How a Toothbrush Told Me She Was Committed

In a growing relationship, on the cusp of casual and committed, there are certain steps and signs that things are getting more serious. There’s the first sleepover, and the second, and pretty soon there’s a pattern of consistent visits that has one or both parties packing bags regularly. In between, the various outfits are washed, new ones are packed. Other items, each specific to that one journey, are removed. There’s one thing, however, that remains the same with each trip: The toothbrush.

Then, one day it happens. One person asks the other, “why don’t you leave a toothbrush here?” There’s even a spot that had been made available for it, or the person creates one on the spot. While it may be a simple piece of plastic, or in my case, bamboo, the simple act of having one at your new partner’s home can feel fulfilling, and a sign of a budding commitment. It’s like saying, “I plan to continue to have you here regularly, overnight, so this makes sense.”

I used to have a ‘home’ toothbrush and a ‘travel’ toothbrush, but that was before this whole COVID thing. Since my plans for the year were cancelled, for obvious and safe reasons, I tossed my travel toothbrush away, instead of having it sit in my suitcase for however long. Then, of course, things started to get more serious with the person I had been seeing. I was coming over regularly, and we planned for that to continue.

I smiled after she said that I should keep a toothbrush at her house, and again as she set mine beside hers. It resides in a Red Sox shot glass, on the shelf above the toilet in the upstairs bathroom. This had happened to me before before, and obviously things didn’t work out with those people. Still, it shouldn’t be downplayed, because the intention is clear. It’s an important step, and yet the bar has been forever raised, not that I plan to go anywhere else.

You see, I have a son. While the usual things are important to me in a healthy relationship— communication, affection, respect, and so forth— there was another piece that was non-negotiable. In order for me to have a serious relationship with all of the future steps that I want, someone needed to accept and love my son, too. 

I had worried that I’d struggle to find a genuine connection with someone who not only understood that I was a package deal, but someone who wanted to be in my son’s life. Don’t get me wrong, my son is an incredible human being and anyone would be lucky to have him in their life, but it does take connection and patience to choose to love a child.

I had a clear vision in my mind of a growing family, instead of a divided one, when his father and I separated. My ex and I are friends. We plan to have holidays as a family, and attend our son’s extra curricular activities together. Both of us have discussed our wish for future partners to not only understand this, but to truly be part of a family. I wouldn’t settle for less, even if that meant dating casually, or not dating at all.

Not everyone agreed with my vision. I was told that I’d need to date someone who had children of their own, because it was the only way they’d understand. Others said that someone new would want a child with me, though I tried to explain how that worked between lesbians. Still, even with the nay-sayers and the relationships and dates that didn’t work, I held onto that idea. I knew, deep down, that it was possible.

I started to see this vision coming to fruition as my partner spent time with my son. They would laugh, and create, and play together. She made plans for camping, and other fun things that we could do during our quarantine. She has been patient, and loving, and good to us both. It made my heart swell with joy to see them getting along so well.

Still, I wondered if it was safe to get my hopes up, and plan for the future. There had been one other who got to know him, and changed their mind about everything. The whiplash had me treading carefully, even as I struggled to let go of the projection. My fear was pushing for me to wait and see, and not get too excited. I wanted to protect my son, and myself, from getting hurt. By the time I introduced the two of them I was already attached, but I knew that step would only make it harder if something were to go wrong. 

That’s not how it went with my partner, though. She didn’t pull away from either of us after our time all together. Instead, she expressed happiness and excitement. After spending a day with him, my partner would start to plan the next. It didn’t take long for me to see that she was being genuine, and that the bond between the two of them was growing. 

Then there was a third brush added to the shelf at my partner’s house;  child’s brush, for my son. A piece of plastic, and yet, so much more. It says, “I plan to have him here regularly, too.” It happened the first time he spent the night at her house, in the guest room we had set up for him. She ordered it for him, and now it sits on the shelf, beside ours.

Of course, this wasn’t the only sign of commitment, and of our growing family. If it had been, it would feel more like grasping at straws. It was, however, one of the first signs that made me believe it was all real, and that she truly intended to be in our lives long term. When I see it, that small piece of plastic, I feel my fears dissipating. In place of the fear is a growing love for our growing family.

When Plans Change

Camping.

It seems to be one of those activities that people feel strongly about, in either direction. I have to admit, that I had been on the side of ‘no thanks,’ for a while. I was a Girl Scout for a decade. Between that, and camping with my father, I had felt all camped out by the time I reached adulthood. I didn’t feel compelled to sleep on the hard ground, or pee in the woods, or cook over an open flame any longer. I was good, I was set, and then I became a parent.

My son had been asking about camping for a couple of years. Admittedly, since I wasn’t in much of a hurry to do it again, I didn’t plan anything for him. I left it up to his father and my father, who’s jobs made them busy, and the opportunity just hadn’t come. So when my partner mentioned that she wanted to take him, I smiled and said that he’d like that.

At least, I hoped he would.

When introducing a child to something new, parents know that it’s going to be hit or miss. It can be something as simple as a new recipe for dinner, or something as complex as sleeping outside without plumbing or electricity. We know that it’s best to have a contingency plan or two in one’s back pocket when it comes to new experiences, just in case things go sideways.

During the planning process, as my mind started to open several browser tabs to cover all of my parenting what-if questions, my partner started to go over the plans that she had come up with, and I quickly realized that she had it covered. There was this loving relief that flowed through me when she went over everything, including how to keep us all safe and distant from others during this pandemic, and what we could do if our son decided he didn’t like it. Two nights were planned, with the full understanding that at any moment we might have to call it off.

Okay, loving relief is putting it lightly.

We had practiced first in the backyard, and that seemed to go well. He slept outside for the entire night, and there wasn’t any fear of the dark. Not that it got fully dark, but it was a great first step. With that in mind, we built his excitement for the real camping trip, and when the day arrived he was eager.

The first evening went well. We set up our site, cooked dinner on the fire, and our son was overjoyed when he was able to pee outside for the first time ever. By overjoyed I mean that he shouted that he did it, loud enough for the next (socially distant) campsite to hear. I know, I know, how is it that an 8 year old boy hadn’t done it before, but he’s lived in apartments, so there hasn’t been much in the way of privacy.

Anyway.

The evening went well. Sleep, however, was another story. There was tossing, and turning. There were stories on the Calm app, and a family of owls hooting loudly outside our tent. Eventually, in the early hours of the next morning, there was a small amount of sleep. I knew, without a doubt, that the lack of sleep would affect the rest of the trip in one way or another.

Groggy adults can be grumpy, or lack luster, but groggy, sleepy kids are another story. They have a harder time self regulating their emotions on a good day, because they’re still learning and growing. When lack of sleep is involved, this is multiplied tenfold. I kept a close eye on his mood as we moved through breakfast and our morning walk, both of which went well. He expressed on the walk that he wasn’t sure about sleeping outside that night, and we agreed that sleeping in beds was a good idea. We all needed the rest.

And then it hit him like a ton of bricks.

There were tears, big ones, as we got back to the camp site. He looked around and the conflicting emotions swelled inside of him, and spilled out. Part of him wanted to stay at the site for a while longer, while the rest of him was tired and wanted something more familiar. I took him into my arms and held space as he tried to explain what he was feeling, as he released the overwhelm and exhaustion.

As the emotions leveled out, my partner offered a solution; What if we set up the tent in the back yard again, and had s’mores out there with the fire pit? It was the best of both needs, since he would have access to the house and a bed, but still spend time in the tent and by the fire. He agreed, and even seemed excited for it, and we went to work packing up the campsite.

Loving relief.

We had a wonderful time that night, too. There were multiple occasions where I glanced at her, at my partner, and felt grateful. I wasn’t alone in planning, or solutions. It was understood, without me having to explain, that flexibility is a must when it comes to parenting. There were no hard feelings when it came to cutting our trip in half, only loving, quality time together.

-S

Getting Creative with Quality Time during Quarantine

When quarantine first started, I felt lost.

I didn’t know how long this would last, as none of us do, and of course that’s where anxiety thrives. When quarantine first started, I didn’t have much hope for the future. I often didn’t know what day it was, and there were many times I didn’t care.

As quarantine continued, I started to find a little bit of hope. Humans have this way of adapting, that’s why we’ve made it this far as a species. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s not, but today I’d like to focus on the better.

Before COVID, my outings would include things like movies, sporting events, concerts, and restaurants. I didn’t put as much stock in the seemingly smaller, daily moments, because I was constantly looking forward to the next big event.

Without those large events or a list of travels for the year, I’ve learned to slow down and appreciate more of the everyday.

In knowing myself well, I think some of these smaller things may have slipped through the cracks, unnoticed. Things like picking raspberries in the yard for our breakfast cereal, or hearing my son laugh hysterically while in the hammock with my partner. It’s not to say that these memories wouldn’t have been special before, but they are more in focus now.

There have been bigger, beautiful, creatively crafted moments, too. My partner set up a projector in her back yard, and we’ve had movie nights after dark. We even did backyard camping…

…and made s’mores with the fireplace.

May we have done these things anyway? Would we have gone to the movie theater instead of watching one on a projector, or picked travel over backyard camping? I’m not sure. Perhaps we would have done both. But when the choice was taken, we didn’t simply bury our heads in the sand for the entirety of our quarantine thus far, we got creative and made positive memories to look back on.

The world is starting to open up, but our world, with at-risk individuals, will remain in quarantine until there are better treatments, and a vaccine. Then again, I don’t find myself in any sort of hurry to get back to “normal.” I’ve found joy, even bliss, in the slower life.

If there’s one lesson I want to take with me into the post-COVID world, it’s slowing down and having gratitude for creative, quality time.

-S

All Together

The meaning of the word ‘Family’ is evolving; In my life, in my home, in my heart. When I first thought about starting a family, I envisioned a long marriage to the father, two children, a dog, etc, etc. The dream that I had been conditioned to want was what I was trying to build, was what came to mind.

I hadn’t imagined that we would struggle to get pregnant, or that I would have a high risk pregnancy when we finally did. I definitely didn’t imagine five years of trying for a second before a miscarriage tore me to shreds. I didn’t think I’d go through a divorce, or that I would realize I am G A Y (although, there were signs). I hadn’t pictured my desires around family to shift, and grow, and change.

But they have.

Early on in the breakup process, my ex and I agreed that we would continue to show up for our son, together. We talked about spending holidays as a family, and including future (serious) partners in the festivities. While the romantic relationship didn’t survive, our friendship thrived through it all. So, with that in mind, the idea of coming together for a holiday seemed easy, effortless.

To know this is one thing. To see it come to fruition is entirely different.

It’s hard to describe the exact feeling I had over the holiday weekend. Watching my ex, my son, and my partner interact in a friendly way felt like magic. This was the dynamic that I had been wanting, that I had been asking Universe for, and to see it unfold made my heart overflow with love and joy.

My ex and I have been told on multiple occasions that when it comes to our divorce process, we’re “goals.” Not to toot my own horn, or even his, I’m inclined to agree. We still support one another, and we each truly wish happiness for the other person. For us, though, it’s simple. We caught things before the deep resentment kicked in, and we focus on growing and nurturing our friendship.

Watching him get to know my partner brought that friendship to an entirely new level. Again, having faith that he will be cordial and friendly is one thing, but watching them interact was another. My heart was beaming as he spoke to me about her and her growing relationship with our son. His words were genuine, and positive, as was the smile on his face. He doesn’t just support me in coming out, he’s welcoming her with open arms, and I’m grateful.

Knowing that we can make this work, that we can grow our family instead of shattering it, is a dream come true. While a large chunk of this dynamic is good for our son, it’s good for all of us adults, too. Instead of wading through tension and putting on a friendly smile for the sake of the little guy, we’re able to share genuine conversations and laughter.

We’re all in this together.

-S

Home

Sometimes ‘home’ is a more complicated concept than it appears to be.

It seems simple enough. Home is where you lay your head at night, right?

Having a roof over one’s head is something to be thankful for, of course. It is a glorious thing to have, but sometimes that roof doesn’t feel like home. It may feel like routine, or convenience, or the best or only option at the time, but not quite like home.

I’ve lived in the same apartment for years. My son has spent most of his time here. Even before his father and I split, this place didn’t quite feel like home. Sometimes I’d think it was because I don’t like the layout of the apartment, or that I can’t change some of the features that I’d change if it were truly mine. Maybe it was the environment itself, or that I knew deep down that I wouldn’t have roots in this place. But then, I started to wonder if that was truly it.

What if home isn’t a place outside of ourselves?

I didn’t feel at home in my own body for as long as I can remember. Sometimes the feeling of unease and not-belonging came from external things, like clothing or hairstyles. There were other times where it was more about what I saw in the mirror, and the lack of self worth and confidence. I put myself through a lot on both fronts, with trying to fit in and trying to make myself smaller. It didn’t matter what I did, though. Nothing seemed to be enough.

Skinny, but not skinny enough.
Made up, but not pretty enough.
Athletic, but not strong enough.
Not enough.
Not enough.
Not enough.

Something was always missing. Even when I reached milestones that I set for myself, and gained what I thought I had wanted, there was a hole that kept me from feeling satisfied. There were moments in my life where I looked around and wondered why, because everything seemed to be going according to plan; I got married, I started a family, I had a nice vehicle. While things weren’t perfect, because nothing truly is, things were overall good.

And yet.

I didn’t feel at home. Not in my body, not in my apartment, not in my bed, or my marriage. I didn’t understand it, and more often than not I shamed myself for not simply being grateful for all that I had. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful, but the craving for more never really went away.

And then.

Well if you missed it, I separated from my husband and figured out I was gay.

That realization was the lightbulb I had been waiting for, the ah-hah moment, the final puzzle piece. Suddenly, it made sense why I didn’t feel complete, or at home, or at all myself no matter how hard I tried to just be. I couldn’t just be, because I didn’t know how to be me. Not then, not yet.

When I’m asked if coming out was hard to come out, I say no. Yes, I was lucky to be well received and surrounded by love, but it’s more than that. I felt the most like myself that I had ever felt, and since that day I’ve only come more into who I really am.

I’m standing proud.

The work isn’t done yet. Knowing this, and discovering other things about myself has started me on the path of healing. While I still have work to do to end the internal war, there has at least been a ceasefire. It’s as close to home as I’ve ever felt. Knowing more of myself, and radically accepting myself for who I am and where I am has brought me here.

Home.

-S

Is that you, or someone else?

I recently wrote an article for Elephant Journal, referencing a blouse that I’ve held onto during this time of transformation and letting go of the past. During this, my son glanced at the picture I was making for the article heading, pointed to the older photo of me, and asked,

“Mom, is that you, or someone else?”

It’s something I’ve been feeling as I look back at old pictures, too. The long hair, or yearly lob, was part of my identity for so long. I had been nervous to cut it the first time around, because it was an investment of time to grow it back if I didn’t like the result.

But I love the result.

Now when I look at the long hair, it doesn’t feel like me. When I look at those pictures it looks like an entirely different person. The same goes to the blouses with flowers and bright colors. It looked good, as I had been told, but I never quite felt right.

Confidence is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. There was this looming feeling growing up that I never really fit in, even in my circle of friends. It wasn’t that they pushed me aside, or made me feel that way, of course. Looking back, that lack of confidence really grew around not yet knowing major parts of myself.

Of course, the person in the old photographs is me, and yet it isn’t. It’s me in the sense that, well, I’m in the same body. I went through experiences to shape who I am now. My personality grew in that space, my hobbies, my career, and my deep love for those I care for. Everything that makes me, me, is in there.

I’m in there, but like a muffled laugh.

The more I lean into the energy that feels true to me and the styles to express it, the more my confidence has soared. I don’t find myself worried about what others might think of my clothes or my hair, as I had done for decades, because it doesn’t matter to me anymore.

I am happy with myself, and to me, that means everything.

-S

Writing Advice: How to work when traveling.

Are you a writer who travels, or has a trip coming up? Maybe you’re wondering how it’s possible to keep the words flowing, even when you’re away from home.

Or, maybe you’re someone who can set their work down and just have a vacation, but I don’t know anything about that.

I love to write when I’m away from home. I often find myself more inspired when I’m in a new location, instead of sitting on my couch in my small New England town. But how is it done?

Well, firstly, I’d like to direct you to my post about scheduling time to write, because you should, but sometimes travel can take your normal schedule and throw it out the window. Which, all in all, is not a bad thing.

With or without a set schedule for your trip, there are plenty of ways you can work on that WIP or that big new idea while you’re away from home.

  1. Bring your laptop, or tablet with a keyboard: Whatever portable device you use when writing in a cafe (or on the couch) – bring that. Plan for it in your packing, especially if you’re like me and do cary-on only when you fly!
  2. Utilize phone apps: Notes. Voice messages. Pinterest. Even if you’re in a cab, on the plane, or on a glacier tour in Iceland, I’m willing to bet you have your phone with you. Don’t think “oh I’ll remember this later,” because let’s be real, that rarely works. And you know what, if that works for you, then I envy you. Anyway, there’s probably a generic notes app on your phone, but Evernote is another good one. You can organize notes, pictures, etc within the app itself! Not sponsored or anything, I simply love the app when I’m on the go.
  3. Take lots of pictures: Is the view itself inspiring you? The architecture? Whatever it might be, even if it doesn’t fit your current WIP, take a picture and save it for later.

 

Happy travels, happy writing!

 

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-Sarah A. Chase

Writing Advice: What do I do when I’m not feeling inspired or motivated?

I see this question come up a lot. In writing groups on Facebook, on Twitter. Writers ask how to find inspiration, or how to find the motivation to write, or what to do in cases when they can’t find either.

I take a bit of a different approach with my writing. As someone who writes the first (rough AF) draft very quickly, who dives into revisions ready to make the screen bleed red, I thought I’d share a bit of advice.

Schedule time to write.

BUT WE’RE CREATIVES!
YOU CAN’T SCHEDULE CREATIVITY! 

Here’s the thing: you can, and you should, especially if you want to make writing, or any creative venture, your job.

When you work out of the home full or part time for a business, you’re expected to show up when you’re scheduled to work. You go to work, you punch in, you do your job, and you punch out. If most people only went to their day jobs when they felt inspired to, I would venture to guess that their position may not last long.

Maybe it’s my background with owning a photography business, or maybe it’s the fact that our lives our busy and order is key in chaos, but scheduling time has worked wonders for me. Of course, there are days where inspiration hits and writing wasn’t on the schedule, but I can’t wait around for those moments. If I did, I’d sit down to write once, maybe twice a month.

I also have a lot going on, generally. I homeschool my son, I do commissioned art, I travel, I work for my mom’s business during tax season, I run my son to co-ops and playdates and practices… you get the point. Having a schedule ensures that I get everything done, in a timely fashion, including writing.

BUT WHEN I FORCE IT, ITS NOT AS GOOD!

Awesome! That’s what editing is for. Seriously, just push to get things on the page, and you can always go back later to make it better.

Even if the words themselves don’t come right away, there are other things you can do during your scheduled writing time to further your story. You can brainstorm, world build, listen to music and imagine the scene to help spark something. As Victoria Schwab often says: There are typing days, and there are thinking days. Both are writing days.

(Or something pretty close to that, but you get the point.)

So I challenge you to schedule your writing time. Treat it like a job, especially if that’s what you want to come from your writing. Make goals, both big and small, and work towards them every day.

You’ve got this.

 

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-Sarah A. Chase

 

BookCon 2019

BookCon happened earlier this month in NYC!

I know plenty of others who blogged the entire experience during the weekend, and others shortly after, but I’ve had an incredible month that sort of put this post on the back burner. (Mainly because I wrote an entire book this month, but we’ll get to that later.)

I’ll start by saying, I love visiting New York City. The ease of getting around, the never ending list of things to do, and VEGAN DELIVERY brings me so much joy. We’ve taken our son a couple of times in the past, but this was the first year my husband and I attended BookCon. My son went to the city, too, but he enjoyed other activities with his grandmother.

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But let’s get back to BookCon. 

In short, if you haven’t been to BookCon yet and you love to read, then I highly recommend that you give it a try next year.

My husband and I were both excited to attend, though I think one of us was perhaps just slightly more energetic about it. (I’ll let you decide, from the pictures below.) We walked to the convention from our hotel, we took a few pictures outside, then we went in and got in line.

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Now, I’ve been to quite a few places and events that entailed waiting in a long line; Amusement parks, book signings, Running of the Brides. But this was, well, more. We gathered pretty closely together, and sat on the floor while we waited. I heard later on that some people generally waited until after the initial rush, which I might take into account next year.

But yes, it was quite the rush.

The gates opened, and we were off.

On all sides, I watched people engage their strategies. They darted to specific booths, some even had maps in hand as they did so. There were looks of certainty, of confidence, of sheer determination.

There were also those who meandered through with eyes as wide as saucers, who were more confused than the guy who asked us if BookCon was some weed fest.

Yeah. We were overwhelmed, to say the least. But, after we broke away from the crowd, took a few deep breaths, and looked around, we caught our bearings.

There were a few book drops we missed out on while we tried to figure out what the f was happening, but that’s alright. We still got plenty of other goodies, and saw some great panels! There were some we split up for, and others we watched together. All in all, it was a pretty epic two days. We met great people who attended, we listened to incredible talks, and we got plenty of books to take home with us. (Leave room in that suitcase of yours!)

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On the second day, early in the morning, I attended a writing workshop.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I sat at one of the tables and pulled out my little notebook before the class started. I was nervous, too, but as my table started to fill and the conversations started flowing, the nerves fell away.

The instructor spoke about speculative fiction, and gave us several prompts to help inspire us and improve our writing. We’d work on the prompts for a few minutes, then share our ideas at our tables. The other writers I brainstormed and shared with were kind, talented, fun people, and I’m thankful for that experience with them!

And I went to lunch with a wealth of ideas.

I spent the second day of BookCon scribbling in my notebook with every break that I got, inspiration completely overtaking me. I had signed up for the workshop to help make my current works stronger, which will still happen, but this idea was too front-and-center to ignore. So, I let myself become immersed in the idea, in the world that was building itself in my head.

I wrote back at the hotel, typing my ideas into Scrivener.
I wrote at home, while I was there for four days.
I wrote while on Cape Cod for two week.
I wrote a book in the month of June, and did two rounds of revisions!
(WHAT?!)

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IN CONCLUSION

New York City – amazing.
BookCon – incredible, but can be overwhelming. You should go.
BookCon Writing Workshops – inspiring, and an absolute must for writers attending the Con.

It was a fantastic weekend, and I plan to try and go back next year. Though, I’m hoping to be one of the people with a map and a plan!

 

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-Sarah A. Chase

 

Writing – What I’ve been up to lately.

Have you ever looked at a project and realized it needed to start from scratch, but put it off for a while? This happened to me recently, with one of my novel work-in-progress’. I loved the characters, but the world, the plot, and the magic system just weren’t working.

So, I re-wrote it.

From scratch.

In a dystopian setting.

To be entirely honest, there are elements of the last version that I miss, but this new version works entirely better! I’m glad I took a leap and played with this idea.

I have finished the first draft of this work, and now I’m diving into revisions!

-SAC