Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

After a miserable weekend filled with coughing and sneezing and ever growing piles of used Kleenex threatening to bury us alive, three out of the four family members were dragged to their respective doctors to put an end to their misery.

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Once all were diagnosed, each with a different infection – ear, upper respiratory, and sinus – we took nine, count them, NINE prescriptions, to the pharmacy, filled them, then returned home, crawled back into our jammies and hoped an end to our suffering was soon to be in our future.

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While we’re all waiting for an end to the miserable stuffiness of our state of being, all creativity has been put on hold. Instead, we are taking time out for this:

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Fulfilling our need for nurturing. We will return to our regularly scheduled blog posts when wellness has been achieved. May you all be well and take your vitamins!

Doing a favor for loved ones rarely puts one’s life in danger, but then it also rarely involves psychotic chickens.

Last week, the kids and I set off on a four hour road trip to house-sit for my folks deep in the Ozarks of rural Missouri and to experience what my dad kept calling an adventure (my first clue something would go terribly wrong).

I was greeted with a four page manifesto of chores – the bare minimum necessary to keep the place running smoothly. That’s okay, I thought, I wrote my folks something similar once when the hubs and I went on vacation many, many moons ago – a survival guide for babysitting the younglings, more than double the length of their instructions.

It’s all in the details.

I admit, I may have glazed over some of the details in that first reading due to road fatigue and children demands – What’s to eat? How do I work the TV? Why are there so many bugs here?

One of the details mentioned something about a rift in the chicken world with one particularly spiky chicken nicknamed “The Bitch” who had to be quarantined away from the younger chickens throughout the day so she didn’t terrorize them and peck them unmercifully. Good thing I didn’t have to start worrying about that just yet.

We started the next day with a brief introduction to the psychotic chickens. Entering the pen and throwing scratch on the ground. Don’t ask me what scratch is, I don’t know. I just measured it out of the bucket labeled “scratch” like the directions said and spread it around like I was told. I am not a country girl – as you may have guessed by now. The two oldest chickens met us near the gate to the pens, clucking in what sounded like a friendly manner. They went after that scratch the minute it hit the straw-covered ground. That gave us time to observe them and check out their surroundings – and most important of all, look for eggs. My folks had been gone a good twenty-four hours by then so we found a good haul. We made our slow departure, eggs in hand. I left the chicken compound thinking, hmm, maybe this chicken thing would be easy.

Ha.

After that excitement, the daughter who has developed an extreme phobia to all flying insects, decided to stay inside while the boy and I enjoyed a beautiful walk along the countryside. I did remember the one detail in the instructions about bug spray; if you’re going to spend any amount of time outdoors, spray, spray, spray. Or you’ll get nasty chigger bites. Spray we did, then off we went to enjoy nature.

Trevor Walk

Trevor walking up ahead.

Wildflowers

Wildflowers in the morning sun.

Uphill Walk

If only I hadn’t forgotten how steep and rocky the hills were on the return trip. Who needs an elliptical or treadmill? This hill was set to extreme cardio level 10!

By the time we’d walked a little over a mile, I was breathing so hard it hurt my chest and my calves were singing in pain. I thought I was going to die. And I hadn’t even begun the daily chores. Nice. When we climbed the final steep hill back up to the house, my son decided he’d had enough. Time to take a shower and call it a day. I tucked him in to his favorite spot with his favorite things and started a movie. He was back asleep before I went out the door. I envied him.

It wasn’t so much that the tasks were difficult – mostly there was a lot of watering garden areas and moving hoses around, carting water buckets to flowerbeds, that kind of thing. What killed me was climbing up and down to those rocky hills about thirty times to get it all done. I was a sweating, drooling, zombie-shuffling corpse (complete with incomprehensible moaning) by the end of the day.

And I haven’t even mentioned dealing with the chickens.

The instructions said around noon I’d have to corner The Bitch and pick her up – I was told not to worry because she was used to being picked up and this should be fairly easy to do (another warning sign that things would go terribly wrong). Once I had a firm hold of her I would then need to let the younger chickens out of the coop into the open area of the pen. After they were all out in the yard, I would gently secure The Bitch in the coop and lock her in for the remainder of the day after making sure there was plenty of food and water inside.

Right.

Let me just tell you that is not what happened on the first day. Or the second. Or the third. Not even on the fourth.

I brought my daughter along to help me corner said spiky/bitchy chicken.  After a few minutes, it was clear she wouldn’t be fairly easy to pick up no matter how “used to it” she was. All of our chasing did manage to direct her into the small dog crate in the chicken yard  – also used for chicken separation. Sweating and panting, we made sure she had food and water and locked her into solitary.

I was exhausted. And my chores were only half-done at this point.

For the rest of the day, there was just more water hauling, kid-wrangling, body-aching to contend with. The younger chickens actually put themselves to roost in the coop that night so locking them back in and releasing The Bitch, as we now affectionately referred to her, into the main pen was much easier than our noontime adventure. The only other notable event came when we were wrapping up our final evening chores. We had to bring in the leftover cat food for the outside cats so it wouldn’t attract raccoons. A little after dusk, I had my daughter shine the flashlight along the walkway while I retrieved the food. (Have I mentioned she’s also an arachnophobe?)

At the first sight of this…

Daddy Long Legs courtesy of Benny Mazur via Flickr

Daddy Long Legs courtesy of Benny Mazur via Flickr

…she screamed and the light went out.

I froze and asked her what happened.

  “Spider!” she yelled and pointed at the harmless loping thing as it made its way across the deck.

 “Turn the light back on,” I said. She did and then promptly screamed again.

“Eek!”

There was another one, a little closer, but still just as harmless, moseying along. At this point, my light source companion bailed on me, not waiting to see what other horrors lurked in the darkness. She high-tailed it back into the house.

I sighed and wondered if she’d ever get over her irrational fear of all things creepy and crawly. There was just enough light that I could still make out fuzzy outlines of most things so I just soldiered on. I was almost at my destination; the end of the deck. I grabbed the food dish and then screamed even louder than my daughter. Inside the dish, coming towards my hand, was the largest daddy long legs I’d ever seen (trauma of the situation may have warped my recollection of events and size of said arachnid). I dropped the food dish with a mighty clatter and spilled out all of the remaining cat food. The raccoons fed well that night, I must tell you.

I bolted into the house even faster than my youngling and slammed the door. I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation and the entire day. My daughter, once learning what I’d done, joined in laughing at me. This, of course woke up my son who just looked at the two of us like we were insane. At that moment, I’m pretty sure I was.

Day two was pretty much a repeat of day one, with the added bonus of pain. Copious amounts of pain from all the work I’d done the day before. I knew I wasn’t in great shape, but it wasn’t very nice of the Ozark Hills to advertise this fact so maliciously. Also, the chickens were much less cooperative.

Yeah.

Less.

The Bitch didn’t fall for the old, let’s go into the dog crate routine so easily this time. Instead, she hid underneath the back roosting nest after leading us on quite the aerobic chase around the pen. I finally had to go get a long stick to prod her (gently) to come out. Her response was to run around the back side of the coop where only a slimmer, younger chick could fit. Let’s just say she got herself stuck in an embarrassing position – literally stuck between the coop and the fencing.

WTF?

That wasn’t in the manual.

I pulled the fencing out as far as I could to make it wider for her and she still remained stuck, flapping her little wings and running her legs in mid-air, like a chicken with her head cut…er,I mean, to no avail. I gave her a loving, gentle prodding with the stick (I swear, it was loving and gentle) and she finally came out. Still, it took another ten minutes to get That Bitch in the damned dog crate.  Another day in the hole.

That night, way past their bed time, the younger chicks decided to test the new babysitters. They weren’t ready to go quietly into the coop. I reread the instructions and it said we were supposed to chase them in to the coop – and that they were used to this. (HA! And again I say, HA!) As this was night time, and I thought this was a quick chore, like it had been the night before, I did the unthinkable – I forgot to spray, spray spray before going out to do this simple task. It took at least fifteen minutes to corral all of those damned psychotic chickens into their coop. And don’t think I wasn’t a little bit tempted at my weakest moment to bring out The Bitch to finish the job and chase them into the coop for me.

The other chores went a little smoother, although I did drop the cat food dish, again – less to spill this time. I think it was just a little PTSD from the night before. Or maybe from my entire experience thus far.

One nice thing about this day…

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…It ended with a bang!

Fireworks 1

And we only set one little small fire that was put out in a second. No problem.

(Did I mention that I woke up with the worst chigger bites all over my arms and legs?) Apparently, toothpaste works wonders for the itch when nothing else does, also you smell minty fresh. I thank my daughter for that home remedy she learned while watching some science program. You rock, even though you abandoned me in the dark. All is forgiven.

So what if the nice, relaxing country vacation where I could hang out with the kids and get some writing done didn’t happen exactly the way I thought it would. We eventually got into a better rhythm with the homestead and all of its creatures, even the psychotic chickens. By the fourth day, I woke up and didn’t feel crippling pain, just good, honest muscle ache – that I could work with. We all three had our stations in the chicken coop when it came time to put The Bitch in solitary and she went in with much less stress for all involved and in record time.

There were some really good moments, too. We made time to visit our favorite eating establishment there in Gainesville, Missouri. Antler Package & Pizza, otherwise referred to as The Antler, where they do indeed decorate with antlers and the heads that came with them.

Taking a break for dinner at our favorite Missouri hangout - Antlers.

Taking a break for dinner at our favorite Missouri hangout – The Antler.

Regardless of the décor, the food is to die for. Trevor devours the famous cheese pizza and my husband swears they have some of the best burgers around.

On the final day, once the sore muscles faded and the itching stopped, the chores were done, and there was time to just be, I had time to absorb my surroundings and this is where I was…

Trees at Sunset

and here…

Sunset Deck View 1 Sunset Deck View 2

and I did find some inspiration. So in the end, even the psychotic chickens were worth it.

I was down with a pretty nasty migraine, yesterday, so I missed World Autism Awareness Day and Light it Up Blue, but that’s okay.  In my more RSR2013logocolorlucid moments, I was with you all in spirit. I appreciate all of my friends who spoke out for me. And I have the rest of the month to make up for it, since April is Autism Awareness month. Our whole family will be running/walking to support our local autism center, The Autism Center of Tulsa in their big fund-raiser, the 7th annual Ready…Set…Run! 5K and Fun Run on April 27th.

We always turn this into a major event and get very creative with our team names. We love that our team has grown bigger every year, too! Last year, we were The Companions of Trevor (my son’s name) with a Dr. Who theme – complete with customized t-shirts for team members! This year, we’re going with a Walking Dead theme. Trevor has a favorite stuffed elephant named Fred, so we’re calling ourselves Trevor and the Walking Freds. Not too bad, eh? We’re inviting friends and family to come “zombie out” and be Walkers with us to help us raise money for a very worthy cause. If you feel like joining us or donating to our team, click here.

Some pics from last year’s walk:

Companions of Trevor 1Companions of Trevor 2Companions of Trevor 3Companions of Trevor 4

I’ve been told recently that I don’t talk much about what life is like with my son. I think sometimes it’s because I find it hard to explain what life with Trevor is like. I usually start by giving some lame generic definition of autism, explaining that it is a neurological disorder that affects 1 in 88 children, with deficits in social and communication skills, like that tells you anything about him. I guess I’m too close to it; autism has become so ingrained in my life that I can’t separate it. The adaptations I’ve made have become automatic. It affects every facet of my life – every decision I make, I have to think about how it will affect my son and his schedule. It’s like separating out your entire nervous system and explaining what it means to your body.

My son is a senior in high school this year. He still watches Sesame Street and The Wonder Pets. He reads at a third grade level. He needs supervision to do his daily chores and to complete activities of daily living. He has difficulty expressing his basic needs, especially when he’s angry, so he may become physically aggressive when frustrated. He can become fixated on one thought and ask you the same question over and over all day long. It can be exhausting just getting through a typical day, let alone a bad day. He is also very loving and caring. He hates to see anyone upset – even strangers, and especially babies. He doesn’t like it when anyone of us in the family are sad and always tries to cheer us up. I must get at least twenty hugs a day – not many mothers of teenagers can say the same.

There will be no going off to college next year for him. Instead, he will be working with some fantastic job coaches at A New Leaf and living at home. We will continue to help him to be as independent as possible. I know my son has a very different path set in front of him than his neurotypical peers and a very different time line for meeting certain goals – some goals may even be out of reach. But we won’t know unless we try. He has surprised us more than once on what he can do.

I love my friends to death, but sometimes all of their good news about their children’s bright futures is hard to stomach, especially when I’m just happy my son’s starting to socialize better and is no longer being combative with the school staff. My husband and I try to keep our perspective on him alone, his own personal timeline, but then there are those pivotal moments that sneak up on you – a child your child’s age does something that you know your child will never do. It can’t help but break your heart. We are human and we are allowed those moments of grief as much as we are allowed to find joy in those other moments when our children do something that for them is extraordinary that other parents would find mundane. There is a balance in there somewhere, we just have to find it.

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and depressed about our son’s future, but he is happy, so to me, that is just wasted energy. Besides, my son has helped me appreciate life in a very unique way and I’m much more patient now than I ever thought I could be. If that’s not a clear picture of autism, maybe that’s helped you become more aware. For more information on all things autism-related, check out these helpful websites: Autism Speaks and Autism Society of America.

The post I had planned for today was very different, but after an inspiring conversation over breakfast with my daughter, this is the one in most need of an expedient sharing.

The youngest of my younglings was regaling the tale of one of her male friends, one she considers to be like a younger brother and one she has taken it upon herself to mentor in the politics of love. In the past, he has come to her for advice on many things regarding the cryptic female species and has even asked for her approval over his choice of girlfriend – mostly to check out the girlnet of information to make sure his potential love interest isn’t a “psycho” or “too clingy” – that sort of thing. Apparently this is a reciprocal arrangement.

How thoughtful.

Love ActuallyAnyway, as my daughter had firmly given her seal of approval to his current girlfriend, she proceeded in her tale about how this young man had gone to elaborate lengths to ask this same young lady to the winter formal. It was a nice story including teddy bears, balloons, notes, and favorites chocolate candies. He had obviously put in a lot of time and consideration into his plan. She commented not that she wished someone would do that for her, but that she hadn’t realized how creative this boy could be. My daughter then said he asked her for suggestions on what he should do for Valentine’s Day for his girlfriend. Even after appreciating this grand gesture he had made earlier, my daughter said sure, he should get her some chocolate or something, but if he was only showing her that he cared about her on special occasions or when it was socially required, then he was missing the point.

Wow.

I couldn’t have been prouder.

And when the hell did she learn that?

My husband then walked into the room. My daughter told him about the elaborate winter formal popping-the-question story and then asked if he had ever done something like that, made a grand gesture when asking a girl to a prom or dance.

It may have been wrong of me to laugh, but I do know my husband. Grand romantic gestures are not in his chemical makeup. I can count on one imageshand the number of times I’ve received flowers from him over the past twenty-two years. He has on occasion even forgotten my birthday. Ouch.

It is a lovely thing to be appreciated by the one you love. And that is one thing, despite what I’ve said so far, that my husband is actually fantastic at doing. Many times he has said to me, “Have I told you how much I love you, today?” or “You are my best friend.” just out of the blue because he was moved to do so. I have never felt uncertain of his feelings for me and I’m never jealous of other people. What more could one want in this world than a companion who one trusts and who really gets you?

I can’t count how often he has done little things for me without me even asking, like rubbing my neck when I’ve spent the day writing and I’m all achy or bringing me chocolate when he knows I’ve had a stressful day at home with the kids. Sure, he may also bring me some truffles on Valentine’s Day, but not because he has to, but because he knows I have a major chocolate addiction. Sometimes he’ll actually wait until the day after Valentine’s Day when the boxes of chocolate are half price. I don’t mind. I still get my chocolate fix – and maybe in a bigger box. I have come to be a huge fan of the smaller, more frequent realistic gestures of love.

May all of you have more of them in your life as well.

Happy Random Day in February!

Ours is not a society that embraces failure. We teach our children to reach for the stars, be number one. After all, the goal of a game, a contest of any kind, is to win, not to come in second. You don’t hear the national anthem for the team who wins the silver medal. No one chants at sporting events, “We’re Number Two!”(Unless you’re watching Whip It and you’re cheering for those lovable underdogs, The Hurl Scouts. Gotta love ‘em.)

We all want to be the winners; by extension, we all want to see our kids succeed.

And that means not repeating our mistakes.

How can we keep that from happening? How do we ensure that their road will be less bumpy than ours was? How in the hell do we insulate them, protect them from the big, bad world?

We don’t.

We can’t do that if we want them to grow.

According to a Psychology Today article: Mistakes Improve Children’s Learning, one of the worst things a parent can do is cover up a child’s mistake or correct their homework for them so they get a better grade. Even worse is to praise their intelligence. This actually makes them “less likely to persist in the face of challenges.” Kids praised for their intelligence see any mistake as a sign of failure and will give up early on whereas kids praised for their efforts persevere when they make mistakes and will try different approaches to a problem and succeed at much higher rates. Interesting, yes?

Still, letting your children fail is no easy thing.

Rationally, I understand this concept, but when one of my children is sobbing because she feels stupid after she’s failed spectacularly at something and doesn’t think she can suffer the mortal embarrassment another moment, I forget that encouraging my child to try again, to find her own solution is good for her. Instead, I want to give her the answer. I want to help her avoid the mistakes I made. I have to fight the urge to rescue, to solve the problem for her, to tell her that she’s smart.

Similarly, many writers find it difficult to let their characters fail.

It feels like a betrayal. We are like their parents, are we not? We create them, we coerce their deepest, darkest secrets out of them – what they want most in the world – and then we deny them that very thing, putting obstacle after obstacle in their path, hurting them again and again until their lives are beyond unbearable. We have to. Otherwise, we’re not writing a good story. There are times that we may be tempted to rescue our characters, to make life a little easier, to solve the problem for them. As with our real children, we’d be doing them a grave disservice.

Recently, it came to our attention that all of our efforts at trying to “help” solve our child’s problems were only creating more stress and pressure on our child and not allowing her to find her own solutions. We would have to let go and allow our child the chance to succeed or fail on her own. This had us both very worried. I mean, how far should we let her fall? What if she totally gave up on herself and never recovered? What if we were labeled: The Worst. Parents. EVER?

Amazingly, that didn’t happen. When the stress of our constant “helping” was gone and our child was given the responsibility of solving her own problems, she did it. She came up with solutions that we may not have chosen, but they worked. She was able to experience successes – her own successes. And we were there to cheer her on.

In all good stories, the character must learn something from their experiences – must grow or change as a result of what they’ve been through. That can only happen if they face their own obstacles; if they live through the gut-wrenching experiences and solve their own problems. No one else can do it for them.

Nobel Prize winner Danish Physicist Niels Bohr once said, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

I like that.

I might reach that expert level in parenting. Maybe even in writing as well. I still have plenty of mistakes left to make in both fields, but maybe someday…

I am often taken by surprise when others remark on how amazed they are that I find any time to write because I have a son with autism. Maybe because I don’t know any other way. Maybe because I have to write and I must find the time.

True, some days he can be very demanding. Here are some typical interactions we have on those trying days:

“Mom, are you having a good day?” (This is asked at five minute intervals.)

“Mom, are you hungry?” (Which means he’s hungry and I need to find him something to eat before he uproots the pantry and the fridge trying to find something on his own.)

“Mom can we order an Abby doll?” (Which means he wants me to buy him a character doll from the Disney movie Chicken Little that you cannot buy anywhere on the planet, but my son refuses to believe this and continues to ask for several times a day even when told “no” – not a pretty argument.)

“Mom, where is Dad?” (This is also asked at five minute intervals even after he’s given the answer.)

“Mom, can Joey and Ashley come over to our house?” (Or whatever relatives couldn’t possibly travel large distances to reach our house today – another fun way to disappoint him.)

“Mom, you look great.” (Said repeatedly, but not often enough.)

“Look, Mom! Bananas!” (I must then pretend to be hit with a face full of bananas and cry, then Trevor will console me and apologize for ‘hitting’ me with said pretend bananas. yeah, thanks for THAT game, DAD. Also repeated ad nauseum.)

Not to mention the odd number of head noogies and bone-crushing hugs that come out of nowhere.

On these days, I do struggle to find time for anything else, let alone time to form a cohesive thought or capture that thought onto the computer in a string of words that make any sense at all. (I should always stop writing once he asks any of these questions the first time. Always.)

And he is only one person in my family that requires some of my attention. My time is in high demand.

So how do I find time to write?

I steal it.

Writing is more than just a hobby to me. It is something that I have to do. If I’m not allowed to express myself through the written word, I will… well maybe not climb a clock tower and do something blood thirsty and violent, but I will be extremely cranky. You don’t want to see me when I’m cranky. Just ask my family.

So. Instead of making their lives unbearable, I get up early in the morning while they’re all still asleep – and more importantly, silent – and I write.

Without interruption.

For as long as I can.

Some days I steal the time while they are all away at school or work. On those days, there are many other things I could do with this time; laundry, walk the dogs, yard work, etc., but none of those things will fulfill me as much as my writing. Maybe it’s selfish to use this time just for me, but when I do get to exorcise my writing demons and exhaust that creative spirit, I don’t resent my family’s demands on my time. I’m a much more patient parent, a more tolerant spouse.

I am happy.

And we all know that when Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

I think we all have to steal a little time for ourselves, to be selfish a bit with our time. If we don’t take any time to pursue our own interests, we cannot be there for our loved ones without feeling resentment or frustration.

Make sure you take a little time this week to be selfish. Your family will appreciate it.

Patience is its Own Reward

Being the mom of a son with autism, I often hear things like, “You are so patient with him” or “You have the patience of Job”.  Sure, I can stand my ground in a public place while my son is yelling at me, throwing a code red tantrum, and not only keep calm with him, but even if someone comes over to offer help or to ask me to keep it down, I can turn to them – while remaining placid as a lake in Canada and controlling my desire to throttle them – and say, “My son has autism and I’ve got this under control. Thank you.” Yeah, the whole patience thing was totally developed by necessity and definitely not by my choice, I can tell you.

I am not naturally a patient person.

One only has to hop in the car with me and go for a drive, then you’ll see me at my worst. (Only in really heavy traffic and then I only swear like a sailor and make creative hand gestures while having loud, one-sided conversations with the other drivers. I’m not dangerous or anything, honest.) I learned the hard way that if you beg, plead, scream and yell, or stomp your feet at a kid with autism to cajole him into doing what you want, if he’s not ready or willing to do it, odds are he’s not going to do it EVER – the mountain will not be moved – and all of your efforts to force him will only makes things worse.

This reminds me a lot of my writing journey thus far. I’ve had to learn to be patient many times over – it’s like someone out there is trying to tell me something as I bang my head up against wall after wall. (Patience is important or a virtue or something, I don’t know.) I’ve wanted to be a published children’s writer more than anything. Before I joined a critique group or let anyone even read my first story, I wrote out a picture book manuscript, I’m the Princess!,  somewhere over three thousand words long. I had to cut it down to two thousand words – and I thought that was quite an accomplishment – to submit it to a writing contest. I was sure that winning this contest would be my key to getting published quickly. I was so confident that my story was the best, that I waited for the inevitable notification of my win. When it didn’t come, I was completely shocked. I didn’t even place! What was wrong with those people? Didn’t they recognize talent when they saw it?

After my denial wore off, I decided that maybe I needed to try something else. Thankfully, it wasn’t long afterwards that I came to my senses and joined SCBWI. I was so embarrassed when I learned that the average length of a picture book manuscript shouldn’t really be any longer than fifteen hundred words. (Now, I think they like them even shorter.)  I realized after studying many well written picture books and learning more about the whole writing process that I’m not really a picture book writer. Picture books are extremely hard to write well and are a completely different animal. I think the best ones are more like poetry. Maybe some day I’ll master that format, but I know I am far from it right now. Until then, I’m the Princess! will stay buried deep in the vault, as a painful reminder of where I started. Although it did make a brief appearance at one of our local SCBWI schmoozes where some of us brought examples of our writing comparing our early works to our recent works, to show how we’d grown as writers. Yes, the laughter was the loudest during the reading of my “before” example. Okay, I can’t keep you in suspense, here’s just the first paragraph:

Princess Isabelle fluttered her dark eyelashes as she opened her dazzling deep blue eyes. A sunbeam fell across her long wavy light brown hair, making an ocean of golden thread on her pillow. She sat up slowly and stretched her delicate arms into the air, her perfectly pink mouth opened into a tiny, perfect yawn. A most enchanting smile crossed her face as she remembered her plan for mischief this morning. She jumped out of bed, slammed open her huge golden doors and yelled down the corridor.

That’s all the sample I can bear. I’m afraid it didn’t get any better in the following paragraphs. I left nothing to the illustrator’s imagination – mistake number one. (No need to go through them all, seriously, this manuscript was thoroughly dissected at the schmooze.) How could I have crammed so many flowery descriptors into one mouthful? OMG! That is just painful to look at.

Still, I didn’t learn all the lessons in patience that I needed to. I did realize that I wanted to tell too much of the story for the picture book format and moved on to the daunting middle grade format. I was scared at first. How could I possibly write an entire novel? Three thousand words was easy, but thirty thousand words? Fifty thousand? Impossible! But I started writing anyway. Slowly. One chapter at a time. I studied my craft and learned as much as I could this time about the rules of the middle grade format. I attended conferences and joined a critique group. I started reading middle grade novels like crazy. Finally, a few years later, I had my first completed middle grade novel and my critique group loved it. It still needed to be revised and had some plot issues to work out, but it was a great start. I was a real writer. But sometimes it was hard to hear about other writers in our group sending off their work to editors and agents; I wanted to be doing that, too. I went ahead and sent out work that wasn’t anywhere near ready. I received form rejection letters in return for my trouble. Oh, patience! When would you be mine?

After so many form rejections I lost count, no personals, and no requests for fulls, something told me it was time to go back to the drawing board. Then, while in the middle of revisions on my first middle grade and halfway through the first draft of my second middle grade, I had this idea for a YA novel that would not go away. It was so different from what I’d been writing I was a little worried about switching gears so completely. I remembered something I’d heard an author at a conference I’d attended (I think it was Rachel Cohn, but I can’t be sure) about following the voice that pulls you the strongest and I knew I had to at least try it.

I was beyond nervous the first time I brought a chapter of Institutionalized to my critique group. They were surprised by the change of direction, some of the language, and content, but they also loved the main character and THE VOICE. I’d finally gotten it right. And once passed the initial shock, they all were on board and so supportive. I wrote this one so much faster and so differently than all the others. I knew this was one THE ONE. This time, though I didn’t want to rush it. I received some critiques from editors and agents at conferences, all with positive results and some very helpful constructive criticisms. I did the necessary revisions and had it critiqued again and did more revising. Finally it was time to start sending it out. YIKES!

The results so far have been much more promising than the first time, with personal rejections and helpful comments and requests for additional pages, but the road is far from over and I still find myself looking too far into the future, wistfully wanting to skip the necessary steps and be crossing that damned elusive publishing finish line already. One day at a time and one step at a time. I know, I know!

Do you ever find yourself feeling impatient with where you are as a writer? Do you ever wonder ‘why don’t they see how talented I am and pick me already?’ What are some of your embarrassing stories along your road to publication? I’d love to hear them.

Am I kissable?

The recent uproar surrounding Ashley Judd and the ugly media speculation on her changing appearance and her thoughtful response really got me thinking about a conversation I had with a close relative (who wishes to remain anonymous). It started something like this:

“I need this new lip gloss.”

“What? Why? You have tons of makeup.”

“It will give me more confidence.”

“What!?!”

“That’s what it says.”

“You’re joking.”

She was not joking.

That was the beginning of the most disturbing conversation I’ve ever had with her. Voices were raised. Tears were shed. It was very uncomfortable for both of us. When we finally got down to the heart of  the matter, she revealed that she thought of herself as some disfigured troll that couldn’t go out among normal, flawless humans without a coat of protective camouflage hiding all of her most hideous deformities, and that she actually needed this new lip gloss to feel better about herself.  The Kissaholic Lip Gloss from Victoria’s Secret did not promise to boost one’s confidence as it turns out; it only promised to “increase lip volume for a fuller, sexier, more kissable pout”, apparently something my young anonymous female relative, who has very full lips to begin with, was in desperate need of acquiring. The advertising went on to say that it was “infused with an exotic blend of aphrodisiac ingredients designed to inspire desire.” How embarrassing to have to explain to me that she wanted, needed to feel desired by someone. And how embarrassing for me to have to explain that she had been duped by a marketing campaign aimed at her vulnerable heart.

I was in shock. Did she really think that beauty was all she had to offer anyone? Had I myself influenced this young woman in any way to be so dependent on her looks for her self-esteem?

I hoped not. I knew better. I had taken some enlightening college courses in the past and I was amazed at what I learned from a paper I read on toy advertising; how we as women are subjected to not only societal expectations, but blatant marketing strategies encouraging us even as young girls in toy commercials to find satisfaction and pride in our physical appearance and care-taking skills, unlike boys who are encouraged to take pride in skills like problem-solving and risk-taking.  One of my favorite passages came from another paper I read entitled Analysis of Gender Identity Through Doll & Action Figure Politics in Art Education by Anna Wagner-Ott, an associate professor at California State University at Sacramento:

“It is from popular culture that most people weave their identities and establish their relationships with others and the environment. Mass media images saturate our lives, structuring much of what we know beyond personal experience.” (Duncum, 1997, p.70)

She wanted her paper to help other art educators to “gain insight into how cultural forms, marketing, and aesthetic productions are generating gender identities” and to help them emancipate their students from these contemporary forms of domination. Heavy stuff.

After studying these subjects, I wanted to make sure my own daughter knew that she was more than just a pretty face. I made sure I told her often that she was smart, compassionate, a talented artist, and a tough soccer player among many other things. I couldn’t help it that she heard from other people that she was also beautiful.

Then puberty hit and that struggle to find her unique identity within the crowd and “Mom you couldn’t possibly understand what I’m going through” period came along with it.  Although I do know exactly what she’s going through, there is no way she’ll believe it and there’s no way I can make it any easier for her. My compliments hailing her many fine attributes now fall on deaf ears. She’ll have to survive her own battle of self-esteem.

So how do you fight against that overwhelming tide of societal norms and let your children know it’s okay to be exactly who they are and that they are more than a beautiful face? As with Ashley Judd’s comments, I am reminded just how much other young girls – other women – help perpetuate the obsession with YOUTH and BEAUTY and devalue those who stray from this path.  How quick are we to say something snarky about someone else gaining weight or a cosmetic surgery job gone wrong? How many women hold real positions of power? What do we say about them? Do we value each other as women for traits NOT tied to appearance? Do we cheer other women on for their accomplishments or tear them down? If we want our daughters to be valued and teach them to find value in themselves, we need to lead the way. Do you agree? How do you teach your daughter to love herself for all that she is?

I leave you with a fantastic performance by slam poet Katie Makkai that I am stealing from another awesome blog. (thank you, Cassie.)

Somehow I thought I’d already posted this. I blame the chaotic air of spring break on my scatterbrainedness.

Life can sometimes be unfair for our two children – not only because the lottery draw of life gave them to me and my equally insane husband. No, this week, when they finally got a chance to take a break from school, recharge their batteries, enjoy the lives of sloths and do what they pleased, Mother Nature threw them a curveball; four days of torrential downpours and gloomy, depressing skies. One can only watch so much crappy TV and soak up so much  Twitter and Facebook feeds – with breaks for reading one’s favorite books, of course! – before one’s brain goes numb. Two teens cooped up with only their mother for company? UGH!  And then the unpredictable spurts of energy and hormonal surges can make captivity even more unbearable. Inevitably every few minutes one of them would come pester me – during prime writing time – for something to do. Hard to concentrate under those conditions. Eventually I threw them outside in the rain and let them jump on the trampoline to exorcise their inner teen demons – who cares if they get soaked and the trampoline cuts trenches in the lawn if I can have a few moments of quiet? They came back in shivering and sated, if not just a little bit calmer. There were other moments of pure insanity brought on by the cabin fever that I cannot even mention as my daughter would die of embarrassment if I revealed them.

When I escaped in the middle of the week for my critique group, I pointed at my kids and said to my husband, “You’ve got to do something with them before they blow a gasket. Good luck.” Then I bolted. Hey, sometimes, it’s survival of the fittest, even in the family group. I knew my husband was strong enough, besides, he’d escaped most of the week at work. He’d been around other fairly normal adults and had somewhat intelligent conversations. I NEEDED TO GET OUT, DO YOU HEAR ME?  In the end, he had a brilliant idea of turning the house into a thumping rave party. He wore the kids out by cranking up the stereo and making everyone dance till they dropped. I’m sure the neighbors loved it. Everyone was worn out when I returned, so that’s all that mattered.

Today, all that’s left in our pantry are the last bits of granola bars, aging blueberries, some leftover stir-fry, and the rest of the (eeew!) healthy snacks – everything else was scarfed up days ago; no one wanted to venture out for more provisions. The dogs are getting wary of us. Finally, this morning the rain has stopped, the sun blinding our weak eyes. We are preparing to leave this place that has become too cramped and go anywhere else but here. Just in time. I think we might survive.

Under these conditions, I did not make as much progress toward my goals as I had hoped. Next week should be much more productive, and much more peaceful.

Goals for March:

  • Complete my novel revision - Closing in on the halfway mark at page 149 out of 325. Really need to pick up the pace in the final week! 
  • Post two blog entries each week – Goal met! At least one out of three still made, not ideal, but I’ll take it.
  • Update my journal project and keep it current – Not even close. No progress made on this goal at all. Notes in my head don’t count.

How are you doing on your writing goals?

I am a newbie blogger, just closing in on my first month, so it’s hard for me to tell how this experiment is going. I’m enjoying it and the feedback I’m getting is positive, but let’s get real, no one’s going to say “you suck! quit now and spare us all your constant moaning and endless babbling drivel!” right to your face. So I was run-around-the-house-screaming-like-an-insane-teeanger happy to receive my first peer blog award.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! to Lissa Clouser for nominating me for the Kreativ Blogger Award! That was so thoughtful. I am new to this sensation so if I mess this up at all (or forget to thank any little people I’ve trampled on my way to the top) please forgive me.  Here’s what I’ve been instructed to do as part of my duties for receiving this award:

1. Thank the blogger who gave you the award and provide a link.

2. List 7 interesting things about yourself that your readers might find interesting

3. Nominate 7 other bloggers, provide links, and let them know!

So Lissa, thank you again. (Wiping tears out of my eyes.) On to the seven interesting things about me…

  1. I once was runner-up in a beauty pageant when I was three years-old. (There were two of us in my category.) My only memory from this glorious event was being onstage and making the people laugh. When I asked my dad about it, he said that I had almost walked off the end of the stage. I think my mom realized that I was not meant to be a beauty queen as that ended my brief stint on the pageant circuit.
  2. I once worked as a nanny in Albany, New York, for a little over a year. I took care of a sweet young boy who belonged to two eye surgeons. He would now be over twenty years old, which makes me feel ancient. It was a fascinating experience in so many ways.
  3. I have some talent for drawing, although I’ve only taken one art class in my life – while in Albany, interestingly enough. My drawings and my writing ability actually helped me gain admittance to a college I really wanted to go to when my grades wouldn’t quite get me there. That’s when I realized that maybe I had a talent for both writing and drawing. Although drawing takes a LOT more time and effort for me to get right.
  4. I was NOT the best student in high school (ergo, the reason my grades needed help getting me into that college). I skipped school. A LOT. (Sorry if you’re reading this , Dad.) I was very creative about how to get around the limit of days you could miss. Once they realized I was forging my dad’s signature, I started getting notes from my doctor’s office. I’d drop by early in the morning after missing THREE DAYS IN A ROW! (I know, I was awful!) I would tell the secretary that the doctor said I could pick up a note for whatever illness I could think of at the time and she’d just write me one without question. So, most of my absences were EXCUSED. I wasn’t out doing anything naughty, I was really just depressed and couldn’t handle being there.  Most of the time, I’d stay home and read or watch TV. Boring. Too bad I didn’t put my evil powers to good use back then.
  5. I have a child with autism. This affects every facet of my life and my son definitely keeps life interesting. A simple trip to the grocery store or to the movies can become an adventure. One thing living with a child with autism has done is make me fearless. When his anxiety is high and the stimuli around him is overwhelming causing him to freak out or he does something odd, I honestly do not care what others think of me or my son. When I notice someone gawking, I realize that they truly do not understand him or what is happening and it does not matter. My son and his needs are more important than anything a stranger may think of me or my parenting abilities.
  6. My best friend in the whole world is the most amazing person (and he’s not my husband – I put husbands in a separate category). David and I have been friends since about the first grade. We’ve had many adventures together including night-time photography experiments where we got eaten alive by mosquitoes and our short-lived band, Johnny Sheet and the Pillowheads, that I hope one day will have a revival and maybe headline with the Geek-o-ramas. Our friendship has been tested a few times including a rather thoughtless midnight serenade by me and a bunch of my friends when David had to get up the next day at the crack of dawn. David is the most dynamic person I know and has always influenced me to be a better person. He accepts me with all of my faults. As an example, whenever we went out somewhere, knowing that I was always, ALWAYS late, he never bitched at me or complained about my lateness, he would just tell me I needed to be somewhere thirty minutes earlier than I had to, so I’d show up on time. Brilliant, eh? I never knew until a few years ago (after I stopped being chronically late – I swear!).   Everybody needs at least one person in their life who has their back no matter what. Besides Tim, David is mine.
  7. Finally, although I am very liberal, I have many friends who are not – staunch republicans, in fact. The hell you say! How is that possible? Maybe it is the writer in me, but I find people of every kind infinitely fascinating. I love listening to each person’s life story. Every person has a unique story and I am surprised by at least one thing I hear when they tell me about their lives. What I’ve found most interesting when I take the time to listen, is that I can find a way to relate to each person on some level – something we have in common. We may not always agree on politics or on religious issues and many may think I am extremely weird for something as simple as not taking my husband’s last name, but humanity in as universal concept, no? Besides, if I expect to ever be heard by anyone else, shouldn’t I be willing to listen?

And those are hopefully seven interesting facts about me. Now on to the next seven victims, er…lucky nominees. Here are seven blogs that I find intriguing and/or supportive of writers in general and hope you do as well. Stop by and check them out.

  1. Laura Stanfill
  2. Michelle Pierce
  3. Rebekah Loper
  4. Jamie Dement 
  5. Becca Weston
  6. Ashley Nixon
  7. K.T. Hanna

Congratulations, fellow bloggers! I pass on to you this Kreativ Blogger Award!