Randomness

I don’t really have any one big topic to write about right now, but I have a whole bunch of random things that I feel like sharing.  Just for snicks.

  • The daffodils are almost done, but the lilacs are getting ready to bloom. What a great reminder that life may suck sometimes, but true beauty always comes back.  Things get better. They have to.
  • I just worked up the courage to enter the Writer’s Digest annual competition.  I used to enter it every year, but sort of let it fall by the wayside a while ago. I have no delusions about taking first place, but I’d like to get recognition for being somewhere in the Top 100. Even if I’m all the way down there in 100th place I’ll be ecstatic.
  • My espresso machine just broke. I feel as though I’ve lost a valued member of my family.
  • My daughter went to prom this weekend, and I got all nostalgic and weepy when I saw the pictures of her and her friends dressed up for the event. There are rumors around town that I spent the evening singing “Sunrise, Sunset” at the top of my lungs, but I can neither confirm nor deny that particular rumor.
  • I cut off my oldest son’s hair last week and discovered that he’s a pretty good-looking kid now that I can actually see his face.  Poor kid has this absolutely astonishing hair that grows wide instead of long. He usually won’t allow me to cut it because he says it is an endangered habitat for the baby eagles nesting in there. Yes, he says things like that all time.
  • My house has had no heat for a week, and my relationship with my afghans has moved to the next level.
  • Interesting tidbit that some folks may not realize:  if you are a blogger and you leave a comment on my blog, it leaves a clickable link that readers can follow back to your blog. This does not mean that I am sending people to your blog or linking to it in any way; when you leave a comment, you are creating that link yourself.
  • Readers who click on the link created by your comments are not “stalking” you.  Bloggers who approve your comments creating these links are not “stalking” you, either.
  • I will never again buy frozen burritos from the local Amish store. I still don’t know what was wrapped up inside those suckers, but it should never have been put inside a burrito. That was a bad idea.  And I should never have eaten two of them; that was an even worse idea.
  • Going back for a third one the next day was just stupidity on my part. I’ve got no excuse.
  • Speaking of the Amish, I saw something yesterday that was just delightfully wrong on so many levels: four Amish ladies, in full black dresses, bonnets and aprons, jumping on a trampoline.
  • Words failed me.
  • Seriously, words never fail me.
  • I have chosen to discontinue my author interviews for the time being for some personal reasons that I’d rather not go into right now. Don’t worry; I plan on starting up again when things calm down a bit in my world.
  • And speaking of author interviews . . . those of you who enjoyed my conversation with Zombie author M. Lauryl Lewis may be interested to know that her book Grace Lost has been nominated for the Zombie Book of the Month Club. If you’d like to vote, click here and scroll through the comments until you see the mention of Grace Lost. Then just “like” it. That’s all there is to it.
  • I am speaking about writing and self-publishing at my local library in two weeks, and I am utterly terrified. I just know I’m going to stutter; my old lisp is going to come back, and I will probably forget how to speak English. That’s a problem, because I don’t really know how to speak anything else, either.
  • Oh, and one last thing. Like any author, I have set up Google alerts to let me know whenever there is an online mention of my pen name, my real name, the names of my books, and so on. When I receive an email letting me know of such a mention, I check it out. That is not “stalking.” That is “protecting my professional image.”
  • And that’s all I’ve got to say on that.

Now I’m off to watch part of my youngest nephew’s baseball game, followed by youngest son’s first game of the season. It’s cold and damp outside, and sitting on the bleachers is going to be just plain awful.

And I can’t wait.

Adventures of the Amoeba Squad

The memory that haunts me is more of a composite memory, really. The events all happened when I was so young that my mind has sort of squashed them all together, kind of like a memory meatloaf.

It involves the summers I spent as a child with my aunts at their cottage on Lake Michigan. The Aunts were my father’s four sisters who never married, never lived alone, never made a move without first consulting each other.  My father was not on speaking terms with them for most of my formative years, and my sisters and I secretly referred to them as The Amoeba

My aunts had no children of their own, but they were firmly convinced that they were experts at child-rearing.  In all matters of discipline, education, nutrition and entertainment, they knew it all.  God help anyone who dared disagree with the Amoeba, which also explains a lot about why my mother’s relationship with them wasn’t all that terrific, either.

Aunt Marian, for example, couldn’t see the nutritional difference between sugary cereals and a candy bar, so we routinely ate Snickers bars for breakfast. She believed that dairy products could soothe an upset tummy, which meant that we ate ice cream between bouts of vomiting when we had the flu.

I cringe now that I’m a mother, but oh, man, did I love the food at my aunts’ house!

The Aunts also had some strange beliefs about what was and was not appropriate for children.  Actually, they had some strange beliefs about a lot of things. Aunt Verna believed that douching with warm Pepsi could prevent pregnancy, so all pop served to teenage girls in that house was served on ice, thank you very much.  She saw that as her way of preventing teenage sex. As teenagers, my sisters and I loved to come home from dates and make a big show of pouring ourselves a big, tall glass of warm Pepsi, just to mess with her mind.

But the memories that haunt me don’t involve dating, douching, or Pepsi.

Not just for drinking anymore.
Not just for drinking anymore.

My aunts were addicted to police scanners.  They were four of the nosiest people in the world, and they discovered scanners about the time they realized that their nineteen sets of binoculars and two telescopes just weren’t bringing in enough information.  They had a scanner in the living room, a scanner in the kitchen, and Aunt Marian had her own personal scanner in the bedroom.

They memorized the police codes, and they knew precisely when some juicy, gossip-worthy event was taking place anywhere in the county. And if those events took place in the middle of the night, the aunts saw nothing wrong in waking us up and taking us for a ride to the scene in the trusty family station wagon, also known as Wag, the unofficial eighth member of our tribe.

“Up and at ‘em, Girls!” Aunt Marian would crow. “There’s a fire at the old five-and-dime!” or “They’ve found a body down by the marina!”  We’d stumble into the clothes she tossed us and wrap up in our matching white windbreakers – yes, we all seven wore matching white windbreakers everywhere we went. On foggy nights, I think we probably traumatized quite a few other spectators when we materialized out of the gloom like some demented Amoeba Squad.

It seems like there were always bodies being hauled out of the lake.  That sounds pretty grim, but it never seemed that way to me as a kid.  My aunts had made it abundantly clear to us that the water could be dangerous when not regarded with the proper respect and caution.  Drownings were a part of summer life at the beach.  Boats capsized, teenagers were overcome after diving from the pier, little children wandered away from parents.  It was just something that happened, and my aunts believed that exposing us to that ugly truth was an appropriate way of teaching us to respect the water.

In retrospect, I shudder to think of the things we saw. To a certain extent, I can understand my aunts’ fascination with drowning, because two of their brothers were killed in a boating accident in the 1950’s, but I still cannot begin to comprehend the logic of taking three little girls along to stand in a crowd to see a body loaded up and taken away.

The night I remember most vividly, we waited on the pier amid a growing crowd for what seemed like hours.  Rumor had it that the body had been found a few miles out and they were having trouble retrieving it.  It had been in the water for quite some time, they said, and was so badly decomposed that it was impossible to determine gender at that time.  I don’t know what standard procedure is in a situation like that, or whether any of the rumors were true, but the general consensus was that the body was so far gone that it couldn’t even be picked up out of the water; it was said that the Coast Guard had to scoop a body bag around it and drag it behind the boat.

I strongly doubt that’s what really happened.   But I stood there with the rest of them, clustered around the North Pier’s old white lighthouse that’s been gone for almost thirty years now.  We craned our necks and murmured theories about who it might be, and every once in a while someone would shout when they thought they saw a boat somewhere on the horizon.

I don’t think they ever actually brought a body in that night.  Or if they did, I have forgotten the details.  I remember giving up and shuffling back home, where we brushed the sand from our bare feet and hung our seven white windbreakers on seven hooks before crawling back into our beds.

We were terribly disappointed, and that’s the part that haunts me.  A human being, someone’s son or daughter, died in Lake Michigan, and we were disappointed because we didn’t get to see the body dragged out of the water.  A life ended.  Somewhere, a heart broke and a soul mourned the loss of a loved one, and I was part of a group of ghouls watching, waiting to see the gory results.

I remember that night every time I drive past a car accident and see the gawkers slowing down, or when I see a house fire on the news with clusters of onlookers waiting to see if anyone died.   I feel that same sense of shame, and I force myself to look the other way.

The memory that haunts me is the memory that makes me turn away from watching somebody’s pain, someone else’s loss, because I never want to be part of that crowd again.  Not even if I could still fit into the old white windbreaker.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “The memory that haunts me is . . . ”  

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Facebook Rant #2

I discovered Facebook when my youngest child was just a baby and I had finally returned to work.  One of the other girls in the salon showed me how to set up an account, but I wondered at the time if I wasn’t too old to be getting involved in something like that.

It’s been five years now, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m hooked.  Oh, I tell everyone it’s all about monitoring the kids and their friends, or networking for my writing career, or helping me keep abreast of school and athletic events.

Sure.

Okay, I’ve reconnected with old friends that I hadn’t talked to since high school.  I’ve found relatives who had drifted out of my life.  I’ve even found relatives I didn’t know I had!  I’ve got a fan page for my blog and my books, and I’ve even managed to buy and sell household items through a garage sale “page” on Facebook.  And it’s a great way to share pictures with relatives that I don’t see as often as I’d like.

But guys, we need to talk.

Parents, think before you shame your kid on Facebook.  Seriously, I am so appalled when I see mothers who get on their page to rant and rave about how lazy their kids are, or how ungrateful, or whatever.  Sure, we all feel that way about our kids sometimes, but how disrespectful is it to use your computer to tell the world such terrible things about your own flesh and blood!  Think about it:  if a fellow teenager dedicates 4-5 status updates per day calling Little Johnny a lazy bastard or an ungrateful little jerk, wouldn’t we jump all over that teenager for bullying Little Johnny?  And yet Little Johnnies all over the world have parents who do the same thing nearly every day and never think twice.

Here’s another way to think about it.  Let’s say Little Johnny gets on Facebook and calls his mother lazy or ungrateful.  Maybe he insults her cooking, too, because that’s just the kind of kid Little Johnny is.   Most likely, he’s going to be disciplined for disrespecting his mother on Facebook, right?

So why does his mom think it’s okay for her to disrespect him on Facebook?

And don’t argue with someone else’s kid on Facebook.  Adults should act like adults.

I also see people complaining about their jobs and co-workers.  Seriously, guys, you realize that you can get fired for that, right?  You really want to call your boss a name?  Okay, call him “Ex-boss” because that’s what he’ll be after he fires your stupid ass for gossiping about your job on Facebook.

And come on, guys; everybody knows who you mean when you refer to someone as “you-know-who” or respond to comments with “Send me a message; I’ll tell you who it is.”  I recently unfriended a woman because she was constantly kvetching about “that one certain person” in vague terms and I couldn’t get past my concern that she was referring to me.  Okay, so I’m a bit paranoid at times, but it was downright creepy.

Then of course, there’s my personal favorite:  women who slam their husband or boyfriends on Facebook.  I’m sure there are men who do this too, but I see so much more of it with my women friends than with my guy friends.  A woman will have a fight with her husband and then go on Facebook to announce to the world that he’s a cheater, an abuser, a gambler, an alcoholic, or whatever.    She begs for pity, getting hundreds of supportive comments reassuring her that she’s a strong and beautiful woman.  Her friends cluster around to agree that she’s too good for the guy, and sling around more insults about him.

Half the time, the poor guy didn’t even know they were having a fight when he left for work that morning.

I guess what I’m saying is that some people just have no common sense about what is and isn’t okay to air on Facebook.  Girls, nobody cares about your period or how long it’s been since you’ve had sex.  We don’t want to know  that you have a yeast infection.  Guys, we don’t care that your balls itch.  Just shut up, turn around, and scratch them, for God’s sake.  Don’t make a public announcement on Facebook that your freaking balls itch.

Ladies, if your man just cheated on you or beat the crap out of you, leave him.  Call the cops if you must.  Don’t get on Facebook to tell the world you caught him screwing the neighbor, or post pictures of your black eye and busted lip.  Rather than bitch about the situation, change the situation.

And Moms, think about what you are about to say about your own child.  Would you slap the stupid out of your own kid for saying that about you?  Then don’t say it about him.  Common sense, people.  Before you get out there and post a rant about your kid’s coach or teacher for all of your 600+ Facebook friends to see, take a second to wonder if that coach or teacher might not be offended and perhaps take it out on your kid.  In short, if you insist on calling the coach a dick all over Facebook, don’t expect your kid to get much playing time.

It’s been a rough couple of days here, obviously.   I am in a bad mood.  People are pissing me off, and that just never works out well for anyone.

So come on, everybody.  Talk to me.  What are some of the worst things that you see people do on Facebook?  What really ticks you off?

Trick or Treat

One Halloween, I felt like the worst mother in the world.

I was still a relatively new mom, and I was trying much too hard to be one of those over-achiever moms like my perfect sister with her perfect house and perfect children in their perfectly hand-made costumes.  I felt that it was my job – nay, my duty – to make perfect hand-made Halloween costumes, no matter what.

My daughter’s costumes always turned out well, but my oldest son was another story.  Something always seemed to go wrong.  He was a hand-me-down pumpkin on his first trick-or-treat outing because I didn’t finish his bear costume; he was terrified of the clown costume I made for his second, and I was faced with the choice of letting him writhe on the floor in abject terror or slapping a Little Tykes hard hat on his head and calling him Bob the Builder.

It was on his third Halloween that I came close to failing him completely.

Wal-Mart had an adorable pattern for a Pikachu costume, and the boy was all about Pokémon at that age.  I showed him the pictures, let him touch the fabric, pleaded with him, but to no avail.  He just didn’t want it.  He wanted Bob the Builder again.  I tried and tried to convince him that he needed to let his mother make him a costume, but he just had no interest in anything I had to offer.

Halloween Day arrived, and I hung his sister’s Snow White costume in the living room to show her before I drove her to pre-school.  There were no costumes allowed in school; it was called a “Fall Festival Day” rather than a Halloween party.

The Dark Prince and I walked the Princess into her school and then returned to my car for the drive home.    As I pulled out of the parking lot, I glanced in the rearview mirror– and I saw the biggest, bluest eyes I have ever seen, shedding huge silent tears.

I should say right here that the Dark Prince has never been my easy child.  He was colicky from Day 1, opinionated from his first word, and contrary from the day he figured out how to scowl.  He is still a gifted pessimist who can find the dark cloud surrounded by any silver lining.  Now, don’t get me wrong; he’s a tender-hearted and generous soul when he lets his guard down, but the boy has always had some serious walls.  He rarely asks for anything, so when he does ask, we know it’s important to him.

“Want . . . Pikachu,” he whimpered that day.

It was eight o’clock on Halloween morning, and my baby wanted to be Pikachu.  Really, now, what choice did I have?

I rushed him to Wal-Mart for the pattern, fabric, tulle, and trims.  I plopped him in front of the TV for a Pokémon marathon, and I sewed for all I was worth.  I cut and sewed and swore (and cried, I’m sure) and hated every single stitch I put into that costume, but it was finished by the time we went to pick up the Princess.

Pikapi?
Pikapi?

He was adorable in the costume.  He looked more like a small yellow cow than a tiny electric Pokémon, but he sure made an adorable yellow cow.

I felt redeemed by that stupid yellow cow costume.  I felt like it proved I was a good mom.  After all, I gave him the costume he wanted, didn’t I?  Sewed it with my own two hands.

But later that night, when Pikachu and Snow White shed their costumes in a heap on the living room floor and fought to share my lap, I changed my mind.  They both had upset tummies and smelled of stale chocolate, and both fell asleep in my arms while I cuddled them close and worried that I had let them eat too much candy.  I should have rationed it out, I told myself; I should have counted it and doled out a mere piece or two.  I should have given them baths and tucked them into their own beds in their own room.  I should have taken more pictures to show their father, who worked second shift and had to miss the fun.  There was an enormous list of all of the things I should have done.

I really beat myself up over not being perfect.  I wanted so much to be a good mom who did everything right.   Instead of enjoying those two not-so-perfect wonders on my lap, I worried and stressed and second-guessed my every move.

But there is nothing in this world as rewarding as holding a sleeping child, and holding two of them that night was truly what my Aunt Marian always called “one of life’s bonuses.”  I slumped on that couch for hours with one child over my shoulder and the other curled up against my belly, just watching them sleep, feeling their warmth seep into my body and my soul.

Sometimes . . . sometimes a mother’s heart gets so full that only a miracle keeps it from bursting.

The Dark Prince turned sixteen yesterday.  He is still dark and pessimistic at times, with an edgy and sarcastic sense of humor.  It has been years since he could sit on my lap; I barely reach his shoulder when he hugs me good-bye before leaving to spend the week at his father’s.  He is a Junior in high school, and all too soon it will be time to let him go.

He is so smart that I haven’t been able to help him with his homework since he was in fourth grade.  He is funny but quiet at school, although I defy anyone to try to shut him up when he gets going on his favorite subjects:  Nikolai Tesla, Teddy Roosevelt, and Anime.   I don’t think he’s had a girlfriend yet, but I could be wrong.  Telling his mother about a girlfriend isn’t something that falls within his comfort zone.

I worry about him, just like I worry about his brother and sister.  But I worry just a bit more about him because, of all my children, he is the least likely to ask for help or tell me about his problems.

I hope he never forgets that he’s got a mom who will drop everything to turn him into an adorable yellow cow if that is what he needs to make him happy.  And I hope I never forget that being a good mom has nothing to do with handmade costumes or being a “perfect” anything.  It’s all about holding them close, breaking the rules once in a while, and remembering how much I love them.

It’s as much about knowing when to hold them as it is about knowing when to let them go.

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “One Halloween, I…”  

For information on Finish the Sentence Friday,Join our Facebook page! 

A Family Matter

It’s easy to be selfish. I’ve been so overwhelmed lately by all of the things going on in my life that I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything or anyone but myself.  Going back to work, trying to finish His Heart Aflame, planning for my upcoming book signing at Octoberfest. I’ve been scrambling to pay bills with money I haven’t earned yet, stressing about my books, my job, my bills, my kids.

Me, me, me. It’s all about me.

Until this morning, when my daughter said, “Nick’s been in a car accident, Mom.”

Let me backtrack. “Nick” is not one of my kids.  Not one of my nephews or cousins or any kind of a blood relation.  He’s one of my daughter’s friends, the son of one of my friends.  A good kid, but not one of mine.

Still, the world stopped for a moment. Just until she read a little farther down the Facebook post and found out that he’s going to be okay.  Shaken up, a bit bruised and royally pissed off about getting some points on his license, but okay.

I don’t like this part of parenting. I’m a worrier; yes, I am that mom.  I’m the mom who always expects the worst when it comes to my kids’ safety.  I am both fiercely overprotective and ridiculously pessimistic.  I am constantly afraid of all of the horrible things that could happen to my babies.  If I had it my way, they would never learn to drive or leave the house unescorted.   I wish I could wrap all three in big safety bubbles and watch them every second of every minute of every day, just to keep them safe.

I go overboard with the worrying about my own kids, but I am not supposed to worry about other people’s kids like this. They aren’t mine.  It’s not my place.

But this is a small town. Most of these kids have known each other since preschool or at least early elementary.  Some have known each other since birth.  They don’t all like each other; there are definite cliques in our tiny school, just as there are in larger schools.

But these guys know each other, and we parents know them.  We watch out for each other, either to protect or to keep track of the gossip about whose kid did what.  Our kids compete to see who will get the best grades, who will be the best football player, who will be Valedictorian.  And the parents?  We compare notes and we brag about our kids, and I think we’ve all had our moments of feeling a bit smug when one of ours came out on top.

But when one of our kids is hurt, we aren’t just a small town. We are more than a community.  We are a family.

When one of our kids is hurt, we don’t care who got better grades or who made into the Homecoming Court. It doesn’t matter if someone’s parent offended someone else’s parent, or even if our kids were fighting with each other.

All that matters is, Is he going to be okay?

As our kids get older and gain more freedom from us, they face more dangers and we face more fears. Most of them are driving now, which means we have so much more to worry about.  One boy broke his neck in an accident on icy roads last winter; another broke a femur in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in May, and now Nick rolled his Dad’s truck trying to avoid a Sandhill Crane in the middle of the road.

When one of our kids is hurt, I don’t just think, wow, that could have been mine.  I think, I remember when he went to Little League All-Stars with my son.    I think, I remember when he used to call my daughter ten times a day and then hang up in a panic when a grown-up answered the phone.  I think, Hey, I promised my kid I’d invite that boy over for dinner someday.

I think, No, we can’t lose these kids. The world needs them.  God, please keep protecting them!

And then life goes on. We put on a little more make-up to cover the new worry lines, and we joke about our kids giving us more gray hairs, and we go back to work.  Back to parenting, back to worrying, back to praying that God will keep them safe one more time through one more close call.

And we hug them a little tighter, hold them a little closer, try so hard not to let them go.

Even when they aren’t our own.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

I know you don’t get many letters from people my age, but I am writing to you because I find myself facing Christmas this year without very much to believe in.

I can accept the fact that there won’t be many presents under the tree for me.  I’m an adult; I can handle it.  The Big Guy and I have agreed that it would be foolish to exchange gifts this year, and I’ve always taught my kids to spend their money on each other rather than on me.  With Mom and Dad and The Girls gone, that leaves only my sister, with whom I have also agreed not to exchange gifts.

Christmas isn’t all about the presents.   But Santa, I still have a wish list of everything that I want this year.

I want to sign the papers on my little house and get started on the next part of my life.  It’s just a worn-out manufactured home on less than an acre of land, but it’s in my price range and it’s got enough bedrooms for my kids and me.  And it’s got closets, something I have lived without for the past eighteen years.

Ah, closets!  I could spend weeks extolling the virtue of having places to put things away!  But I digress.

I want an easy winter this first year on my own.  It has been too easy to sit back and let the Big Guy do all of the driving in bad weather.  He says he will still do more than his fair share of it now, but I don’t want to be that ex-wife.  I want to get along with him and be nice to each other despite our divorce, but I don’t want to need him.

I will not be pathetic.  I will not need a man who doesn’t need me.

Santa, I want a good night’s sleep.  I’ll settle for five or six good hours, if that’s all I can get.  I want to drift off gently instead of tossing and turning until I pass out from sheer exhaustion, and I want to stop waking up at two, at three, at four-thirty, staring at the ceiling and listening to thoughts and memories chase each other around my mind until I give up and make an extra-strong pot of coffee to get me through the day.  Coffee that I used to divide between his white Chemtreat mug and my seagull mug every morning, but that I now pour into just mine.

Coffee for one, please
Coffee for one, please

Santa, I want my kids to like the Upgrade, and I beg you to see to it that she loves them, treats them well.  But please, please, see to it that they don’t love her more.  Give me something, some way to compete in their eyes.  She is younger, prettier, happier with this new love in her life.

Please, Santa, give my children the gift of understanding that their boring, lonely old mother has always done her best.

And someday, Santa, I want to love someone again.  Maybe not this year, maybe not for several years.  But please, let me know that I haven’t lost the ability to love, that my heart is going to be good for something besides just pumping blood back and forth in my chest.

I don’t need roses or candlelight dinners.  I just want someone who will say “I love you” first instead of always “love you, too”.  Someone who will sit with me on the couch and watch stupid TV shows together or hold my hand in public, who doesn’t care what people think if he kisses me right in the middle of the park during the town Christmas Festival.  Someone who cares enough to remember the stupid, tiny details about me, like my favorite color or the fact that I hate apple pie.

Someone who will still think I am beautiful, even after eighteen years – and who will say so once in a while.

Someone who won’t go looking for an Upgrade, because I will be enough for him.

Someone who will love me as much as I love him.

All I want for Christmas, Santa, is a little bit of Hope that everything is going to be okay, and that life is going to get better.

School Dazed

I had a nice little post written for today, all ready to go.  It was funny, cute, kind of trite.  Basically, a good five hundred words about this weeks “celebrations”.

Then the phone calls and Facebook messages started coming in, and suddenly I don’t feel like celebrating anymore.

Are you watching the news?

Did you hear what happened?

What school do your kids go to?

Thankfully, it wasn’t their school.  But it’s a school that’s ten minutes away.  My daughter’s dance recital is supposed to be in the auditorium there in just a few weeks.  I know the school, and I know some of the kids.

At this point, most of the information is sketchy, but two important bits are getting through:  It was a “homemade explosive device” that went off, and no one was hurt.

Thank God.

We buckle them into their carseats; we fasten their bicycle helmets.  We take them to get their immunizations, and we try to get them to eat healthy foods.  We do everything we can to keep them safe.  And then we send them off to school, where they should have to worry about grades and popularity and ACT scores.

How do we protect them from bombs in lockers?

It’s all well and good to try to be an optimist;  I want to believe the words of Patton Oswalt about  that “fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent” that do horrible things.  I really want to keep the faith that my fellow human beings are basically good.

Maybe tomorrow.

Today, I’ve lost my faith.

Shoulda Coulda Woulda

Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t.

 

Hoo boy.  I could write a novel about all of the things on that list.  Oh, wait.  Writing my novel is on the list too.

Now that my kids are all in school, my house should be spotless and my novel should be in the last stages of its final edit.  I should be able to prepare delicious meals for my family, complete with tasty desserts.  I should exercise, write letters to The Big Guy’s Great-Aunt, finish the baby quilt I am working on, read a good book.  I should reach out to old friends and family members that I haven’t seen in a while.  I should do volunteer work with all of this free time.

But . . . I don’t.

I can only blame just so much of it on chronic pain.  There are people out there in much worse shape than I am who manage to function.

It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to people who have never dealt with depression.  They ask me, “What do you do all day?” and I don’t know what to say.

“I sit here in this chair and think about all of the things I should be doing,” I should tell them.  “Most days, I cry a lot because I don’t know what to do or where to start.  I cry because I want to be a good wife and mother, a good person.  I want to do all of those things. . . but I don’t, and I don’t know why, and then I cry because I don’t want to be crying.”

I should explain to them that I spend my days making bargains with myself, trying to trick my will-power into getting back to work.  For every mindless half-hour of staring at the walls, I tell myself that I must do a chore.  Wash the dishes that never get completely done.  Fold the laundry that is wadded in the basket and should probably be re-washed.  Run the vacuum.  Go outside and go for a walk.  Write a chapter or a query letter or anything, for God’s sake.

Just get out of that chair and move.

And then it’s 3:00 and the kids will be home in a half-hour and I start to panic because nothing is done and I have to cook supper and make phone calls and scramble to cover up the evidence of my inactivity.  I have to dry the tears and get dressed and pretend that I remembered to shower.

I have to make up stories about my busy day to explain what they see as my being lazy.  I have to make excuses and try to act “normal” and then bow my head in shame in the face of the irritation and impatience and downright anger from the people who just don’t get it.

I should tell the world that I don’t want to live this way.  This isn’t my choice.

Depression is an illness, not a choice.    Who would choose to live like this?

I should be able to move on and stop dwelling on things.  Stop talking about and re-living the car accident that changed my life.  Stop grieving for the career that I lost—for everything that I lost –the night I broke my neck.  Stop feeling sorry for myself.  Stop missing Mom and Dad and Marian and Jennifer and Kristy and all of the people I loved who died too young, too soon.  Stop regretting  the way my life has turned out.

I should surround myself with positive people and read books that lift my soul.  I should pray harder and ask God for His help.

More than anything else, I should admit to myself and the world that I am suffering; I should accept that the time has come for me to ask for help.

I should step away from the computer and make a phone call.

New Year’s Resolution? Hah!

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution that you kept?
Nope.

Well, that could be the shortest blog ever.

It does raise an interesting question for me: If I never keep my resolutions, why do I keep making them? To answer that, I had to sit down and take a painfully honest look at the three big resolutions that keep popping up every year.

Lose weight. Yeah, that’s always on my list. So why don’t I do it? I like food. I hate exercise. Pretty simple equation. Every year, I have stronger incentive: it’s harder to lose as I get older, I have kids who need me to play with them, my sister had two heart attacks in her early forties, etc.

The past year and a half have given me more reasons to gain and even stronger reasons to lose. My new limited mobility makes it harder to exercise and easier to sit on my ever-increasing butt. But the heavier I get, the more difficulty I will have in continuing to recover. If I ever want to walk normally and live without constant pain, I absolutely must lose weight.

I refuse to be one of those fat ladies using the scooter at Wal-Mart.

Finish writing my novel. Another repeat offender. I haven’t followed through on this one because I’m a champion procrastinator. I’ve got a house to run, kids to raise, meals to cook, etc. I can always find something that has to be done, something that I give higher priority than my writing.

It probably has something to do with fear that I’m not as good as I like to think I am. If I never finish the novel, it can never be rejected by a publisher. If I never finish the first one, I never have to worry about following up with a second one. If I never finish, I can’t fail.

Wow, that’s really stupid.

I have to set this one again. Now that I am physically unable to go back to work, writing seems to be the only job I am qualified to do. And since our government says I am not disabled, I have to find a way to earn a paycheck before my lost-wages checks run out. This is my only employable skill.

My car accident took away so much, but it also gave me an incredible opportunity to focus on writing. I can’t waste a chance like this. It’s life’s way of forcing me to put a positive spin on a terrible event so I can haul my ass out of self-pity.

Be a better Mom. Don’t all parents make this resolution? We all should. In a way, I do keep this one, simply because I keep trying to improve. There is no perfect mother in this world (although the Big Guy will argue that his mother is perfect), but sometimes doing my best is just the best it’s going to get. My kids are clean and well-fed, and they know their mommy loves them. They may not get the best help with homework or the most consistent discipline; they eat far too many meals on TV trays instead of at the table and sometimes they wear the same pair of jeans two days in a row because I’m behind on the laundry.

But at the end of the day, the last thing any one of my kids hears from me is “I love you.” They look out for each other, and they treat others with respect. They know they are loved and they know that they matter, and there are days when that just has to be enough.

And that’s my resolution list for this year. I’m going to leave off most of the others that just aren’t going to happen: Keep a cleaner house. Read Anna Karenina. Learn Spanish.

It’s Okay

The preschool teacher posted a message on the class Facebook page last Friday afternoon, advising parents not to discuss the tragedy in Connecticut with our very young children.

I respect this woman as a teacher and as a mother; I’ve known her for years, and her reputation is beyond reproach.  She is undeniably wise and very good at what she does.

I like to think I’m a good Mom too, but I have really struggled with this one.  I believe in being honest with my children.  My little boy has teenaged siblings and he rides the school bus with kids ranging from preschool to twelfth grade.  He’s going to hear things.  I have wondered if he might be more frightened by our silence on the issue.

I didn’t mention it to him, but I’ve watched him.  And I’ve waited for a sign to show me what to do.

As I tucked him into bed last night, he looked up and made an announcement.

“We do lockdown drills at school.”

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“You do?”

Big nod.  “We go in the play kitchen and go down on the floor and be really quiet so nobody knows we’re there.  When we do a fire drill, we walk but we never run and when we do a tornado drill we never go outside.”

“Sounds like you do lots of drills at your school.”

“Yeah.  But I don’t like lockdown drills.  I don’t want a bad man with a gun to go to my school.”

Dear God, what can a mother say to that?   I wanted to pull him close and hold him and cry.  I don’t want my four year-old to have to be afraid of bad men with guns.  Hell, I don’t want my fourteen or fifteen year-old  kids to be afraid.  I don’t want to be afraid for them.

He climbed up into my lap and we talked for a long time.  I told him that I did fire drills and tornado drills when I was a little girl, but my school never had a fire or a tornado.  I told him that drills are for practice just in case something bad happens, but that the “something bad” will probably never happen.  And yes, I told him that it was true, those kids he had heard about really are in Heaven because of a bad man with a gun.  I showed him on a map just how far away Connecticut is from Michigan, and I made sure that he understood that this particular bad man can never hurt anyone again.

Time will tell if I was right or wrong to talk to my youngest boy about it, but I feel that it was the right thing to do.  He’s a smart little boy, and he had heard enough that he needed someone to reassure him.  He deserved the truth – a brief, heavily edited version of the truth in age-appropriate terms, but  I am convinced that  an outright lie would have done more damage in the long run.

I wasn’t going to write about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School because I didn’t lose anyone there.  It’s not my place to milk it for lots of “likes” and “follows” on my blog.  No matter how sick or saddened I feel, my feelings are nothing compared to what the families and friends of the victims are going through right now.  I can’t presume to speak for any of them or to say that I understand what they are going through.  I can’t.

But we need to talk about it.  As a country, as parents, as human beings.  We all need comfort.

We don’t need the news to keep running the same pictures on an endless loop, and we don’t need to hear politicians arguing about gun control or prayer in schools or whatever soapbox they are on at the moment.

We need to talk about love and loss and grief, and yes, we need to talk about fear.

Our children need to know that it’s okay to be scared or sad or angry about this, and they need to know that the adults in their lives will answer their questions to the best of our ability.

I’m no therapist or expert on human nature.  I’m just a writer.   But I like to think that sometimes common sense trumps education.  And my common sense says to talk when you need to talk.  Ask what you need to ask.

Cry when you need to cry.

And always, always, remember to say “I love you.”