Carol Kaufmann

Writer, Editor, Wine Merchant

Tigers Out, Safari In September 2, 2011

Filed under: Tiger Book — carolkaufmann @ 5:24 pm
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What happened to your book  Tigers, you ask? When will it be published?

Excuse us, coming though.

Ah, what an excellent question. How I wish I knew the answer. How I also wish I would get paid. Somehow, given that the publisher from Dakini Media seems to have disappeared, I doubt either will happen. (Yes, I hear you, all my lawyer friends. I’m looking into it).

It’s heartbreaking, actually. Not only am I in love with the subject–a tiger mother and her cubs in a difficult environment–but I reached out to world-renowned biologists who helped me get the behavior of tigers just right. I don’t want to go back to them and say that their time was all for nothing. I know there’s a good lesson for writers here, but honestly, I’m not sure what it is yet. Perhaps it’s don’t hand in any text until you see at least half the fee–that way the publisher knows you’re serious? And why is that only obvious to me now?
* * *
Because that’s what real publishers do, apparently! As soon as I signed a contract for my second book, SAFARI, Workman Press sent me an advance. Within a week. Within a few more weeks, I was on my way to Kenya to have a mind-bending experience. Three months later, the text is safely in the hands of my editor. Knowing Workman’s reputation–and seeing the amazing job they did with my friend Jenny’s book–I’m excited to see “Safari,” which was a crunch, time-wise, but a true pleasure to write. I actually believe this one will reside on Amazon some day.

 

Closure? Writing the Book, #5 October 14, 2010

Filed under: Tiger Book — carolkaufmann @ 11:15 am

 

This is how I feel.

 

There comes a point in the life of any project when it must end. Declare is done. Finis. Sayonara.

I’m not very good at goodbyes.

In fact, I can’t seem to let my tigers go. One problem: I don’t have a hard-and-fast deadline. That’s a death sentence for any journalist. We revolve around definitive ends when our words will make their way from our brain/fingertips to the etherworld. So, I tinker.

But I also have a good reason. The end is hell.

A conclusion to a body of work is a tough thing to craft. Lynne, my esteemed editor and friend, says that you have to draw conclusions for the reader that they should come to naturally given the information you have provided. Make them feel smart. Seems obvious, yes? Oh, but so tough to actually do. Especially in this particular case. I’ve written about the lives of a tiger family–their habits, instincts, biological characteristics and the relationships to their environment and all that live in it. In other words, I describe, or try to, everything about these living creatures. It seems only natural to broaden the perspective and discuss the future not only of this family, but of tigers in general.

And this is where a 1,000 word essay goes off the rails.

Discussing the plight of tigers raises so many conservation, economic and cultural issues, I could write a whole other book. Hm. (Maybe I shall.) But I have an obligation to discuss the precarious nature of their (the global tigers) lives. And be suscinct and effective.

ARARARARARRGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGH!!!!

So, I tinker.

 

Enter the Editor September 4, 2010

Filed under: Tiger Book — carolkaufmann @ 12:42 pm

Writing the Book, #4

Thanks to much time and many espressos in my local WiFi coffee shop, appropriately called Buzz, my first draft is finished. Begin phase II of the writing process.  Allow me to explain. The first part of any writing project begins with the blank page. Some fear a space of all white; others love it. Some love the freedom and opportunity a blank page offers—the challenge of creating something from nothing.  Others have the ability to read a collection of words, know what’s good, bad and ugly about them, and with a deft hand, reassemble them to create an engaging tale.

I’m a blank-page lover. And though I edit others from 9-5, I definitely need an editor when it come to my own work. Every writer, no matter how good, needs an editor. A creative soul—or anyone really—cannot be truly objective about their own product. If I’ve birthed it, I’m possessive and irrational about it—children and stories alike

Any writer, is nothing without a good editor.

When Lucky Dissanayake, Dakini owner and publisher, told me I could pick an editor to work with on the tiger book, I knew exactly who I wanted. A former colleague, boss, mentor, and friend, Lynne Warren who used to head the writing division at National Geographic. A beautiful writer in her own right, she’s a phenomenal editor. She glances at copy and, in seconds it seems, knows where you have a logic problem, an issue with the flow, if your words are trite or pedestrian or staid, if the story just isn’t coming alive—and why.

Lynne and I met for five productive and highly entertaining hours one day and went over my draft. During bites of tzatiki, and souvlaki and tomato caprese, we worked out spots that were bugging me. She pointed out repetitive places, one of my huge concerns, and places where inaccuracies may have crept in (I’ve read so much about cats, I feared my past knowledge of say, cheetahs, was creeping into my tiger text). She suggested often small, sometimes large, changes in wording that better conveyed what I meant.

A good editor knows how to say what you mean better than you do. But to get to this level of skill, the editor’s heart has to be in the right place. Lynne knows this so deeply. I told her I was writing about our process and she offered her own perspective (which, to prove my point, better conveys what I mean):

“I think the heart of the writer-editor connection is shared trust and respect. You have to feel really sure that I’m already convinced of your abilities to be comfortable showing me work very much in progress. You have to know that you’re going to be aided, not graded; and that my goal is to help you achieve your goal. And you have to believe that I have the ability and knowledge to help you tailor and refine your text without substituting my voice for  yours.” I have to know that your work is worth my time and attention; and while you don’t have to embrace every suggestion I offer, I have to be confident that you’ll consider my recommendations with an open mind and a solid regard for my skills and experience.

Oh, yeah, really liking each other helps, too.”

And we respect, and really like, each other. A few years back, we spent three weeks aboard a Woods Hole research ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for a story on hydrothermal sea vents. She encouraged me to descend in Alvin, a deep-sea, three-person submersible for an eight-hour stint on the bottom of the ocean floor, and was there to help deluge me with cold water when I returned (a rite of passage for Alvin newbies). On the ship, we shared bunk beds in a room the size of a walk-in closet and stayed up way too late hashing out everything from literature to Eagle’s hits to latest loves and crushes. We later taught a photography workshop (clarification: taught photographers how to write to their photographs) at the Mountain Workshops in a small Kentucky town. Again, we shared a room. Again, we stayed up way to late, this time eating lots of fried food and sampling the local bourbon.

Imagine doing all that with someone you didn’t like? Imagine trusting your creation, your baby, to someone you didn’t like?

In these often frenetic days of writing a tiger text, it’s good to know someone has your back.

 

Writing the Book, #3 The Sources August 5, 2010

Filed under: Tiger Book — carolkaufmann @ 2:31 pm

WRITING THE BOOK, Post #3

Now, we’re really cookin’.

I can write all I want about tigers, but without the input from serious and credible sources, my text will never ring true. Nor, perhaps, BE true. But in the past few weeks my A-list sources have appeared.

I was getting a little antsy because I hadn’t heard back from John Seidensticker, who’s one of the foremost big cat experts in the world AND who lives in Washington, D.C. AND who writes great books on cats— tigers in particular. He’s the Curator of Mammals at the Smithsonians’s National Zoological Park (the Zoo, where I sometimes go to write. It helps to look at animals.). He also spent years studying tigers in Nepal, which resulted in a ground-breaking report on tiger behavior.  I had written Dr. Seidensticker asking for the most up-to-date sources on tiger behavior, conservation and research. He’d been out of the country and apologized for not being more prompt.

Apologized? I was honored. And now he’s given me some serious reading to do. This is in addition to all the books and web materials I’ve amassed on my own. The pile is getting pretty high. But that’s not all.

THEN he agreed to be on our board of advisers. And the good news kept on flowing.

Belinda Wright, the Executive Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India in New Delhi also agreed to be one of the advisers on the book! A former photographer and filmmaker, she transformed her passion for  conservation into this nonprofit that tackles India’s wildlife crisis.  She reminded me (because apparently she keeps immaculate records) that we had a couple conversations in the past about small cat-related pieces I worked on at National Geographic. Extremely knowledgeable as well as pleasant and engaging, I’m thrilled to have her input. She also is good friends with Dr. Ullas Karanth, whose The Way Of the Tiger, is sitting beside me as I write. He’s one of India’s top tiger experts and I’m thrilled to have a connection to him. To write about tigers in India, I need to talk to people in India!

AND by some lucky stroke of fate, Fahreen at Dakini found a high school friend through Facebook who has worked with Ullas Karanth, has been studying tigers for the past 18 years, who knows Pench, my tiger reserve, and will help me understand what its like to walk through that jungle!!!

I’ve been peppering these folks with questions ranging from “How much does a tiger weigh at 10 months?” to “Describe the sounds they make when their eating.” Belinda wrote a beautiful description of the sounds you hear in the jungle when a tiger is present–and what you hear when all is calm.

Why ask such things? I learn so much from books and academic papers, but to engage readers and make them feel as if they are standing right beside the tiger, I need to appeal to their senses. I need to find out what this particular jungle smells like, what it sounds like, what the air feels like. When you walk through one of the jungle paths, what sound does your feet make? Describe a tiger alert. Describe a tiger’s smell. With such a tight deadline there’s no way I can make it to Pench–besides, it’s rainy season–but I can learn from people who’ve taken the walks I’d like to someday.

The fact is no books, magazine articles or websites on any natural history subject would ever reach the public if not for the generous nature of biologists like these folks to share their expertise with writers like me.  I’ve dealt with many scientists in my career and if I had my choice, I’d work with biologists for the rest of my life. By far, they are my favorite group. Perhaps it’s because they study life.

 

How do you get someone to care about tigers? July 20, 2010

Filed under: Tiger Book — carolkaufmann @ 8:29 pm

One of those adorable faces at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, Keenesburg, Colorado. But don't get too close!

Writing the Book, Post #2

As I write each paragraph of the story of the Indian Tigress and her cubs, thoughts like this go though my head.

Sure, there are cat lovers, people who are going to oooo and ahhhhh over the adorable photos (see right). There are environmentally minded folk concerned about preserving the earth. Biologists, naturally, care about preserving their species of interest.

But then there’s the rest of the world. And it takes more than cat lovers, enviros and scientists to save a species that could easily vanished from the earth’s wild places in less than a decade.

So how do you make someone who doesn’t think much about animals, who’s more concerned with, say, paying the electric bill and what to have for dinner on any given night, care about tigers?

I was thinking such thoughts this morning on my commute to work on Washington, D.C.’s Metro. I love riding the metro because it gives me a solid 20 minutes of reading time. (And believe me, a working mama can get a lot done in 20 minutes.) Today, I was reading Valmik Thapar’s Tiger: The Ultimate Guide. Thapar is a big deal tiger conservationist, mainly associated with a major tiger reserve north of Pench, the one I’m writing about. I like his book because he’s extremely knowledgeable about the species but also because he has so many first-hand encounters with Panthera tigris.

In a section about the family breakup, he writes something that amazed me:

“I often wonder what exactly happens as family groups break up. After watching wild tigers for decades, I remain convinced that you cannot generalize about this or anything else to do with their behavior.”

I don’t know why this should surprise me so. Why should different animal families of the same species reach certain milestones at exactly the same time? The animals certainly have individual traits and personalities, so why shouldn’t their family dynamics be just as diverse?

Before reading this, I thought I was writing a story about a tiger family. Now, I realize I’m writing a story about THIS particular tiger family—and the distinction is important. For example, while my tigress may not associate with the father of her cubs (she doesn’t as far as we can tell), some tigress actually do.  While my tigress leaves the cubs for days in search of a meal or to lure threats away from her young, other tiger mothers make a different calculation. Such divergent actions point to the fact that female tigers think, decide and act upon information in their environment and weigh the effect their choice will have on their offspring.

Very much like a human mother. Hmm.

Once I started thinking about this tigress as an individual, her story looked different to me. Writing a tale of one individual—any individual— in the context of the wide world is far more interesting than writing about a representation for an entire species.

What a difference a commute to work makes.

 

It’s A Deal! June 29, 2010

Filed under: Tiger Book — carolkaufmann @ 9:16 pm

Writing the Book, Post #1

I’ve hit my version of nirvana: I’m going to write a book on one of my favorite subjects.

For money!

A few years, a whole other job and one child ago, a publishing company in London tracked me down. I had written an article for National Geographic magazine about a family of cheetahs that had survived for three generations in Kenya. (Very rare. Despite their speed, those cats are fragile). The company was in the process of securing rights to photographs of a similar tiger family in India that had been captured by a film crew in the process of shooting a BBC documentary. Would I be interested in writing the text?

Does a cat purr?

A bobcat blocks my vision.

I know a fair amount about cats, both the jungle kind and housebroken variety. The obsession started in childhood with a lonely kitten a friend gave me for my birthday when I was about five and has been in full force ever since. Truthfully,  watching any animal in the wild and contemplating its behavior and motivations can fascinate me for hours. But my first love is the cat. It never really leaves you.

Flash forward again. When I worked as a reporter for Reader’s Digest, I traveled to the plains of Colorado to profile a man who had spent decades and every dime he ever made building a 160-acre sanctuary for unwanted and abused wild animals. Along with lions, leopards, grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and a sole emu, he had 75 Bengal tigers on this property. Let me say that again. SEVENTY FIVE Bengal tigers, in all their black and pumpkin-colored glory.

Do you realize you could never EVER see 75 tigers in their natural habitat? Or maybe any where else on earth? These animals had no where else to go. Bred or imported for circuses, roadside attractions or idiots who think they can raise—and feed—a 600-pound wild animal, these cats came to Pat Craig sick, injured, malnourished, fearful and angry. Pat and his crew nourish them back to health, serves them food specifically designed for their needs and, yes, hangs out with them. He can actually pet one.

Two Bengals from the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary. The hand is mine.

Through a massive chain-linked fence, I touched one, too. That gorgeous coat bristles more than you’d think and these cats live in relative luxury, having their nutritional needs met, never hunting their own food. I looked into its golden flecked eyes at close range. I watched the muscles and sinews flex. They are truly awesome.

This story, plus the cheetah tale and various other bits I’d written, got me to thinking about the precarious plight of the big cats.  It’s easy to love them. They’re beautiful, their cubs are freakin’ adorable, their coats look soft and cuddly (a myth, but we’ll chat about that later).  But most of them–cheetahs, tigers, etc.–may not be around on their planet for much longer. I’m no pessimist, but with dwindling habitats where they can thrive, their survival is simply not a guarantee. Why this is so is no real mystery: Man.

My publishing friends in London tell me that India has taken the bold step of reducing tiger tours, a fairly lucrative revenue stream for them no doubt, to allow the big cats some privacy. Maybe this book can help, too. Most of the profits we make will go to big cat non-profits working to save their existence. (Read about Dakini Press’s super-human efforts to get this project off the ground.)

I’ll be blogging about the writing process, learning lots more about the cats and undoubtedly working out some of the kinks in the text as I go. All feedback welcomed. As long as it’s civil.

 

Riding Away January 27, 2010

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 10:24 pm
Riding Away

mother child sign loveBy Carol Kaufmann, Mama Tricks

Months after my son’s first day of school, I can honestly say I haven’t moved past the initial sendoff.

The crunch of the holiday season should have pushed memories of fall on the cerebral back burner, but it’s taken some time to process that my baby is now a student. Each morning he rides off with other, bigger kids to a place where I’m not. Thinking about that initial shock still fills me with both head-swelling pride and full-blown anxiety.

At 8:20 that morning, we stand at our door, set for the big departure. It’s a crisp September morning. But I’m afraid that, somehow, we’ll miss the pint-sized preschool bus. I don’t know how small it is, exactly.

I look at Luke, my Big Proud Three-year-old in his maroon hoodie and slightly big-around-the-waist khaki pants, carrying a small canvas book bag embossed with Star Wars action figures, all ready.  How is this possible?

We’re on time, miraculously, for the big day. We’ve eaten our cereal, brushed our teeth, we’re dressed. Even Baby Sister Sara Clare—all of two—has her play clothes on. I write “we” not to imply that I am in any way together, much less ready for work, but because I still think of my kids as part of me.

I peer out over the front stoop, making sure the bus isn’t at the stoplight, though with a screen door full of transparent glass, there’s really no way I could miss it. I keep looking back at Luke to make sure he’s still there, still my little boy.

Then, he announces he wants eggs.

My God, his wheatie O’s must not have cut it because clearly I’ve not given him a good breakfast. To the pan! No time for whisking in a separate bowl that makes the eggs light and fluffy! Milk goes right in skillet on top of the sunny-colored yolks. Five minutes later, both children have scrambled eggs, buttered toast and more milk in their cups. But at 8:25 with the bus due at 8:30, there’s no time to actually dine at the kitchen table, yards away from the full-on view of the road.

“Special treat!” Mama uses the code words that capture their attention quicker than our fat cats jump at the sound of dry cat food ringing in porcelain bowls. “We’re going to make egg sandwiches, guys! On the stairs!”  In front of the door.

Anything that smacks of a picnic brings the troops to prompt attention. The kids toddle to the steps, plop down and attempt to fold a single piece of bread over their scrambled eggs. A mixed success, yellow morsels fall over the carpeted stairs and, of course, begin to grind their way in.

The kids looooovvveee eating those egg sandwiches on the steps. Big brother helps little sis by cramming tiny pinches of bread into her mouth and they’re giggling. I’m having fun, too, though I hover over Luke’s spanking-clean school clothes, all the while keeping an eye out for the bright-yellow kidnapping machine that will interrupt. I now hope it will roll merrily by.

Eggs finished more or less, we go outside. Sara immediately runs into a neighbor’s yard, out of my reach. Luke begins to dismantle a dead butterfly.

“Look, Mommy! His legs!” Luke holds up sad bugs appendages. The kids drift further away physically, but in other ways too. I try to put a positive spin on this realization and figure that with Luke’s dissecting abilities, he’ll ace biology.

Anxiety crowds in. Maybe it’s because somewhere in the recesses of our minds, mothers will always be preparing their children for the next step, though unsure about how the hell to do it. I don’t know how my little guy will react when the bus pulls up. His preschool is in our church so he’s seen his classroom, but this is different. New teachers, new kids, new smells, new structure.  Though he’s only three, school implies expectation and I don’t know if I’ve prepped him well enough to compete or thrive with his peers who will have minds and three-year-old agendas of their own. And I can’t decide if it matters.

I check the sky, actually hoping for a sudden downpour. Luke has developed a sudden fear of water and yesterday a monsoon had moved in. “It’s getting deeper!” Luke wailed at the gushing water and clung on to me. We don’t know why water scares him. I hear that toddlers develop irrational fears without warning and I pray school’s not one of them. But, here on his first day, there’s no rain. No excuse to keep him inside in my cocoon.

When the bus comes, chills run down my damp back, which always seems to have a layer of permanent sweat these days. The miniature bus looks like a third of the size of school buses I remember, with twelve tiny toddler seats, belts dangling, their buckles clacking. I love it, I hate it.

My big boy climbs on, big as you please, with Mommy escorting him, per bus rules.

“I do it myself, Mommy.” He buckles up the belt with no help from me.

Snapped in place, he smiles so big my heart crumples into a million bits. His excitement is palpable—and hopefully contagious because the other kids looked kind of dour. I click a few pics for the memory book.

Sara Clare climbs on too, and plops in the seat opposite her brother. Getting her off the bus is no easy task. “Sara go to school!” she insists.

“Next year, baby.” Or maybe never.

As the bus pulls away, I hold her on the sidewalk as we look through the small windows and see a silhouette of Luke’s curly blond hair framed in the window. His hand is waving, he’s looking straight at me. He grins like Candy Land is awaiting him. And who knows? Maybe that’s how he sees it.

At least, that’s what I’ve told myself every day since.

Carol Kaufmann regularly shares her “Mama Tricks” with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest,National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology, A Woman’s Europe.  She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, two children and two obese rescue cats.

CK&Luke

First appeared on thewellmom.com, January 6, 2010.

 

Iron Mom

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 10:22 pm

By Carol Kaufmann, Mama Tricks

I stood in front of an upright ironing board, glaring at the basket load of button-downs, clean but wrinkled. Mother of toddlers, working professional, schooled and world-traveled, a credit card holder, a second-time homeowner.  And I am… ironing my husband’s shirts?

This is not who I am.

Like many 30-somethings who entered the work world during the age of excess, I formed a certain ideal of what life would be like once my career was on a roll. I saw examples of the good life flourishing in the D.C. metro area: Manicured lawns done by gardeners, regular help cleaning the house, spiky, animal-skinned shoes, lunches on white tablecloths, black-tie charity events, and vacations at places with names like Guanacaste and Essaouira.  I heard the stories. Sometimes I even had a taste of them myself.

But last fall as the national depression sank in and sparked our fears, my American dream spiraled down the potty along with the country’s economic outlook. Now, I’m happy to have a job, given the front-page Post stories of massive layoffs, spiking unemployment and two-parent households with not a job between them.

I know my job and my husband’s are guaranteed only by the thinnest wisp of commitment from our companies. These days, we’re very replaceable—at least that’s how our employers think.  The reality is if our jobs go, we’re a few missed mortgage payments away from financial Armaggedon.  Every month, our bank account creeps dangerously close to negative numbers, thanks to a preschool deposit, a sink that backs up on a Sunday, a spot on my arm that needed removing or any variety of home/child/health crises.

Yes, when it comes to money, control seemed just beyond my grasp—except what lurks within the four walls around me. And within this lair, I find opportunities to save bucks everywhere and  battened down our hatches.

Hubby, who’s up first, makes bag lunches so we don’t waste cash at our favorite sandwich haunts. We’ve weaned our addiction to lattes. I learned to like natural-colored nails instead of manicured ones, eliminated most dinners out, and now think of vacation not as a trip to the beach but as absence of work.  I even enjoyed my frugality, now in full force. Doing more with less has become a game, an exercise in creativity to find the best deal, amass the most effective combination of coupons.

But ironing?

Shall I also don an apron while I assume the classic position of a 50s housewife?  Watching the hyper-inflated suffocating predicaments of every female character on the 1960s-based drama Mad Men is enough to drive me screaming down the block. Now, I felt like one of them, a slave to the times. (Only not as nattily dressed.)

It’s not as if I’m a spoiled, holier-than-thou princess (OK, maybe a little) who doesn’t know how to roll up her sleeves and do the hard work. But my work, I thought, was to use my brain to create content and read Beginner’s Dr. Seuss, not pushing metal to and fro over seemingly permanent wrinkles.

I remember so well watching my mother, a child of parents who saved pieces of aluminum foil and reused jars during the Depression, diligently pulling out the ironing board, creaking the lever into an upright X, and tackling the laundry basket of Dad’s work shirts. Even before age 10, I realized Mom was enduring a necessary evil.

As I grew, Mom continued to iron. She’d drive right on by the fairly convenient dry cleaner, even though she was as busy as all get-out raising kids, teaching school, volunteering for this and that, taking covered dishes to new neighbors and shut-ins. I’d ask why she didn’t just drop off the laundry and save herself a little time? “Because I can do it myself,” she’d tell me. “Why waste the money?”

The more I learn to discern the fragile moment between a perfect crease and an iron imprint, the more I understand her question. Why spend the money, indeed, when times call for using it for more important purchases—quality fruits and veggies, college accounts, credit-card debt reduction—and in these days especially, a few bucks for someone who could really use it.

And why do all important lessons seem to come from our mothers?

As it turns out, I like seeing a line of freshly pressed shirts hanging along our furniture, a visible, tangible reminded of a job I can do. My husband, who takes his turns at the board, is tickled—even thinks it’s hot, for some odd reason—when I press the shirts and pants he’ll wear that week.

I had grown too big for my britches, as Mom would say. I had forgotten a basic tenet of good living that my hubby and I swore in our wedding vows we wouldn’t lose sight of—that it’s the simple things, after all, that provide a quick jolt of peace. So I iron because I can.

Hard times purify. They force those of us who think we’re above little details, to get over ourselves and put some muscle back into work.  They remind us that being able to take care of ourselves because we’re capable of doing so is a gift.

Copyright 2009 Carol Kaufmann

CK&LukeCarol Kaufmann regularly shares her “Mama Tricks” with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.

First appeared on thewellmom.com, September 7, 2009.

 

The Real Sex

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 10:15 pm
Mama Tricks: The Real Sex

By Carol Kaufmann, Columnist, “Mama Tricks: Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood“
As every woman age 45 on down in America knows by now, Sex and the City, the film, opened a few weeks ago. Judging from box office sales, I was one of the few to
not see it that opening weekend. And I’m glad. But not because I don’t love high heels as much as the next gal.

I had the ideal opportunity. I was in Los Angeles, movie-city, onbusiness. I was sans children. And I was with one of my oldest anddearest, The Well Mom herself, Heather Cabot, whose husband had volunteered to watch her kids so we could have a girls’ night.  Knowing I’d be there, Heather and I practically erupted over the timing of my visit. The premiere of Sex and the City? Just us girls? Could the world be more perfect?

When it came time to get the tickets, Heather found that about a million others had the same idea, too. I wasn’t at all disappointed. And the reason why is also
the reason why I’ve seen every episode of the iconic HBO series at least three times – including the edited versions on TBS.

Much (way, way too much) has been made of the show’s/movie’s stream of designer fashions, $500+shoes, closets that could serve as evacuation shelters, the quartet’s self-absorption, and quest for meaningful (or not so much) pairings. I believe all
the articles, editorials and talking heads have missed the point.

True, our larger than life characters lead glamorous lives that constantly seems to be whirling out of control.  But the center for Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha is each other. The one constant throughout the show’s six seasons is
iron-clad friendships and – here’s the kicker – TIME to spend on them. Many nights as I sat watching, I didn’t get pangs of jealousy for Carrie’s latest stilettos,
but pangs of nostalgia for a time in my life that these four embodied. A time when my friends and I talked about the messy terrain of relationships, the
struggle with careers, and nothing in general. Perhaps we weren’t clicking Cosmos at the latest trattoria, but certainly there was a margarita or two involved.

I love high heels as much as anyone, but really, does anyone care that much about what those four are wearing? And does anyone really think that Carrie
earns enough from those columns to afford such a wardrobe – even with her maxed out credit cards? (Not on a writer’s salary!) We know this show is fantasy. But
what rang true is something that is undeniably real, and often lacking, in the lives of us newish mothers with our soiled diapers, chronic fatigue, and steady
stream of Visine: The nurturing of girlfriends. The show made me heartsick for a time in my life where lunches at a diner and meandering conversations claimed a significant percentage of my week.

Heather and I went out for dinner that Friday night. We had several glasses of wine (or maybe that was me) and talked for hours about our kids, careers, husbands, problems and hopes. Instead of watching what we craved in a darkened theater, we lived it.  No trick involved.

Copyright 2008 Carol Kaufmann

Carol Kaufmann regularly shares her “Mama Tricks” with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in the anthology A Woman’s Europe. She lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, toddler, newborn, and two obese rescue cats.

First appeared on thewellmom.com, June 14, 2008.

 

Looking Back on Early Motherhood

Filed under: Mama Tricks — carolkaufmann @ 10:13 pm

By Carol Kaufmann, Columnist, “Mama Tricks: Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood”
Since I had so much “free time” while I nursed during my daughter’s first few months on the planet, I tossed the book Eat, Pray, Love in my cart at Target one harried Saturday during a diaper run. Oprah said every woman in the country had read this travel memoir (except me, evidently) and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did read the book, albeit in fits and starts while Sara Clare was nursing, for one sole reason.

In the Italy/Eat section, the author is musing about her new-found home, Rome, and says she wants to be like this city, regally self-assured, grounded, “amused and monumental,” when she’s an old lady. At this hectic point in life, my aspirations aren’t so grand, but her analogy did give me an idea for a Mama Trick.

Imagine yourself older, say, the age you’ll be when your kids move out of the house. Imagine older-you remembering current-you right about now. Right now in the midst of stinky, never-ending diapers and toddler gibberish you wish you could interpret.

Ask yourself this: How do I want to remember my first years as a Mama? The question is about YOU – not how you want to remember your kids. (Hopefully, the answer to that is fully and completely, though with the sleep deprivation, slim chance without the saving grace of modern digital camera and video recorders.) Ask yourself this because sometimes it’s just not enough to make it up as we go along. Sometimes we need a little vision.

I’ll bite: How will I remember me as a new mom?

When I first tried this type of “projection assessment,” I imagined older me tried and tested, thus wiser, savvier, more together and finally organized. (I’m a true optimist).  Older-me looked back on myself with kindness and compassion because that’s how older-me looks at young mothers who don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Still, I didn’t like everything that I saw.

Certainly, I took a huge amount of pride in my new family. But I also felt regret. That all-encompassing feeling of fatigue descended over every muscle and fiber when I mentally reviewed the beginnings of my children’s lives. Visions of an exhausted, stretched thin, strung-out nutbag came to mind. How much time did I lose wondering if my energy was ever going to return? (It did). Can I never get back the time I spent complaining to my husband and girlfriends about stubborn baby weight and nonexistent personal time? (No, silly question). And how many hours did I spend mourning the loss of the old me? (The new one’s better).

But there were also glimpses of a woman who smiled much more than she used to, in a deep, very genuine way. I saw scenes of me turning tantrums into ripples of giggles by making funny faces. I knew very well my ridiculous poses were an entree into the epicenter of my children’s comfort zone. They were the precursors to hugs that banished the sting of scraped knees and hurt feelings. And the hugs would eventually lead to soft strokes of the face that would put them to sleep. I knew this is the Mama I wanted to remember.

Now, at times their cries are like little stabs of pain and I pull the blanket  further over my head. But when I think of older-me remembering current-me, I have much more incentive to pad down the hall into their rooms and morph into those silly looks that I know make my wee ones explode with laughter.

I know what I want to remember most: The sounds of their cackles and their pure smiling faces, the essence of children that cameras can’t ever capture. So when I am that older, wiser dame and think back to these days, I hope I picture a smiling, though admittedly tired, woman gazing at her kids with a ridiculous look on her face, trying to memorize every gesture.

©Copyright 2008 Carol Kaufmann

First appeared on thewellmom.com, April 9, 2008