The Things That Should Be Said

I haven’t been able to write much in the past few days. There are a few reasons for this — kids, schedules. I’m a bit stuck on where I need to take my storyline next as I’ve realized that my original plan won’t work as I’d hoped. But mostly, I’ve felt that what I’m doing is small. And the world right now, in the wake of twenty tiny people and six adults being killed at an elementary school, the world needs something more. Clearly something is broken… and I don’t think that anything I could write will fix it.

There are people writing about this, though. Some of the best things I’ve read haven’t been in the news. They’ve offered different ways to consider what has happened, pulled the pointing finger towards lots of potential causes and tried to show us why. I’m glad some people are able to believe that they can figure out why this might have happened. All I’ve been able to do is look into the faces of my little boys and feel incredible gratitude mixed with incredible guilt. This could have been my Kindergartner’s school, my preschooler’s after-school daycare. The places where I send them to feel safe to explore and learn are no safer than Sandy Hook was. And the people who surround us here are no more predictable or stable than people anywhere. This could have been my kids. And I’ve been having trouble processing that. It makes me want to keep them home, eliminate any potential interaction with anyone I haven’t pre-approved. But I know that I can’t do that. And I know that even though there are crazy people with access to weapons who would hurt my little people if they had a chance, my job as a mom is to create the safest environment I can, and to trust.

It’s not easy to trust the world to watch out for your little guys when things like this happen. But I’m trying to remember all the rules my mom passed on about raising me. I can’t rush up behind them to catch them every time they fall. And I can’t sprint over to brush them off and offer coddling hugs and kisses every time, either. Sometimes they have to pick themselves up. I can’t forbid them from climbing rocks and trees because I know they might get hurt. And I can’t keep them home with me all day every day just because the world can be an evil place that might damage them. I have to keep sending them out, my heart tucked inside them like a secret note in their pockets. And I have to believe that they will come back home. If only they were as big and strong as they think they are… heroes

It’s Happening…

My mother told me many times that she didn’t particularly like me (or my brother, to be fair) when we were babies. She told me that although she loved us, she just didn’t like babies in general and found us to be much more interesting when we were kids (versus drooling, babbling mounds of somewhat ambulatory flesh). That hurt my feelings for a while.

But now I have kids. And I adore them. And they drive me batty. And now that the big one is about to turn five, I understand what she meant.

My almost-five-year-old has been a challenge to us since the day he joined our family. He is stubborn and driven, irrational and extremely loud. Luckily, the closer he’s gotten to five, the more these traits have morphed into confident, motivated, curious and enthusiastic. He wants to know everything, and he’s finally old enough to begin to understand some of the answers to his questions. It is so amazing to watch it happen.

He asks a million questions every day and I’m trying hard to give him good answers. Sometimes I’m just too tired, and sometimes when the questions are: “Mommy, what is the TV made out of? Mommy, what is plastic made out of? Mommy, what are cats made out of?” it gets a bit tedious. But lately, he has asked some questions that have me super jazzed. I guess I should preface – I have never spoken to him like a child. I talk to him like a small intelligent person, which he is. I might limit the topics I cover with him, but otherwise, I talk to him just like I talk to my peers. As a result, half of his questions are: “Mommy, what does ‘optimistic’ mean? Mommy, what does ‘pertinent’ mean?” etc. And I give him a definition and a synonym and then use the word again for him. And then, almost every single time, he uses it for me. In a totally new sentence. Completely contextually correctly!

The other day he skinned his knee. He held it tight and I watched him steel himself against the pain. When he was ready, he stood up and walked back up our hill to where I stood.

“Mommy?”

“Yeah, buddy. You okay?”

“Yeah. But Mommy, I damaged my knee. I think I’ll need a Band-aid.”

Damaged. hee hee.

Words are my thing. That’s probably not a surprise. So this latest development is fascinating to me. He is learning like five or six words a day through the manner I just described. He may not retain them all immediately, but it’s like I can SEE the foundation that’s getting laid down. It’s SO. Cool.

And I will admit that there is a part of me that cannot wait to witness him drop one of his twenty dollar words on some unsuspecting adult. 🙂

Writing WHO You Know

How do you create characters? This has always been an interesting question for me. When I was little, maybe out of some kind of loneliness — but more likely just because I was a weird little kid — I used to write character sketches. I liked to create whole people, noting down everything I could think of about them. I liked to pretend that I knew these people, and thought it was exciting to play God with them, to get to decide every little detail about them (right down to the part where they thought I was the coolest deity ever!) I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically practicing for building out characters for my later stories, and I still use a lot of what I discovered was useful back then.

That said, I still struggle sometimes with realizing my characters — keeping them rounded and fully dimensional. We’re users, as writers. We create characters often because we need them to do something, to move the story forward, to be a certain thing and serve a greater purpose. And when I’ve built someone and used them in this selfish way, sometimes I drop them like yesterday’s fish dinner, forgetting that they must go on to some degree to be believable.

So here’s the question — or the thought at least. And be warned, it isn’t exceptionally original except that I’ve only just thought of it myself in the context of my own work:  Do you write people who you know in real life?

Here’s why I’m really asking. I’m in a creative tornado right now, where I am filled with ideas and keep starting lots of things, some of which I’ll continue to work on, and some of which are useful only in their own moment. One of these things is a middle-grade story that would be interesting to my own kids. Starring? Two boys who mysteriously share quite a few character and personality traits with two other little boys who I know quite well. Coincidentally the two boys in the story are brothers. Okay, it isn’t a coincidence at all. It’s an experiment to see if the characters I base unabashedly on real people are more lifelike and multifaceted than those who I create from thin air. These boys are older than my own, because my two year old still doesn’t express himself too clearly and having a lot of dialogue where the younger brother says things like, “A hafta shaff go nuff POO!” would probably not keep readers engaged.

Have you tried this before? How did it work for you?

I Don’t Call Them Lies, I Call it Parenting

So… lately I have found myself doing quite a lot of truth stretching and inventing in the act of parenting. I’m wondering … how much leeway do other parents allow themselves in this realm? Let me offer a couple examples.

My oldest little guy starts spring soccer this week. There are four teams each time, one of which is the red team. My guy LOVES the color red. He will choose it anytime he is offered a choice, and I literally have to force him to wear a shirt in another color when all of his (many) red shirts are dirty (often). ANYWAY, I received notice that we’ll be on the white team this season. Not the red team. (You don’t get to pick). I thought for two days about how to spin this ahead of time to avoid the meltdown on the first day of practice. Since practice is tonight, I had to do something today. So, this morning, when he was fully awake and happily munching pancakes (no, I don’t cook on weekdays, we freeze them from the weekends), I told him that I had gotten a call from the soccer coach. (This is a lie). The coach told me, I said, that the coolest team this season would be the white team, and he asked if I thought he’d want to play for that team. (Also a lie). I made it sound like he was specially invited to be a member of the coolest team there was (being cool has become kind of important as we near 5, unfortunately). He asked if he could be on the red team instead. I told him, sure, but that I thought he’d want to be on the coolest team and that the coach would probably be sad. (He’s beginning to be empathetic to the feelings of others). He considered, and quietly said, “okay, Mom. I guess the white team will be okay.” So the moral here is that while he isn’t super excited, he will be prepared to find out this evening that he’s not getting a red shirt, and he’ll have reason to believe that it’s actually BETTER to be on the white team. Is this lie ok?

Or how about this one — I told the kids that the Easter Bunny had dropped by and been quite disappointed to learn that these little boys were having a tough time staying in their beds at night. He told me, I said, that I should call him right away if they got out of bed between now and Easter, because he would not be able to drop by to hide eggs and fill their baskets if they weren’t being good little guys at bedtime. Last night I pretended to (loudly) have a phone conversation with E. Bunny right outside their door, talking about how I thought they were messing around, out of bed, making lots of noise and asking what I should do. He had me go in and tell them that they could have one more chance. They were quiet the rest of the evening. Okay lie or bad lie? (you are wondering if I’m really willing to cancel Easter, aren’t you? I am wondering that, too.)

So how far is too far? Is okay to be less than completely honest with a four and two year old to avoid excess trauma / drama?

The World Keeps Spinning

I haven’t been writing much in the last few days. It’s crazy how life sort of takes over sometimes. Between my ‘day job’ ramping up in a lot of ways, making decisions about my kids’ schools for next fall, and managing the house and marriage (and if you have one of these, you probably know that it does take some management…), and it seems like time just gets away.

I’m reading The Paris Wife, as I mentioned previously. And of course I’ve read Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast, which was about the same period, the same people — the same life. I also watched Midnight in Paris with a friend last week, and though I’m not a big Woody Allen fan, I did find this idea to be charming, maybe because it was about a writer who is struggling with so much of what I think about each day. But in the movie, and also in the books, the writers involved are all struggling with writing. And with not much more. I can only imagine what Fitzgerald or Hemmingway would think of my attempts to find traction in the term “writer” — to make it accurately describe me — in the midst of all the other crap I deal with. One hour at 4:30 am on a few mornings a week does not a writer make, they would probably say. And truthfully, I look at my completed manuscript, which is printed and sitting on the edge of my desk right now while it is with the editor, and I wonder exactly how it came about. I did take a week off work to focus on it around the holidays, that is true. But there was a lot of other time too, that I can’t seem to find these days.

We’re getting ready to start swimming and soccer again… and the afternoons are long and filled with kids riding their bikes and parents in shorts and capris making distracted cul-de-sac conversation. And by the time the sun is finally tracking down behind the trees in our yard and I’m in the kitchen making dinner, it is hours later than I’d thought. And the kids are grumpy and need a bath and by the time it’s all over for the night, I have nothing left for my house or my husband, let alone for me or my efforts at writing.

I realize this is mostly and excuse and a complaint. But it’s also the truth.