I’m a Little Teapot . . .

With all this talk about beaches lately, I decided to take my little boy for a swim yesterday. I didn’t feel like battling the post-holiday crowds that might still be lingering in South Haven, so we headed out for a nearby inland lake.

That was our first mistake.

Let me backtrack a bit and explain just exactly what was involved in this little trip to the ol’ swimmin’ hole.

First, I had to locate my swimsuit and do my damnedest to squeeze my pudgy self into that tummy-control, cleavage-enhancing, fat-minimizing adventure in lycra/spandex. I twisted, stretched, tugged, groaned and gasped my way into a mass of black fabric that fought back with all its might as I demanded that it do things it was never intended to do.

I think I may have blacked out for a while, but I’m not entirely sure. I like to think I just made a spontaneous decision to take a quick nap somewhere between adjusting the left boob and covering the right ass cheek.

After that, I had to pack the picnic lunch for my boy who has apparently decided that he no longer eats any kind of lunchmeat that isn’t honey ham. The smoked ham, bologna and salami in my refrigerator are now evil entities that he refuses to touch.

So, after I made up cheese sandwiches and loaded them into the cooler with extra bottles of water, we headed out to Osterhout Lake, which is approximately three to five minutes away, depending on how many times I have to stop for ducks or turtles crossing the dirt road.

Unfortunately, I missed the news a few months ago that part of the dirt road washed out during a bad storm, and there isn’t enough money in the state budget to fix the road until next year. With the road closed off, I had to figure out a detour.

That was my second mistake.

I have lived in this area for twenty years. I’ve taken my kids to Osterhout hundreds of times. My daughter’s best friend lived on the road to Osterhout. So did our former babysitter. In other words, I should know my way around.

“Should” being the operative word here.

My son and I did a little unplanned sightseeing yesterday afternoon. We bumped along dirt roads, paved roads, private roads and a grassy field at one particularly embarrassing point. I passed the Christian Fellowship building that my older children used to attend. I saw road signs for the town of Merson and debated making a little side trip to visit my family cemetery.

I was almost in tears when I spotted a familiar street sign. “Forty-sixth street?” I demanded of no one in particular. “How in the fuck did I get to forty-sixth street?”

My son was laughing so hard by this point that he was having difficulty breathing.

“I drove a complete circle around Osterhout Lake,” I wailed.

“Actually, it was more of a square,” he said, and then dissolved into more giggles.

I took a quick left and stopped in my ex-husband’s driveway to get my bearings. “We’re not going swimming today,” I said. “We’re going to have our picnic in the park.”

“Can you even find the park, Mom?”

At the park, which I found on the first try, I texted the friend who was supposed to meet us at the lake. “Got lost. Fuck swimming. Going to park instead.”

She told me to meet her in her driveway in 30 minutes so I could follow her to the lake.

That was my third mistake.

You see, my friend is a lovely person who has absolutely no concept of time. None. Whatsoever. And her three children are just as laid-back. While I waited in her driveway, the kids all wandered out, one by one, in search of something, and just sort of meandered away to the neighbor’s yard. One came back and waved and then vanished again.  After a few minutes, I saw movement in the back yard and realized that her kids had started an impromptu baseball game with some friends.

Friends whose parents may or may not have had people sitting in their driveways, waiting to go to the beach.

Finally, we headed out and travelled down some lovely country roads, past cornfields and pastures filled with cows. Down tree-lined streets, alongside pretty streams and lovely old farmhouses. We turned right down forty-sixth street (of course) and veered right at the next T and there we were: Osterhout Lake, only two and a half hours after leaving my apartment.

Which, for the record, was about three to five minutes away.

I learned many things during yesterday’s outing, but one lesson in particular stands out more than any others.

And what did I learn?

I learned to take off my little teapot-shaped necklace if I’m going to be out in the sun.

teapot

Leo

There’s a new guy in my life, and he is amazing. He’s got gorgeous golden hair and big brown eyes that are exactly the color of melted chocolate, and I am just blown away by the utter adoration I see in those eyes whenever he looks at me.

When our eyes meet, it’s almost like he can’t get to me fast enough. He can’t wait to get his paws on me and cover me with wet, eager kisses.  Sometimes, at night, he stands under my bedroom window and calls out to me, forcing me to open the window and hiss at him to hush before he wakes the whole street.

He can never be mine, though. He belongs to another woman. That’s right; I have become something I never thought I could be. I am the Other Woman.

But it’s all right, because Leo is sort of a hound. A real dirty dog.

Actually, more of Golden Retriever mix. Leo is my neighbor’s new dog, and I really don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that he is obsessed with me. He’s been known to jump into my car and perch on the passenger seat with an expectant look on his face, as if to say, “Hey, baby, where’re we going?” He dodges past me and into my home to sit in the middle of my living room, and I swear he looks like he’s saying, “Hi, Honey, I’m home!”

Although his young owner is terribly embarrassed by his behavior, I have to admit that I’m kind of enjoying it. I miss the dog that I left behind with my ex-husband, so it’s always nice to be able to shower a little bit of affection on someone else’s dog once in a while. But more than that, it’s refreshing to have some attention and yes, adoration, from a male of any species at this point in my life.

God, I hate being single.

I was never very good at dating, even when I was younger. I was always self-conscious about something, whether it was my weight or my lack of experience with men or the fact that I am just not a very sophisticated person. I once dated a really, really rich guy and spent every date worrying about whether or not I was using the right fork. He was a very sweet man, but so far out of my league that it could never have worked.

So here I am, single and nearly fifty years old, and I write romance novels.  Could I be any more of a living cliché? Well, maybe if I get a few cats.

I think that’s why I tend to write about average people. The characters in my novels are not billionaires or heiresses or even corporate VIPs, although I enjoy reading books with those type of characters. I write about people like me. People who work as hairdressers and teachers or mechanics and worry about making the mortgage. I write about people who are searching for something in life, but not necessarily love; I try to write about people who are looking for a spot to land, a place to call home, a life that fits. And, of course, since I write romance novels, they always find love while searching for something else.

So far, my characters are also healing, physically or emotionally, because that’s where I’ve been in my own life these past few years.  Whether it was Tara recovering from her car accident, Lisa moving on after her divorce, or Maggie learning to follow through, I’ve tried to write about women who find love because they grow and heal; I don’t ever want to create the kind of female characters who have to be rescued by a man in order to be complete.  The flipside of this is my desire to create male characters that are also in need of healing and/or personal growth. Ethan needs to let go of his bitterness and anger, Sean needs to grow up and make a decision for himself, and Daniel needs to let go of his fantasy woman so he can get to know the real woman he is falling for.

I believe in love. I believe it’s every bit as necessary as food or water or air. I believe I’ll find it again, and that’s why I write romance novels despite my being single.

I think that’s also why I’m struggling so much with Their Love Rekindled. Cassie Garcia is a single mom, a widow trying to repair her life after losing her firefighter husband in Her House Divided. She is a woman with many secrets and a responsibility to protect her dead husband’s reputation in a small town full of whispers and gossip. In this book, I’m trying to show another side of the cozy little town I’ve built in the rest of my series.

I love Cassie. She’s a great character to write.

Her love interest, however, is giving me trouble. He’s her first love, a teenage romance coming home after being gone for too many years.  He’s a soldier and . . . that’s it. I wanted to give him PTSD or some horrible war injuries, but everything I write just comes out clichéd and melodramatic. Overused. Been there, done that, read the book and saw the movie.

So I think my soldier is going to go back overseas for a while, at least until my next book. Cassie’s high school sweetheart is still coming home to rekindle a few things, but his wounds are from a different type of battle. While Cassie has closed off her emotions in order to focus on her goals, Aaron is a lost soul searching for answers to questions he has spent years trying not to ask.

I like Aaron. He’s a good guy, but a bit of an asshole.

My Beach Haven stories have been all about people finding a place to belong in a warm, loving community. It’s about a small town that’s more like a family. Their Love Rekindled is about the uglier side of small-town life, with the gossip and judgment that sometimes come with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. In the end, the question isn’t as much about Cassie and Aaron rekindling their love for one another as it is about rekindling their love for their home town.

And . . . now I’m excited about it again. Someday, I may write about a billionaire who comes in to rescue the damsel in distress. I may write a historical romance set in the old Wild West. I don’t know where I’m going or what kind of things I may write someday, and I’ll never say never about any kind of topic or character. But for right now, I’m happy writing about men and women in a small town; I’m happy writing about average people like me, people who have a lot of growing and healing to do on the way to finding love.

And one of those characters, somewhere along the line, is going to have a dog named Leo.

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.