Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Taking Dad out to vote

Started November 8.
Finished November 16.

Today Mom and I took Dad out to vote. As I helped him get ready, tying his shoes, getting him into his jacket, I realized what an amazing gift I was being given today. My dad has always been after my brother and me to vote; he always got us the absentee ballots when we were away at college. We always took it for granted, we still do. After all, you get in a car and you drive to the voting post and pull a few levers. We do it all the time.

I helped Dad out of the car and walked him in. Our hometown's a small town, and he was greeted by name by those campaigning for the candidates. They shook his hand and said they were thinking of him, and it was easy to see they meant it.

Dad and I made it to the polling room, and I was allowed to help him to the booth. My mom caught up with us, and voted herself, finishing before Dad. No one protested when she stood by the curtain to his booth and asked if he was okay. We were the only ones there and everyone knew why she did that so no one fussed.

Today I saw how no one forgot Dad even though he can no longer be the one to give. It amazes me, really, to see the impact he had on people. When all this began, I contemplated reading books on dying and the lessons that those who are so close to the end can teach us... but didn't. I decided that reading "Tuesdays with Morrie" wasn't the way for me to go. I haven't read anything save for light romance novels.

Several years ago, once upon a time in college, I had a psych teacher who decided that it would do us students good to visit the retired nuns of Seton Hill. I chose Sr. Miriam Joseph Murphy, primarily because she was someone with whom I had a connection of sorts, she was a former Setonian advisor and I was the current Setonian editor. She advised once upon a time when the Setonian was housed under Lowe Hall. I never saw the old office, but the door -- a big, heavy, black wooden door that was no doubt the same age as the hall itself, suggested the days when Seton Hill's daughters wrote stories about bats that got into the dormitories, referred to the women in the articles by their nicknames, and showcased the new "modern" dormitories that were added to Lowe in 1921. Sister told me stories about her editors, particularly the one who would make the writers scrub the wooden floors when they were trying to come up with ideas.

We students knew Sister for whacking the ankles of the male students if she thought they'd left the elevator doors open, she was as cranky as they came; the perfect curmudgeon. The goal of the project, by the way, was to talk about death and dying, to learn about the ways in which the elderly look at them. Sr. Mimi Jo was ready, though she wasn't waiting for it. Her and some friends kept themselves busy reciting poetry and challenging each other to remember what they could. The computer teacher had brought her a computer and she was learning how to send e-mail on the campus intranet. Once I brought pizza from Little Ceasar's, and we had a mini-pizza party.

Sr. Mimi Jo introduced me to Yeats, who is now one of my favorite poets. She also introduced me to death. Prior to meeting her, I lost only a few uncles and aunts, no one particularly close to me.

Now I'm watching my father die. It's just a little bit every day. This week he acquiesced to a hospital bed because it's closer to the ground then the twin bed he was using. He had to give up his marriage bed long ago when he was on chemo 24/7. Now he had to give up the antique twin bed, the one he used as a boy when he lived with his Aunt Kitty and Uncle Fran. Pap-pap's bed will become Gavie's this Christmas.

Right now, Dad's sitting in his rocking chair, dozing on and off. We don't talk much now, we covered all of the coversations that we need to have long ago. He's a very private man, and I'm quiet by nature. We've made out peace. Tonight we ordered Mom's Christmas gift from dad. Thanks to my laptop we were able to shop on-line and find that "perfect" gift. What is it? Oh no, you'll have to wait for that answer. Can't have it getting back to mom, can I?

She's at the grocery store, by the way. I wouldn't say it's the most exciting trip to be made, but it's something out of the house.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Change of site...

Someone in the cyberworld is jinxing me. Let's try this again:

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Football toddler

Today, I walked out of Kohl's with Gavie securely tucked under my arm, football fashion. He was furious, of course, at the indignity, which he telegraphed to all within a four-block radius. No, my son doesn't have tantrums in public. He just yells "Mum!"

Really, really loudly.
Really loudly.

The problem was that Mr. I'm-Old-Enough-To-Walk is NOT old enough to stay within sight. So, as usual, I gave him the "stay where I can see you" warning once. The second time he tried to disappear, this time in to the men's dressing room (of course!), I gave him the "we're going to leave if you do that again" warning.

As all developmental psych books will tell you, toddlers need to test their limits. It's part of the learning process.

"That's it, we're leaving," I said, retrieving him from under one of the rounders an aisle away. I didn't scream, didn't yell, and didn't draw attention to his behavior. I see no point. Besides, he did that himself on the way out of the store.
My son would have made a great non-violent protester in the 60s. He can make himself go limp faster then you can blink. No amount of anything can make him stand and walk. Thus, the "football hold."

Now most days are pretty good. We go to the grocery store, for example, and visit the giant goldfish in the lobby when we walk in and -- if he's good -- when we walk out. Gavie rarely fusses while grocery store because he knows that we'll go right by the fishies otherwise.

One time I told him that every scream in the store (a stage he went through when I would tell him no) would cost him a penny. Since he's already a little miser, that was a major threat. Well, we had a screech when I denied him a box of sugar cereal. Yep. You guessed it.

"Do you remember what I said would happen if you screamed in the store?"

Gavie looked at me, thought a moment, and handed me a penny.

Once again, I was thrilled at this mommy-moment. He understands! And he did. What he DIDN'T understand was that I meant to keep the penny. That screech put the previous one to shame.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Ice cream and spare change

The other night, feeling rather at a loss for something to do as well as nostalgic, I let Gavie decide our destination. We'd taken care of our errands and had about an hour to "kill" before his bedtime ritual kicked in.

"Where do you want to go?" I asked as we drove, knowing very well that the reply would be one of his still-unintelligible grunts.

Ahhhh, but my boy does know sign language! He knows that a pointing finger can tell mommy exactly what he wants. In the rear view mirror, I saw the little hand go up and the index finger direct my attention to the big red Dairy Queen sign. "That's my boy," I laughed, turning around at the next light.

We pulled in to the crowded lot and disembarked -- though first we had to avert a row about the handful of coins he was clutching. I told him to leave them in the car; his fist, clenched tightly around the quarters and pennies, told me to forget it. We compromised. I said I'd keep them in my pocket so he wouldn't lose them while we ate our cones.

Being that he almost lost a coin earlier, he agreed. You see, Gavie is still a little fuzzy on the concept of pockets. Combining that iffy knowledge with the five-point harness of his car seat (which effectively prevents you from even finding your pockets) nets you a toddler who puts things up the leg of his shorts. It's efficient, until he has to stand up.

Coins safely in pocket, he took my hand and we went in to the DQ.

I'm not sure that there's much to rival a toddler's first ice cream cone. Eternally serious, Gavie watched how I started, then considered the kid-size cone before him. After a moment's contemplation, he decided that starting at the top of the ice cream -- like mommy -- was his best approach, and his little tongue cautiously licked at this new delicacy. Determining it to be "good," he morphed from careful to... well, he started to bite it. Apparently just licking it wasn't fast enough.

Now, I know, some of you are cringing at the mere thought of biting ice cream. Gavie was non-plussed, however. He takes after his mom on this one. Ask the girls I had lunch with in grade school how I used to peel the sides off of my ice cream sandwich and then bite the frozen treat. Don't ask me why I did it, I just did. Who knows what makes a third grader tick?

Anyway, Gavie made it to the cone part and watched me for a moment, wanting to see how I was handling this not-as-cold, not-as-soft, crunchy thing. I took advantage of the moment and did one of those exaggerated "watch how you eat the cone" lessons.

Being that I was reveling in the thrill of mommy-hood, of introducing my boy to a new treat, and of seeing him enjoy it so much, I actually had the audacity to think how neat it was that he could mimic me so well. Gavie watched and learned, of course. Then took a bite of the cone.

From the bottom.

There are two lessons to be learned from this, readers.
1) Always carry baby wipes, even if you no longer carry a diaper bag.
2) Ice cream's melting point changes in the hands of an almost-three-year-old.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Symphony in White 2

Written during my senior year in college, this was inspired by a print of Whistler's painting, Symphony in White 2. There was something about the woman's expression that fascinated me. Thanks to the time of year, Halloween, this story pretty much wrote itself.

She wore her wedding negligee as she crawled out onto the roof. Turning the window’s lock to catch upon closure, she pushed it shut. There would be no turning back now. But why should she? Life was nothing but pain and isolation. Didn’t they see it in her portrait? The painter had; he had captured it with frightening accuracy. It looked as if she were contemplating the golden wedding band with deeper concentration than any young, and supposedly optimistic, bride should. As if trying to convince herself that all would be well in the end.

But it had been three years and nothing had changed. Her time at home, alone with his mother, was so frighteningly stifling that she had to stop and remind herself to breathe -- otherwise she would turn in to one of his mother’s grotesque knick-knacks. Just stop breathing, let her skin harden, her eyes glaze. For a few months they might even let her form sit out in view. “Yes, that was my wife,” her husband would say to visitors, his voice with that polite tone he always used with her. “She got bored. But it’s nice to keep her around, she’s a reminder of why I never plan to remarry. Too frightfully dangerous to my creativity, my writing.”

Then he would put her away, maybe tuck her away in the never-used guest room, regale her to the attic after that, once the prickings of guilt were gone. If there was any guilt. After all, he had promised to give her the life any woman deserved: free of work and in a beautiful home. Well, it was free from work. His mother had kept house until she was seventy-five. Then he hired a cleaning lady who came every day to run the house exactly as mother specified. “See, my love, you don’t have to life a finger,” he had said. “Consider this home your palace.”

A palace? It was a study in gothic tackiness meets overstuffed Victoriana. High ceilings, gaudy wallpaper, red velvet furniture, bric-a-brac, and painted wood. Paint! Paint on everything that could be painted. Including the marble fireplace, which was coated with green to compliment the leaves in the rose wallpaper. Last week she had tried to re-arrange the front sitting room. Mother’s response to it had been terrifying. Ranting, screaming, waving her arthritic stick arms until they practically dislocated themselves. “How dare you touch my belongings?” had been the main crux of her fit. How could he have guilt when he had given her exactly what he had promised?

Except, she decided, for the love he had shown during their courtship. Two years of flowers and wine, poems... a true romance. Then, suddenly, it dried up. They were married. She had difficulty conceiving. He took it as unwillingness; as a sign of her indifference to their relationship.

The ring went first. She yanked it off her finger and hurled it at the waters below. How dramatically fortunate that their house, no, his house, overlooked the sea. It sat so close that she could practically swan dive from the gable. They were craggy rocks, sharp guarantees that she’d succeed. The ring arced and vanished, lost in the white capped waves that slammed against her fate below, their soft crashes hiding the click of the window as it was unlocked.

It was a beautiful, warm day. An Indian summer. Not a suicide day by any definition. Those days were bleak, stormy. The wind should be whipping her hair around her face, the white satin soaked and clinging to her slim body. Death would be beautiful and regal. Thought and planned and executed in a gracious manner.


Her husband was holed up in his private study. It was as crowded and overstuffed as the rest of the house, having been decorated by Mother five decades ago when it became her office. Long and thin like a bowling alley, one wall -- bookshelves. Floor to ceiling, end-to-end, nothing but books. The opposite wall, file cabinets of his and Mother’s paperwork of the family business. Untouched and unneeded since she retired twenty-six years ago, they were kept regardless. He did not like to touch Mother’s possessions; after all, it was her house. Interrupting the chain of cabinets were chairs from the old dining room table. They were pushed flush against the wall. Mother didn’t like things sticking out for him to trip on. Sitting at the far end, also pushed flush to the wall, was an incredible antique roll top desk. Almost out-of-place in this high-ceiling gray room, too grand from an otherwise gray room, the desk proudly displayed this year’s latest computer model.

And there he sat. Pounding out a manuscript, his hands properly arched and fingers keying perfectly, was her husband. Martin. There was no noise beyond the keyboards quiet clack, not even a chair creak. There was no movement beyond that of his hands.

Peck, peck, peck. He never paused. The words were coming too quickly. Spilling out easily for the first time in too long, he was frantic to type them all before it was too late and they vanished.
It’s too easy, too easy! A quiet voice rejoiced in his head. Thank God no one’s pestering me. This is it, the story, the one I’m going to have a name with! Mother’s napping and the little woman isn’t....


The well dried up and his train of thought crashed so abruptly that he cursed loudly and solidly.
Leaning back in his chair, dramatically covering his face with his hands, he cursed again. Why did I have to think about her? He scowled. She always did this to him. Always. Every time she came around and pestered, Martin, come out with me. Martin, why are you always in there? Come out and eat dinner with me, Martin. I miss you, we’re growing apart. Never a moment free of her, always trying to play the wife role but never wanting to give him a son. Selfish to the end, he thought, feeling the usual irritation inevitably felt when she was around. So full of life, carefree, bright and cheerful... during their courtship. Once she had made it obvious that she wanted nothing to do with him and that darling carefree facade was dropped, he gave up.
Within six months she was gloomy and complaining, insisting that Mother was resentful of their marriage! Certainly Mother had her misgivings, but before the wedding they had seemed so dire. Before long, he realized that Mother’s predictions were true, that this little chit would never make an understanding wife. She would never get the picture that being a wife meant being reasonable and letting the man be in charge. How many women wished that they could stay home and never work! And she wanted to work! At some outlandish job in the city, with a newspaper! Well, he would let her have her dreams, that was fine, but no wife of his was going to run around the town like some hoyden under the pretense of work. Let the “modern” women act that way. He had made that clear after their wedding, sure that she would understand and prefer the life of leisure he offered. Particularly in Mother’s fine old mansion. Here, away from the hellish city, he could write in peace.

Martin had never really gotten over his mother’s having to work and leaving him alone. Even now, the thought brought him considerable angst. Being raised by his shiftless father who could not, or would not, take over Mother’s family’s business when she inherited it, made Martin fully aware of a wife’s duties. He had promised himself that he would never be that way, that his son would be raised by a mother and that he would be the sole support of the family. He would never let a woman run his life and castrate him with a larger paycheck. Not even in this era.

She had been so annoying that several times he had considered divorce. But had never mentioned it. Divorce would be too shameful to the family name. Even in this era. He did have standards, even if the rest of the world had gone to pot.

Although it was not below those standards to wish she would go away and leave him alone. Why, just last week, he even caught himself wishing her dead so that he and Mother could live in peace again, rather than his having to put up with those two bickering constantly. When she understood that Mother’s house was Mother’s house, as he had told her a hundred times, and that she should just live here and enjoy it for its beauty and grandeur, then she would be happy.

He rose from the chair, pushing it back slowly to keep the floorboards from creaking and waking Mother. He needed inspiration.

Though it was the same annoying little shrew that he had married who took away his inspiration, it was the same shrew who returned it. He had learned that there was only one temperament of hers that he liked that give him the shove he needed to continue writing.
He traveled to her private dressing room, the one room Mother had permitted her to redecorate without fuss since it was only an old servant’s room. The room was an explosion of color and femininity in comparison to the rest of the house. Martin never felt at ease in here; it was too pink, too delicate, and too frilly. Everything was draped and scattered. Nothing was pushed against the wall, everything seemed to be in his way. A grouping of chairs, snuggled together, she had once explained, because it gave an intimate feeling to any women sitting there, sat towards one corner of the room. In another, a massive armoire, one of Mother’s antiques, had been stripped of its heavy finish and redone as “French country” style. Whatever that was. He just knew that Mother would have a fit if she saw it. A matching dressing table with an enormous mirror sat near it, jutting out slightly to make room for the brass coat rack behind it that she draped her scarves on. A twin bed had been dressed up to act as a couch, an idea he remembered her exclaiming over during breakfast one morning. With bolsters on either end to act as armrests and a mountain of pillows, it did resemble a couch, though in Martin’s mind, it was rather disproportional in comparison to a real couch. He shrugged, as he always did when he entered the room. One of these days he would redo it.

The dressing room was adjoining to their once mutual bedroom. He had moved out about two years ago, taking his childhood room back, when it was apparent that she would not be a good wife. He turned the knob and walked in. There she was, lying in her bed, looking delightfully peaceful and innocent,

“Darling,” he said, “I need some more inspiration. Give me some.” And he sat next to her, in the chair kept by the bedside. Holding her hand, stroking it, he encouraged her. “You know, when we first married, your behavior was intolerable and so destructive to my writing. But now that you’ve shown you understood me, you’ve been so very kind and for once unselfish. I do love you, more than you realize, now.”

She stared back at him, her glassy eyes never blinked and her face remained serene.
Before leaving, he smoothed her wedding negligee and re-crossed her hands under her breast. Darling little thing she was now, darling.

He supped with Mother that night.
“I’m so glad you talked me out of selling out business, Mother. Taxidermy does make a nice hobby.”

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I was in the computer lab.

September 11, for me, began when I heard some buzz on the radio about a plane hitting a building. On that particular Tuesday, I found myself getting a few pieces of paper signed for my Winchester Thurston retirement benefits... something 401K-ish in nature. In all honesty, I can't recall for the life of me now. But there I was, waiting for Bernie to take care of the tedious paperwork, when I started to pick up a few words from the radio.

At that point, you see, no one really understood what was happening. It was, for the moment, still a horrible -- yet not earth-shattering -- accident. Everyone was still working, processing this and that in the school's financial office. GW was blowing smoke about finding out the details, and we were all wonderfully ignorant. Or do I mean "innocent?" I don't know. Maybe both.

Something, however, must have registered, because walking out of the building, I looked up at the sky, thinking how blue it was. And how silent. "I'll get Chantel's radio," I thought to myself, crossing the street and walking back to WT's high school. "This is too important, other people have to know."

Since the psychology class was in my classroom, I took her radio to the computer lab. For years I grew up hearing stories about that began with the question: "Where were you when...?" You call fill in the blank with any tragedy. Kennedy, Jack Ruby, Princess Diana, whomever.

As I fiddled with the dial, trying to find a station that wasn't static, I told Chantel and the two students in there that a plane had hit a building in New York and I wanted to know the details of the accident. A moment later, a reporter's voice filled the room.

"Oh my God, the Pentagon's on fire."

Years from now, when someone asks "Where were you when...?" I'll have an answer: the computer lab on the first floor at Winchester Thurston with one teacher and two students. The walls were a bland yellow, the lab had a white board. There were shelves running the length of the outside wall, waist-high. The radio was in front of the last window, the one to the back of the room, next to the computer guy's office. It was the second period of the day, my free hour because the writing class didn't meet that day.

The remainder of September 11th was spent comforting students and trying to keep a semblance of order so that the lower grades would not learn about the tragedy from some hysterical high school student. How bizarre it was to watch the towers crumble while the elementary school students enjoyed morning recess, their laughter a surreal soundtrack to the whole event. Later, my seniors and I talked about how this might affect them. We talked about how this might be, would be, different from the 1991 Gulf War, during which I was a high school senior. God love those elementary teachers. Talking to seniors is one thing, you can acknowledge the events and somewhat sort through the emotions. But those men and women kept teaching, acting as if nothing were wrong all for the sake of those little ones.

I did my share of 9/11 donating. My husband and I, childless at the time, even inquired about adopting those orphaned by the attack. We talked about bombing those bastards and turning the desert into a sheet of glass, making it a parking lot. Our anger knew no bounds, and the thought of the innocent losing their lives mattered little.

Gradually, of course, common sense began to win. After all, why slaughter thousands of innocents in the quest for revenge? Darned if I know. Mr. Bush, can you help us out here?

He can't answer right now, dear readers. He's neck-deep in southern sludge, mired in muck, and trying to deal with an 800-pound gorilla that leapt onto his back and is hanging on rather tenaciously. Methinks that the beast will make it rather difficult to sit on Trent Lott's porch, but I'm thinking that the right spindoctors will be able to pull that overgrown monkey off by then. Good thing. I hear that those nasty beasts make vacationing a real challenge.

However, with our feckless leader's approval rating being so pitiful (only 4 out of 10 Americans think he knows which end is up), this might take some serious spinning. Not that a lot of it isn't going on already -- my current fav is the line that FEMA is more of a "back up" or something to local emergency response teams. You know, if my entire city is under ten feets of water, I'm thinking that we'll need more then the locals to get things rolling. Then again, what do I know? I'm not trained for a disaster of such proportions. Not like Brownie.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

An update on "Killing Julie"

About two years ago, I did something rather brave (for me, at least). I posted a good bit of Killing Julie on, which was introduced to me by Chantel. My ego soared as a result, for the feedback was incredible. Not that I got a lot of comments, but an apparent following developed. My site was visited an average of 150-200 times a month while I was regularly posting chapters. Wow!

But, then, things happen, life gets in the way... yada, yada, yada. I haven't posted in nearly a year now.

Today, I went back and posted a link to this site. It's my intention to start publishing a few tidbits here and there. It won't be the novel in entirety, but -- hopefully -- it will help me continue on my way. Heck, maybe I'll be really lucky and a publisher will see it!

(Let me know when you see pigs flying past your window, okay?)

There's nothing to publish today aside from a few changes that the characters demanded.

Julie really is dead. She had to die, I fear. Seems that her character was so stale -- she's been trying to hook up with Greg for nine years, for God's sake! -- that nothing was happening. So she replaced innocent little Amy Daniels and became the murder victim. She's been replaced by Elizabeth, who is much more comfortable with herself and her career. She's a lot less timid then Julie, too.

Greg Clayborne, despite his affection for Julie, didn't love her enough when she was the protagonist. I sent him to a new job in another state and Matthew Clayborne, no relation to Greg, moved in to help Elizabeth find not only love but also Julie's killer. Matt's a younger version of Greg, but more intense.

Franklin didn't like his name. Too old-fashioned. He changed it to Alex, and in the process became less 2-D in personality. However, he still resembles a Ken doll with his boyish all-American good looks.

Richard is still Richard. He dated Elizabeth in college. Despite their break up and some of the awful words exchanged, he still adores her.

Paul, Elizabeth's weasel of a husband, still dies the day after she demands a divorce. The hardest part for her is acting like she cares.

I have no idea if this is a romance or a thriller or what. Maybe it's turning into a piece of chick-lit. I'm sixty pages in, Paul just flipped his SUV, and Alex is beginning an active pursuit of Elizabeth. Matt came to Paul's funeral and disappeared again. Elizabeth, incidentally, has decided that enough is enough. She's going to forget men, focus on her career, and begin to renew the friendships that Paul tried to destroy.

I think.

Monday, September 05, 2005

You're an adult. Act like it.

My husband and I were at Wal-Mart this evening, when I saw something that dropped my jaw. A toddler -- perhaps three years of age at most -- stood up in the cart and dove at her mother. Expecting it, the mother caught her easily, hugged her, and put her back in the cart. A sweet moment, really.

The jaw-dropper was the fact that the little girl wasn't so little. She was obese.

Being politically correct, I told myself that perhaps there was a medical reason for the child to be so heavy. It's possible. No need to silently disparage the parents who were, incidentally, rather rotund themselves.

Unfortunately, when a three-year-old has thunder thighs, it stays with you. I started looking around at the other shoppers and their children. I want to believe that tonight was simply coincidental, but I can't. There were so many heavy children -- with heavy parents -- that I was dumbfounded.

Teaching at a post-secondary two-year college, I live by the phrase "you're an adult." I truly believe that those over the age of 18 are more then capable of living their own lives, making their own mistakes, and enduring the consequences. Protecting them from themselves does nothing but prolong childhood and encourage irresponsibility. When students come to me and ask if they might skip class, not take a test but do the make-up, or not do homework for whatever reason, I always give them this response: "You are an adult. You can make your own choices so long as you can live with the consequences." (For the most part, they hate that answer. But since I tell them on day one that I do not coddle or chase students, they pretty much live with it. I have to hand it to my students, they may not like what they hear, but they appreciate the predictability. )

So, if you are an adult and you want to live on potato chips, fast food, and soda pop, go for it. You're an adult. If you don't know that fast food is fattening, then you have bigger problems in your life.

But what the hell are you doing feeding that same garbage to your child?

Some parents claim that they can't control the child's appetite, that the child will throw a tantrum unless placated. Ha. As Supernanny might ask: who's in charge in this house?

I have my share of relatives and students who talk about their children's behavior. I have a toddler in the throes of the "terrible twos." Some parents have control, others don't. There are days when you feel you have control and others were you're convinced that the child does. And, yes, when it comes to food, there are days when it's easier to make the begged-for pizza then broil chicken breasts, mash potatoes, and steam broccoli. Yes, I have taken my son to McDonald's (once) and Arby's (once). And, believe me, there are days when getting him to eat a single brussel sprout is WWIII, and I wonder why I bother.

But to allow someone who doesn't even know what a calorie is to dictate his own diet is absolutely irresponsible.

We close the curtains to our dining room during dinner. There's no need for the neighbors to see my son's tantrum over getting milk -- and not juice -- in his sippy cup. Nor do they need to see the battle of the chair. He wants to eat one bite then leave the table, coming back when the mood strikes him. I expect him to sit until he's finished. Believe it or not, I only have to pop him back in his chair an average of three times a meal now. When we first started letting him sit on a regular chair, my dinner got cold long before he even started to think about finishing.

I've learned to put smaller portions on his plate, since he can always have more, and Gavie's learned to sit in his seat for most of the meal. Hey, he's only 2 1/2. "Most" and an empty plate are a good start. He's trying to assert his independence, to test his limits. I'm not about to crush him, but I've no intention of throwing my hands up and saying "woe is me!"

Why are there so many parents out there who can't tell their children what needs to be done, and what are the ramifications upon our country? When a levee breaks (God forbid) a generation from now, will our country be too fat to get up and help? Will those refugees be so used to someone handing them self-esteem, direction, and everything they demand that they'll be incapable of caring for themselves in the days following the disaster? Will our politicians be too busy blaming someone else... opps. They're doing that already. Never mind that last one.

The point is this, are we -- the adults -- going to raise a generation of children who remain children? The best thing we can do for our children is to not to do things for them.

If Johnny doesn't study and fails a test, don't call the teacher and demand a retest. Let him live with the F and learn from it.

If Sally tells you that she wants fried Oreos (they exist, trust me) for a snack every day after school, tell her no. If she says you don't love her, give her that maddening parental pat answer: "It's because I love you that I'm doing this."

When Billy screams in frustration because the square peg won't go into the round hole, encourage him to find a new approach. Don't take the lid off and toss the peg in.

So adults of the world, unite! Let them scream for their junk food, accept the fact that you'll be accused of being mean and heartless, and live with the reality that you are not meant to be your child's friend 24/7.

The truth is brutal: a failure to prepare your child for a world that links weight and intelligence, that values appearance, and that demands that successful people truly think, will condemn that child to a standard of living that is lower then what you have now.

Go buy the ear plugs and start being the parent.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I need an opinion?

Why did it take so long for help to reach New Orleans?

I've been puzzling over this for the past few days, and can't find an answer that I like. I can understand a brief delay due to cell phone towers or electricity being knocked out. I can understand that there are behind-the-scenes dramas in general that can delay things a few hours. I can even understand that there might be a very legitimate reason for a short delay that we, the public, are not going to be privy to.

But four days?
I'm not sure that I'll ever have an answer that I'm comfortable with.

Perhaps, though, "comfortable" isn't the answer I should be looking for. Katrina stirred me from my complacent little limbo. I've been bumping along for some time now, near-seventeen months to be exact, living in my own little happy place while my father dies. When I leave his house, leave him and my mother behind and turn on the radio for the drive home, I'm able to pretend that nothing bad is happening in my life. When I dial my old college roommate and we talk about our sons, about who we were friends with, and about our new houses, I'm able to live the life that I pretend to have.

Helping my father, all 6'2" and 115 lbs of him, is something I do because I want to. Please know that. Holding his hand to steady him as he walks down the steps is something I'm very happy to do. We've reversed roles, as countless other parents and children on this planet do. However, as part of caring for him, I'm doing everything I can to keep his limited world calm. I keep my stress to myself, never argue with my mother, and tell only funny stories. Anything to keep him from worrying.

So how does this mesh with Katrina? The devastation, the humanity, the lack of humanity, and this blog, have forced me to face that I have to rock the boat again. I can't spend my days being docile (when I'm not with my father). No wonder I'm frustrated sometimes! I have a voice that has been stomped on and pushed down and held prisoner all because I was trying to live in my happy place.

Happy places, you see, do not involve opinions that might make others unhappy. If others are unhappy, they might say something. If they say something, I might have to stand my ground.

So here's my opinion... or rather, here are my opinions:
  • FEMA should not be under Homeland Security.
  • GW should keep his mouth shut and let Laura do the talking. At least she doesn't sound like a deliberately engineered sound bite.
  • Those who are refusing to leave their flooded out houses New Orleans at this point are adults and can make their own decisions. As long as they are willing to live with themselves and any consequences, who are we to force them into refugee camps?
  • Stealing diapers and formula is not looting. Stealing a television set, or ten, while the city floods, is. Then again, stealing anything to make a fast back or capitalize on others' need is just plain wrong. Shooting looters on sight isn't always a bad idea.
  • Those who use this disaster as an excuse to act like animals are not acting.
  • When I hear about the way some "people" behave, the thought that their bodies would probably never be found floats through my mind.
  • If the majority of the people suffering are those in the lower socio-economic bracket, this is a good time to help them get back on their feet. Don't just hand people a check and say "see ya later." Why not find a way to educate them? Help them learn a trade that will enable them to live above the poverty line. Hand them a check and a tuition voucher for a trade school or college.
  • The media needs new video feed. We've been watching them save the same people for the last five days.
  • The media also needs to interview survivors who not only make interesting copy but also sound intelligent.

There. Opinions bound to irritate at least one person. Maybe two. It's a start. :)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Watch this space!

Today, nothing but kudos and congrats to my friend Chantel, author of Love and Ghost Letters, which comes out today.

She's a talented author, a wonderful teacher, and a dear friend.

Orchids to you, Chanty!!!

(Watch this space for the forthcoming book review!)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mocking the universe with Pietro

I found a stack of old stories today. Reading them, I was amazed at what my then-15-year-old imagination could come up with. I was also amazed at how much I've changed in writing style, perhaps not all for the better.

The summer that I turned 15, my last summer of unemployed freedom, was when I literally plopped myself before the family computer -- a top-of-the-line Apple IIc -- and didn't move for hours at a time. I had a few tape cassettes, Fleetwood Mac is the only one I remember, that I played over and again on my brother's boom box. I learned how to type that summer, though not in a manner that would win awards or A's in a classroom. I've yet to figure out how to hit the keys in the "proper" order. All I know is that I can pound out a page in mere minutes... without looking at the keys.

Science fiction was my forte back then, believe it or not. I had an alien invasion and a half dozen intrepid young adults fighting to save the planet. I created my own language and jargon, tox being one of my favorite. Tox was short for talk-box or, in our world, walkie-talkie. My characters had names I once thought exotic and daring. Best yet, though, was the fact that I was writing for myself. I wasn't penning a thing for an audience so I wasn't worried about anything but making the story interesting for me and me alone.

This blog, however, is another story altogether. Good Lord, I've an audience. (I think.) I can't publish family secrets, someone I know might read them. I have to be careful about the names I mention, some nut might stumble across this. If I publish my stories, I have to worry about first rights and all that legal stuff. And, of course, there's one great big huge gigantic fear: what if no one reads this?!

Leave it to me to worry, huh? You name it, I can come up with a worse case for you.

Tucked in with my writings was a quote I treasured eons ago in college:

With a goose quill and a few sheets of paper, I mock the universe... let others worry about style and so cease to be themselves. Without a master, without a model, without a guide, without artiface, I go to work and earn my well-being...

Pietro Aretino wrote that. He rocketed to fame by writing a mock last will and testament for Hanno, Pope Leo X's pet elephant. He was, according to some accounts, the "Renaissance mouth that roared." I'd caution you though before looking him up: the Renaissance was not all curtsying and proper manners. Think of Pietro as the Howard Stern of his era... pre-FCC.

It's a reminder to me now to write like I'm fifteen again: carefree, for myself, and creatively.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Checking ...

As an ernest freelancer, I find myself checking my e-mail a dozen times a day. I delete what I'm not interested in, keep what might be promising, and read through the responses to my "hired pen" want ad. Most of the stuff gets deleted; I'm quite lucky -- I can pick and choose. There's something marvelous about being able to say "no, I'm not going to sell my soul for that" or "You need a kidney before you'll hire me? Sure, take mine!"

I did read some interesting advice the other day, the latest Writer's Digest had an article on getting past that infamous slush pile. When you're sending clips, some editors like to see clips from the same publication, with the logic being that anyone can write for a publication once. But being hired back, to write again, well now, that's something else.

Today was a particularly quiet day professionally, nothing worth reading let alone replying to. Just as well, I had company. My biological father, his wife, and his mother all came for a visit. It was a delight, my son kept his grandparents quite busy showing them his room, his toys, and his clubhouse (a dishwasher box), leaving me to visit with my grandmother, a delightfully honest woman of 70-some years.

"I don't recall my father ever hugging or kissing me," Grandma Clare said, breaking a comfortable silence as we listened to Gavie laughing in the other room as "Dack," his grandfather, held him up to touch the ceiling. "He was German. They aren't particularly..." she paused, looking for the right word.

"Demonstrative?" I offered.

"That's it, he never really showed any of us affection, but you knew he'd do anything for you." She went on to tell me how he'd send money to a daughter whose husband left her, or how he'd help by watching Clare's sons after he retired. This great-grandfather, who died long before I was born, may not have shown much love, at least not in the form that we today look for, but he knew what it was. Had he lived today, someone would have hauled him in for counseling or dragged him to Oprah for an intervention on how he was harming his children by failing to hug them.

The truest proof of his love, however, was the house he build for his wife, my great-grandmother, also long passed. After raising ten children in a rather large farmhouse, he decided that they could stand to have a smaller place, something for just the two of them. Just as he finished, his wife went into the hospital for her high blood pressure.

"We were taking things over a little at a time, and we had them about half moved in," Clare said. "And my father said 'stop.' He wasn't going to move in until my mother was home. He said that if she didn't come home, he was going to burn that new house to the ground."

This man, who worked seven days a week and kept a small farm as well, and who raised ten children, knew about love. He loved so deeply that the idea of his wife never living in the house he built for her was too much for him to contemplate. He wasn't about to let it become a monument to the dead when it was meant as a gift to the living.

Growing up, there was many a night when my dad did not come home from work until long after my brother and I were in bed. My mother insisted that he peek in on us on those nights. "They're asleep," he'd argue at first. "They don't know."

"But you do," she'd fire back, holding her ground.

Eventually, she stopped nagging him. She didn't have to. It was a habit he'd grown into, and even at 18, I remember his shadow in the doorway those nights he worked overtime, just peeking in on his little girl whom he thought was asleep.

Incidentally, my great-grandmother lived and came home to a new house. And I now peek in on my dad who is riddled with cancer, checking on him as he sleeps in his recliner.

Friday, August 12, 2005

An opening with a little bit of everything.

Somewhere along the way, I heard that writing for publication was something akin to giving birth. You sweat and toil and engage in all sorts of mental contortions to get the right words in the right order on the right page... and when you're finished, the published piece is sent off into the world, toddling on its little feet to meet the great unknown.

Having given birth to a baby, I can tell you, that the cliche has two nuggets of truth in there. One: both hurt like the dickens. Two: letting go is not particularly easy. I still find myself wondering about the course that I wrote for an on-line college last year. Did the lectures work? Are the on-line instructors okay? Do they have questions? Can I help them?

My baby, now a solid little toddler who loves bugs and rocks, gets the same treatment. Are you okay? Do you need anything? Do you understand? Can I help you?

(Since my son clings to what I call his vow of silence, save for a few key words, there are times when I feel that I'm getting about the same response from both him and the course: nothing. Of course, let it be noted pestering my son is expected, while pestering a former employer is not.)

Both children and characters, by the way, have a mind of their own. Anyone who writes regularly will tell you that. Anyone who insists that you have complete control over everything either never wrote fiction or is living on another plane of reality.

Right now, however, my eyes are on a file that's been haunting me for the last nine years. It started as your basic adventure: girl meets psychotic boy, doesn't figure it out until it's almost too late, girl meets another boy who helps save the day. It worked well until the girl, a lovely and determined protagonist of thirty, decided that she didn't want to be a damsel in distress. Then the psychotic boy wanted to be more subtle about his nuttiness. Mr. Saves-the-Day threw a wrench in to things as well. He decided that he liked the newer version of my protagonist better then the "someone please help me" original, which was a boon. But he didn't want to show up in her life until she buried her husband and started to come too close to the truth of her best friend's murder.

I'm not writing this story. They are.

Working on this story, Killing Julie, has become (once again) an obsession. I have to finish it. So I search for moments where I can squeeze in a few sentences and wait impatiently for my son to go to bed at night, then rush through the kitchen dishes so that I can steal an extra hour (which turns into two) in the evening.

Mark Twain once remarked: "Write without pay until someone offers to pay you. If nobody offers in three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for."

It's not particularly profound, but I like it anyway. It goes well with another quote, this from the 2004 day calendar, Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts: "Serve your lust."

I'm serving, people are paying, and Julie's tale is being told.

And now, I'm ending this hodge podge of thoughts. Julie's been bugging me all day anyway, apparently she decided not to faint at her husband's funeral after all. :)

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