A Stroller-Ride, a Squirrel, & a Story

Around five years ago, my daughter (then about a year old) and I took a stroller-ride around our neighborhood. We sang our ABCs, hearty renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and mainly just enjoyed the shade of oak trees over the road, the distant, muted swishing of traffic, birdsong, and each others’ company.

Then a squirrel scampered down, looked at us, grabbed an acorn with its tiny paws, and scampered back up the nearest tree.

“Did you see it’s tail? I’ve never seen one so scrawny!”

“Gggggh-mmftph” (Because she’s one and probably chewing on something)

Looking at things with a different perspective is a value I’ve tried to instill in my children since birth, so the rest of the stroll was all about that little squirrel with the bristly tail:

  • Squirrels use their tails to communicate, so do other squirrels have a hard time reading the tail-flicks?
  • They use their tails for balance, so does this one fall a lot?
  • Do squirrels even care? Is it a thing? Do they spend extra time grooming their tails?
  • How many toes do squirrels have?
  • mmmmffftpphhh (probably imagining what a squirrel tail tastes like)

By the time we got back home, an entire story about a squirrel with a tail as bristly as a chewed-up pine cone was born.

But like all things that are born, it has to grow. Learn new things like formatting picture book manuscripts, brevity (picture books are notoriously low on the word count), and because of this: which words paint the clearest picture, which is the most concise way to get this info across in a way both children and the parents that read this to them will enjoy, when to show and when to tell.

And so, it’s with great delight that I can now announce that the picture book manuscript tentatively titled Sassafras and Her Teeny, Tiny Tail is now under contract with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Here’s her potential Back of Book content:

Sometimes your differences make you a hero.

With her stubby, bristly tail, Sassafras is the laughingstock of the oak tree. But when danger strikes, the thing that makes her different might just save the day.

She still has some growing to do once I receive edits from my new editor, but one day this little squirrel will have her story.

(And squirrels have four toes on their front paws, and five on their hind legs, for those curious.)

Time Zones: It’s A Paw-ty

My baby turns three tomorrow.

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So, technically, and according to him when he flexes his super-hero muscles, he’s not a baby.

As very little is more magical than a birth and the thriving, I thought today’s blog post would be apt to talk of that with the combination of writerly things.

Back track almost three years ago: I poured my first cup of fully caffeinated coffee I’d had in a year at our local writers’ guild meeting when a writing-buddy turned to me. “I have a friend who just had a baby and she’s really struggling finding time to write. How do you do it?”

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My baby was six weeks old, my daughter almost three. The schedule my eldest and I had come up with—balancing playdates and naptimes and my writing—had twisted into something unrecognizable with the arrival of my son. Before, I wrote during her naptime. Constantly exhausted keeping up with her, I’d snuggle in and take a twenty minute power nap, then wake up with scenes vibrant, writing furiously for the next hour and forty minutes. We were clockwork, she and I. I was the big hand, she the little and our days spun around the clock face.

The baby was a different time zone. Naptimes where no longer times to write but times to nurse and change diapers and soothe so he would be happy while she slept. Days when their naps coincided were glorious but rare. When I changed course and woke early to write, one or the other did too. I didn’t make a sound but they could feel the moment I turned on the computer through cracked bedroom doors and down a hallway. I grew frustrated and raged that the universe was against me.

I wrote after the three am breastfeeding for a week or two.  The crash was spectacular and messy.

And I felt so guilty that I blamed them for needing me. Writing is a priority but these two amazing children are so much more. I needed to change my mindset on what I expected out of myself. This baby might be my last so I needed to appreciate the fleeting infant time more. The incredible bond while nursing, the coos and gummy smiles. The tiny fist gripping my pinkie.

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He still prefers to hold only my pinkie. It’s like our secret handshake. A way he reminds me that he’ll always be my baby no matter that he’s growing up.

I reminded myself of a pass I had put in place. I had given myself a goal, a manageable 500 words a day, to finish writing a middle grade fairytale retelling before he arrived. I’m goal-driven and finished it a month before his arrival. Revising doesn’t take the same mental capacity that creating does to me so instead, I used my writing time to draft. And journal. I wanted to remember every tiny detail of their babyhood and toddlerhood, so why not exercise my writing muscles by recording? And it was easy to put down when they need me.

My new leniency with myself allowed me to adapt my writing to teething times and night terror times and every time a child needs comfort and attention from their mother.

We figured out our own time zones. Though with my daughter beginning kindergarten in two weeks, I have a feeling we’ll need to figure this out all over again. But that’s a different post.

How has your writing time adapted to new children or new schedules? I’d love to hear what works for you