Interview with Tanya Ward Goodman by TNF
TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF?
I really enjoy blogging for TNF. Writing about things that are happening in my life and in the lives of my children gives me a chance to really absorb them. By turning these events around in my head a bit before I put them on the page, I find I often wind up feeling them more deeply or differently than I expected. I learn a little bit about parenting (or at the very least, a little bit about me as a parent) every time I write a new blog.
TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?
My family is like every family in that we laugh and shout and leave our dirty socks on the floor. I’m not sure we are different.
TNF: Did your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and your lifestyle.
My family always accepted me and my lifestyle. If anything, they were a bit surprised that I was so straightlaced. Once I got fired from my job as a camp counselor for having one sip of beer and I think my folks were actually pleased to see that I had a teeny bit of a dark side.
TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?
My job is my work at home. When I’m not blogging for TNF, I’m working on other writing. When I’m not writing, I’m buying groceries, cooking dinner, doing laundry and playing with the kids. There’s still lots of juggling going on, but it’s all happening at home.
TNF: What lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents, should unlearn?
I work hard to teach my children gratitude. I want them to be grateful for stuff, of course, but I also want them to be grateful for less tangible things like time and space and beauty. I try to help them notice things. We go for walks and look for lizards, we find shapes in the clouds, we take a moment to appreciate a full moon or a great sunset or the way grass grows at the bottom of a chain link fence. I want them to understand that there is potential for greatness everywhere. I am grateful for this.
As for unlearning, I think if I could unlearn something, it would be the urge to say “good job.” It pops out of my mouth at the most ridiculous times. You ate all your cereal? Good job! Got a good grade? Good job! Washed your hair? Good job! It’s meaningless and I annoy myself by saying it so often.
TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?
Slow down. Take more naps. Cook with your kids. Spend as much time outside as possible. Read a lot of books.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Last weekend, I took my first ride on a mule, got my first look at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon, and suffered my first scorpion sting. It was quite a weekend.
The trip was the brainchild of my stepmother Carla (I call her “La”) who is one of the bravest most adventurous people I know. I credit her influence for my attempts at many things that started out scary and ended up thrilling.
Along with La, my sister-in-law with whom I share a fear of heights and a need to test our own boundaries accompanied me. The last time the three of us took on an adventure, we bought an advertising agency. It took two years and a mediation expert to get us out of that one. I hoped the Grand Canyon trip would be less complicated.
Prior to the trip, to suppress my anxiety, I went shopping. I trolled REI and Sports Chalet, where I stocked up on “wicking” layers, waterproof pants, and extra warm socks. I tied strings to my hat, camera, and sunglasses. I kissed my kids and my husband and got on the plane for Phoenix. I was as ready as I would ever be.
Our ride began at 8 in the morning. The temperature at the rim was just under 20 degrees. I wore two Capilene shirts, a fleece jacket, and a down jacket plus fleece long johns, stretchy, windproof pants, two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, a scarf, and a wool cap. I was warm-ish. A cowboy with two missing fingers and a waxed mustache told us that we were about to embark on a grueling ride. He told us we would be riding on the edge of winding, narrow trails. He told us that if we were afraid of heights we should know there would be great heights. He could guarantee drops of at least 3000 feet. He did everything in his power to freak us out and then he asked us to saddle up. And we did. And suddenly, we were on the trail, our mules slipping and stepping down packed snow and ice, the canyon spreading out and opening up all around us. With the first sunlight of the new day illuminating the red rock, the wonderment in my brain squeezed out all the fear. It was amazing. It was all I could do not to break into huge gulping sobs of happiness.
I told this story to my kids. I told them how afraid I was and how amazing the experience was and how if I hadn’t gotten on that mule I would have missed out on a chance to see myself and my world in a different way. I told them about the scorpion and how it hurt and how eventually it stopped hurting and I realized that a scorpion sting is a lot like a bee sting. It’s bad, but if you’re not allergic, it passes and now I have a little less fear of scorpions. And a little less fear of heights. And deep trust for a good mule.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
My daughter asked “Why did you want to have children? Just to boss them around and make them do things for you?” She stomped her foot. “That’s not right.”
It is right. It’s not the only reason I had children, but I think, as a parent, I am well within my rights to ask that my children do things for me. I have this crazy idea that by asking them to do things for me, I am actually helping them to learn to do things for themselves. They may not see it that way today or tomorrow or next year, but some day, when they live in apartments or houses that are not filled to the brim with crusty cereal bowls and dirty socks, they will thank me. And I will humbly accept their thanks.
Recently, I let our gardener go. There were many reasons, among them the sound of the leaf blower, the silliness of continuing to mow a lawn that is basically dirt, and the fact that I have a nine-year-old boy to take my full trash cans down to the curb and bring them back up when they are empty.
It turns out my kids are good at raking leaves and pulling weeds. What’s more, they kind of like to do it. Both of them are learning the difference between the bad grass and the good grass. They are happy to channel what (truthfully) is sometimes extremely destructive energy into uprooting crabgrass.
It is hard work to help our kids understand hard work, but it is necessary work. I want to make sure that my son and daughter will both grow into adulthood knowing how to cook a good meal, wash their own clothes, keep their own houses. I want them to be able to manage their bank accounts and have the patience and energy to stick with a project until the end.
I know how hard a challenge I am setting before them. I know how hard it is to stay focused on a task. I understand the difficulty of finishing one thing before beginning another. My own projects pile up and languish in various stages of completion. I think that I try to teach my children about hard work because I am also always teaching myself. I push them to finish math assignments and spelling sheets, nudge them to return their pajamas to the pajama drawer and all the while, I am nudging myself to finish my book, work on my stories, write, write, write.
More and more I find myself on the same little path as my children. We are, together and separately, finding our way.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Last week was a mess. Rainstorms, early school release four days in a row, lost homework, lost jackets, quick tempers, angry words, no patience, no food in the fridge, workers in the house, strange wiring problems, sleeping problems, plumbing problems. The dog barked incessantly and so did the kids. My husband said, “you seem really angry.” He said this in the soft voice you’d use if you ran into an escaped circus lion at the park.
I was really angry. And tired. And overwhelmed. And so were the kids. And, truthfully, so was my husband despite his ability to still muster a calm voice.
Some weeks are like that. We hunkered down in the dark and the noise and waited.
On Sunday two doors opened.
First the kids found a small door in the closet of their bedroom. It’s a door that leads into the eaves above our living room. If you shine a flashlight, you can see plaster and the beams that support the roof. You can see two squares of daylight at the far end where vents are placed to let air circulate. There is dust in this space and one small bobby pin. That’s what I saw, anyway, when I kneeled down in the back of the closet and peered into the door.
My kids saw little red eyes, they saw evidence of a person living in the attic. They heard ghostly whispers and heavy footsteps. They measured the space and took samples of fibers that may or may not have come from a vampire’s cloak. They spent hours in the closet, thinking, talking, wondering. They wrote notes in a small spiral notebook, they ran screaming from the room when their imaginings grew too big for their young brains to contain.
This same day, in the midst of the detective work and the running and the screaming, I opened our front door to find a man holding a guitar. There was another, taller man with red hair and mirrored sunglasses and he was holding a drum. A nice woman holding a boom mike wondered if they could come into our house and play us a few songs. The kids ran down the stairs and the dog barked and I said, “Why not?”
They were from a webcast called Knock and Rock (www.knockandrock.com) and they set up in our living room amidst the Lego villages and the Lincoln Log settlement and they played two songs.
The kids were rapt. The guitar player had a nice voice and a kind smile. The sunlight streamed in the window and we sat and listened. We were all held in this moment by the music and the sunshine. I felt like it was the first time in a week that I had been still. It was definitely the first time I’d sat still and silent in the company of my children. It was wonderful.
Afterwards, the musicians packed up and said good-bye and we went back to the whirl of our day. My husband and son ran off to the park and I drove my daughter to a birthday party. Later, there were baths and dinner and last minute homework. There was some yelling and some frustration and I wondered if I could call up those musicians and have them return. Do we always need strangers in our midst to be on good behavior?
But this morning, we woke up to find cheerful children who got dressed without a fuss. Because that first moment was easy, the rest of the morning unspooled gently and for the first time in ten days, I did not breathe a sigh of relief when my husband and kids left for school.
Two doors opened this weekend. They changed our point of view, reminded us that no matter how intense or crummy or crazy our life is, there is always a way out.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
We’ve been losing things lately. Nothing huge. Nothing breathing. But it’s discombobulating none the less. We’ve lost the stuffed bunny that accompanied my daughter everywhere. We’ve lost a jacket. And another jacket. One orange fleece and so cozy, the other orange windproof and purchased a little big so we could get two seasons out of it.
Yes, I dress my son like he’s going deer hunting because yes, I like to see his bright orange self dart across the park in the fading light of day. Orange is the best color for a nine-year-old boy to wear. All of his clothing should be day-glo so that I can follow him easily with my eyes while having seemingly calm conversations with the parents of his friends.
We’ve lost a bunny. Bunny, the bunny. I gloss over his loss in the first paragraph, but he deserves another, so deep is the groove of missing he’s left in our household. Bunny had a tuxedo and several collars. He was the manager of a cardboard penthouse that grew by the day (and postal delivery) in my front hall. His waist was slim from being held in the crook of my daughter’s arm. His fur was matted. His eyes scratched to milky cataracts from trips through the washer and dryer. He was beloved.
My son lost a remote control bird on the very day he received it. An early Christmas present (or late Hanukkah gift – we are very flexible). The bird was bright yellow and flew in the most marvelous way. It flapped its wings gracefully around our living room, soared over the sofa and the mismatched chairs. It dive-bombed the mantle and the crowd of Lego figures huddled amidst the candlesticks. It was a wonderful thing.
“Don’t take it outside,” we said. “The wind is blowing very hard.”
The boy took the bird outside.
Less than a minute later, the bird was gone.
Tonight, nearly three weeks later, the tears of loss are shed. My boy realized the bird is not coming back. The bird has been blown into the street or onto a roof. The sun has rotted its fragile wings, faded the bright plastic body. The bird is gone. My boy banishes the remote controller from his room.
“Darned controller,” he says. “It lost the bird.”
Bunny, too will not return. Buses and airplanes and airports have been searched. I try not to think of Bunny on the tarmac, of Bunny in a trashcan. I try to imagine him safe in the arms of another child. I want the Pixar ending.
“Don’t talk about “The B-Word,” my daughter says.
My children are learning of loss and it breaks my heart. I’m taking these lessons hard. I’ve lost friends and beautiful dresses, a great pair of cowboy boots, lovers, an emerald necklace, my first tap shoes. I’ve lost things as insignificant as the back of an earring. I’ve lost my father.
I am trying to see my children through this period of loss. I am trying to see myself through it too. It does not get easier, just more familiar. In the last several years, I have begun to see each loss as the end of a story. What I know and my children are just beginning to learn is that there are always more stories. Different stories. But good stories, still.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
I am multi-tasking. I thought I’d start the New Year without multi-tasking or at the very least without doing it so overtly. But, here it is, Monday night and I’m helping the kids do homework while simultaneously cooking dinner (chicken pot pie), doing laundry (one load in the washer, one in the dryer, one spread all over the dining room in various states of folded-ness.) I am also writing this post. I’ve got an earlier deadline than usual. Sometimes (more than I’d like) I skate in just under the deadline. That deadline was later last year. In this New Year, it’s earlier. By two hours. I’m not prepared. Not that I was really prepared for the old deadline…
At any rate, I’m typing in a smoky kitchen (parchment caught on fire in the oven,) the dryer roars, I offer help with long division, the correct spelling for “especially”, and keep an ear open for the “on my way” phone call from my husband. He’s working extra hard already this year and we feel lucky and grateful that he’s got work, while also wondering if he’ll be home for dinner and whether he’ll be able to get the kids to bed without a huge fight.
Seven days in and this year is already looking a little like last year. But I’m a little more aware. My kids are circling like sharks. They are hungry and tired and loving. They kiss my cheeks and ask how my article is going. They offer to fold the laundry and try to finish their homework. They, too, are a little more aware. And we are already having a happy new year.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
A few nights ago, in the dark, snowy cold of New Mexico, a group of women stood around a bonfire and asked the light to return. It was Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, the tipping point when spring becomes a little more possible than winter.
In the city, it’s hard to notice this longest night because the sky is always bright with city glow. It’s hard to worry about winter or anticipate the arrival of spring because here in sunny So Cal, it’s always a kind of spring, but in New Mexico, where I was born and in other parts of the world, the ground is lost beneath a thick layer of snow and there is no imagining that anything as soft and green as grass will ever grow again.
My mother and her friends bring the light back every year. They gather to eat and talk and drink wine. They exchange silly gifts they call “White Elephants,” and eventually head out into the yard to stand around the fire and look up at the stars. They invoke the names of their mothers and the mothers of their mothers. They ask for a peaceful new year and form with their circle, a kind of bubble of hope. They bring back the light.
This tradition started when I was a kid. I remember my mother leaving the house to be with “the women.” I remember the first time I was invited to join them. At first, I was a little shy in their company. It was surprising to see my Girl Scout leader drinking wine and telling dirty jokes, to hear so many strands of “grown up” conversation, hard to think of something to say, but it was comforting to be in the warm house with the dark night all around.
At that first bonfire, my mom held my gloved hand in hers and spoke of her mother and her mother’s mother and also of her pride in having her own daughter. Her words warmed me as much as the fire.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
A few days ago, my daughter descended the stairs and declared that her new name was “The Fuss and the Muss.” She then went on to explain that she was “The Fuss,” and her bunny, “Bunny” was “The Muss.” They would live in “The Fuss and Muss Lair” behind the Christmas tree.
I had been grumpy about getting the Christmas tree. In fact, I was feeling overwhelmed by all the “fuss and muss” brought on by the holidays. All I could see was the pine needles on the carpet, the dusty box of ornaments we dragged in from the garage, the tangle of tiny, silver hooks, tangled strands of lights and last year’s crushed candy canes. I’d lobbied hard to go without a tree this year. Or at the least get a very tiny one.
It’s not that I’m a complete Scrooge, it’s just that we are travelling and it seems silly to go through all the fuss and muss when it’s not going to be up for that long.
My plan to pick up branches from trees knocked down in the windstorm was met with incredulous eye rolls from my children. Even my husband wondered which prairie I’d chosen for my little house. The thought of no tree (or even a slightly smaller tree) squeezed tears from my sturdy son. And so I caved to the fuss and the muss of the holiday. Paper and tape and boxes and pine needles and gift lists and grocery lists and on and on and on…
I think my daughter has triumphed over the fuss and the muss. By dubbing herself “The Fuss and the Muss,” she has assumed all the power. Nothing will be fussier or mussier than she. (And sometimes this is true.) She has also made a kind of order out of the Fuss and the Muss. In the lair behind the Christmas tree, she performs shadow puppet shows that are silent and beautiful. Her small hands move in the light, casting only slightly larger shadows on the wall. A dog chases a bunny until suddenly the show ends. “Cut the lights,” she says. “Cut the direction. Cut the action.”
It’s the holiday season and The Fuss in the Muss is in control. And she puts the light in my heart.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
I am coming up for air after my flurry of November writing. I finished the novel. It’s 50,436 words and seems to have some plot and some characters and even a little, tiny bit of writerly flair. But I’m leaving it alone for a while. Like a good cup of tea, it needs to steep.
Besides, it’s the holiday season and all kinds of tinsel decked heck is breaking loose.
My kids are in school for about two more weeks and almost every day there is some sort of festive event. They’re making candy houses out of mini-milk cartons covered first with tinfoil, later with icing and last with handfuls of gumdrops, sno-caps and starburst mints. When completed, the house will weigh just under five pounds. These sugar-encrusted cottages will decorate our dining room table for a few days before they slowly begin to disappear. Instead of copper wiring, thieves will steal away licorice ropes and chocolate wafer shingles.
What’s been dubbed the “International Sing and Dance” has set off a flurry of e-mail communications. Who has a line on dozens of top hats? Anyone know where we can find twelve sombreros? Can someone cut skirts and sew serapes? My daughter is singing in Spanish, my son is doing a Broadway medley. I’ve been told there are hip-hop dancers. No matter what they sing, I know I will weep through the whole thing from beginning to end. I can’t help it. Kids are singing about peace and love and Broadway. They’re wearing costumes. It’s the holidays.
We’ve got teachers’ gifts to buy, reports to finish, last minute shopping to do. School pictures will arrive and with them the addressing and posting of holiday cards. So much to do and so little time.
We don’t have snow in these parts. We get rain. And most recently, we got crazy winds. When the wind knocked out our power last week, it was a little like the snow days of my youth. The night was so dark and cold. The kids and I hunkered down around a few lit candles. We cuddled together in my bed and read stories and listened to the wind bash the trees around; listened to the rattling windows and the bump, bump in the night. We were safe and cozy and we had nothing to do except stay safe and cozy.
In all the whirl of the next few weeks, I’m hoping to find a few peaceful spots. I know it can happen even in the most violent of storms.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Today, I’ve written over 5,000 words for NaNoWriMo. My 50,000 word novel should be done on Wednesday, though I will need to write another 9,000 plus words to meet the deadline.
Last year was my first National Novel Writing Month. Afloat in a sea of procrastination and writerly defeat, I’d read a posting about the event two days prior to its November 1 start date and leapt at the chance to get myself back on the writing track. I crave discipline, I need to establish a “practice.” The idea that I would sit down every single day for one month and write with a single goal in mind was delightful and alluring. I jumped in with both feet.
My first NaNoWriMo was like my first pregnancy. I was flush with newness and wonder. I ate good things and carefully monitored my progress. I kept my promise to write at least 1667 words per day. It was delightful. I finished a day early and even liked my wobbly little first draft novel. It was thrilling.
This year, I was eager to repeat the whole process. And, much like my second pregnancy, I felt dreadful. The writing has been arduous. I’ve eaten way too much chocolate. (Is there a reason NaNoWriMo has to come right after Halloween when there are like 10,000 bite-sized candy bars in the house?) I’ve fallen into pits of despair and anger. I’ve moped. I’ve gone to bed early without writing a word. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of this month NOT writing.
As was the case with my second pregnancy, during the gestation of my second NaNoWriMo novel, my life got in the way. My kids were hungry. They had homework and class projects due. They needed clean clothes and rides to soccer practice. My mom came to visit. And then my stepmom came to visit. It was my son’s birthday and then it was Thanksgiving. There were cakes and pies to bake.
So, this year was different. It wasn’t as fun. (A lot of the time it wasn’t any fun.) But I’m still doing it. My kids are proud of me. They give me high-fives when I hit another big number. I tell them I am writing a novel in one month and it’s hard work. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. I tell them this and at the same time, I tell myself.
Tomorrow, I will get up and write some more. And the next day, too.
I could give up. I could have given up a week ago. I could have given up the very first week when I really didn’t even start until we were already five days in. But I didn’t. This novel, no matter how good or how terrible it turns out to be, is helping me to get strong. A writer writes. No matter what.