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The Next Season

Crunching, branches snap;

weight of winter's tears, transform.

woods echo at dawn.

Transition is the theme for my writing group this month.
Read more pieces pertaining to the theme transition from my fellow Illuminate members:

Transition by Crystal James

Getting Lost in Motherhood

I had a friend who used to say that the mothers in her life “hid behind their children.” Childless, her statement was one derived from observation, not experience. I particularly noticed that she did not feel this way about a working mother, but a stay-at-home mom. I too did not have children at the time of this declaration, so I jumped on the criticism bandwagon. With our hands-free, our shirts unstained, and our freshly shampooed hair, we did what most do; we judged something outside of the scope of our understanding. 

It is one of those things I look back at and wince; both at my naivety and my judgment. It is one of those moments where I want to apologize to all of the moms I judged.  “I’m sorry,” I want to whisper with shame, “I’m so sorry for what I said before I was a mother. I really had no idea what the job entailed.”

I’ve spent a lot of time the last sixteen months, the duration of my son's life, trying to determine what exactly my friend had meant by that. What does hiding behind your children actually entail? Is it a loss of identity? Does it suggest using your children as a scapegoat as to why you haven’t kept a job, chased personal aspirations, or yearned for “more” outside of the margins of motherhood?

All I know is that prior to having children, I interpreted the notion of immersing oneself in the role of mother as a negative. Getting lost behind your children meant losing yourself. Losing yourself was considered a major flaw.

Now that my son is here, I know better.

Losing myself in motherhood has been a necessary step in my personal growth. I had to slough off my former self in order to wiggle into and embrace my authentic self. My son unearthed a much calmer side of me. His presence in my life caused me to question nearly every detail of what I had done prior. I was forced to slow my pace, catch my breath, and plunge headfirst into a new role that I actually really enjoy. 

Lost is where I live right now. I don’t know what’s next for me career-wise. That fact is both freeing and stifling. My life, overflowing with the needs of my son, doesn’t grant ample time and space for the reinvention I do desire because, like most new mothers, I’m chronically exhausted. I am learning that this, while a season, is part of the process. I’m trying to surrender to this moment, to be here with my son, to allow myself to drift exponentially from where I began. 

For now, I’m embracing getting a little lost in open mouth kisses and wobbly walking. I’ve grown accustomed to never peeing alone, or sleeping alone, or doing much of anything alone. And typically, I love to be alone. I’m getting lost in this place called motherhood, this time, attempting not to place judgment on myself.


Lost is the theme for my writing group this month.
Read more pieces pertaining to the theme lost from my fellow Illuminate members:


Strumming Soul Strings

I grew up with the strumming of guitar strings vibrating in my eardrums. As a pre-teen, I would pad downstairs on a sunny late weekend morning to find my dad or brother plucking acoustic Taylors, harmonizing on a Beatles or Tom Petty tune. My dad and I used to practice melodies: I can still remember sitting on the bench in our family room, hair still damp from a bath, a fresh nightgown on, singing "As Tears Go By," by the Rolling Stones. It is a memory indelibly seared into my mind.

A few years later, Friday and Saturday nights were reserved for a local coffee shop or dive bar where my brother participated in open mic nights. If it was the latter, I’d get in with large permanent marker “X”’s on the tops of both my hands, the ink bleeding between bony knuckles. In my late high school to early college years, I’d learn to bolt to the bathroom and use the reusable hanging paper towel to scrub the marks off while they were still fresh. A shadow of the ink always lingered, so I’d order my vodka soda with a splash of cranberry from the bartender: one hand in my pocket and the other coyly tucking a stray hair behind my ear).

I loved when my brother would play the local places. He performed Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and David Gray covers, inviting my dad, his girlfriend (now wife), and sometimes even me, to come and sing with him. I used to love to practice certain songs. Even though my range wasn’t great, he’d secure the capo way down on the lower frets of the neck of his guitar to match my voice and we would practice my favorites from Jewel or Sheryl Crow. With five years between us, music was one of the ways we connected. He always made room for me.

Music has always comprised much of who I am. My husband Doug was shocked to find that I used to drive to the train station and commute nearly two hours each way, most days, without music pumping through my headphones. He couldn’t even understand that I craved the quiet. In fact, I'm such an introvert that I typically had my headphones in with nothing at all playing from them. They were utilized primarily as my signal that I was unavailable for small talk with fellow commuters.

I’ve found that my love of music is intentional. The words to Dylan’s “Forever Young” hang on a huge hand-painted wooden sign in my baby’s nursery. When I was pregnant, my husband purchased “belly buds,” headphones with sticky pads to adhere to my swollen belly, with a set of earphones for us to listen to our favorite songs along with our unborn child.

The Beatles “Hello, Goodbye” was the soundtrack when my son’s first cries echoed in the empty hallways of the maternity floor during the onset of the pandemic. Completely unplanned, the Pandora station set the scene for his arrival and I marveled in agony at the irony. I recall my OB/GYN exclaiming, “one more push, Christine! He’s going to arrive with the words ‘I say hello!’ playing: this is so cool!”

It is natural for me to sing to my son. In the early newborn stage, I’d make up songs about the morning, my love for him interlaced in every melody. I hummed, cooing and cuddling him as my voice carried us both through an exhausting haze. When he was about two months old, I sang a Zac Brown Band song to him as he sat in his bouncer chair, his tear-soaked lashes from a bout of reflux, matching mine, from a bout of exhaustion. Our massive doe eyes mirrored awe for one another, unblinkingly locked in love. 

Music is always there for me. Even when I yearn for quiet, my soul intuitively takes me back to song. At night when the house is silent except for the sound machine we use to lull my son to sleep, I hear the distant songs of the crickets and frogs, grounding me home. Music is family. It is the place where I grew up. It marks every milestone and jogs memories tucked in the caverns of my mind. Music is life.

Music is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about music from my fellow Illuminate members:

Across the Lines by Hannah Kewley
The Music of Postpartum by Leesha Mony 

My Big Day by Crystal James

Escaping My Calling

Writers, I find, will formulate any excuse not to write.  They will clear the table, organize the pantry, empty the dishwasher-- anything to avoid the task of actually sitting down and hammering out those words.  

I can avoid and procrastinate as much as I want but when I am met with stillness, the story I must tell is ever-lurking.  It seeps out of my pores, sweat-staining my bright white tank top, begging to be written.  

The other day, I had coffee with an old friend.  Actually, I had a smoothie. She had coffee. I had already downed almost two cups of coffee in the early morning hours. That’s a good amount of coffee for me.   Cole woke up earlier than expected that day.  So I opted for a healthier option, watching my caffeine intake and my waistline.  It was great to see this friend - we haven’t caught up in God-knows-how-long, and she’s one of those people I can pick up right where I left off with.  We even talked about that (I’m pretty sure we always do).  She’s a baby lover so she snuggled Cole for almost our entire time together. I only left her when I saw he was growing restless.  We embraced, laughing at a silly story we made up about some young kids in the parking lot and promised one another we would get together soon.  We always do that. “Why don’t we do this more often?” we beg the other.  We never come up with any great answer for it.  Life always seems to get in the way.

I’d barely pulled out of the parking lot at 1:04 pm and onto the back roads of my hometown, heading back to my current home, before checking the baby mirror and noticing Cole had fallen fast asleep.  I assumed he would wake upon parking the car outside our condo, but he didn’t.  Scrolling mindlessly through my Instagram feed, flipping through Facebook, checking my stock account, nothing engaged me.  I always come prepared with a book, journal, or laptop, JUST in case my son decides to sleep.  For whatever reason, today I brought nothing. At 2:08, after finishing up a podcast episode I’d attempted to listen to several times, I began to grow restless.  I couldn’t believe he was still sleeping. Lately, he’d max out at hour-long naps. A block of free quiet time had been granted to me, and I found myself feeling trapped in my car with nothing to “work on.”

Reaching for a fine-tip Muji pen on my console and the back of some scrap paper I found poking out underneath my passenger seat, I began to doodle some ideas for the book I’d been avoiding.  “Let me just jot down some intentions for the book,” I told no one.  I was speaking to a writing friend earlier in the day and I suggested she stick with her intention for why she wanted to write her book, so why not take my advice? 

It turned out to be great guidance because the words began to flow. When I established WHY I wanted to write this book, the ideas of HOW I would write it and the rough idea for what I wanted to say, began to flow.  

Cole napped for two hours and fourteen minutes.  I scribbled for nearly an hour, discussing my plans with another dear writer friend, a woman determined to publish a children’s book.  She acted as a sounding board and I just kept going, flushing out my concepts and remembering my desperation during pregnancy and why I needed to write this book. I wanted to offer women something I WISHED I had. That was a good enough reason, wasn’t it?

I also felt self-inflicted pressure. If I waited too long, would I be too removed from the experience to relate to these women? I have so many journal logs, so many letters to Cole, and as I sort of mind-mapped what I wanted to do, the feelings came flooding back.  I know I can do this.  I just need to maintain the confidence to do it.

Sometimes when I’m writing, I’m afraid that I won’t have anything to say.  Or that I’ll epically fail.  Or what my book won’t be successful.  What if I embarrass myself in front of the people I love -- or worse- what if I fall flat in front of the people who don’t love me?

Today is the day I stop giving a fuck.  Stop clearing the table (not to say it isn’t necessary), but stop robbing myself of the time I should and COULD be writing.  I CAN DO THIS.  

What I realized about today that was so interesting was that I got a whole lot done without the distraction of my journal or my book.  As much as journaling is writing and as much as reading is wonderful to help me be a stronger writer, today required minimal distractions.  I had nothing else to cloud my mind.  I could not escape what I have felt compelled and yet run away from doing. In some ways, I felt the way I did when I was pregnant (with far less anxiety of course). I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave the car and organize the house, or be distracted by bingeing Gilmore Girls for the thousandth time-- I didn’t have those things to keep me from my writing.  Instead, all I had was my beautiful sleepy baby in the back seat, allotting me the time I needed to write.  No excuses. Nothing standing in my way.  And damn, did it feel good to work toward that goal today.  

Shit, I need to write this book. 

Escape is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about escape from my fellow Illuminate members:

How Do You Escape? by Crystal James
un-becoming by Laci Hoyt
Escape Via Him by Amy Rich

First Bites

I never dreamed I'd relish
every "mmmm" and mouthwatering
lip smack that emanated from
your full, pouty lips.
Thus far, I’d only known to fear the
thought of a savory morsel
lodging itself
in your delicate throat.
The mere thought
asphyxiating mine.
That notion stained in my mind—
any joy in feeding you, impermissible.
That first taste of crisp bacon,
the grease tickling tongue buds
expanding your limited palate
with intensifying flavor.
I forgot for a moment about
the sharp edges of thin fried pork.
And instead, I gambled on
the joy of my favorite food
satiating your small mouth,
nourishing your little belly.

I let it go.

Permitting the flavors
of my life
to wash it down.

Flavor is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about flavor from my fellow Illuminate members:

Swedish Pancakes (Plett) by Kirsten Bergman
Tr(eating) by Crystal James

A Rose Grows in Brewster

Every year around this time, a handful of bright red roses bloom right outside our condo. They climb along the fence that runs parallel to where we park our cars. Ascending as if suspended in thin air, the delicate buttery petals peek out between two evergreens and shadowed by the slender branches of the maples that shade them.

My husband is colorblind; he mixes up red and green, often not knowing the difference or not being able to spot something red on a green background or vice versa. Recently I asked him;

“Do you ever notice those amazing red roses that bloom outside our place every year?” I was pretty sure he hadn’t since they are somewhat concealed by other foliage and their colors might show up similarly, camouflaging them in his eyes.  

“No,” he replied, “I haven’t.”

I grabbed him by the arm, ushering him from our cars toward the thicket. I could tell he still couldn’t see, so I brushed the lush green leaves away from the blooms, gently pinching the cluster of new growth between my pointer and middle finger, careful not to get pricked by the thorny vine.

“Do you see them now?” I asked, raising the clinging pant into plain sight.

“Yes, wow. I never noticed them.” He commented.

It posed the question; how many times have I walked by and neglected to marvel at the beauty of my surroundings? How many times have I been transfixed, mindlessly scrolling through my phone, disregarding a room bursting with family?  How many of my one-year-old’s expressions, giggles or milestones have I missed due to distraction?  Granted, I am not affected by the colorblindness my husband has, and yet I hardly noticed the six heads of dainty crimson that climbed in front of a fence I come face to face with on a daily basis.  

It made me wonder, what else in my life have I missed? 

Pre-pandemic, I spent so much time racing for a train; I rushed to travel into buzzing Manhattan in the morning, and back to the quiet suburbs of home, at night.  I was constantly focused on the timetable illuminated below the iconic celestial ceilings of Grand Central.  The 5:27 pm train, if missed, meant I needed to wait for an additional half-hour to start my nearly two-hour trip home.  Most days, I arrived at the historic terminal drenched in sweat from the brisk six-block and two-avenue run.   

It has been said that what we notice says a lot about who we are.  But what about what we fail to notice?  Before the world shut down, I raced without noticing what was growing right in front of me.  How much had I missed when I didn’t stop to smell the roses? 

Having a baby has caused me to become hypervigilant and acutely aware of my surroundings, and yet, there is plenty that I miss.  The blooms, while adorned with tiny thorns, are a gentle reminder to slow down, peel my eyes to relish in the extraordinary, tucked behind the lush greenery of the ordinary. 

 is the theme for my writing group this month.

Read more pieces about notice from my fellow Illuminate members:

Notice Me by Adeola Sheehy
Noticing by Megan Vos
Nurturing Noticing by Hannah Kewley
For the Joy of It by Katherine Mansfield
Notice Me by Amy

Notice by Crystal James 

"I am A Writer"

“So, what do you do?” the esthetician inquires as she applies pressure, extracting blackheads from my nose. 

Wincing, both from the pain of the removal of the dirt and debris from my pores, and the weight of the question, I hesitate to answer. I’m not entirely sure what to say.  Amid a pandemic, I haven’t seen many people since I’ve become a mother.  Many acquaintances have yet to meet my son and also have yet to meet the latest version of me.   I have completely transformed, and I also feel the most me I’ve been in a long time.  It’s been nearly nine months since I left my job of over ten years and life has taken a complete turnaround since then.


I’m reluctant, unsure how to answer the esthetician’s question.  When asked in a more formal setting like a doctor’s appointment, I’ve labeled myself a stay-at-home mother, and that bares a big part of who I am today.  But I’ve also picked up my pen, my laptop, ready to spill my innermost thoughts with an open mind again.  I’ve committed to filling the page as a daily practice. 


“I’m a writer,” I declare, trying on for size. 


Shit!  That sounded strange.  Was that my voice that said that?  The words slipped out, nearly inaudible, barely above a whisper.


It is the first time the title escapes from my mouth, and oddly enough, I’ve uttered this information to a stranger. 


It has taken me years to admit this to myself.  And even though I’ve taken on flexing my writing muscle almost daily since the new year began, I haven’t found myself completely comfortable with declaring myself a writer as of yet.  My insecurity plagues me, dreading the questions that I’m certain are to follow:


“Have you written a book?”

“Where can I read your work?”

“Would I know of anything you’ve written?”


The truth is, I’m only just getting acclimated to the fact that I’m actually on this journey with the goal of becoming a published author, and I feel that I know nothing, other than that I have much to learn.  I bare and unveil my soul with my words, and they have been rejected far more places than they’ve been accepted.  Therefore, I’m not entirely sure where I fit into this new “job” as of yet.  

The uncertainty of my future also includes a barrage of questions I’m asking myself, the most pressing being; will writing provide an income or instead remain a hobby?  I intensely fear settling for the latter.  This uncertainty causes me major self-doubt and I wonder if I am wasting my time.  My primary role right now is mother, and I relish that responsibility.  Observing my son’s growth over the last eleven months has been a joy I never could have anticipated.  I’m grateful to bear witness to every milestone, every first, every sweet moment. 


And yet like Ariel, Disney’s Little Mermaid, “I want moooorreee…”


Writing has always been a sacred space for me.  I’ve neglected it in the last decade as I ran to Manhattan focused on the fast-paced fashion industry. I had plenty of time for it on a lengthy train commute, and I certainly recorded certain anecdotes from the day or varying thoughts and ideas in my iPhone Notes App, but I was not committed to the craft.  I never felt I had much to say besides the random bursts of thoughts and inspiration that infrequently surfaced in my mind.


The esthetician continues her work, gliding soft fingertips across both cheekbones.  She’s simultaneously massaging and applying toner, tingling my sensitive skin.  She only murmurs, “very nice,” in response to my declaration that I’ve just agonized over, and continues working on my face.  It is likely that she asked me the question as a nicety and doesn’t care about the response.  I remind myself that this is how most of the world operates, on autopilot, and heave a deep breath of relief.


And then it hits me.  I am so conditioned by society to introduce myself and immediately follow up my name with my profession.  I used to say, “I’m Christine.  I’m a Product Developer and Sales Representative.” Once upon a time, I liked that title.  I was proud of the Fifth Avenue address I commuted to daily, and the Manhattan job I’d landed right out of college.  I loved what I did.  In the aftermath of the birth of my son amid the array of changes that Covid presented, that love faded.  I had a new focus; my child, my growing family, and a desperate need to slow the fuck down and soak it all in.


I’d rather not define myself by my work, but if I have to, I’m damn proud to be a mother.  It’s cliché, but while the “hardest job in the world,” is a club I never imagined I’d be a part of, I am grateful that the last two years have delivered me to this juncture.   I’m also proud to be a writer.  (There, I said it!)  I’m living a dream that the 8-year-old me (who used to fantasize about being a published author) would be so excited about.  I’m carving a path that feels natural and right.

And as for my work? Maybe one day I’ll feel safer declaring it to the world when someone asks me.  Maybe I won’t need to justify it.   Maybe I can say, “I’m Christine.  I’m a mother, and I’m a writer.” Maybe I can proclaim it, unapologetically, and not cringe in anticipation of the world’s questions.


After all, I’m following a calling, not conferencing with the world regarding my employment status. I need not grant the space for the careless questions from random voices, and instead embrace my work wholeheartedly, in whatever form it takes.

Work is the theme for my writing group this month.
Read more pieces about work from my fellow Illuminate members:

How Do You Define 'Work'?
 by Adeola Sheehy
My Work is Never Done (a poem) by Mia Sutton
What Do You Do? by Hannah Kewley
They Say a Mother's Work is Never Done by Leesha Mony
Working in the Margins by Laci Hoyt
You Gotta Work B**ch by Amy Rich
Labors of Love by Liz Russell
on my terms. by Eunice Brownlee
Potted Houseplant by Crystal James