Friday, February 26, 2010

Frog and Toad and me

Friday, February 26, 2010

My favorite favorite favorite children's series ever are the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. Each story is sweeter than the last, and if I wrote children's books I'd have to stop writing before beginning because the best have already been written. I love Jan Brett and I love Dan and Audrey Wood and I love many others, but for stories that just make me happy, "Frog and Toad" are better for me than chocolate (even Cadbury Mini Eggs).

Lobel died the year I graduated from high school--before I'd even really become acquainted with his books. Yes, I'd shelved them in my parents store, sold plenty of them, perhaps even read them to my nieces and nephews. But it took growing up to truly love these little stories. And when I found out he died (which I didn't until last year), I was sad, the kind of sad I was when John Denver died. I still can't listen to John Denver without a tinge of melancholy sneaking up on me.

My favorite of these stories is "Cookies."

In the story, Toad bakes some cookies and then runs off to share them with Frog. They both agree they're the best they've ever eaten, and they keep trying to stop eating them. But they can't. So Frog says they'll need will power in order to stop. They put the cookies in a box, tie it with a string, put it on a high shelf, but still they know they can get to it. So Frog takes it down, cuts the string, opens the box, and feeds the rest of the cookies to the birds. Toad bemoans the fact that they're all gone now, but Frog says, "Yes, but we have lots and lots of will power." "You may keep it all, Frog," says Toad. "I am going to go home now and bake a cake."

I have no will power. I hide treats from myself all the time--or make them hard to access by putting them in the basement. (Should I be embarrassed to admit that? Hm.)I've been known to throw away candy because I'm afraid I'll eat it if it taunts me from the cupboard too loudly. And then I go out and buy more junk because I miss that taunting. So I get this story. I love it. I claim it.

I strongly recommend you go out and buy the "Frog and Toad" collections--whether you have children or not.

Now you'll have to excuse me. I have a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs to finish off.

And while I'm doing that, tell me what some of your favorite children's stories/authors are and why?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My four-year-old will occasionally (okay, often) ask me if he can have something or do something "some time." And since he's not asking for a specific "some time," it's easy for me to say, "Sure . . . some time." His response is always an enthusiastic "Yessss!!!"

My thirteen-year-old and I had somewhere to go the other night. It was cold and snowy out, and we'd all been warm and comfortable inside. As we were on our way, he said, "Tonight's one of those nights I'd rather just have stayed home. What about you?" I told him that, yes, part of me definitely would rather have hung out at home, especially given the weather, but that when I'm not feeling excited about something, I try to remind myself that maybe I'll learn something new wherever I'm going. Maybe I'll find out something I didn't know about someone before. Maybe I'll see a fresh perspective on something old. And if I can go with that attitude, I'm more likely to be glad I went at all.

I can't always respond with an enthusiastic "Yessss!!!" to whatever life may throw at me. I'm not a Polyanna. I had a friend once who used to say she looked at everything in life as a blessing. Everything. Good or bad, glorious or painful, she felt it was from God and therefore could be a blessing in her life if she just learned how it was supposed to be a blessing. I disagree. Some things that fly at you simply suck. There's no happy way to look at losing a parent or a spouse or a child. There's no happy way to look at the heartache of someone you love. There's no happy way to look at the suffering all around us.

Ursula LeGuin wrote, "The only thing that makes life possible is a permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next."

Hope and possibility are not the same thing. Hope is concrete. It's a surety that what comes next is going to be good and right. Possibility is admitting you have no idea what comes next, but maybe it's going to be something great or incredible or fascinating or Yesss!!!-worthy.

I was talking with my mom the other night and she mentioned an old friend my father and she used love to visit. Mom said, "Your father always enjoyed visiting her, although I don't know why. They had nothing in common." I told her that's precisely why he enjoyed visiting her--because he didn't know what to expect, didn't know what she'd tell him that he never knew, didn't know what life perspective she might offer that he'd never considered. My closest friends are very much like me in at least one or two ways, but nothing like me in most ways; that's why I love them so much. Talking with them ignites me and challenges me and helps me grow. Why else would we want to be around each other? It's the same with my three sisters. We're all so different in so many ways, but we love each other and laugh with each other and are always excited about spending time together.

My husband asked me once if I wished he sang or played the piano or wrote or read the same books I do--just so we'd have these things in common. Absolutely not. I do all of those, so why do I need him to? How boring would our lives together be if we were mirror images of each other? If we didn't feel we had something to learn from each other?

I stayed up way too late last night to finish a book that won't be released for another week or so. It's titled Before I Fall and is by Lauren Oliver. It's about a senior in high school who dies in a car crash and then relives her last day seven times. She figures out that she won't be able to change the ending. She's going to die even if she avoids getting into that car--she's never going to make it to the next day. She also figures out that doesn't mean her last day can't hold possibilities--that she can't change something, can't grow, can't be enthusiastic about waking up that morning. Again.

As a writer, I can hope I'll get published. But it's the possibility I might get published that makes me enthusiastic, that makes me say "Yessss!!!" when I've finished a good scene, that keeps me going whether the news is good or bad.

And as a mom, it's the possibility my kids' lives hold in store that make me happy to get up each morning so I can make sure we're ready for when their "some time" becomes now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Soup and nothing

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Out of the blue this afternoon, my ten-year-old said, "I'm so excited!" I asked him why. He looked confused, like until I asked the question, he had no idea he'd said anything at all. Then he shrugged and smiled. "I don't know why I said that. But I am. I don't know. I'm just excited."

And tonight my seven-year-old said, "I'm so excited for the next time I eat lunch at home!" Again, I asked why. "Because you said I could have Italian Wedding Soup."

So on behalf of my children who get excited over soup and nothing, here's a list of 20 things that excite me:

1. a great Indian restaurant
2. a new editing client
3. figuring out exactly what I need my characters to do next
4. a request for a full
5. crawling into my bed at the end of the day
6. getting enthusiastic feedback from my crit partner
7. a new pair of jeans that fit just right
8. "This Old House" sung by the Brian Setzer Orchestra
9. watching a movie at home with my husband
10. my four-year-old telling me--for no reason at all--I'm the best mom in the world
11. hanging out with my mom and siblings
12. learning something new
13. the first day the temperature hits 50 after a long winter
14. feeling needed
15. having a teenager tell me I look younger than I am
16. circus peanuts
17. Monday mornings
18. being three fourths of the way through a book I can't put down
19. incense
20. knowing my children get excited over soup and nothing

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where's the rest of your house?

The mother of one of Emma's friends told me recently that her daughter had another girl over from school who, after playing at their home for a while, asked, "Where's the rest of your house?" This woman who told me the story has a very nice home that this little girl apparently found, uh, lacking.

Last weekend, Ron and I took Emma to get her ears pierced. This was completely her idea; I did no nudging whatsoever. She could hardly sleep for days because she was so excited. Not exaggerating here. The earrings were in, paid for, a bottle of antiseptic something or other in a pink bag, and Emma wanted to know how long before she could put in new earrings, and then how long before she could wear dangling earrings . . . and then how long before she could wear my dangling earrings.

Ron bought a new camera for himself for Christmas. It has a full-frame sensor (yeah, I have no idea what that means, and please don't bother explaining it to me) and is better than his "old" one. But with this fancy schmancy new camera came the need for new lenses. Two new lenses. So since Christmas, he's sold four old ones. He says he's content now, done shopping, ready to take photos and stop cruising through Craigslist looking for the rest of the house.

I'm sure all of this is as simple as the Rolling Stones song, right?(That's without the girly-action refrain, of course.) Satisfaction with what we have and where we are is just. so. hard. The grass is always greener. Those two birds in the bush look pretty dang tempting, but the one in my hand should suffice. Oh, and that dog has a bigger bone than I do, but if I go for it--crap--I lost the one I had.

Here's the thing though. Wanting more doesn't have to leave us unhappy with what we have. I've been paying a lot of attention to this little quirk in Emma lately. She's the happiest of my kids. I mean, she's just the definition of joyful. She wakes up happy, goes to bed happy, and skips, runs, and bounces in virtually every moment in between. But I say "virtually," because she does have her little fits, her share of why can't-I and but-mommy's and stomp-stomp-stomp-this-is-me-stomping-away-so-there. She gets over "it" though--whatever "it" may be at the time. And, sure, she wants to wear dangling earrings as soon as possible, and she wants to wear the shoes TODAY that are two sizes too big for her, and she always wants it to be tomorrow because tomorrow always holds something exciting.

But--and this is a big "but" that makes the difference between a child's joy and an adult's anxiety--she's also thrilled to pieces to be right here, right now.

I like writing. I love it, in fact. And I would love to have an agent call me tomorrow (because tomorrow always holds something exciting, right?) and say, "So, hey, I'm thinking we could work together." But--and this is a big "but" that makes the difference between me finding joy in what I do and me biting my nails until they bleed--I'm very happy to be right here, right now . . . writing, editing, wifing (don't bother correcting me), and mothering. Life is good.

Knock on wood--Brazilian cherry, please. And then you can show me the rest of your house.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I chaperoned a party at my son's junior high Friday night, and since the 300 or so kids who showed up were--from what I could tell--really tame, I had a lot of time (3 hours) to simply observe and think.

I've been doing a lot of research on teen abuse recently. By teen abuse, I mean teen-on-teen abuse. I mean boyfriends manipulating, controlling, belittling, and physically hurting their girlfriends. The statistics are terrifying. A survey taken in 2006 indicates the following facts among others:

1. 1 in 3 girls who have been in a serious relationship say they've been concerned about being physically hurt by their partner.
2. 1 in 5 teens who have been in a serious relationship report being hit, slapped, or pushed by a partner.
3. More than 1 in 4 teenage girls in a relationship report enduring repeated verbal abuse.
4. 24% of 14- to 17-year-olds know at least one student who has been the victim of dating violence, yet 81% of parents either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don't know if it is an issue.

And one of the most disturbing ones...

5. 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationship continue to date their abuser.

Is your stomach churning? Moms, do you think your daughters aren't at risk? Do you think you have a good enough relationship with them that they would talk with you, ask you for help, never get into this kind of situation in the first place? Because if you do, there's a really good chance you're wrong. My mother was.

I've been fortunate enough to have been able to keep in touch with my best friend from sixth grade. Her name is Lisa. She was my biggest cheerleader growing up, and I adored her. I still do. I was the outspoken one; she was the quiet one. I was the one who made enemies easily and often intentionally; she was the one who told me when I was right and when I went too far. She, to this day, describes me as strong. I was strong when I was 11. I was strong when I was 18. And when I hit 19? I forgot who I was. I forgot for three years. Actually, I forgot for even longer, because it took longer than three years to respect myself again.

Lisa would never have thought I would subject myself to what I did. My mother wouldn't have thought it. My father wouldn't have thought it. No one who knew me would have. It sneaked up on me, and I wasn't prepared.

But my daughter will be prepared--or she'll be as prepared as I can possibly make her. And my sons will be prepared as well to know what is and is not acceptable behavior. They are growing up as the sons of a man who treats his wife with respect and love and concern, even when arguing with her. They'll know emotions are what they need to control, and not the person they supposedly love.

And all of this preparation starts not at 18 when a child leaves home, but from a young age.

This is what I was thinking about while watching the girls dance on Friday night to "power" songs--to songs about standing up for yourself, about realizing you don't really know what love is at 15, about being bold and courageous and feisty. And I worried about the disconnect between them shouting and laughing, and them possibly being one of those statistics above.

I finished reading a book the other night--a popular young adult novel. Love Interest #1 shoves the main character around, and her best friend responds with, "He was drunk. He wasn't himself." Even if the author didn't mean it, even if as a reader I'm supposed to dismiss the best friend as an idiot, why couldn't the friend instead have said, "He what?! End it, babe. It's over"? The answer is that the story wouldn't have turned out like it did. Love Interest #2 wouldn't have had to rescue her. Do I blame the author for perpetuating this notion that girls have to be saved by a boy? No. But I do wish more authors would have the girl save herself! Have her jump up and down with her friends to a loud, booming song at a dance. Have her feel empowered and important and beautiful. Then have her tell the boyfriend to go to hell when he criticizes what she wore or tells her she needs to lose weight or, God forbid, lays a hand on her.

When I was in sixth grade, my seventh-grade boyfriend told me he loved me. My response? I hung up on him. He called back and asked why I did that. I said, "Because I'm 11 and you're 12. We don't know what love is! Don't ever say that to me again!"

So here's to more girls recognizing what love is--and what it isn't. And here's to us teaching them.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The lies we believe...

While we're on the topic...

I was listening to a story on NPR this morning about James Arthur Ray, the motivational speaker now charged with manslaughter for the deaths of three of his ... followers. Is that too strong a word? Perhaps retreat participants? These people and the others at the "Spiritual Warrior" event had paid $9k for the honor of having this man starve them for three days and then stick them in a sweat lodge: three dead and 18 hospitalized. That's at least 21 people. Add it up and that's at least $189k--for a *weekend* of "you can do it," "overcome your physical weaknesses," "come on, you wimp, deal with the heat and starvation and you'll be a stronger person for it."

A lawyer for one of the survivors said his client was particularly upset because Lee is claiming it was an accident no one could have foreseen. The lawyer said something along the lines of (and sounded upset while speaking), "Lee had a message of personal responsibility--for accepting the blame for your mistakes. And now here he is blaming the sweat lodge manufacturers!"

I have nothing but respect for the people who died and sympathy for the family members. Where my frustration over this story lies is in what it says about our society--that we feel the need to pay someone upwards of $9k so they can motivate us.

While listening to this story, I thought about a woman I know (or used to) who is a motivational speaker. She's a good woman, a good wife, a good mother. But when her first book came out, I was, frankly, more than a little put off by how she exaggerated her qualifications. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say I knew that what others would interpret from her bio wasn't what the bio was really saying. It was like hearing, "Four out of five dentists prefer sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum," and you think, "Oh. They just endorsed Trident." When really, they just prefer you not go for Bubblicious.

Last week, I heard about a study that claims most people who work in advertising don't watch commercials, which implies that most advertisers don't believe in their product. That is, if I really truly had faith in Latest Product That Will Change Your Life and put my heart and soul into the campaign to get others to buy it, cuddle it, use it, love it, then I would want to know what other products out there are worth considering, because surely everyone else feels as strongly about their endorsement as I feel about mine.

Here's the thing: I think you're a great person. I really do. I think you deserve to be loved and to be treated well. I think you should allow yourself the same forgiveness you grant others. I think you should stop putting yourself down. I think you should take care of yourself. I think most motivational speakers and authors really do say the right things--but I also think that for some of them, the "need" to make $189k in one long weekend starts to outweigh the need to take personal responsibility for their life and, more importantly here, for yours.

After a hellish 3-year relationship in college, I came home with one great realization: We're incredibly good at fooling ourselves. And if we can do that to ourselves, why is it a surprise when others can do it to us?

"Know Thyself." Begin there.