Sunday, November 30, 2008


Over Thanksgiving, we went on a long car ride where I found out my daughter believes the ghost of a little girl is living in our house, that my middle son knows an endless number of jokes involving butt lint, and that my oldest guy absolutely can never again eat five Fiber One bars before getting into a car on a cold day when the windows cannot be opened. Absolutely never.

The night before, we had watched the Duggar family, all seven thousand of them, going on a car trip. (They're that family somewhere in a place like Arkansas or Omaha who have seventeen kids and one on the way) The older girls took care of the younger kids. They sang songs about Jesus. No one shouted or swore or fought over not sitting in the middle or whether or not doughnuts are as toxic as Mom claims they are. I really like the Duggar family, even if they wear prairie clothes and have scary hair. They're sort of our family in the anti matter world.

There are only five of us, and five animals, and we listened to Pink Floyd in the car, then Bing Crosby Christmas carols for Emma. Bing didn't last too long with this crowd. My daughter, who is the only ten year old on the planet (and possibly on other planets) who dislikes Hannah Montana, finally decided on Evanescence.

When that ended, we argued for a few miles. Philip kept snapping pictures of us in the car (we took none at the holiday table) with his phone. Our memory stick on the camera is full, and we forgot to buy a new one. So here we are, candid and ragged.

Sixteen Year Old in Thirty Mile Electronic Trance:

Philip and Emma After Agreeing on Music:

Sneak Shot of Mom:

And an image I found on my phone today that I'll bet you Mrs. Duggar would never find on hers:

That image is from Pink Floyd, a band I listened to at least twenty years ago, and that my two boys now really like. I think it's kind of a teen's way of saying hi, or maybe something along the lines of thanks for telling me the stories behind songs like Shine On You Crazy Diamond (and not making it sound like English class, though I did sneak in a bit of symbolism once I had their attention)

I'll bet Mrs. Duggar's kids give her things like this too, only they probably use words. That's fine by me; symbols work just fine here with our little anti matter family.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Writing for Kids

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about my kids and not about writing. I remember a college psych teacher once said, "Ask people what they are in one word, and see what they say." It was one of those moments where you think, Right, I already sort of knew this. I would answer that question by saying, "Mom" -- though I have plenty of friends with kids who say they don't think that way. They would answer, "writer" even though they have never published anything. It's strange the way that works -- I think of myself as a mom, then probably a writer even though I've been pretty well published.

I think I should probably talk more about writing since I've been getting increasingly frequent emails from people asking me questions about writing. I try to answer everyone, but here's why I don't talk so much about writing: I don't really know anything. I don't fully understand how the process works or what helps writing or what hinders it or why one novel falls flat and another hums along. I think writing may be a process that works when we are not totally aware of it, if that makes sense. I do know I don't spend a tremendous amount of time planning what I write, okay, fine, I don't spend ANY time planning; I just sort of keep the story in the back of my mind, then when the house is quiet, I write it all down. I spend a lot of time revising. Easily as much time as writing, and sometimes more. I think revision and rewrites are the heart of publishable work.

And that's it. I don't have any tricks and I think that's why people are emailing me: they think there is some shortcut, some magical method that will guarantee publication.

There isn't. Trust me.

I like the quote on this blog from Maugham: it matches how I feel exactly.

Right now I have a really tough editor. I'm revising a middle grade, geared for the 8 - 10 year old set. It's harder than I thought it would be (mostly because I took advice from people who read a lot of middle grade literature and I didn't just sit down and write it out like usual)She is a huge consumer of fairy literature, has no patience for long description, and can't stand boys in any of the major roles. It makes me slightly nervous when she picks up the legal pad to see my ideas. This is the look I get when I don't reach her standards:

Should be an interesting weekend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Community Service Meets the Teen

Report cards came Friday afternoon. So after spending most of Friday evening "discussing" the importance of doing school work and not spending so much time with video/myspace involvement with my two boys, we decided (meaning I came up with the idea and they silently disagreed) they needed to do more community service. Christopher is still trying to come up with what he wants to do; Philip opted to be a volunteer waiter at a veterans' pre holiday luncheon. He thought it would be a quick and easy way to salvage his weekend plans.

Of course first I had to explain to him the importance of veterans, how his grandfathers and uncles and cousins had all served in various wars. He gave me the "OMG, will she ever stop look," then went off to what he thought, I think, would be a pizza party.

I should say here that Philip is a really sensory kid: he has trouble looking at the "subnormal" folk who frequent certain Walmarts, and any shows involving childbirth or poxes or deformity cause him to lurch from the television. He was the kind of baby who couldn't stand seams in his socks or the touch of wool. Very little has changed in that department over the years.

Ten minutes into the holiday luncheon, I get this text:


I had his brother calmly text back:


The next SOS came:


I didn't anwer; I figured I'd tell him the veterans had to stick it out once, too.

When I picked him up, he was flushed and exhausted.

"They're like old pirates," he said, "Oh my God. You have no idea. No idea."

"What happened?" I asked.

"First of all, most of them were missing something. Like an arm or something."

"Right. They were in a war."

Sigh. "And every time I asked them what they wanted to drink, they said, 'how 'bout a Scotch and soda?' Like every one of them and they laughed each time. And they only had soda or water or coffee."


"Then this guy says to me, 'Son, straighten that flag."

"What did you do?"

"I straightened the flag. Then he says, 'Now set me up with those sausages just like you would your best girlfriend.' So I go, What does THAT mean?"

"I think he wanted something extra, right?"

"He winked at me. God. And he had this scooter thing."

"Your sister loves her scooter. What's wrong with that?"

"No, Mom, he had this scooter thing INSTEAD OF LEGS."

He didn't say much after that. I pretty much left him alone and let him spend a few hours cruising myspace.

I think serving that lunch allowed him to learn a whole lot more a whole lot faster than anything he does in school.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Those Without Teens

On Sunday, a friend of mine, or a woman I used to know, stopped by my house. We are around the same age, and we briefly attended the same college. She found me on the Internet, and said she would be in the area. I felt obligated to invite her - I'm not sure why I felt obligated since I never

a) really knew her well and

b) never really liked her all that much.

Anyway, let's call her Agatha since that name suits her. Agatha is unmarried, child-free (this is my understanding of the new politically correct term for the sane), and has become something of a self help group junky. I sort of knew this from her holiday cards, but when she was there, in the flesh, it occurred to me that Agatha and I had about as much in common as Iceland and Somalia. She sat on my couch while three cats dozed in chairs and our gassy German shepherd wagged her tail. She was gassy because there is a bog near our house with these wonderfully graceful geese and Mazy had dined on goose poop during her previous night's walk. You can imagine the fragrance. (I did put the dog in the laundry room. Hey, I've got some manners left).

Agatha wanted to talk.


My husband works all day Sunday and we had two kids in the basement who were there because of serious trouble at home, plus my own three kids, and a month long houseguest from Malaysia. I put coffee on and tried to listen to Agatha's long, dusty stories about restaurants she had gone to in Italy, Germany and France. It seemed all the art and attractions in Europe had been replaced by restaurants.

"It's difficult to talk in this house," she said with sort of an edge.

I nodded. "There are kind of a lot of us here today."

"I could never do this," she said, "it's crazy with the phone and all these kids. Have you thought about why your life has gotten this way?"

I could feel the presence of invisible self help people gathering around Agatha, ready to assess my life.

"I guess choices," I said, pointedly glancing at the microwave clock. "Would you like any more coffee?"


"Love some," she said.

So I braced myself and put more coffee on.

Agatha was sitting in the living room when Philip walked past. "Hey, dude," he said to Agatha. The look on her face made her visit bearable.

"That's your son?"

"One of them."

"You heard him call me dude?"

"That's how they say hello."

"When I was a teenager, I never would have addressed ANY of my parents' friends that way. Never."

"Huh." But I said this particular "huh" in such a way that it could easily have been confused with a swear word.

Agatha looked at his snake bites, at his sagging pants, at the casual way he came over and put his arm around me. "Canya set me up with some juice, Mom?"

She watched him in the same manner I imagine Margaret Mead once watched the Samoans.

"Well," she said finally.

We said a stiff goodbye at the door without any promise of seeing one another again. I think Agatha had had enough of me for a life time.

"God, who was that angry lady?" my oldest guy asked. (He hadn't even give her a "hey dude").

"I went to school with her once. We used to be a little friendly. Kind of friends."

"With her? And you say we make bad choices in our friends."

"I don't think she'll be back too soon," I assured him. "This is all too messy for her."

"I thought the house looked pretty good," he said.

"I don't mean that..." then I saw the look on his face, and I knew he had understood what I meant. He had understood exactly. How could he not? He was part of our shared mess.

But I mean, really, what's not to love when you see this at the breakfast table? (Even if breakfast is at 11:30?)---

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Justice Mom

My son, pictured above in a moment of Halloween happiness, (and the only kid who doesn't care if his picture is here), nicknamed me the Justice Mom about three years ago when he was 11.

"It's like as soon as I tell you something happened in school, you have to fix it and tell people about it. All the other moms just let it go." He grumbled this, but he still told me stuff. (Okay, maybe there was a little prying).

But I knew what he meant. I did call the principal about busy work built into curricula and teachers who read newspapers during instructional time; I talked to bus drivers about fighting and asked a group of cafeteria aides why they sat chatting at a table while a boy was clearly being bullied. I did all those things. And I wasn't nice and relaxed and happy when I did them.

So, with all three of my kids, we had conversations like this more than once:

Child: Ok, Mom, I'm going to tell you something but only if you promise not to be the Justice Mom after you hear it.

Me: I can't promise that. But why don't you tell me anyway?

Child: Well, if you're the Justice Mom about this, I'll get into big trouble...

Me: Go ahead and try me. Look, am I holding the phone? Do I have keys to go anywhere?

Child: I better not. You'll go up to the school tomorrow when I'm not home.

Me: I have pizza rolls. Why don't you sit and talk to me while you have pizza rolls?

Child: All right, I'll have some pizza rolls. But I'm only telling you the beginning...

The Justice Mom has been quiet for quite some time. But on Halloween night, she rode again, with her kids (well, two of them) watching. She couldn't help it.

A man came down the street wearing a sheet. He looked over at a two or three year old Cinderella and ran toward her. She screamed.

Now, I don't get what's funny about that at all, but he was being egged on by a bunch of beer-fueled adults who thought it was really, really funny that the little girl was running down the street, clearly terrified.

But the "ghost" wouldn't stop chasing the little girl - who was by now sobbing.

So I walked over to the "ghost" and said, "Look, why don't you just stop now? She's scared enough."

The adults made fake booing noises at me.

"And why don't you folks go back inside and let the kids have the fun tonight?"

They did; my daughter kept trick-or-treating with her friend, and a little later we caught up with Philip.

"As soon as I saw that guy do that to that kid," he said to his sister, "I figured Mom would say something. God, he was a jerk!"

Emma laughed. "I know,right, Philip? I was thinking how it's taking Mom a long time to be the Justice Mom tonight."

Then they talked about some great costumes they had seen and the rumor that there was a house on the next street where they gave out full size candy bars.

I don't know if they've accepted the Justice Mom as a Mom characteristic they can't change, or if they've internalized something about how the world should work. I like to think the later, but I guess I have to wait a few more years.