Sunday, December 16, 2012

Because I Don't Know What Else to Say

To the teachers and staff of Oakland Elementary,

In the wake of the tragedy in Connecticut, I have had a desire to express my appreciation for what each and every one of you do. It shouldn’t take a tragedy of this magnitude to cause me to say “Thank You,” but if one good thing has come out of this, it is that it has forced me to see all the blessings in my life.

Very few teachers and staff at an elementary school will be called to make the ultimate sacrifice for their students, but you all make great sacrifices every day that largely go unnoticed. You take the most important things in my life and try to mold them into something greater—what a responsibility! And with the pressure from a society that always expects more out of our school system as if you should shoulder the burden of raising children instead of parents. It’s all so overwhelming, and yet you all do it so well and seamlessly.

Whenever someone asks me where my kids go to school and I respond with Oakland Elementary, they almost always respond with a nod of their head and by saying, “Yes. That’s a good school.” Those people don’t say that because the building in is good condition. They don’t say it because of test scores. They don’t say it because Oakland Elementary students rack up more AR points than other students. They say it because of the faculty and staff. They say it because every person who receives a paycheck from Oakland Elementary truly cares about the children who attend there.

And I have learned so much from Oakland teachers as well. Things that they have taught my children that I use in my life, like: “You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.” “Just do your best.” “Ignore that person and they’ll go away.” These are such crucial life lessons that we all benefit from remembering.

I have been blessed with too much free time on my hands that has allowed me to volunteer at Oakland and I have seen first hand many of the drills that the children are put through. I kept remembering those drills this weekend and it brought me a modicum of comfort. There’s only so much we can prepare for and I feel like Oakland is as prepared as you can possibly be.

Thank you again for the effort and sacrifice of every person there. This world would be hollow without people like you.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Right Side of Brain, Meet Left Side

I get really weird when I write.

Shut up you people who know me who are looking at your computer screen with your eyebrows raised right now, muttering under your breath, "Not just when you write." You know who you are. Just shut up!

Anyway, like I was saying, I get really weird when I write. Really weird and artsy and a little pompous. I almost want to put a beret askew on my head, paint a little moustache above my lip, hang an unlit cigarette from my mouth, and rant about the ignorance in the world. Yeah, really weird.

I almost feel sacred about the whole artistic experience of writing. Ideas about outlining, word quotas, and blasted grammar--I spit on you! I am an artist! Artists don't outline! They just create!

I like to think of writing a book like going on a hike. I might start off on a trailhead, but once I get going, I'm just going to wander around in the woods for a while and go where it looks interesting which may or may not be on the trail where I began.

The novel that I'm working on now was a lot twistier than I expected it to be. I started out writing it in first person and then decided that the protagonist's sister was interesting so I switched to multiple thirds so I could add a POV for her, then I wrote a flash fiction piece about a doctor and I really liked him and could picture him in the story so I added a POV for him, and then the sisters' dead mother started showing up in journal entries, and then the original protagonist's sister got really, really interesting and stole the show from the protagonist and I had to make her the main character. What I'm trying to say is, I got a little confused along the way.

What's a confused, artistic writer who's wandering around in the woods supposed to do?

Well . . . it's true . . . I created a storyboard. I'm sorry right side of the brain, we'll finger paint later to make up for it.

It actually was quite helpful and a little cathartic and still a bit artsy. I bought a package of multi-colored post-it notes and a poster board and I designated a post-it note color for each of my POV characters based on their personalities. Yellow for the main character, pink for her sister, blue for the good doctor, and orange for the dead mother. Each scene got a post-it note with a quick sentence summing up the scene and each chapter break was separated with a purple post-it note. It was remarkable, it allowed me to see my whole book all at once and ensure that I was balancing the POVs properly with my main character getting the most sticky notes and the journal entries doted around like little exclamation marks.

It also, unfortunately, helped me to . . . gulp . . . outline future scenes. If I knew I wanted to write a scene of my main character at a wedding dancing the electric slide at a future point in the book, I would write myself a note in that character's color and stick it on the poster board.

And it's so pretty to look at! If you had a room all to yourself to write in or a husband that loved it that you were a writer and wanted to constantly be reminded of that by looking at your storyboard every day, then it would be great to hang on your wall. I don't have either one of those, so mine stays folded up and a little wonky beside my bed.

Still . . . good clean fun for the left side of your brain.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Yay! My first short story is unleashed on the world, courtesy of Brawler Lit! I hope you were ready world. Sorry about the worty dirdy! Clever and brutal? All at the same time?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tooth Fairy Pillowcase

Let me just say that I hate the person who came up with the Tooth Fairy. I try not to do that, hate a whole entire person like that, but this one deserves it.

I mean, Santa Claus has it bad enough, having to sneak around after the kids have gone to sleep and set up pleasing displays of presents in the living room very, very quietly, but the Tooth Fairy! Good grief, the Tooth Fairy has to actually enter the sleeping child's bedroom, lift the sleeping child's head and trade a tiny, eensy, weensy, little tooth for money. And if the Tooth Fairy is caught in the middle of the trade, then that's it, game over, all childhood fantasies are ruined forever and child will probably have to have years of therapy to get over the fact that their parents lied!

Stress. Ful.

Plus, my kids always make sure to lose a tooth on days when I have done something really dramatic, like vacuum, and am completely exhausted and just want to go to bed at nine o'clock at night for the love of God! What will happen is, they will wiggle the tooth at 8:55 and wiggle it at 8:57 and wiggle it at 8:59 and then as soon as I pull the covers up to my chin, they will run into my room, triumphant, tooth in hand.

I will feign excitement over the lost tooth while secretly cursing my ruined early bedtime. Now, I have to stay up, wait for the kid to get over their excitement of loosing a tooth, wait for the kid to finally lay back on his pillow with the tooth underneath, wait for the kid to get up three more times to show me how he can now stick his tongue in the empty space between his teeth, wait for the kid to get up three more times to tell me how he can no longer say, "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," wait for the kid to get up three more times to tell me that he has another loose tooth . . . and then once child has finally gotten to sleep, I will forget all about my role and go to sleep too only to awaken in a panic at three a.m., run to my wallet to discover that I have no cash, take cash out of my kid's wallet, stumble all over my kid's bedroom, search for fifteen minutes under the kid's pillow for the tooth, find it, lose it, find it, make the switch, and return to my bed, now too flustered to go back to sleep.

To help with this (somewhat) I made a handy tooth fairy pillowcase for my kids and it has been a godsend. It has a Velcro removable pocket for the tooth and a pocket sewn onto the pillowcase to put the Velcro pocket in. Each pillowcase is also treated with fairy dust that makes the kid go straight to sleep so that the Tooth Fairy can come.

My nephew's birthday was coming up so I made one for him because what does a four-year-old want more than anything in this world? That's right--a pillowcase!

Since this was for a boy, I had some difficulty finding material that he would like for several years. As usual, I found tons of fabrics that would have been so cute for a girl, but boys are tricky, so I went with blue and green because it's bright and fun and I was sick of walking around the fabric store with my shopping cart with the squeaky wheel.

A pillowcase has to be the easiest thing in the world to sew. It was the first thing that I learned how to make, but whenever I go to make one, I always forget how to do it and have to drag out a pillowcase, turn it inside out, measure it, sniff it, and take out a few seams to figure it out. I mean, seriously, I made this lovely dress for my daughter with layers and layers of tulle and chiffon, but I struggled with how to make a pillowcase. And I've made TONS of pillowcases!

I was going to do this whole cool tutorial on how to make a pillowcase, but I tried and I quickly discovered that I suck at tutorials. So, go here to figure out how to make a pillowcase, 'kay. Since this is my blog, I must make one small modification--between steps one and two insert the instructions, "Pour a glass of wine." When  you're done with the pillowcase, cut a piece of fabric 7"x8" and turn under the ends and sew onto the pillowcase and then cut a piece of fabric 11"x5", turn under ends on each narrow side and sew Velcro strips to each narrow end, then pin wrong sides together, sew the seams, and turn inside out.

See. I told you I suck at tutorials.

And here's what you get!

Fun! Yay! Now we can all find the tooth! If someone can help me find some cash to give to the kid (because my kids don't accept debit card payments from the Tooth Fairy yet) and a way to stop banging my head on the top bunk, I'm open for suggestions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Awards Day

I wrote this a few years ago when First Son was in first grade. After going to Second Son's awards day this morning where over half his class made all A's for the entire year, I was reminded of it. It's the whole, all-the-kids-are-above-average and if-everyone-is-special-no-one-is thing.  

Welcome to awards day! 

Can we please have every single child in first grade line up on stage to be recognized for their achievements. First we will hand out awards from our twisted reading program that strives to help children to learn that reading is first and foremost about the number of points that one can accumulate. As we all know, children hate to read. Hate it. All children. They hate to read. Didn’t you all know that? So what we do, is give your children points for the books they read and this my friends insures that they will not pick up a book based on an intrinsic love for reading, but instead for the point value associated with it. And we’re all okay with that, right? Good. Here’s an award for every child for participating in the twisted program. 

Next, let’s move on and honor all of our average students. Here’s your award and a medal for being average. Stand up and take a bow. We are all so, so, so proud of you for your mediocrity. Can we give a hand for the average kids? Great! 

Okay, next we move on to the kids who aren’t quite average. Yes, you too get an award and a medal because you did come to school and you did try hard. Or maybe you didn’t try too hard, but I’m sure that you all meant to try hard and that my friends deserves an award and a medal. Because meaning to try hard some of the time sure does make you special. 

Our above-average students will also receive the same award and medal as our average and below average students, because we don’t want to make the other kids feel bad. What we want to do is make sure that all of these kids feel good about themselves because an over-inflated ego will take them far in life. 

And while we’re on the subject, aren’t you so proud of us for not handing out ribbons on field day? I mean, first place, second place, third place, does it really matter? Field day is just about having fun, we don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that some kids are better at some field day events than other kids. That might cause hurt feelings and no one wants that. 

That’s it for awards day. Thank you all for coming out. If anyone has any suggestions on how to fix the education system in this country, let us know, because we can’t figure out why it’s not working. I mean, the kids all feel great about themselves, they just can’t show that on the tests. What could we possibly be doing that’s not working? 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Can I? Huh? Huh? Can I?

I got up early this Sunday and marveled at the stillness of my house. Husband had an early game of sand soccer at the beach and kids were sacked out, exhausted from our busy Saturday.  I thought about going back to sleep, spending the morning in bed, but then I thought about that huge, luscious Sunday paper—crossword puzzles (not one, but two) and Sudoku  (not the easy one’s that appear in the paper Monday through Saturday that I can do with my eyes shut, but the challenging one) and Cryptograms. I thought about the ads, slick pages full of stuff I wanted to buy. I would save the Target ad for last, like dessert.

I slid out of bed, tiptoed down the stairs, poured a cup of coffee, quietly opened the front door, and retrieved the paper. I sat at the kitchen table and readied myself for some quality, uninterrupted newspaper time. As soon as I slid the paper out of the plastic sleeve, six little feet clomped down the stairs and demanded food, drink, and entertainment.

After the tenth request to play the wii, I had a moment of panic. Husband and I don’t allow video games at all for First Son during the school year and very little for Second Son. But they are both allowed to play during summer vacation and it’s starting next week. I cannot listen to “Can I play the wii?” ten thousand times a day for three months. I cannot! So, instead of reading the paper and doing puzzles, I opened up Excel and made these flyers for First and Second Son because the newspaper keeps and sanity does not.

They can play the wii twice a day for forty-five minutes, but first they have to tear off the little forty-five minute tag on that day of the week and give it to me so that I can set the timer. They can’t play wii without tearing off that tag. And once their two tags are gone for that day, they are done playing wii, no argument (yeah, right!), no exceptions. I know—ingenious!  

I made First Son’s tags yellow because he is a huge Steelers fan (Ugh! Gross!) and Second Son’s tags red because for some odd reason that I don’t recall, he is a huge Arizona Cardinals fan. Hopefully, this will be a small step towards making my summer more peaceful. If someone has an idea on how to make them stop saying, “I’m bored,” or “I’m hungry” ten thousand times a day, I’m all ears!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Write by Not Writing

Okay, so, I'm working on a new novel at the moment because my previous three were such blockbuster hits and the world can't get enough of me. You asked for a fourth novel world (actually, just my mom) and now you're going to get it.

The problem is . . . I don't especially want to write it. I just want it to be written. I also don't want to cook supper tonight. I just want it to be cooked. And in case you're wondering, no, I don't want to go to Pilates tomorrow. I just want to magically have sculpted arms and a flat belly.

Alas, life is not that simple.

I know what you're thinking—all that, "the joy is in the doing," crap and "peace can be found in simple things." I maybe could get behind that, but it's graduation season and I am over motivational speeches for a while. Check me in August and see how I feel. Right now, if I read another post on Facebook that summarizes Oh the Places You Will Go, I'm going to vomit.

So tonight, First Son was at soccer tryouts with Husband, and Second Son and Daughter were immersed in TV (don't worry, it was educational!), so I thought I would tackle the novel that doesn't want to be written.

I wrote a few paragraphs of my characters walking around, scratching their butts, and complaining about the weather just because I felt like I needed to do SOMETHING with these people I've created. I've written about a hundred pages and I was starting to feel like I left them all hanging off a cliff with the promise that I would come back at a later date and rescue SOME of them, not sure who just yet.

I felt sick with myself and my boring pages and I slammed the laptop shut (don't tell Husband) and decided that I was done writing. Not only was I done writing this novel, but I was done writing in general. Hopefully my kids won't need any more sick notes for school, because I'm not going to write them! They will have to have unexcused absences, because I HATE writing and I'm never, ever writing another word for as long as I live!

I go through this from time to time. I know, it's disgusting. Usually, what gets me out of it is physical activity of some sort, but unfortunately, I decided last week that I was done with running. Not only was I done with running for exercise, but I was done with running in general. In fact, if I am ever chased by a big man with a knife, he's going to have no problem catching me because I HATE running and I'm never, ever running for as long as I live!

So, I went into the living room and cuddled with Second Son who tries to pretend to be a big tough seven-year-old, but is really a big soft teddy bear who loves his Mommy. I held him and watched Sesame Street, breathing in, breathing out, doing one of the things that I was truly meant to do in this life—love my children. Who cared if I was stuck on a scene? Who cared if every word I typed was dull? What did that matter? It was words, pixels, maybe ten people would read it if I was lucky. Second Son would touch countless lives (Hopefully not with his fists—he can be a rowdy little thing).

An image came to my mind unbidden—two of my characters, hanging on so tight to that cliff where I left them, in a tender moment. The scene presented itself fully formed, dialogue and punctuation already in place. I actually cried as I wrote it like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone.

Peace can be found in simple things. Huh.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Parenting and Staying Sane All at the Same Time

Note: My favorite part about being a writer is having someone respond to something I wrote and say, "Yes! Me too!" It's comforting to know that others feel or have gone through the same things as you. I often have the feeling that I am the only person who has ever experienced certain things in my life—a terrible, isolating feeling. I'm sharing this story (at the encouragement of a friend) in hopes that it may help others (and I know there are lots out there) who have gone through similar circumstances.

I was completely prepared to be a mother.

I was going to be the best mother any child ever had.

What a lucky kid this baby was going to be.

I mean, you know, I had worked in day cares and church nurseries since I was fifteen. I babysat so much in high school that it was almost a full time job for me. And parents loved me. I was in high demand. And let's not forget the fact that I have a minor in early-childhood education and was completely devoted to being a teacher until I hit the age of twenty-two and developed a bad case of the Who-Am-I's.

That being said, there are two things that motherhood has taught me:

  1. Reality's a funny little guy.
  2. God uses everything to bring us closer to him.

First son was from the beginning . . . difficult. At the age of two, he was extremely high energy—but he was a boy and he was two. At the age of three, he was impossible to potty train—but he was a boy and he was three. At the age of four, his preschool teacher would call me in so that I could, literally, scrape him up off the floor—but he was a boy and he was four. At the age of five, we received weekly notes about his inability to focus—but he was a boy and he was five. At the age of six, his teacher called me in and asked if I thought about having him tested for ADD—but he was a boy and he was six. At the age of seven, his teacher called me in and asked if I thought about having him tested for ADD—but he was a boy and he was seven. At the age of eight, his teacher called me in and asked if I thought about having him tested for ADD—but . . . but . . . but . . .

So . . . something's clearly amiss.

But, I don't believe in giving children serious mind-altering drugs. I just don't. I've never believed in it and I never will. Fortunately for me, I made a wise decision at the tender age of twenty-three. It frightens me now that I made this decision at such a young age when I was quite a different person from the one I am now, but I made it nonetheless, thanks to God—I married Husband.

Though I have core beliefs that I have held for my entire adult life and that I feel certain I will hold for the remainder of my life, I must admit that when it comes to some things, I am easily swayed. When I would spend the entire evening every school night helping my child with homework that should take an hour, I was tempted to give him drugs. When I would spend night after night teaching First Son (who can build complicated legos by himself) the difference between a verb and a noun, I was tempted to give him drugs. When my expectations for honor roll grades fell to hopes of As, Bs, and Cs, and then to hopes of just-please-for-the-love-of-God-don't-fail, I was tempted to give him drugs. When teachers called me in and spoke of the miraculous turn-arounds that they witnessed in medicated children with First Son's condition, I was tempted to give him drugs. And, honestly, the only reason I didn't was because Husband wouldn't hear of it.

Let me say up front that I do not judge anyone who has decided to medicate their children. I disagree with it, but I do not judge it. A few different life decisions on my part and I would have almost certainly been one of those people—so, no judgment.

I'll admit that Husband's uncompromising stance against medicating First Son angered me at first. After all, I was the one taking on the full burden of homework, conferences with teachers, and pressure to do something. But really, it was my pride that was hurt. I always imagined that my children would be like me and that school and good grades would be of the utmost importance to them. And here was my first child, not giving a lick about bad grades or good grades, indeed acting as if he didn't even realize that he was being graded in the first place. Is there a pill that will make him care about how bad he's making me look? Is there a pill for this?

Yes, there is a pill for this. There is also a pill for people who feel that they are not outgoing enough. There is a pill for those who are not as happy as they would like to be. There is a pill for an achy head. A pill for food that won't digest just right. A pill for sore muscles after a hard workout. A pill for someone who wants to overindulge but doesn't want to be fat. Can't go to sleep at night? Take a pill. Can't wake up in the morning? Take a pill. "Why be uncomfortable?" the medical community asks us, "when you can be medicated."

What is our aim in all this medication? Are we trying to create a uniform society in which we all act and feel the same? I, for one, have struggled with acute shyness my entire life. In my youth, if I were offered a pill that would make me less socially awkward, I would have jumped at it—anything to not feel so different. Now, though I don't embrace my shyness like I should, I see that it has protected me in many ways and brought me to this place of peace and contentment in which I find myself at this time in my life.

I thank God for this, in helping me to see that He loves me and accepts me for what I am and that it doesn't matter that the world views shyness as undesirable because it is impossible to please the world, but so easy to please God, by merely loving and accepting Him in return.

I had to remember all of this in regards to First Son. No, he will never be a straight-A student. No, he is not going to cry when he is sick and has to miss a school day like I did. No, he will never sit perfectly still in his desk. No, he will not need someone to help him carry his certificates home on Awards Day. No, he is not me. He's just him. And that's okay. In fact, it's amazing, because that's who God wants him to be.

Once I was able to accept First Son, it was easier to help him. Easier—not easy. Husband and I started by taking away all video games and almost all television, except for Saturday morning because we quite like a sleep-in on Saturday morning and with three kids that is impossible without the television (so sue us!). Any kid, not just one who has trouble focusing, should not be watching too much TV or playing too many video games in the first place. After all, these things aren't life. These are things that are used to check out of life. Why do we want our children checking out of life?

Husband and I then, as John Rosemond suggests in his many wonderful books on raising children, tried to discipline First Son with an old-fashioned approach. In other words, not concerning ourselves with his "self-esteem" and instead concerning ourselves with some basic things—you are the child, I am the parent, I make the decisions, you accept them, the same goes for all adults in your life, end of discussion. This isn't as simple as it sounds. Husband and I had become lazy with our parenting. It's easier and more fun to be your kid's friend instead of his parent. But that's not our job. It's a serious business raising kids and we had stopped taking it seriously.

Husband and I don't pride ourselves on our patience, but we knew that it would be impossible to make some much needed changes in First Son without patience. We made patience a priority. In addition to being more patient, we tried to be more understanding of First Son without feeling sorry for him, and to make sure that he was accountable for his actions.

I also forced myself to make him responsible for himself. Instead of checking over homework and making sure it was all completed and sitting neatly in his folder. I would ask, "Do you have everything you need for tomorrow?" And when he said yes, even though I could clearly see his multiplication problems sitting on his desk, I didn't point it out. He would have to take the consequence.

So, he started taking the consequences. Progress reports came out right before Christmas break and First Son's grades were so appalling that I could barely look at them and wanted, like an ostrich, to bury my head in the sand and sing "La, la, la, la, la, la" in the hopes that I could forget all about them. But forget about them, I could not.

We had two problems—First Son was making bad grades and First Son didn't care that he was making bad grades. Bad grades are unacceptable. They just are. So, Christmas break wasn't all joys and laughter for First Son. While his brother and sister were playing with friends and new toys, First Son was reading books and writing book reports on them and editing book reports and re-writing them and completing worksheets and reading more and crying about it the whole time.

A couple of weeks ago, his teacher called me crying too, saying that she has seen the most remarkable difference in him and that he is now taking his time with tests and reading over things carefully and he made A's on three tests! I cried with her and thanked her for her part and she said the most perfect thing that a teacher can say, "It's not me, but God."

It's not me, but God. God gives us everything we need to be parents. Dr. Drames is an angel when I need antibiotics for a bad case of strep throat, but I don't need her to help me parent. It's not me, but God. We know what to do, we know it in our heart and in our head, we just let other people make us doubt. It's not me, but God. Like I could even do it myself. Why would I even want to try?

I'm not ready to start celebrating our victory, yet. I'm not even ready to check out the fourth-grade-hall yet. But still, I finally have something that I didn't have before—hope. This hasn't happened overnight and I think, like all things that are worthwhile, it will still be a difficult road. But there are two things that I know to be true—with God, we can do it and I'm sick of Husband always being right about everything.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Twenty Ways I Can Tell Husband is Out of Town

  1. First son "ran out" of clean underwear.
  2. Instead of washing dirty underwear, I decided First Son needed new underwear.
  3. The guy at the McDonald's drive-in rolled his eyes at me today and muttered, "You again."
  4. The bug that I keep feeling crawling on me is really just my unshaven leg hair.
  5. Eight o'clock in the morning feels like the crack of dawn.
  6. I only run the dishwasher once a week.
  7. The kids are begging me to feed them a home-cooked meal.
  8. I can't remember which bottle is shampoo and which one is conditioner.
  9. I'm an expert trash compacter, hoping that it can wait until Husband gets home until it has to be taken all the way outside to the big trash can.
  10. I'm an expert at fooling First and Second Son, telling them: "Oh, look at the cute little spider. He's so sweet. Okay. Now smush it for me."
  11. I've discovered what my actual for-real-life toenails look like after all the toe nail polish has flaked off.
  12. Where do I keep the vacuum cleaner again?
  13. The oven is a useful storage device.
  14. What's the point in making beds and changing out of pajamas when at the end of the day I'm just going to put on pajamas and get back in the bed?
  15. Soap? What is this substance of which you speak?
  16. I'm caught up on all my TV shows.
  17. My hair straightener is getting a nice long vacation.
  18. I've forgotten how to work zippers and buttons and snaps. If it's not drawstring, it ain't goin' on these hips.
  19. Wow! These bound pages of paper with titles on them that are sitting on my bookshelf can actually be read and enjoyed and read again??? What a marvelous invention!
  20. Did you know that you could use a cell phone for actually talking to another person who is far away from you? Me neither!