Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I finally got word today that we've heard from the last of my relatives missing since Hurricane Katrina struck over two weeks ago. That is such a blessing.
Sometimes I am so full of frustration and confusion that I can hardly hear myself think. I'm tempted during these times to crawl onto the sofa and pull the blanket over my head and drift below the surface with my dog cuddled at my feet. I'm not sure that's a productive response. My other instinct is to sit with my power book warming my lap and just journal and journal. My thoughts seem to be a huge tangle in my head, and by writing them down and can sit and patiently untangle them. This seems to be a more useful endeavor, although all I have to show for hours of writing is a slight loosening in my knotted brain.
But then I have moments when I stand on the porch holding my two year old and showing her the storm blowing in.
"Rain, rain," I say, gesturing out into the sprinkles.
"Wain," she repeats, looking awed.
"Storm...storm." I point at the sky, gasping and pointing at the flashes and cupping my ear dramatically, listening to the answering boom.
"Tor," she says.
More lovely moments drift my way. My almost eight year old comes and sits on my lap, too tall to climb. Her long arms wind around my shoulders and her feet drag on the floor.
"I love you, Mommy," she says softly, cuddling into me.
I squeeze her back. "I remember when you were a tiny baby," I whisper lovingly. "What happened to my baby?"
That brings a giggle. "She grew up."
I squeeze her tighter and feel all the tangles melting away.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Finally...Some Good News

My husband spoke to his mother today while she was cleaning out her freezer. She and my brother-in-law went back to her home to inspect the damage. My mother-in-law reported that there was an inch of water in her home and the roof needed repair. A tree had fallen on the house and appeared to be "resting" there. It could have been much, much worse, so we are all extremely relieved.
I also received a phone call from my sister-in-law's mother-in-law, who had been trapped in her apartment building by flood waters in New Orleans. She was rescued by boat and taken to the a spot on I-90 where she and other storm survivors spent the night waiting for a bus to take them to Houston. After spending the night in the Astrodome, she was able to get a flight to Atlanta, where she is staying with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. It was so wonderful to hear her voice.

Sharon's mother-in-law is safe!

My sister-in-law, Sharon's mother-in-law, affectionately know by us as Ms. Hilda, is safe at the Houston Astrodome. I'm told that on her way there, she spent the night on I-10 before making her way to an group heading to Houston. She will be catching a flight to Atlanta to be with Sharon and Armond as soon as she can.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Better and Worse

Finally, we have some news on my mother-in-law's home. A friend went by to check her place and told her that although she did get some water and part of the roof had blown off, it was still standing. She and my brother-in-law, Ken, are going over to check things out in person tomorrow. We're all praying for their safety.
I find the situation in New Orleans completely demoralizing, and I'm not even there. When I said earlier that times like these bring out the worst in people, I had no idea how brutal the truth would be. This is yet another demonstration of the concept that it isn't so much what happens to you but how you handle it that counts. And that goes not only for the people of New Orleans and the brave men and women who are working to rescue them, but for the federal agencies who have been slow to respond to this catastrophe.
No one deserves to live through the horror the people of New Orleans are experiencing, but I would have hoped that in this country those in a position to dispatch aid would have reacted more decisively in providing both assistance and information. I can only hope that help arrive more quickly in the face of criticism. It is a shame that such criticism was necessary in the first place.
I am deeply saddened to see how quickly those desperate hurricane and flood survivors have turned against each other. Hunger, despair, and hopelessness do terrible things to people. I pray that the suffering will end soon and that my mission to help those in need will be revealed.

Waiting for News and Moving Beyond the Storm

The news is still the same. My mother-in-law is in Florida, unable to return to what used to be Biloxi, Mississippi. My sister-in-law’s mother-in-law (got that connection?) is, I assume, waiting to be evacuated from New Orleans. And still no word on the rest of my New Orleans relatives. It’s all just waiting, waiting, waiting.
I watch television with my husband, who flips back and forth from CNN to The Weather Channel looking for a shot of North Biloxi or the Back Bay to assess the damage to his childhood home. I can’t spend too much time on it, however. I have dishes to wash, children to change into their pajamas and tuck into bed.
Life on the Coast is like a war zone, the people are refugees. They are seeking refuge from the scenes of destruction, from the disease-carrying flood waters, from life without sanitation, potable water, or electricity.
How does one begin the overwhelming task of rebuilding? All infrastructure has been destroyed. Gone are the roads that led to gas stations and Wal-Marts. Gone are the Wal-Marts, the pharmacies, the banks, the malls, the movie theaters. For miles all one can see is devastation and despair.
I believe in the resilience of humanity. Times like these bring out the worst in people—witness the looting—but they also bring out the best. The people of the Gulf Coast region are suffering one of the worst kinds of tragedy. They have lost their loved ones, their homes, their churches, and had the very fabric of their lives shredded before their eyes. Yet when I add their inner strength and faith in God with the generosity of those of us moved by their suffering, I cannot help but find the sum as the will to endure, to persevere in the face of overwhelming difficulties. Perhaps if those of us who did not suffer Katrina’s wrath reach out to those who did, we will all be better for it.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


I am a prisoner in my child’s room. I have a pallet to sleep on, and occasionally I get breaks to go to the bathroom, shower, and eat, thanks to my husband. Otherwise, my responsibilities have shrunk to dozing on the pallet, listening to my daughter’s whimpers and cries, and holding a plastic pan or towel in front of her mouth while she vomits. Her smiles and laughter have been replaced by piteous frowns and moans, and I am helpless to provide any real relief. All we can both do is wait it out.
I am numbed by this latest in a series of minor and major crises. I feel like Ground Zero in an assault of viruses, ear infections, funerals, trips to the emergency room, and emotional upheavals.
“Why me?” I ask. “What did I do to deserve such punishment?”
But I know the answer by now. We are always besieged by trials, from the tragic to the trivial. Some of them are of our own creation, some of them are not. Good things happen, too, though, usually we have to reach into our magic hats and pull them out like rabbits. Still, as I lay imprisoned by my child’s tummy bug (the sixth one in our family this year), I realize that this is just one more thing to slow me down, not stop me in my tracks.
I may be frustrated by being forced to slow down and take care of a sick child; I may even be overwhelmed by it. But I am not defeated by it. My horoscope (which I read purely out of boredom while my little darling slept) suggests that real success involves overcoming by obstacles. So I might as well take the hint and keep on keeping on.
Copyright © 2005 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Making Progress with the Housework

[This is a first draft.]
The ultimate horror of housework is that it is never-ending. Every morning you put on a clean outfit and have your breakfast on a clean dish. Every day someone spills something, dust accumulates, and more pieces of paper sneak into the house. If you get the daily newspaper and those who read it leave it scattered everywhere your tidy home can be wrecked in a matter of seconds. If you have a toddler with a runny nose, your home can be transformed into a den of evil bacteria even faster. Even if you live a group of neatniks, at the end of the day you have dirty laundry and dirty dishes. No matter how hard your work get ahead, the housework seems to accumulate faster than you can keep it under control. Lowering your standards may bring you some degree of sanity, but how are you supposed to keep up if you continue pushing your standards into the dirt?
The secret is setting the bar low enough to leap over without tripping over your own feet, not tossing it out altogether. You do need standards. Just like doing the limbo, you have to figure out how low you can go without falling over.
You start by catching up with the dishes and the laundry. Even if the sky is falling, you’ll want to keep your dishwasher in action and your kitchen sink cleared. If you don’t have a dishwasher, it’s even more important not to let the dishes pile up.
My husband once ruthlessly yanked me away from the kitchen to go to a New Year’s Eve party at our neighbor’s across the street. He’d spent the afternoon cooking for New Year’s Day dinner, and although he’s an excellent cook, he does not know the meaning of cleaning up as you go. Dirty dishes, pots, and pans met me at the kitchen door, and in a panic I went into dishwashing mode. I loaded and ran the dishwasher, then commenced to washing by hand.
I was up to my elbows in suds when my husband dragged me away from the sink and shoved me up the stairs to get dressed for this party. I went to the party, drank about three or four tiny bottles of Bailey’s Irish Cream, toasted in the New Year, then came back home and finished cleaning up the kitchen. At one-thirty in the morning on January 1, I stood alone at the sink in what seemed to be an endless round of washing, drying, and putting away a stunning variety of pots, bowls, spatulas, and whisks, which, in my fog of Bailey’s, seemed to breeding behind my back.
Don’t get the idea from this story that I keep a spotless kitchen. Far from it. I’m just intimidated piles of dirty dishes, and when they’re my own, my only defense is to keep them under control. My husband, who is fearless when it comes to the dish patrol, usually takes the attitude that dishes can always be washed later. If you share this attitude then do whatever is most comfortable for you. If you’re like me and you cringe at the sight your counter top being held hostage by piles of dirty dishes, then you’ll do your best to wash up as you go.
I don’t know anyone who’s willing to admit to being caught up with the laundry. Everyone I know who mentions the dirty little word freely confesses her inability to keep up. I may have a few friends with empty hampers, but if I do, they aren’t talking.
At one point in my life, I had a designated laundry day. I’d wash four or five loads of laundry and iron my husband’s shirts while watching American Movie Classics. Those were the days when I had one child in school all day and I was staying home to write fiction. I don’t know what happened to that paradise. Maybe the writing became too seductive. Maybe my husband noticed my ironing skills and gently requested that I take his shirts to the cleaners. Maybe it was having another baby to take care of - babies are well-known to be the biggest producers of dirty laundry in any household.
Whatever happened, in the battle of Allyson vs. The Laundry, the laundry appears to be winning. My only goal now is to wash, dry, and put away one load each day. When I’m good I manage to stay one step ahead, washing whatever we’re just about to run out of, whether it’s underwear, towels, kitchen linens, or outfits. It isn’t ideal, but at least I’m holding my own.
Another trick to making progress is maintaining the illusion of tidiness and cleanliness. Spend a few minutes tackling the obvious trouble spots to give yourself a bit of encouragement. Don’t dig through the closet or the junk drawer first. Pick up the floor and clear off the surfaces. If you manage to keep things looking neat on the outside, you might have more motivation to go through the scary cabinets.
You’ll also want to spend a few extra moments in the bathroom wiping down the sink and spritzing the toilets. Wash down the shower or tub before you get out and dry off. If the bathroom is relatively clean, you whole house seems cleaner for some reason, despite the layers of accumulating dust. Maybe it’s because bathrooms have the potential for breeding indescribable nastiness. Whatever the cause, if you think of spot cleaning your bathroom as you shower and dress, you’ll keep the nastiness down to a minimum.
Look for shortcuts and ways to break your work down into smaller tasks. Sort the laundry and bag it up to throw in the washer today and it’s ready for washing when you wake up tomorrow morning. If you’re extra sharp you can even put it in the washing machine, but whenever I do this I can never remember whether I’ve added soap.
Copyright © 2005 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Balancing Parenthood and Other Passions

[The following is a first draft.]
As parents, we are all happier and more effective when we set our own priorities. We often find ourselves trying to live up to others’ expectations that we lose sight of what’s important to us. This is what usually send us wandering into the kitchen in search of something buttery and sweet. If we sit down and take the time to figure out what’s really important in our busy lives, we’ll become more focused and effective.
Perhaps you’re really into home improvement. Nothing makes you happier than wandering around the nearest Home Depot checking out light fixtures and kitchen tile. You get a thrill out of ripping out the seventies-style brown paneling out of rec room and replacing it with drywall. You can happily spend a weekend spackling and painting a room.
Trouble is, you have children who get hungry three times a day, children who are much too young to help you out with your projects. You can keep them penned up in the playroom watching Dora the Explorer for only so many hours a day and speed through the drive-thru for dinner only so many times a week.
Everyone else you know expects you to be thrilled about the opportunity to spend an afternoon playing blocks with your toddler. Your mother thinks you should be delighted to spend your time making delicious healthy meals for her darling grandchildren. You, on the other hand, are itching to wallpaper your kitchen. Your husband is happy to do it, of course, but then you’d miss out on all the fun.
Instead of occasionally hiring a trusted teen for the afternoon and indulging your remodeling jones, you settle resentfully into your “good mother” role playing let’s pretend with your child while the noise of the siren on the toy firetruck steadily bores a hole into your brain. Or you try to squeeze in hanging your bedroom curtains into your already packed weekend and end up exhausted on Sunday evening.
I began writing in earnest when my daughter was nine months old. At the time, I was starting an exciting new day job, working a part-time job on Saturday mornings, and managing a busy household with my husband. Looking back, I can’t imagine why I waited until I’d crossed the threshold of motherhood to pick up my writing again. It would have been so much easier to write volumes when I had only myself to look after.
Then again, I didn’t start writing out of any desire to share my stories with the world. I simply wanted to get them out of my head and into the computer where they wouldn’t interrupt my life with unproductive daydreams. Perhaps it was just a consequence of mommy brain—a mind too full of the all-consuming task of nurturing and raising another human being. Or perhaps my characters were simply getting restless.
So I sat down to the computer one day and began writing about the imaginary folk who lived in my brain, their struggles, their adventures. With one toddler in the house, I learned to pop in a video and dash to the computer as the Disney jingle flowed forth from the television. I stole time in feature film length segments and wrote down my stories while the dishes piled up and the laundry sat unwashed.
Eventually, I learned a little discipline. I slowly began to realize that I needed to make writing a priority in my life and fit everything else in around it. Perhaps nothing I wrote would ever see the light of day, but I still had to give the effort a place in my life. I had to have a place to put my stories where they would not crowd my busy mind.
When my second child arrived, I learned to make some important adjustments. I began getting up an hour or two before everyone and writing until it was time to get the children up for breakfast. Even though I’m a morning person by nature, this required large amounts of discipline. It still does. However, I’ve learned to make writing a priority in my life, and that requires making time for it.
Maybe your passions are firmly entrenched in domestic life—cooking, sewing, gardening. Or maybe, you find peace of mind spinning a potter’s wheel or gliding down the slopes of a mountain on your skis. When you have a family, their well-being is paramount, but so is living life on your own terms.
It may be true that you have soccer games and birthday parties to attend, but if you let someone else set your priorities and follow someone else’s agenda you won’t have time to enjoy your child. Becoming a mother doesn’t mean you have to give up a part of yourself. It means that you eliminate that which is not important to you so you have time for yourself and your family.
Copyright © 2005 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I lay curled up with my little girl on the hospital cot with the black vinyl covered cushion draped with a sheet. I was trying to sleep, though every now and then the machine monitoring her vital signs would squawk. She was breathing deeply after a fretful struggle with the sleep fairy so I wasn't concerned. I just kept tempting the sleep fairy to conk me on the head and temporarily put me out of my misery.
There's nothing like a trip to the emergency room with your child to shine a spotlight on the tug-of-war that goes on within writers with children. All mothers wrestle with guilt monster, but those of us who write can be tortured by bigger and scarier ones than everyone else. Mothers who earn paychecks have bosses who expect them to show up at certain times and they have something to show for the time they spend away from their children. Mothers who write usually obsess about ways to steal time away from their precious little ones to indulge in their craft and don't always feel they have anything worthwhile to show for their efforts at the end of the day. And those are probably the ones who have been published. Never having published anything on paper in my life, I wouldn't know.
All I did know was that I was going to be spending half the night dozing on an emergency room cot waiting for the all clear signal to go home. The following sleep-deprived day would like be spent changing diapers and keeping my little one out of danger, with the high point being a possible trip to the pediatrician. Yet again. The great scare being over, I was once again plotting to carve out time to write.
Now that I hear my little one stirring, I'd better get straight to the point. When all is said and done and ruminated over, the only thing that matters is the I have two healthy, growing girls, a resilient and understanding husband, and one or two hours snatched in odd moments to write. That plus, never, never, ever leave your medications within reach of curious toddlers.
Copyright © 2005 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Write or Die

I’ve heard it said that artists need to create their art as much as they need to breathe. I believe it. If I don’t write for more than two days in a row, I feel ready to fly into pieces. Not much of it is worth reading, I suppose, but I still have to get the thoughts out of my brain onto paper (or my computer as the case may be).
I spend a lot of time wishing this endeavor was useful, beyond helping me get through the day like an alcoholic with his drink. I wish I felt this way about cooking or cleaning. Then my motto would be “cook or die,” and my family would have a smorgasbord of menu choices that extend beyond corn dogs, chicken nuggets, and black beans with rice. If only the act of dusting and tidying and sweeping brought me the same sense of calm and pleasure as sitting in Starbucks with my hot chocolate and laptop. Then I’d treat myself to a few minutes of bliss mopping and our shoes wouldn’t stick to the kitchen floor.
Unfortunately, I can only seem to find these moments of joy when putting my fingers to the keyboard or pen to paper. In my journal, I can wrestle with my problems or my bad attitude and finish with a fleeting sense of inner peace. I can only hope I also finish with something meaningful to read.
Copyright © 2005 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

July Is Writer's Block Month

July has been writer's block month for me. I haven't been so much sitting and staring at a blank page in my notebook as I've been just sitting and staring into space. At least that's all I've wanted to do over the past month. When you have two active girls at home plus two grandmothers around to entertain them, you end up with too much female maternal energy flowing around to sit and stare at anything for very long.

Yet since my grandfather died a month ago, I haven't wanted to do much of anything. I've kept busy, of course. Encouraging my two year old to go in the potty, taking my seven year old back and forth to day camp, keeping the laundry monster from taking over. I'm not sure that kind of busy is the cure for writer's block or for grief.

What I need is a creative project that does not involve writing or editing or any kind of language at all. Maybe I need to play the guitar, sketch, sing, ice skate, do some yoga, dance. And there's always good old-fashioned hard work. It's free and always available. Perhaps channeling my creative energies into work would serve the dual purpose getting into a different headspace and being productive at the same time. Instead of thinking of my job as non-creative busy work, I could turn it into some kind of mindfulness exercise. Zen and the Art of Homemaking. It can't hurt to try.
Copyright © 2005 by Allyson Denise Walker-Lawrence. All rights reserved. No part of this piece may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without the permission of the author.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I'm feeling emotionally fragile right now. When life's smallest frustrations send me into a fit of tears I know something's not quite right. Of course, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what my problem is. April is coming, dreaded April.
April is when the weather matches my mood. Cold, rainy dreary days slip away one by one as first my father, then my sister slowly slipped away. Then one day I notice the sun has come out and warmed the air so I don't need a jacket, and I'm riding in a limosine to someone's funeral.
Joy seems so far away, and I can't seem to find the humor in refried beans smeared on the wall by my wayward two-year-old or the shrieks and yells she and her seven-year-old sister make when they play together.
Kind people tell me in passing to enjoy them while they're young, and I do, but I sometimes can't help feeling the urge to run away. Someplace quiet where I can sleep as long as I like without my beautiful little alarm clock waking me by shaking my arm and whispering, “Mommy, it's time to get up.” Someplace peaceful where I can eat without jumping to keep my dining companion from turning her plate upside down and climbing on the dinner table.
It's a wonderful job, teaching someone about the moon glowing in the sky and the seed that send down its roots and pushes up green stems that swell and bloom. But I can't help the sense of doom I feel when I watch my toddler figure out how to climb out of the playpen, over the gates, and out of her crib. I desperately want to give her the freedom and the limits she needs to grow, but I still haven't managed to find the motivation to get up in the morning without being pulled from my bed by the fear of finding her naked and smearing poop on the walls.
Oh, I freely admit that I'm a spoiled and self-indulgent mom, but I'm reaching the point where I no longer care about that. I need time for myself as much as I need food and drink and sleep. I need time to care for myself, nurture myself, and strengthen my resolve to live my dreams. I need time to heal my weary body and grieving heart.
I'm sure it's a good thing I have two vivacious girls to keep me from spending my days on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket of emotional novacaine. But I can't ignore the call to healing. And if that means tending to the child within, then I must comply.