is only a few minutes old here!

 

I keep telling people that the birth was the best possible hospital scenario – no drugs, no interventions. We got to have the birth we wanted, just in a different location.

And weirdly, I owe it all to Labcorp’s incompetence. If they had gotten the lab results back in a timely manner, I probably would have gone to the hospital for an induction, and my birth story would be totally different.

It reminds me that sometimes the things that seem like annoyances, setbacks, failures, or heartbreaks become the things we are thankful for in hindsight.

I lost my literary agent a while back, and I’ve had trouble finding a new one.  At times it feels like a major setback for my writing career, but I’m hoping that hindsight will prove it was a good thing after all: I’ll realize he wasn’t the right agent for me, or that it’s better in the long run that this new manuscript I’m working on be my debut novel. I’ll realize it was all in the timing, and that it just wasn’t the right time for me to be published.

As my daughter proved to me, timing is everything, and in the end it doesn’t so much matter when or where or how something important happens, just that it happens at all.

 

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2 weeks old

Baby!

Baby!

Loyal followers of this blog (there are some of you out there, right??) may have noticed I didn’t post a blog entry last Wednesday. It’s because last Wednesday I was giving birth to my daughter.

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I had every intention of writing a post for this week, telling you (my loyal followers?) about the birth, and perhaps relating it somehow to writing and the creative life. However, it turns out that caring for a newborn is an all-consuming task that leaves very little time for anything else. For example, yesterday at 2:30 in the afternoon I realized I had yet to brush my teeth for the day. And I haven’t worn make-up (or, full disclosure, deodorant) for the past week.

But, every day my husband and I learn a little better how to take care of the baby (and manage to still take care of ourselves). The first few nights, I got essentially no sleep. Now I’m up to getting as much as four and a half hours at night with a nap during the day. I’m hoping this week will be a little less crazy and sleep-deprived than the last, and I’ll be able to find the time to write a little post about the birth and/or my new life as a parent.

I know I’ll have very little time for writing for the next few months. But I also know that my beautiful baby girl is going to give me so much to write about.

Stay tuned…

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If I look tired in this picture, it’s because I am!  I am also un-showered.  No judgment.  

Writing & Math: The Magic is in the Discovery

Writing & Math: The Magic is in the Discovery

This is my last week of tutoring before I go on maternity leave for the rest of the school year. As much as I’m ready for a break (and as much as I want time to prepare for the baby), I know I’ll miss my students.

The other day in both of my tutoring sessions I got to do one of my favorite things as an educator: make my students discover the answers on their own. When I was a full-time math teacher I tried to do this as much as possible, but with classes of students at varying levels and a long list of standards to “get through” before the end of the year, it wasn’t always realistic. In one-on-one tutoring, however, the “discovery” method is often the way to go.

I’m always telling my students that this is what real mathematicians do: they solve simpler problems and see if they can apply those ideas to more complex situations; they look for patterns and make theories; they test their theories and try different methods.

What I try to impress upon my Internet-age students is this: It’s okay if you don’t know the answer right away. It’s okay to try things that don’t work. That’s how you end up discovering what does work.

It’s similar to what I have to remind myself as a writer: it’s okay if my writing isn’t perfect on the first go-round. It’s okay if I write a whole chapter only to end up cutting it. (Or a whole book only to end up hiding it in a drawer.) It’s okay to take my time in order to discover what works.

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Here I am at my baby shower two weeks ago.

 

The other day I came home and my physicist husband was bemoaning the fact that no one does math anymore – they’ve forsaken it for computer simulations that, he says, don’t always have as much meaning as old-fashioned pen-and-paper proofs.

“I don’t know if this will make you feel any better, but…” Then I told him about how I made both of my students discover the answers to their homework questions on their own.

“And when he figured it out,” I said, talking about my ninth grade student, “he got excited and was like ‘oh I see it! I see the pattern! That’s cool!’ He had a little light bulb moment, and those are the moments that make kids love math.”

“I guess that makes me feel a little better,” he said.

My husband loves math. Not only is it what he does for a living, but he actually reads math textbooks for fun. Sometimes I feel bad that I can’t talk to him more about his interests. I minored in math in college, so there was a time when I knew Multivariable Calculus and Analysis. But most of that has fallen out of my brain by now, and besides, Paul has a Masters in Applied Mathematics and a PhD in Physics. His knowledge of math is way deeper than mine ever was, even at the height of my mathiness.

Luckily, he likes hearing stories about my students and how I teach them math. One day I was telling him about a student of mine who is smart but always making careless errors. As I was describing him, Paul said, “I know exactly what his problem is – I used to do the same thing as a kid.”

Paul said when he’s working on a problem (both when he was in high school and now), he often intuits the answer long before he understands the nitty gritty of why it works. “I’ll be thinking about the problem, and then I suddenly see the answer, and my intuition says it’s right, but I have to figure out how to actually prove it.  And that’s where I end up struggling and making mistakes.”

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I do a lot of fractions with my students..  Not exactly the same sort of math that my husband does on a daily basis.

 

It occurs to me that the way people do math is not so different from the way people write. A few years ago I wrote a middle-grade novel. I knew how it would begin, and I had a very clear sense of how it would end, but I didn’t quite know how to get from point A to point B. Like Paul, the middle — figuring out the nitty-gritty details —  was where I struggled.

Other times, I start out with a character or situation or inciting incident and have no idea where the story is going to end up. Like a mathematician, I try different things, writing scenes and doing character studies. I think about what might be possible for the story, I write and write and write to figure out what I’m trying to say, and then one day I have a flashbulb moment where I put the pieces together – I finally see the climax or conclusion I was searching for.  Those moments are what can make writing so exciting.

In the end, the most important thing to remember in both math and writing is that it’s okay to make mistakes.  Instead of being discouraged if you don’t get it right at first, learn from your failure and keep trying.  The delight is often in the discovery at the end of the tunnel.

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Paul, me, and our soon-to-be-born baby!  (Painting by Heather Renaux.)

 

 

Transitioning: In Writing and in Life

Transitioning: In Writing and in Life

It’s the beginning of a new year. A time for reflecting on what’s past and preparing for what’s to come. A time of transition.

My husband and I are in a very clear state of transition right now. We are going from being a childless couple to brand-new parents. Our baby girl is due February 4th. Among many other preparations (taking an infant CPR class, gathering supplies, creating a birth playlist), we are currently transitioning my office into the nursery.

Although, as it turns out, we don’t have enough space in the living room for my desk and filing cabinet and book shelf, so the room will have to be office on one side and nursery on the other. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t picture myself doing a lot of work at my desk for the first few months anyway.

As a person who loves order, it’s a little maddening to live in this state of transition. On the nursery side of the room, there are baby things in boxes and storage crates that need to be sorted and washed. We need to figure out where to put everything and how to decorate. I’m still doing work at my desk, but I’m hyper aware of the baby clothes and children’s books on the other side of the room.

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Office on the left, nursery on the right

 

A few years ago my friends Rob and Edith, who I hadn’t talked to in a long time, called me and said, “we did something interesting the other day… We had a baby.” I hadn’t even known that Edith was pregnant, and I sat there sputtering on the phone for a few seconds trying to decide whether or not they were joking (they weren’t). To me this is proof that there’s a good reason to post a few pregnant photos of yourself on facebook– so that people don’t go into shock when you one day show up with a baby in your arms.

Rob and Edith recently had another baby, but this time they told me about the pregnancy several months beforehand, and then I actually saw Edith when she was eight and a half months pregnant. When their birth announcement came in the mail, it was a lot easier to comprehend.  I didn’t need week-by-week belly pictures or anything, but knowing Edith was pregnant was helpful.

In other words, we need time to transition so that we can understand that things are changing, that we are moving on to something new and different.  This is helpful, both in our lives, and in our writing.  You don’t want to jump forward in time or skip to a new topic in your writing without giving the reader any warning.  It’s as jarring as being presented with a baby when you didn’t even know the mother was pregnant.

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Okay, okay, I’ll give you a belly picture.  This was taken on Christmas Eve, when I was 34 weeks pregnant.

 

I recently read the book Losing It by Emma Rathbone and was particularly impressed by a simple transition in Chapter One.

The main character, Julia, decides to quit her job in D.C. and take some time off. Her father suggests she go to North Carolina and stay with her eccentric Aunt Vivienne for the summer. Julia thinks this is absurd. “No. Nope. I’m not going there,” she says to her mother on the phone. “There’s no way I’m doing that.”

Then there’s a space break, and the very next line is, “One month later I drove down a thin driveway, gravel popping beneath the tires, towards a house with white columns in the distance…. I looked at the piece of paper on which I’d written Vivienne’s address: 2705 Three Notched Lane.”

I LOVE this transition because it’s very clear what’s happened, and yet we don’t know exactly how it happened. In that one month, Julia has obviously changed her mind about Aunt Vivienne’s, but we don’t really need to know the nitty gritty of her decision-making process.  I love that Rathbone cuts out everything else and hops us right to the catalyst moment. She bridges the gap from Julia quitting her job to Julia arriving in North Carolina with nothing more than a space break and the words “one month later.” Transitions are important, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be short and sweet.

This also shows us that a transition can be used to skip over trivial information. We don’t need to know what Julia did in that one month because it’s not part of the story Rathbone is telling, which is the story of Julia’s summer with her Aunt Vivienne. Good storytelling means skipping over all the boring and non-important parts, and good transitioning is what makes that possible.

In real life, we can’t skip over all the boring/messy/difficult in-between stuff. We’ve got to handle the decision-making and the organizing and the to-do lists before we can get across the bridge from one thing to the next. The story of how I sorted and washed baby clothes might not be a compelling one, but I don’t mind doing it. It’s helping me with my own emotional transition. Handling these little baby things, finding a place for them in my home – maybe that will make it easier to comprehend that there’s a freaking baby in my belly and that in one month she’s going to be in my arms.

If I were writing a book, here’s how it would go:  At the end of December, my husband and I started turning my office into an office/nursery. One month later, the drawers were filled with clean clothes and diapers, the books were lined up neatly on the shelf, and the walls were decorated with circus-themed art.  We were ready to meet our new baby.

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Paul and I commissioned a painting from artist Heather Renaux to commemorate the birth of our baby.  It’s not on the wall yet, but here it is.  Adorbs, right?