Friday, September 25, 2009

Normal Problems

This morning (it's Friday, but my computer is refusing to allow me to post anything to blogger or even comment on other blogs, so this will have to go up later) I was doing my frantic change the sheets, put on the dishwasher, general clean up and I was listening to a radio show called, "Is My Child Normal?"

Now, right after I finished my domestic diva duties, I went hunting in the basement for material to make a Halloween costume. When I came back upstairs, the folks were still talking about what constitutes normal. I was holding some old feather boas, yellow crepe paper and glue. Nothing wrong with gathering some material for a Halloween costume, right? Except this is to make a giant chicken costume for Philip. Somehow I have to figure out how to make size 13 chicken feet.

We could buy a chicken costume, but Philip is the only one of my kids who still likes to make them with me like when they were little. As I was putting the boas in a box, Cami, one of the kittens, ran past with a beaver skin that Christopher has had in his room for a few years. I was still thinking how to make chicken feet as I wrangled the beaver skin away from Cami. She was panting under the dining room table because she thought she had caught some big African game.

When I came back, the other four cats were frantically attacking the feather boas and the feathers were floating in the kitchen. I forgot I had put Emma's dress up boas down there because the cats were getting into them all the time.

I looked up at the time, but I remembered we don't have any clocks downstairs. There's the microwave clock, and a clock built in to the stove because Emma finds the sound of ticking clocks unbearable. It reminds her of bombs.

My computer clock, and the weather, is set for Los Angeles because Emma is completely crazy for anything LA. She has done this to all the computers in the house. We are constantly adding to the time to see what time it is where we are.

Emma also believes there is a ghost who is attracted to the scent of her conditioner. Whenever she is in the shower, as soon as she opens the conditioner, the ghost knocks on the wall. Three times. (This is in addition to the ghosts that haunt her classroom bathroom)

The radio people were talking about fearing birthday parties. The Zen-sounding psychosomething said this was just a little social anxiety. My kids never had normal problems like that.

Christopher seems normal, probably the most normal, but then again, he moves around the house like a stealth bomber. I'm not sure how he could hang around with us all these years and actually be normal; I think he's just learned compensatory behaviors.

Then again, he decided in kindergarten that he would wear nothing but jeans, and he has lived it for the last dozen years. That can't be right.

The next radio problem was a child's reluctance to try new foods.

I remember giving Emma a bowl once, she looked at it, looked at me, and said, "It's too blue. I can't eat from that."

Philip once slid under the table at a Chinese buffet and refused to come out because "the food is too shiny here; it looks alive." That was an interesting cultural exchange between me and the ultra polite Chinese waiter.

I thought about calling in.

Or maybe I should just write a parenting book, "Raising the Paranormal Child," -- or something along those lines.

I'll bet it would get picked up by Time Warner.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Corridor of the Undead

It's like a rite of autumn around here: the back to school nights in schools, with nervous teachers explaining their policies and parents sitting there smiling, silently judging them.

I used to be the teacher up there; now I'm the parent. I try not to judge them. Last night, I got there five minutes late (which is pretty good for me) and I had to stand next to the cafeteria doors. I think all cafeterias look the same in schools everywhere - something like this:

with the student area resembling:

although that is a much nicer cafeteria than I remember from grade school. I remember broken benches and stains that we all decided were from some gruesome event that had befallen previous students -

of course, there is generally someone who looks like this:

encouraging you to eat the meal that looks like:

The sinks in my daughter's school are large enough to slaughter a cow in. And the kitchen is made of cinder blocks with dancing vegetables smiling from the walls. The onion looked a little like Osama Bin Laden.

The evening opened with a speaker from the county health department. You can bet I was listening to a forty minute presentation on the H1N1 virus. I only heard the part about 91K being spent on installing hand sanitizing stations. So then, swine flu is a virus that isn't airborne? I didn't quite get that, then again, while she was speaking, I was imagining the onion with a turban.

I can't think of a whole lot of writing that has taken place in school cafeterias, yet it's an experience we have all shared. More so than say sports which I completely bypassed in high school - yet there are lots of books out there involving sports or where the protagonist is involved with a sport.

I had forgetten all the memories I had of my grade school cafeteria until I stood in front of the window last night. I remember a lunch lady standing over me when I tried to slide an untouched lunch into the garbage can. She stopped me and ordered me to try a Swedish meatball. I was in the second grade and she was straight from the corridor of the undead. She picked up my fork and held it up to my mouth. I was too scared not to eat it, so I swallowed it and nodded, then ran. To this day, I have never been able to try Swedish meatballs.

I also remember a tremendous amount of gossiping at the lunch table. We exchanged notes, hair barrettes, phone numbers and party invitations. That time, even though it was probably only about forty minutes a day, was the best time of the day.

I'm trying to think of children's books that involve the cafeteria. Is it one of those places that you stop remembering once you get past college age? I can't think of a single title...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

They're Baaack....

My kids all fell asleep in the living room last night in a big heap of end-of-the-summer-exhaustion. The boys have to be out the door at 7 am which, after long afternoons of summer slumber, is like the middle of the night to them.

Emma has to take "orders" from people who "are only taller, not any smarter" than kids. (Yes, that's how she put it)

I actually got almost, not quite, but almost caught up with the wash and I had all my papers in order when I got to campus. I even had on matching clothes and earrings. I hope my students don't get too used to that.

And I'm starting a new novel. I keep saying that, but I keep changing the way it opens. I think the problem was the voice just didn't sound authentic to me. I put books in the heap after about three pages if the voice doesn't hook me. Kids do, too.

That being said, here is a sampling of real voices from my kids on the first day of school. Voice really is character.

When I asked Christopher, he said, "Mom, everything is all good." He pushed the rest of his sandwich into his mouth so he couldn't say anymore then high tailed it to his room.

Philip reminded me, "He knows if he tells you too much, you'll call the school or something." When I asked Philip which of his teachers he liked, he smirked and said, "Mom, no one likes teachers. They're not likeable; they're just all control freaks.You tolerate teachers; you don't like them."

Right. I forgot.

Emma had the most descriptive assessment of the first couple of days. Her "friend" L. got a new haircut so now she looks like a "fuzzy pumpkin." I put friend in quotes because L. is one of those people we talk to, but never truly befriend. I should say that L. sees ghosts, carries tarot cards, and could use a little help in the hygiene department. She came over once, and Emma decided she needed to remain a school friend.

Anyway, L. informed Emma that the bathroom in their classroom was haunted. Not only did several ghosts inhabit it, but the janitor is somehow involved in maintaining the ghosts' secrecy. (I felt a little guilty when she was explaining all this; I couldn't help but see the huge difference in the YA mind and the MG mind)

All day, Emma and L. listened to toilets flush when no one was in there, lights blinked, faucets ran and there is a low creaking sound which is, of course, how the ghosts speak to one another.

"Could it be the water running in the pipes?" I asked, "the school is pretty old."

"It's not water," she explained (barely hiding the exasperation in her voice), "water sounds wet. This is more like wind."

"So how is everything else?"

"I almost fell asleep during history. What's the point in learning about the colonies? Aren't all those people dead?"

"Maybe they're the ghosts," I suggested.

She looked at me for a second. "No, I don't think so. That would be interesting. And there's nothing interesting about school."

So much for the first three days...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

It's Labor Day weekend - the last weekend of summer.That's a picture of our backyard, and it already looks empty to me.

I'm never sure what to do on holidays like this. I could invite my neighbors over for a barbeque, but they tend to like to catch what they eat from the lake or the woods so I think I'll pass. We'll probably go shopping for school supplies, but none of the schools here tell us what the kids need until the first day of school, which is Wednesday. We try and guess in the middle of the store, big binders? small, vinyl ones? book socks or paper bag covers? It seems like everyone else has these neat lists...

When the kids asked me why we have Labor Day, I told them it was an extra day so they could start their summer reading.

They always remind me I don't really have a job, except a few days a week at the college. They see me writing on the computer, but they associate computer time with fun and socializing.

The weird thing about being a writer is you kind of feel that you don't really have a job, or are part of the labor force because you are usually home when you are writing. Plus, you could always be working. Always. It's kind of like having perpetual homework.

But I feel like we should all probably think about what we do during Labor Day, or something connected to what we do for a living.

In the spring, there was an article in The NY Times that I have thought about for a while now. It talks about the responsibility authors have in choosing what to write about, especially authors who write YA (and probably MG) It's sort of an old question I suppose, but do you think writing about things like cutting, anorexia, shoplifting, all those behaviors encourages it? Or just exposes it? Should those topics be avoided? When we write about drinking or drug use, does it give kids ideas? Or do they just see a reflection of what they already know?

I remember sneak-reading a book (during algebra which might explain a lot) about these two girls who ran away from home and experimented with everything I had never done - or even come close to doing. It was my favorite book for a few months, far more interesting than the Boston adventures of Johnny Tremain. Sin is far more compelling than compliance. That book was a hot topic at sleepovers, yet I still have never done any of the things those girls did.

I don't have an answer to this. I do know that we can't write for the mentally fragile. I also know there is a fine line between avoiding topics and censorship.

In the end, at least for me, I think writing has to reflect what is true. If it's not authentic, it's just not interesting. And when I write, I don't want to feel parental since it's really one of the very few things I do that doesn't involve my kids.

I also know that my answer isn't everyone's. Do you avoid topics that are controversial? or ones that go against your personal beliefs? Do you think what kids read influences them so easily?