What I Was And What I Am Not Anymore

Past tense carries so much weight these days.

I was pregnant.

Can you read between the lines there? Do you see what I am telling you now?

I am not pregnant.

This is not the grand announcement I was hoping to make. This ordinary declaration lacks the celebration I was looking so forward to sharing with the world.

For seventeen weeks and four days I was pregnant. I was filled with extra life, a second heartbeat, a fever for the future that would never quite come to pass. Every ultrasound reinforced my confidence that I could dare to believe in happily ever after again.

I saw his hands, his feet, his nose, his cheeks, his brain… all perfect. I heard his heartbeat… strong and fast just like his brother’s was years before. I was certain we were walking in those beautifully set tracks on my previous journey through an unexpectedly perfectly healthy pregnancy. All the wonder was so familiar. The joy sprung up. The fear dissipated.

I allowed myself to dream of filling this house with more chaos. I vividly saw my two boys tumbling through these rooms, climbing all over this furniture, tearing out into the yard, down the block, into the woods, playing hide and go seek, manhunt, and riding through the streets on their bikes until the sun went down. I saw Alexander smothering his little brother with suffocating kisses and hugs that were too rough. I saw myself exasperated with their energy, struggling to keep up — laughing and sighing my way through my days sustaining myself through double the little boy bear hugs, double the kisses, double the dirt, and double the giggles. I saw my husband being transformed into a human jungle gym, while he battled to introduce both of his sidekicks to all the superheroes the world had to offer — both fictional and factual. I saw his boys listening intently, secretly believing their daddy was the greatest superhero of them all.

I took tests out of precaution. I optimistically denied any option for bad news — sure, my body had a history of throwing some pretty nasty curve balls, but it knew how to build a healthy baby boy. I looked forward to the easy confirmation that all was well.

Calls came in. There was “an anomaly,” she said. I never heard of trisomy 18 before. Another rare disease, I thought, my body likes those… I asked her to repeat it, unsure I heard the words correctly. She sounded so sad, so apologetic, even though the test wasn’t diagnostic. “It could be a false-positive,” she said.

Then

why

did she sound

so

sad?

I was shaken, but sure my funky body was just throwing some curves the blood test didn’t understand. Trisomy 18 was bad news — particularly for boys — but my boy was strong, healthy, perfect. My conclusion? This was a false-positive.

I scheduled an amnio. I needed the test that had real answers. I needed the science to show the world where all my confidence came from. He was fine. The greatest horror was the risk of the amnio. We just had to get through the test. Minutes before the test, in the quiet of the tiny hospital bathroom, I cradled my bulging belly and told my little boy, “We’ve got this, Baby. Nothing to be afraid of…

Mommy’s here to protect you.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes, certain I fixed it all, certain my maternal power was omnipotent.

It was a lie to us both.

I had no idea.

Neither did anyone else. There were no complications during the test. In fact, the test went perfectly. My baby boy looked as healthy as ever. The doctor and the nurse both smiled. “Everything looks really good!” was said a number of times. The sadness from the previous calls had evaporated. My team of confidence was building.

We were winning.

Everything

was

fine.

Valentine’s Day struck the final blow. The results were in. Full trisomy 18 present. Translation: you will lose this baby. Only one torturous question remained:

When?

I only had to ask that question for four days.

That question only existed when I was pregnant. There were no more questions on the February 18, 2017, just one more angel in my army. Just one more soul to miss, because, on that day,

I

wasn’t

pregnant

anymore.

Nobody worked harder than me…

“Nobody worked harder than me today.” – Saul Blinkoff

There was a time in my life when I felt I could honestly say this same statement aloud without any judgement against those others who didn’t work as hard, and without any complaints about the insane amount of work I had been doing. That time was when I was a teacher. And I’ll bet, if you asked anyone who worked with me, or anyone who knew me at the time, they’d be perfectly okay with agreeing to this sentiment.

While I was never a morning person, part of the reason for that was that I was up to all hours of the night writing and rewriting lessons and activities for my classes, or prepping professional development for the teachers I was working with. I stayed in the school building long after all other educational personnel had left, befriending the custodial staff near my classrooms. I volunteered to advise weird and wonderful afterschool clubs. I called homes, wrote letters to parents, tutored kids, rewrote lesson plans with teachers, practiced activities with them, and I had fun doing it all. It’s just what I did. It’s how I worked. I knew no other way.

Then I got sick – a fact it took me a very long time to admit. Ultimately, I had to be hospitalized for me to face the truth. Well… I had to be hospitalized and then go into deep denial for about a year, and then I faced the truth. The point is, I got sick and I couldn’t work harder than anybody. In fact, I couldn’t work. It didn’t matter anymore how passionate I was about my teaching, my body wasn’t up for it. At all.

So, here I am, at home finally in remission, dancing around a new passion and wondering if I have what it takes. I’m wondering when I am going to, again, be able to go to bed each night saying those beautiful words:

Nobody worked harder than me today.

I want that feeling back. I miss it desperately. And every time I remind myself of how fulfilling that feeling was, a small, annoying voice pipes up with this bit of stupidity: That’s what got you sick.

Look, I can’t deny three and a half years of doing literally nothing every single day just to give my body the time and space it needed to heal. I can’t deny the treatments, the specialists, the doctor visits, the hell of all that time when getting healthy became my one and only full time job. I can’t deny the scar over my left eyelid where my doctor sliced me open so he could gain access to my optic nerve to cut some holes in it just to save whatever vision I had left. I can’t deny the actual blindness I experienced – the two years of being physically incapable of reading printed words. I can’t deny the tears from the pain, the loneliness, and all the confusion stemming from my rare disease.

I can’t deny any of it. What’s even more, I won’t deny it. But, here’s something new, I don’t think I am going to own it either. No one knows what caused my disease. Why the hell does that little voice think it is such an expert where countless medical experts fail? My work, my passion, my joy did NOT make me sick. It made me me. Writing also makes me me. I love this tap, tap, tapping at my keyboard. I love configuring letters in such a way to create mental pictures for those who look at them. What beautiful magic!

Here’s what I know:

Writing will never make me sick. Writing is the cure.

Forty

***

It is my belief that sometimes you have to write something that has nothing to do with your work in progress just so you can spill out all the thoughts standing in your story’s way. This post is one such example of that “necessary” writing.

***

fortyNext week I will be forty years old.

It’s a big deal. Forty’s an age I have thought about for a large portion of my life, not in some sort of fear of aging, but, rather in a question as to whether I’d be granted that opportunity.

Forty is an age that was seared onto my soul almost twenty-eight years ago, when I learned that forty years might be all you ever get. It was all my father got. In 1988, on Thanksgiving, my father died at forty years old. On that day my mother became a widow and a single mother of two at forty years old. Forty, by my calculation, was a life-altering stage.

For a long, long time I imagined it was all the life I’d get. I mean, why not? When your first true love, your father, the strongest human alive, is so suddenly ripped from existence with no warning, why would you dare to expect more? As I mourned him I began to tell myself that he lived a full and complete life in his forty years.

I have carried an enormous boulder upon my back for a very long time. THE FORTY ROCK of sadness, guilt, and lost tomorrows. I’m going to let it go now. I’m going to let it roll down the mountain I’ve been climbing. Forty is no longer a destination. It is a stepping stone.

Here is the rock I’ll be stepping on:

My father was an admired and respected teacher. He was a deeply loved friend, son, brother, husband, and, of course, father. He took pride in his home, took joy in his family, and was an active participant in life.

nytEvery morning he’d sit at our kitchen table with a cup of coffee, buttered rye toast, and the day’s New York Times. “All the news that’s fit to print!” I’d read aloud off the front page when I’d wake to find him there. Either he’d leave to pick up the carpooling bunch of coworkers on their way to Brooklyn, or a horn would beep from someone else’s car to pick him up. And each school day, like clockwork, at 4PM my father would come in the door, never bringing an ounce of work home — that was our time. Every night, when I’d go looking to find him for a goodnight hug and kiss I’d find him standing by the kitchen counter, scooping out some Breyer’s Vanilla Fudge Swirl for himself.

Unless it was Wednesday.

Wednesday nights were poker nights, rotated weekly from our basement to each of  the other guy’s houses. When it was in our house kisses and hugs would happen before the game and  I’d fall asleep smelling the smoke of cigarettes and pipes billowing up the stairs, and hearing laughter, ice clinking in glasses, and shouts of celebration and defeat.

On Saturday mornings my father slept late. My brother and I — after watching our recording of Star Wars and all the Saturday morning cartoons we could find, would run into our father’s bed and tackle him awake. This was completely justified for all of the “treatments” — kid-friendly versions of wrestling moves from his high school days — our father used on us whenever it delighted him to do so. Sunday mornings we went to church where every other parishioner seemed to know my parents and greeted them with a smile. In the afternoon, we’d feed the ducks, head to the comic book shop, then the deli, and finally back home where dad would make glorious salami sandwiches on twisted, seeded Italian bread which we would eat with ice filled glasses of coke and a side of potato chips.He coached our baseball and soccer teams, swam in the pool with us, took us to the beach, showed us how to shoot, how to fish, took us for long walks in the woods, played racquetball with friends, was a pathetic chef, but brilliant on the grill. He brought home books from his school library that were above my grade level but he knew I could read. He was sure we’d make millions from our baseball card collection, or some perfect find in all of our antique store hunts. He had a song for every word you uttered, and his voice was wonderful.

My father’s laugh and smile live on in the hearts and souls of all people who knew him. He took his short forty years and made them matter in the most important ways. From my perspective he lived one of the fullest lives I know. When friends and family speak to me of him their initial tears are almost always drowned in bouts of laughter from memories shared with the man they loved. I listened to their stories, I gathered up my own memories, I painted a picture of the giant missing from my life.

I started to tell myself forty years might be enough.

And, up until a couple of years ago I believed that, while my father must have been as flawed as any human being is, he had it all figured out. That he didn’t need any more time on this Earth to determine the meaning and purpose of life itself. He, the great wonder in my twelve years on this Earth, had all the answers to living. I was a child when he passed — who doesn’t think these things of their parents at that age? The thing is, when one of those parents is not around to demonstrate their own floundering in the icky mess of life, those beliefs hang on long after all logic should correct them. Only when I almost spent as much time on the planet as he did, did I realize — oh my god — he never even had a chance.

I don’t feel that I have lived as ferociously as my father did in the forty years I have been given. Perhaps my circumstances did not allow it — my finances, my health, my insecurities — but I still can’t imagine that his forty years allowed him to walk anymore confidently on this planet than I do right now. He was only forty, and now, as I approach that age myself, I finally understand what all those grown ups meant when they’d say he was so young. Forty years is a long time to a twelve year old, but, to this thirty-nine year old (yeah, yeah, yeah I’ll hang tight to it for a couple more days), it is but a teaser trailer for life.

So, while I lived most of the time since losing my father thinking that I shouldn’t dare wish to get any more than he had, now I demand, for both our sakes, that I get the whole damn package. I have barely started living! My heart breaks now in the full comprehension of the loss suffered when my father died. I once mourned solely because I missed my father, now I mourn for all that he missed.

Because, for me, I’m pretty sure forty is just the beginning.

Forty… I like the way it sounds.

Next week I will be forty years old. It’s a big deal.  And here’s the kicker: I’m really excited to be turning forty. So much good is happening in my life right now I have no choice but to be happy to be forty. I’m pretty sure the best is yet to come.

If my life didn’t already feel like it was going in that direction, I had a fortune cookie basically tell me so. A little while ago, right around last Thanksgiving (I’m only noticing that irony now!), I got a fortune cookie that made me realize how backward my thinking has been. Yeah. A damn fortune cookie. Here’s a picture of the fortune and my caption from Instagram on Dec. 8, 2015:

fortune

  • nv_rivera“The best times of your life have not yet been lived.”
    I got this fortune last week. Upon reading it I was struck dumb.
    This concept was not even hinted at in my own personal belief system.
    I couldn’t help but beat myself up — how did I not feel this way when getting married? How dare I not feel this way when my son was born!
    Through a ton of reflection I have come to recognize why, and when, this probably started.
    In November 1988 I began to believe I would have a great life, that I would be happy, but it would never be whole. My father died, my family was broken. Therefore, the best times — the times when we were all together — had already been lived, and I should just make the best of what was ahead of me.
    I was 12. I was happy, I have always been happy, and lucky for the life I have had, but, in reading this fortune I realize that a quiet voice inside has always told me this was because I have made some sort of internal compromise to not expect it ever to be as good as it once was, when I was a child in a family of four.
    Wow. That’s sad.
    So here I am now. I am 39 years old and I just found out that the best times of my life have not yet been lived.
    Awesome.
    I can’t wait!
    #paradigmshift

The best times of your life have not yet been lived. Imagine that.

Here

I

Come!

Honoring my Reality as a Mommy-Writer

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300The DIY MFA book by Gabriela Pereira is coming out soon. I was lucky enough to gain access to an advanced copy and I am loving it. I have been a fan of Gabriela since stumbling upon her DIYMFAradio podcast after reading an article of hers in WRITER’S DIGEST. One of the things that hooked me from the get-go was Gabriela’s philosophy of writers having to “honor their reality.” As a voracious reader of books on the craft of writing and memoirs of authors concerning their writing life, I started to beat myself up over my inability to “fit in” to any of their writing worlds. I started to think, If I can’t write like them, if I can’t create writing schedules like them, then maybe I can’t be a writer at all.

Thanks to Gabriela I learned that I don’t need to fit into anyone else’s mold of what writing is. I learned that I needed to honor MY reality.

Gabriela’s third question to the DIYMFA Street Team dealt with this topic head-on.

QOTW 3: Tell a story about a time when you had to honor your reality.

unnamed(1)My reality has been a bit of a bitch. Please excuse my French, but there it is. I “became” a writer in the midst of the worst of it – two chronic conditions were kicking my butt, threatening my vision and had already stolen the career of my dreams. I was home, on disability, lonely, sick, and scared. I started writing. There was no big publishing end goal – there was only a desire to connect with humanity. There was also a desire to prove that I still mattered. The words came, my story was told, and then I began to make up other stories. Writing filled my days and nights. Audiobooks fueled my imagination and the Internet kept me connected.

There was no question of when or how I would write, I just did. It was all I could do in the beginning – with my zoomed computer screens and inability to walk without getting dizzy – there was no question of honoring my reality, my reality offered me nothing else. For this reason, since writing came as easily as I desired it, I never foresaw the obstacles that may arise in my writing in my future.

In 2013, with both of my chronic conditions deciding to take five at the same time, I became pregnant. I felt healthier than I had in YEARS. It was magnificent for so many reasons. I laughed. I danced. I partied. I enjoyed every aspect of life but one:

I could not write.

I couldn’t tell you why. My theory is that my creative energies were too focused on the human-building project within me, but I have no scientific proof that such things happen. At first I battled. I tried forcing myself to the page. I began so many stories and finished none. I continued attending my writing group meetings, but not regularly. The guilt crept in, but then the joy overwhelmed it. I can’t say that I honored my reality at that time, I was too busy celebrating it.

I didn’t discover DIYMFAradio until my son was already born. It was a year after he was born and the writing was still spotty. I had told myself that the path to being the best mother was being the best me. I told myself I needed to embrace my writing for my son’s sake. All of that clicked and made sense, but the writing was still not coming – that’s when the guilt came in. That’s when I looked to other’s writing lives and wondered why I couldn’t fit mine in. Just about when it was all about to crush me I heard Gabriela’s podcast episode about Honoring your reality.

I reassessed my situation: giving birth, no sleep, breastfeeding, no sleep, fever/sickness, surgery, colicky baby, teething baby, exhaustion, quality time with my son, old illnesses reemerging, new ailments presenting themselves, juggling chores with a newborn… my reality had a lot going on. A lot of brand new things showed up that required my attention to ensure I learned the new rules. I decided to give myself a break. I was still a writer, but I needed a bit of a sabbatical to figure out what had become of my life.

My guilt was lifted. I told myself my job was to look for where I could fit writing into my new life – little by little – and to practice new routines. I scheduled writing group meetings that worked for my whole family and made those days a priority for me.

My son just turned two and sometime since he was born and now I have done three revisions on a novel I wrote before he was born. I have already pitched it and I have plans to begin the query process before the end of the year. I can honestly say that if I did not allow myself the time and space to honor my reality, none of this would have happened. I would still be spinning the wheels of guilt trying to figure out why I have not been as productive as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman!

QUESTIONS:

Do you honor your reality?

Have you ever looked to someone else’s writing life as a model to follow? Whose life? How did it go?

 

Looking for Magic from Elizabeth Gilbert

cover170x170This weekend I submitted my current creative issue to Elizabeth Gilbert in an application to be on this summer’s edition of her Magic Lessons podcast. I loved the topics she tackled last year, and have felt buoyed by all the advice she and her friends doled out. I knew I’d feel honored if I could get her advice on what holds me back – it just took me a little while to figure out what it was.

First, I thought it was my issue with becoming a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” Since my curiosity drives me in so many directions – writing, blogging, writing group, reading, etc – it often feels like my energies are being split. I wrote up the statement and let it sink in a bit more before sending it out. Then I realized, no – it’s not that exactly – it’s the balance of mommyhood and writing. The issue with my curiosity driving me in so many directions is that it steals time from my family! I wrote that statement up and thought about it some more.

Then it hit me: my passions will not drive me away from my family. My family is one of my passions, so that can’t be the source of my fear. When I cleared all the cobwebs enough to find the truth, I realized I am afraid that I will repeat my personal history. I am terrified I will drive myself back into the clutches of my chronic conditions (Intracranial Hypertension and Crohn’s disease) and right out of remission because I don’t know how to pace myself. I have no idea how to be patiently passionate. When it comes to my passions I don’t rest. I am driven – which should be good – but I only have so many spoons (see the story of the Spoonies – The Spoon Theory). I need to find a way to be patient with my passions.

With that discovery, I finally came up with the following 100-word statement I sent to Elizabeth Gilbert describing my plight:

I have a problem with being patiently passionate. I dive into my passions – body whole – and apologize for nothing sacrificed. I did his with teaching, for 12 years. My reward? It was amazing. I was amazing. Then I got sick, really sick. Hospitals, surgeries, blindness, leading to the defeat of applying for disability. This pheonix burned to ash and swore she’d be blown away until she found writing. After 6 years home I have two novel first drafts, a 22-month old son, and organize a writing group. I’m ready to fly. How do I save myself from burning?

My greatest fear is that there is no answer to this question. Or, to be more precise, my fear is that the answer is that I can not do it all. That I should – once again – accept the limitations my body has strung around my life. That I should settle for whatever little happiness it allows. My fear is that the real answer is: Be god-damned grateful that you got your sight back, that you have a son you started to think would never be possible, and STOP BEING GREEDY! This is what the voice says whenever I am feeling especially defeated.

cover176x176

How I meditate

But there is another voice that is so persistent. It is the voice of my soul and, let me tell you, that little girl never shuts up. Years ago, when I first came home from teaching, I took a stab at meditating as part of the healing process. That’s when I first heard the mantra, “I am not my body, I am my soul.” Ever since my soul never shuts up about it. You are not your body, Nicole, let me do my thing! Nothing would make me happier than for her to be right. I am so rooting for her to win this fight. Here’s hoping that I am close to figuring out how to help her do so.

In the comments:

What holds you back from fulfilling your creative journey?

Have you listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast or read her book BIG MAGIC? What are your thoughts about her advice?

 

 

Project Dawn – Day 1

image

This is not glamorous.

I call this “Day 1” of my Project Dawn, but, really, this is at least my fourth try at this experiment.

What is Project Dawn? A desperate attempt to find the quiet time in my day to get some writing in – whether it is here on the blog, or devoting time to my fiction projects. You see, for the last 22 months, I have been struggling to find the quiet I once took for granted. Motherhood, in all its wonder, has its own special hum that permeates every waking hour of my day in ways I never once knew possible.

So I went to an expert, my best friend Dawn – mom for over a decade  – and asked her how the hell she gets everything done. Dawn is one of those miracle moms, who not only manages to keep her household afloat, with a husband who has many business trips throughout the year. two school-aged kids, and two extra-large dogs and a cat, but she also manages to do charitable work, cook exciting dinners, and – god help us all – she feeds her creative muse through exciting (and gorgeous!) DIY projects. And – oh yeah – she’s an avid golfer, who has garnered a respectable reputation on Twitter as a reputable voice in the golfing world. I figure, if she can do all that, I should be able to find a tiny bit of writing time for myself each day with my teacher husband who’s home by four daily, my ancient half-blind ShihTzu, and my one child who isn’t even two yet.

No excuses.

That was until Dawn gave me her secret, “Nicole, you have to wake up earlier.” She sounded just like my mother (which makes sense because my mom always loved Dawn, particularly because she was such a “good influence”). She half laughed at the suggestion, because she knew it was the last thing I wanted to hear, but she kept on, “There is no way to do everything while they are awake.” They being the family.

image

This is my calendar.

I knew she was right. Nothing is quite like conquering your to-do list while the house sleeps. There was only one problem with Dawn’s suggestion – it pertained to the wrong end of my day. I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON (see embedded picture of the calendar I purchased for myself this year).

My greatest issue with being a writer-mommy has been that I have been unable to do what I do best: create into the wee hours of the morn! I am a night owl. In my 12 years of teaching, I’d work through the night, crashing at around 2, 3, or even 4 in the morning before catching a couple of hours of sleep and then heading to work ready to conquer the world.

But teaching was wildly different than motherhood. For one, I got breaks during the day. Secondly, I was a lot younger and healthier then too. My body is not interested in functioning on little sleep. This is, in fact, one reason I have been so uninterested in Dawn’s proposal. I mean who in their right mind would set an alarm to wake on a day they didn’t have to?!

Today’s answer? Me. Because, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, I do have to. Not writing consistently for nearly two years now is grating on my soul. And, after actually making it to a #StoryDam chat last night on twitter, it appears more than a couple of writers find it to be the best way to approach our passion.

And then this one really caught my eye:

Because it didn’t only underscore Dawn’s sentiments, it expressed my deepest desires: to stop treating my writing like the ugly stepchild of my life, to give it my full energy and attention. I know, on the days I do that, it infuses everything else I do with joy no matter how tired I am.

image

Don’t you wake up tiny mister!

 

So here I am – an hour and half into my early wake up on Project Dawn Day 1. I didn’t wake at dawn, as I originally tried and failed to do. I woke with my husband, made him coffee, said good-bye and sat down to write, while the baby and the dog slept. Sure, I’m clinging tightly to the cup o’ joe I made for myself, and there are an infinite number of chores I could have done in this time, but no. I am so happy right now. This was the right thing to do. Thanks, Dawn – though I won’t wake with the sunrise, my project keeps it’s name in honor of you. Lord knows my mom would be proud today.


In the comments below:

Fellow writers, when do you find/make your writing time?

Fellow mommies, when do you find your quiet time?

To the morning people reading: any advice for surviving this new way of life?

Welcome to NV Rivera

NV Rivera

NV Rivera

Once upon a time there was a woman who had to admit she was no longer a girl. She was a mother. She had lived through one career and the death of both parents. Her life was filled with many joys, sorrows and laughs. It should have been enough, but it wasn’t, because, after years living at the mercy of her uncooperative and unhealthy body, she remembered she still had something left to give – stories. This woman – mother, wife, sister, teacher, and friend – almost forgot that, first and foremost, she was a writer.

Meet NV Rivera, this is her blog. Continue reading