Saturday, May 30, 2009

Squirrel Children

Right now, my daughter is glaring at me from the rocking chair in the living room between watching episodes of Sponge Bob. She is clearly not speaking to me. (This will only last until she gets hungry)

Normally, television would not be allowed on a perfectly beautiful day, but I am letting this one go. We just got back from our first tween moment.

I was outside at ten o'clock this morning, trying to figure out what, exactly, had to be done to our yard to make it not look like a DMZ. Emma told me some friends had just texted her and wanted her to join them for lunch. I said fine since the McDonalds is only about two blocks away.

When the time came, I drove her there. About six girls sat at the table. They are all around 10, some have recently turned 11, and one girl's eight year old sister sat there. I sat at an adjoining table and waited.

"When are you leaving?" Emma whispered.

"Leaving? This is a public place. Which moms are here?"

"None. They rode here on their bikes. Mom, c'mon. I'm fine."

Emma said she had to use the bathroom and motioned me over to her, around the corner where the girls couldn't see her. "Please, Mom, it's 12 o'clock now, can't you come back around 1?"

We went back and forth. I was shocked that these kids, all bright girls, all in different types of gifted programs at the elementary school, had parents who let them bike around town without supervision and sit in public places.

"You are like the most over protective mom in the world. Everyone in my class knows that." She looked near tears.

Maybe she was right. I am one of the class moms, go on all the trips, go to all the parties and "supervise activities" which is really just an excuse to keep an eye on my own kid. Both my boys have always complained that I am overly protective.

"On one condition," I said, "you keep your phone on, answer it the second I call. And only for half an hour."

I could see by her expression that she never thought I would say yes, even for thirty minutes. She did run back to me once before returning to the table: "Don't just sit in the back and stalk me, okay?" (Philip taught her that word, but if you read this blog, you probably suspected that already)

I went to a nearby drug store, bought some stuff I didn't need, and returned to her table at 12:27. She wasn't there. Before calling 911, I called Emma.

"Oh," she said breezily, "Abby's mother came and picked us up. I'm at Abby's house."

"Did Abby's mother know I was picking you up?"

She gave me Abby's address. I drove there and met Abby's mom. I should have just picked Emma up, thanked her, and driven home. I know, I know.

But I asked Abby's mom how long the pack of girls had been biking around town.

"Since the spring." She saw my shocked expression. "They're fine," she said, and waved her hand, "they have cell phones."

"I always feel I'll listen to my daughter's abduction via the cell phone. They just don't make me feel safe."

Abby's mom opened her eyes very wide at me. Emma tugged at my shirt.

"They have a lot of fun going from house to house. I think they would call in plenty of time before they were in any real danger."

"They go from house to house?" I asked.

Abby's mom nodded. "All the time."

"Sort of like how squirrels spend their day, isn't it?"

I didn't turn around to see how Abby's mom felt about that statement. Emma and I got in the car.

"I cannot believe you said that thing about squirrels, Mom."

"But it's true, Emma. You are ten years old. You can't just go around to people's houses and sit in restaurants by yourselves."

"Last weekend Abby's mom drove them to the mall and they were there for three hours, just them."

"In the mall? That will..."

"I know," Emma fumed, putting her hands over her ears, "I can't ever do it. I know. I'm just going to not talk to you for the rest of today, ok?"

(I love that she qualified her declaration with that little ok)

So far, she has kept her fairly polite word. I just gave her a dish of ice cream which she accepted in a distant, regal way. SpongeBob is singing, "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" and she is cracking up. The whole scene, the princess ice cream dish, the miniature chair, the cartoon, all make her seem so young and so very, very vulnerable. I just don't believe that she can be unleashed yet.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Teen Thoughts

If I had to describe the worst fear of a teenager, it would not be death or failing in school, or coming down with a terrible illness. It would have to be embarrassment. I distinctly remember embarrassment as being the central emotion of my life for about seven or so years during the teenage period. And as I've already confessed, even when I was alone as a teen, I worried people might be watching me.

I think if you want to write YA, and a lot of folks who read this blog do, you have to really connect with those emotional memories to write authentically. I am keenly aware of my own boys' sense of embarrassment. The thing we forget is the acuteness of that embarrassment.

This past week, my car broke down and the dealer gave me a loaner car. Emma just loved it; it was a luxury car and she drove with me, stretched out in the back, happy as could be. I went to pick Christopher up at school, and he waved me on frenetically, then turned away as if he didn't know me. Because I try not to embarrass them (they don't believe this, and think I lunge at every opportunity to do just that) I drove home. That's when I saw the giant letters in the back: HOLMAN BROTHERS AUTO LOANER in neon tangerine. It took me a while to see that; he spotted that like an eagle would spot a weakened field mouse.

Last night was the spring concert at Philip's school. He used to play tuba. But mono and constant throat problems caused him to switch to percussion. Thinking he would play the drums at the concert like he did at rehearsal, off he went into the night. Of course, my husband and I went to the concert, along with a few of Philip's friends.

I am sitting in the audience when I get this frantic text: "Mom, can you say I'm sick? I can't do this." Now Philip is not one to shy away from the stage, but after several texts back and forth, I still didn't get what was going on. I could barely read them in the dim light, and I had to sneak reading them since they had already told us to turn off our cell phones. I couldn't imagine why he was hesitant to play.

After a few numbers, the band played again. This time, we saw Philip. Now he's a really big kid, I think the tallest in his grade, with long, straightened hair and his beloved piercings. He likes people like Kurt Cobain and the young Ozzy.

So there he stood in his shirt and tie, only he wasn't playing the drums. Apparently, a lot of boys played the drums, far more than ever played the tuba, and Philip has just begun percussion, so he was switched for the performance. He flicked his hair back and struck a note: Philip was playing "the bells" -- an instrument that sounded like something that would summon fairies. I watched his face redden to the point where I worried about aneuryism.

He was silent on the way home. I finally said to him, "So that was good, your concert."

"Mom, I am never doing that again. Ever. I am dropping out of band."

He means it. It wasn't a bad night. No one said anything to him. A girl told him how "cute" he looked up there. She told me and my husband. She clearly meant it. But to him, that one hour would define his future.

I thought of explaining persepective to him, at least trying, but then I remembered. As a teen, you don't have it, and more importantly, you don't believe in it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mother's Day Revisited

Mother's Day Eve is not a very well known holiday, but I was thinking it should be made more official last Saturday on Mother's Day Eve. Son #1 had gone bowling with friends, Son #2 was watching youtube videos in his room, and Only Daughter was creating a Mother's Day novella.

Even our Malaysian houseguest had agreed to stop watching Deal or No Deal and Wheel of Fortune as they had begun to drive me nuts.(Is there a channel dedicated to these shows? They seemed to never go off the air) We rented The Commitments and he kept leaning forward and turning the volume up to figure out the English inside their thick brogues.

So he was challenged, the kids were all occupied, Maisie had had a bath and was subdued and damp in the laundry room, and the cats were all in different napping spots. It was one of those rare, calm moments in the house. I sat on the couch. I thought about doing something productive, maybe even sneaking off to write a little bit. Yes, I thought, that will be my Mother's Day present to myself: an hour or so of writing time. Before going upstairs, I decided to bring some kitchen waste out to the compost pile.

As I was coming back inside, I saw about six young girls standing on the lawn. It was around 8:30 at night. This could not be good. I went in to talk to Son #2.

He explained that their parents had gone to see a show in Atlantic City and they were all sleeping over one of the girl's houses. They were just out for a walk, he explained, but would it be okay if he walked Maisie?

Now my boys offer to walk the dog about as often as blizzards hit Kenya, so I started laughing. "No, she's good. Why don't you stay inside?"

Glaring at me since he obviously had already made plans, he slammed the door really hard after I left. About five minutes later, Emma came to get me.

It seemed Philip was locked in his room. Literally. The door would not open. I got a flat head screwdriver, and managed to slide it under the door to Philip. He got the entire doorknob off, but the deadbolt was still firmly embedded into the doorframe. But at least we had airspace and could see each other.


"No, it must have happened when you slammed the door." Mind you, we were talking only through the circle where the doorknob had once been.

"I think I'm having a panic attack," he complained.

I looked out the hallway window. The girls were moving around under the trees like ghosts. But Philip was high up on the second floor.

Now, I could have called my husband or Googled locks to fix this problem, but I realized I had Philip, for once, exactly where I wanted him. And it was kind of a holiday.

"Breathe, honey," I told him, "Breathe in and out and you won't panic."

"But I'm hungry. And thirsty. I have to get out of this room!"

Emma got him a juice box and held the flexi-straw up to the open space. She slipped him animal crackers and granola bars. He found a much needed Pepsi bottle after drinking his third Capri Sun (life is sometimes easier for boys).

"Mom, can't you fix this?" he asked again.

"I think," I said seriously, "that you are in there until Dad gets home tomorrow morning. You have some granola bars in there, and you can just use the Pepsi bottle."

"Nooooooo," he cried, "you can't do this."

"Sorry," I said, "but this is probably the best place for you tonight."

While Emma was telling him how he was just like Rapunzel right now, I went out to the lawn and asked the girls if I could help them. They said they were just taking a walk. I stood there smiling until they left.

Then I came inside and put my eye up to the semi circle space I had to view Philip. There he was, playing the guitar, his curtains wide open. Only he could not leave and no one could come in.

It was perfect.

If only it could stay that way.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Interview with Nicole

Nicole is an aspiring young adult librarian, and she writes a blog titled, "Through My Librarian's Eye," which features Nicole's experiences in becoming a librarian, book reviews and author interviews. She just started it, and she interviewed me.

I think the interview answers a lot of questions I get asked about The Shape of Water and Light Beneath Ferns which is my next YA.

Update: Light Beneath Ferns is due out in February, 2010. I'm official!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Happy Mothers' Day!

Mothers' Day is fast approaching, and like most holidays, this one is high on the hokey list. A few people sent me email quizzes this morning. You could find out what kind of TV mom you are, what kind of animal mom you are, even what kind of flower mom you are.

I had to work most of today, so I never took the quizzes. That probably says more about what kind of mom I am than the quizzes. Anyway, I never found a quiz that really echoed my particular mom experience, questions like this:

1. You are at a T ball game when a strange man arrives who does not seem to have a child involved in the game. You:

a) assume he has an introverted child somewhere on the field and ignore him
b) keep a careful eye on him while still watching your child run to first base
c) openly record the pedophile with your Camcorder until he flees

Three extra points if you can guess what I did in that situation. I still have the tape.

My boys sort of groaned when I reminded them it was Mothers' Day this Sunday. It was a soft, quiet groan, and I knew what it meant: she's going to ask us to do something.

I am. I am going to ask them to write something. That's all I told them. They looked at each other for a long moment.

"Write what?" Philip asked. "Don't make us write a poem or anything like that."

"There's an idea," I said.

Christopher shot his brother a scalding glance.

"It's sort of a poem. I want just a few short sentences about what you like about being in this family."

Loud groan.

"Can't we write about something else?" Christopher asked.

"Nope. I have to cook on Mothers' Day, which is illegal by the way, so you guys have to do this. Emma can't wait."

"Uh," Christopher reminded me, "she's a girl. They like this stuff."

"Lucky for her, isn't it?"

There were Napoleon Dynamite type sighs, snorty grunts, then they found a bag of corn chips and all was well.

It's probably the last year I can get away with this, but that's what I want. I know they are buying me a pair of earrings because they do every year. I love the earrings. But I really want those sentences more. I promised not to let anyone else read them, but I can't wait.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Sunday!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bloggy Stuff

Sometimes I feel like blogging is to the early 21st century as CB radio operators were to the 1970's -- I remember going on trips with my family (to exciting places like the Poconos) and we would look in the cars to see who had a CB radio. They were a way of communicating that was pretty much alien to us. "What could they be talking to each other about?" was the common catch phrase. CBers were highly identifiable nerds.

I'm pretty sure a lot of folks feel that way about bloggers. When my kids text, and text they do, friends who are not around teens constantly say: "Why are they texting so much? What could they be saying?" I think the common refrain here is: If I don't participate in it, how could anything that's transpiring there be important?

So the "organized mothers" talked about blogging the other day. This is my label for the women who are never late to anything, who have their Christmas cards out the day after Thanksgiving, and who can always locate all the papers necessary for the school trip the night before the school trip, and don't use the morning as an exercise in human stress capacity. I often say to my kids, "Hurry up, we'll be late and then I'll have to walk past all the organized mothers." This usually spurs them into action because I can't stand dealing with this group.

So the other day,at the spring concert, my daughter, a member of the fifth grade chorus, was hiding in the violin room because the chorus songs were "way, way too dorky to sing" -- I had to stand lookout for any stray school administrators while the fifth grade chorus sang without her. She didn't mind playing her violin in front of the school; it was the dorkiness of the songs that prompted her vanishing act.

It adds a new dimension to parenting when you are standing in front of a cluster of music stands stage whispering, "Emma, really, we'll get ice cream. McDonalds. Really. Just come out of there." To which she replied, "I'd rather be dead than sing those dorky songs."

Of course, while I was standing guard until the violins went on, a group of organized mothers were gathering (in an early and poised manner) right outside the violin room, right there alongside of me. They were talking about the Internet, and how the PTA needed a website.

They went from website chat to blogs, and they talked about how dumb blogs are, whose sister-in-law kept one, and how they are meaningless clutter on the Internet (my paraphrasing).

I like blogs. And it's not just because I have a semi-justifiable way of avoiding my real writing work by blog cruising. I like seeing what other writers are reading, what they are working on, and what they are thinking about books. I don't have the kind of life where I can call people very often; I don't have long periods of sustained time for conversation. And when I do, I have to use it to work. So blogs keep me connected with other folks, and mostly writing folks. I don't think I read any blogs of people who don't write. I am now a highly identifiable writing nerd connecting with other highly identifiable writing nerds.

All of this is a long way of saying that Flux, who is my publisher, has some great stuff going on over at its blog. It's got author interviews and streaming podcasts, and book giveaways -- I like to think if the organized mothers created a YA blog, it would be something comprehensive and appealing like this. Those organized moms are probably all right; they just don't speak my particular language.