Crisis Averted

So, here it is.

Two weeks ago, my computer crashed and I lost about 65,000 words of the novel I’ve been working on, all summer. I spent some four or five hours in a frantic tizzy, trying to bribe a guy named Hutch at Google to help a girl out, before he and I finally found a way to “sort-of” recover my words. This was a big frickin’ crisis. I mean, I had a total mental breakdown–sobbing-in-the-fetal-position-lost-my-mind-kind-of-day.

BUT the words were found, and though there will be some effort required to get them back in the shape/format that I want them, all is not lost.  I have a hard copy, and that is all I can ask for. That was the worst day of the summer, for me.

Until… fast forward seven days, to last Thursday. My two big kids had gone to the high school football game. Hubby and I had finished dinner and cleaned up, and we sent the two littles upstairs to brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. A moment later, they came back down, announcing that the lights wouldn’t turn on upstairs and that there was a weird smell up there.

Hubby and I investigated and found smoke, though the source was uncertain. We checked lamps and plug-in air fresheners, radios and fans, to no avail, until I went into the kids’ bathroom. The first thing that I noticed was something odd had dripped onto the toilet seat. At first, I thought that little man had made a mess when he’d gone to the bathroom and just hadn’t told us, but when I looked up, I could see scorch marks on the ceiling. Hubby brought in a flashlight, and when he touched the metal cover of the ceiling vent fan, it was hot.

I’d like to say that we were totally on the ball, rushed into our pre-planned fire escape scenario and handled the whole thing with aplomb, BUT that would be a lie. First, he removed the cover and we stared up into the smoking remains of a clearly fire damaged fan. Then, I opened all the windows upstairs to let out some of the smoke. We sent the kids to the basement, to get away from the bad air, but at this point, we were seeing no flames and we honestly thought that the motor had blown on the fan, but had been contained by the metal box that held it.

So, we talked about electricians and told the kids that they could sleep in the basement overnight, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. Hubby called his dad to see what he thought about the situation, and I got on the Google. Turns out, a lot of house fires start in a bathroom vent fan. Turns out that it can start the insulation in your attic to smoldering, and you won’t even know you have a fire until WHOOSH! Your whole attic and roof goes up in flames.

I was sitting there, at the computer, and in the back of my mind, I could hear my dad’s voice. For those that don’t know, my stepdad, who raised me, passed away a few years ago. He was a fixer and a tinkerer, and he was my go-to handyman. If he were alive, I’d have been on the phone with him, right then. I stared at the screen and I heard him say, as plain as day, “Don’t you leave it like that. Get up. Go check.”

I took the flashlight out and shined it at the roof, and my heart stopped. I could see smoke leaking out of the roof. Our home was on fire.

The next moments were a whirlwind of activity. I called the fire department, gathered the kids and their beloved blankies. We unplugged the external hard drive that holds all of our pictures and I grabbed the file folder with the hardcopy (see above: the only copy) of my novel, and the kids and I hopped in the car and drove away. We passed a multitude of flashing lights on the road–four huge fire engines, a couple of smaller fire trucks and an ambulance, maybe a police car. To be honest, I lost track. In my mind, all I could see was that smoke, rolling out of our roof.

In the end, we discovered the fire, just in time. The damage was fairly minimal, in the scheme of things, and we have a great Home Owner’s Insurance policy. We have worked with an excellent restoration company that has gotten the mess (mostly insulation from the attic) cleaned up and livable, once more. We are very, very lucky and very, very fortunate.

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The fire department told us that we had maybe 15-20 minutes before the whole roof caught. If we hadn’t been home, or if we’d been asleep–we could be looking at a total loss. We could be looking at a loss of life. We could be looking at the kind of grief that I cannot even put into words.

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The last few days have been hard. The mess was being cleaned up, but I needed to wash every piece of clothing and stuffed animal and bedding and everything from the kids’ rooms. We’re talking about 40 loads. We couldn’t run the A/C until the ducts were cleaned, and it has been hot and humid, these last few days. I got sick–whether it be stress, or back-to-school germs, or allergies from the dust, and that hasn’t made things easier. And I’ve been walking around with that feeling, like after you narrowly avoid a car accident.

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Holy Shit. Something really, devastatingly horrible almost happened. Something that changes everything, forever. But it didn’t. You know the feeling that I mean? Adrenaline shaky and checking everyone over for bumps and bruises? Waiting for the other shoe to fall.

I nearly lost my mind when I thought I’d lost my book, and now, faced with the possibility of actual, horrible loss, that feels downright trivial. It feels microscopic. It feels like it happened to someone else, entirely. I haven’t cried over the fire. I don’t need to. We lost nothing that cannot be replaced. We were lucky. We were fortunate. We are blessed.

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Two weeks ago, I almost lost my book.

Last week, I almost lost my home, and I could have lost so much more than that.

This week, I am just going to breathe deep, let the tears come if they ever need to (although, I don’t expect them). It’s all good. I’m going to watch both of my sons play football, tomorrow, and I’m going to try to relax. Because when that book–the one that I lost, and then found–gets published, I’m going to have a damn fine story to tell.

Remembories

Tonight, I curled up on the couch with my two daughters, ages 15 and 9, and watched TITANIC. The younger has been fairly fixated on the disaster of the Titanic since she read several books about it, this past school year, and since Dad was out with his friends for the night, we decided we’d have some girl time. Let me be clear–while I think that TITANIC was a cinematic marvel, there is much in the film that could have been improved. I am not going to post a review of the film.

What I am struck by, tonight, once the obligatory “Jack” tears have been cried and Rose has gone on to die an old lady, warm in her bed, is how film can transport you back in time.

Not, in this instance, to 1912, but rather, to the cold, early-winter of 1997.

I was 21–almost a baby, myself–and I had, six weeks prior to the release of TITANIC, suffered a devastating miscarriage. I was not in a good place, barely leaving my bed, and I went to see TITANIC six times. Because it was a place that I could cry,  and no one would ask if I was alright. It was a safe zone–everyone was crying–and that made it all the more cathartic. Everyone in the theater, in my mind, wept for my lost baby.

Now, seventeen years removed from that theater, I realize how terribly depressed I was, and how lucky I was to find a way clear of it. That luck came in the form of my now fifteen year old daughter– who fell asleep before the end, tonight–because she’s seen it many times, and because she worked a long day, today, and because blessedly, she is not in that bad place, where you need an excuse to cry.

I spent a lot of time, in my early twenties, in that place. When the mother in steerage tucks her children into the bed and tells them the story of Tir Na Nog,  it hits me, every time.  That nostalgic feeling that my little girl used to call “remembories.” It’s a certain song on the radio, or a scene from a film. It’s certain smells, or places. It’s a gentle, beautiful reminder that I am whole, and healed, and I almost never slip back to that lonely, sad, broken place, any more.

I am grateful to TITANIC, for the safe place that it gave me, to loudly and publicly mourn for the baby I would never know. Watching it now, I realize what a gift it was, and while Jack’s death on the screen has long since stopped goading me to tears, I still choke up when I hear of Tir Na Nog, and the land of eternal youth and beauty. I like to imagine that it exists, even if it is just a memory.

Critical Mass

We’ve reached it, folks.

Today marks the end of another school year. (Well, for two of my kids. The other two have a half day on Monday, but still, we’re right there). Nine long months of homework and school programs, projects and reports, learning and doing and extra-curriculars and a million and one other things. The kids have learned a lot.

But, I’m an old pro at this. There isn’t anything I could possibly have still to learn about school, right?

WRONG.

For instance, I have–just this week–learned that when the silverware drawer seems strangely empty, you should probably check your daughter’s desk at school. I’m not kidding, guys. When she cleaned her desk out for the final time, she brought home six forks and eleven spoons. THAT IS SEVENTEEN PIECES OF SILVERWARE! Seriously?

Also, this week, I noticed that my twelve-year-old son has been putting the same two pairs of shorts in the washer, every other day, and keeps repeating them in his wardrobe. When asked why, I discovered that he has left ALL of his other shorts at school, in his gym locker. So he has nothing else to wear, and cannot be bothered to remember to bring his clothes home.

Littlest Little Man tried to smuggle 57 Pokemon cards to school, and my eldest daughter is convinced that she’s going to flunk her gym class exam.

That’s the game, parents. Some things change, but most things stay the same. Silverware and a child’s entire clothing collection = new. Anxiety and sneakiness and learning through osmosis and a little bit of luck = same old, same old.

We’re looking forward to a busy summer. One child will embark on her first job. The others have plans for visits with grandparents, summer camp, camping, and generally terrorizing the neighborhood with their gang of hard-core biking thugs. We’ll go to the beach, and the zoo, and we’ll try to squeeze in some reading and some math facts, so that we don’t revert completely to our sludge-like former state.

But the thing is that next year, on the last day of school, I’m going to write another post about the things I’ve learned “this” year. I’m going to be stunned at how the time has flown, and appalled at the fact that my son is still hoarding his clothes in his gym locker. I’m going to be staring at my daughter’s senior year, and college apps and all of that.

That’s the thing about being “The Mom.” I keep needing to be reminded that I’m still figuring it all out, one year at a time. One day at a time. One moment at a time.

I’m pretty lucky, though. I’ve got great teachers.

Stranger than Fiction

I am having a weird day. It’s one of those days when I am pretty sure that the universe is trying to tell me something… I’m just missing the translation manual.

To begin with, I crawled out of bed this morning around 5:45, woke the two oldest kiddos, and trundled downstairs to begin packing lunches. I fed the dog and opened the slider, and he ran outside onto the deck… where he stood, stock still, staring out into the distance. After a few moments, when he was still there, I decided I’d better see what was up. I was greeted by the sight of my neighbors’ 45 foot tall, seemingly perfectly healthy tree, lying earthbound in my yard. Sticks and twigs are littering my deck, but thankfully, only the topmost branches hit our deck (which is above the walkout, and therefore a story off of the ground), and no damage was done.

That near-crisis resolved before I even woke up, I went back inside to continue my lunch making. Scheduling issues with twelve-year-old, problems getting a ride for 15-year-old, worry that no one will, in fact, be home when 5-year-old gets off the bus… All of these crises are solved before the first round of wary travelers leave for school/work. 

Second round awakens, eats, dresses, etc. and they’re off to school, as well. Once they’re dropped off, I head to the store to buy minutes for 12-year-olds phone… or else all of his scheduling issues may combine into one, giant, misplaced pre-teen with no way to reach mom or dad. On the way, my husband calls. He is on his way to sign the papers on the new warehouse we are buying. He just wants to let me know that the gate of said warehouse, which we have been renting up until, oh… today, is not working correctly. Awesome.

He signs papers. I arrive at the store, only to find that they aren’t open, yet. I drive to a different store. Second store doesn’t sell minutes, anymore, and by this time, the first store is open… so back to first store.

Sigh. Drive home. Start making my breakfast. It’s only 10 a.m., so still reasonably breakfast time…ish. But, I need to accomplish my to-do list, because I have to be at the warehouse to receive an order around 2:00, which has led to all of this afternoon’s finagling. Toast toasting, butter in pan… cell phone rings. 

“Honey, could you do me a favor? I locked my keys in the van.”

So, I turn off the stove, take the toast with me, and head to open the van for hubby. On the way, he calls me to let me know that the order that I’m supposed to be getting at 2:00 is delayed… until tomorrow. Then, the middle school calls. The track meet, which has necessitated a veritable army of assistants to get #1 son where he needs to be, due to a field trip, *might* be canceled… if we get the thunderstorms they’re predicting. So, can I just “play it by ear?”

But… I’m cheerful. I’m peppy (I *may* have drank a Red Bull because I didn’t have time to make coffee). I’m happy to do my job as chief chauffeur and crisis averter. I unlock said van, visit with hubby for a few, and head back home, hoping to salvage some writing time, today.

I’m almost T-Boned by a Suburban that can’t decide, despite his blinker being on, whether he is stopping/turning, or just psyching me out before he guns it through the light. I’ll break the suspense: the answer is “Punch it, Margaret.” BUT… I avoided his front bumper, just in time to see a silver trailblazer with a woman driving that looks a lot like my sister.

Can’t be my sister. She lives an hour away. I pull onto the street that I am NOT suppose to be on, save a ridiculous sum-total of coincidences and bizarreness, only to see my sister’s novelty plate, staring back at me.

I pull up next to her and call her cell phone. “I’m right next to you,” I say, and she replies, “Hey, what are you doing here?”

The universe is trying to tell me something, and if I wrote this many coincidences and oddly improbable scenarios into a novel, I’d be told that it was too impossible to believe, but there you have it. I’m just not sure whether to buy a Lottery Ticket or hide under my covers for the rest of the day.

Why Fantasy?

I’ve been thinking a lot, since last night, about why I love the books that I do, and more importantly, what has driven me to write the books that I am writing. As I wrote the post about Reading Month, and I was noting what my kids were reading, I started to think about the books that I read, as a kid.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves, these days, but as a kid, I didn’t read much fantasy, and I never read SciFi. I read a great deal of realistic fiction, quite a bit of magical realism, and a boatload of “teen” book (most by the time I was in third grade, or so). It’s a good thing that old school YA was a bit tamer than today’s YA. Sweet Valley High was a favorite, and that was gentler than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Then, I skipped right on to adult literature–I read my first Stephen King book in sixth grade, Robin Cook was a favorite in fifth. I was all over the place, and I LOVED to read, but I didn’t have a home genre.

One of my early favorites was The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and although it was a realistic fiction book, there was a bit of the fantastical in Mary’s home in India and again, at Craven Manor. Dickon, who could speak to the animals was, by far, my favorite character, and I loved the sense of fate that had sent Mary to the garden. Another all time favorite was The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Snyder. I barely remember this book, but I remember reading it multiple times, and finding a sense of comfort within its pages. Reading its Amazon description, I guess it makes sense. A girl finds a safe place to hide from her doubts, in a hidden, secret library. Right up my alley.

But it still begs the question–Why do I cling so much to Fantasy and SciFi, now?

The first answer to that question is pretty easy to answer. My dad–biologically, he was my stepdad, but he raised me–was a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. We watched a lot of re-showings of The Beastmaster and Conan. There wasn’t a lot that he and I could talk about and agree on, when I was a teenager, but we both admired the hell out of Jean Luc Picard and we both knew that Han shot, first. That was enough. My dad passed away, a few years ago, but every once in a while, when I write a really kick ass fight scene or create a character that I know he’d identify with, I know that he’d have enjoyed my stories. It is enough.

So, I grew up on a steady diet of words about people I didn’t really understand, and a T.V. diet of characters that made things happen. That was the crux of it, for me, I think. In so many books that I read as a kid, the events of the story weren’t shaped and molded by the character–they were formed AROUND the character. But a lot of those Fantasy and SciFi characters MADE things happen. They shaped their own destiny. They took charge.

I’m a sucker for a sword or a wizard, any day, but what I love most is the sense of fate that you get in genre fiction. Yes, bad stuff happens. But a great genre protagonist is going to wrap their arms around that bad stuff and choke the life out of it. They take their destiny by the horns.

About 15 years ago, I met a guy, and he suggested that I read The Mists of Avalon. It’s a big, slow book–and it rocked my world. Girls who took charge of their own destiny. Women who shaped the world. The female heros that were hidden behind King Arthur’s throne. That same man handed me The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and eventually a wedding ring (But that’s a whole different sort of tale) and in doing so, he nudged me toward my destiny.

There are countless stories, out there, and there are a million ways to tell them. But this is the one that I was born to tell.

Books, Books, and More Books

So, for those of you that don’t have young children, you may not know that March is Reading Month. We kicked off the annual word-fest with Dr. Seuss’ Birthday on March 2nd, and both the Elementary kids and the Middle Schooler have their own special reading calendar that they are supposed to follow, with special school-wide activities and fun dress up days.

Around here, every month is reading month, but we’ve been spending some extra time on it, what with all of the extra assignments, and it is really quite exciting to watch the kids really start to get it. Our 6th grade son has a map of the U.S. with 50 different assignments to accomplish, throughout the month. Some are as straightforward as “Read a Fantasy Novel” or “Use no screens, except for homework, for one day.” Others are a little more in-depth, such as “Follow a recipe and bring in samples for the class” or “Memorize a poem and recite it to your teacher.” Yesterday, he had to write a fan letter to his favorite author and send it, after showing his teacher.  What was really cool? It has just come to my attention that his favorite author is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson. I love him for his Mistborn books, finishing The Wheel of Time series, and The Stormlight Archives (Words of Radiance just came out! Hooray! And it is 1100 pages long! Hooray!) My son loves him for Steelheart and Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians and the Infinity Blade books, but I hear the things that he enjoys about them, and I know that someday soon, he’ll be reading the books that I love. He has never been much of a reader, up until recently, and I really love that he has found someone who speaks to him. It pleases me.

Our eldest has always been a big reader, and she has found an adoration for all things John Green. I can totally relate to this, as I think that he is a stunningly accurate, honest writer of teenagers. He gets them, and they love him for it. We are both dreading and looking forward to the release of The Fault in Our Stars when it hits theaters in June. Like so many others, we’ve both shed a few tears over that one. She’s reading An Abundance of Katherines right now, and I look forward to her review.

Our nine-year-old has just graduated from Magic Tree House books to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Three times, today, I caught her reading when she was mid-painting on a project, in the middle of a t.v. show, and just now, when I checked on her in bed. I cannot begin to express the joy that finding them stealth reading gives to me.

Our youngest, a kindergartener, is just finding his way in the world of words. We are reading Redwall aloud, at night, and every once in a while, over my shoulder, he will find a sentence that he can read. Tonight, it was “Try to be brave like your mum and dad.” I wasn’t even to that point on the page, yet, but he was looking, finding meaning, and discovering, all on his own. And, I’m not going to lie–the fact that he is fully absorbed and engrossed in a book about sword wielding mice and badgers with cudgels pleases me like a kid on Christmas morning.

As for the grown-ups–my long-suffering husband is slogging his way through my second novel’s manuscript and doing his best to put up with my inability to accept criticism. I am reading Before They Were Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, which is the second book of The First Law series. I’m finding that I really, REALLY enjoy his books–mostly because they are such excellent character studies. You really come to understand the psyche of his characters, none of which are clearly in the good or bad category. He writes an ensemble of gray protagonists, often gritty, often brutal, but you really get to understand their motivations in a way that many books don’t give you. It isn’t rainbows-and-unicorns type fluffy fantasy, but it is fantastic in its ability to make you believe that the characters he writes are real, even if you wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

Writing-wise, I finished the first, revised draft of Whirlwind and have since sent it off to my beta readers. This is the tough place, anxiety-wise, for me. While I wait for feedback, I definitely start to second guess myself and develop a pretty good case of Imposter Syndrome. All will be well, though. That’s what revisions are for, right? I’m also working on a re-write of A Sown Wind, as well as beginning the outlining, brainstorming stage for book three, which I am thinking of entitling, When Gods Toss Dice.

In non-wordy stuff, I cannot recommend “True Detective” and “Black Sails,” enough. Both shows have really drawn me in, and I was sad to see the season finale of “True Detective” come so soon. We are also cruising through the last four episodes of “How I Met Your Mother,” and looking forward to the return of “Game of Thrones,” next month.

How about you? What are you reading? What are you watching? Where do you get your inspiration, and what stories speak to you? Enquiring minds want to know.

Epiphany

The last few days have been rough, around here.

Not true tragedy kind of rough… just a to-do list that is too long and days that are too short. A lot of pressure for everything to go smoothly and too many activities that have a tendency to muck up the works. It’s the kind of days when every hour of your day is mapped out, and if you don’t follow the schedule exactly, say by getting into a disagreement with your husband about the time it takes to accomplish said item on said to-do list, well, then you’re well and truly buggered.

It happens. I mean, I have four kids, with four different school schedules and four different extracurriculars. I have a husband and we own our own business and a big house that is never (well, maybe once a year) as clean as I would like it to be. I have a dream, which requires copious amounts of time spent in contemplation and endless hours spent writing. I have a dog (and two, fairly non-problematic cats). Life happens.

But last night, as I am lamenting the things on the list that didn’t get crossed off, I had an epiphany. The thing is, I spend all of this time doing these things that I think HAVE to be done. I mean, when I looked at the list yesterday morning, there were all of these things that I labeled as MUSTS, and one or two that were wants.

Yes… some of the MUSTS are actually MUSTS. I did have to help #2 kid do his tuba playing test. It was due by 9:00 p.m., and it had to be done. I did have to go to #1’s last show of The Crucible, because I hadn’t seen it, and I want to support her in her endeavors. I did have to make sure that #3 and #4 got their Valentines addressed and that #3 finished her Valentine Box project.

But you know what I didn’t have to do: I didn’t have to spend an hour looking for a library book that I already KNOW is lost. I haven’t seen it in months. I remember sending it to school, but heaven only knows what happened to it from there. The hour of my time spent looking for that, just so that I could say that I had, is worth more than the two dollars it will cost me to replace the book.

I didn’t HAVE to give the dog a bath. He is healthy, and well-fed. He is loved and played with. Yes… he had a little eau de pooch aroma, but if he didn’t get his bath until mid-week, no one would have died.

I didn’t HAVE to do the laundry. Everyone has plenty of clothes, and no one was going to be wearing dirty socks to school or to work. I shouldn’t be wasting time stressing out about the fact that I have a mountain of clean laundry on my living room couch. You know why… because it isn’t hurting anyone. It is not damaging anyone’s psyche or causing anyone harm. It isn’t a MUST.

I didn’t have to dust. I dusted on Wednesday. I didn’t have to wipe down the cupboards. I didn’t have to reorganize the game shelf. I didn’t have to refold the towels that were hidden away in the linen closet. I don’t have to do homemade-handmade-unprocessed-or organic, every minute of every day.

I don’t have to do these things, but I’ve convinced myself that I do. I’ve convinced myself that if my house isn’t perfect and my kids don’t look perfect, if every aspect of our lives doesn’t come off looking polished and planned, then I am a failure. That’s bullshit.

Our kids are happy and healthy. They are growing up to be well-educated, thoughtful and compassionate human beings. They are creative and charitable. They are funny. We eat dinner together, every night, even if sometimes it is hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. We sing songs together. We play games. We laugh and tell stories. My teenager still gives me hugs.

Our yard isn’t always perfectly manicured and when that mountain of snow melts, last year’s leaves are still going to buried under it. I have not been “caught up” on laundry since 1998. My kids’ bedrooms look like Hurricane Katrina paid them a visit, and often, my response to that is just to close the door.

A friend of mine, who has just recently had her first baby, posted an article on Facebook recently about kid filth, and said that she would never allow her house to be like that. My gut reaction was, “Good luck with that.” But that was wrong. If what you need to stay sane is a perfectly maintained home, more power to you. I honestly, truly wish you well in your endeavor. Who am I to judge? Because we do that to ourselves, enough. We constantly look at what we are doing as parents, as people, and think, “I am not doing enough. I am not working hard enough, I’m not paying my dues, I’m not perfect.”

Nobody is.

And that’s what I realized, last night. My car had to go into the shop for a wheel bearing replacement (Ugh.) and so my husband picked me up at the mechanic’s. I had just finished watching #1’s play, and he had been home with the two littlest. I didn’t feel like cooking (as I still had about half of my to-do list to conquer) and it has been so cold that the kids haven’t spent much time outside, so he suggested heading to McDonald’s for dinner and a little playland time. We almost never do this, because I have always hated the playland. It is loud and people bring their kids and then sit on their electronics, ignoring their children, while I sit there and judge them for it.

Yup. I hate the playland. But I sighed, and caved. We got out of the van, only for me to discover that my husband had told them they could come in their pj’s. My daughter’s hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a month. And my first thought was, “Oh, my God. We look like ‘those people,'” –meaning the people that I have always looked at with contempt. The people who don’t bother to look polished and perfect, who come to McDonald’s to ignore their kids.

And I nearly had a panic attack.

But my husband guided me gently inside. We ate our not-remotely-healthy meal with the kids, and then they played. They were ragamuffins. They looked like orphan hobos. But they played, and they laughed. They used their manners and treated the other children nicely. The world didn’t stop spinning and no one called CPS. My husband held my hand. We had a few moments of quiet conversation, probably while other parents looked at us like, “Good God, don’t they even know what a hairbrush looks like?”

I’m over it.

My name is Stacey, and I have a problem. I am addicted to the idea that I have to be perfect, that if I am not projecting the aura of someone who kills themselves, 18 hours a day, to make sure that everything is picture perfect, then I am a failure. I am addicted to beating myself up.

I cannot promise that I won’t fall off of the wagon, but I’m going to try. I’m going to try to remember that no one ever died because their laundry wasn’t folded. I’m going to try to remember that love and laughter and togetherness are vastly more important than perfectly coifed hair or bookshelves without dust on them. I’m going to try to remember that what makes a home isn’t the lack of dirt, but the way that you make your messes. I’m going to try to forgive myself for not being perfect. I’m going to try to stop trying so damned hard. I’m going to hold my husband’s hand more often, and sing in the kitchen, more often. I’m going to try to stop prioritizing things as MUSTS when they really aren’t. I’m going to try to stop judging other people, because in the end, we’re all just struggling to make sure we leave the world a better place than we found it. Who am I to say that untangled hair defines a good parent?

I’m going to try to remember that thirty years from now, my kids will be in my shoes. I will want them to know that shedding tears over dirty dishes in the sink, or getting short of breath because it snowed before you got the leaves raked is a waste of their time and energy. I will want them to know that they are perfect… no matter how chaotic their life seems. I will want them to remember their own dreams, and to make sure that they give themselves time and energy to accomplish them, and also the freedom to accept their own failings.

So I have to start by showing them.

I am going to try to stop trying, so damned hard. I MUST be happy, and I MUST raise happy, healthy kids. That’s it… the rest is gravy, and it is totally acceptable if it is gravy that comes from a jar.

Weekly Recap and Germs, Be Gone!

What I am Reading: Still working on The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. I am still enjoying it, and it is reminding me of the in-depth world building of GRRM in Song of Ice and Fire. My favorite scenes center on Logen Ninefingers, right now, and I am interested to see how the separate groups of characters will come to interact.

What I am Reading to My Kids: We are still chugging through Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking, although I expect to finish both, this weekend. We plan to read Because of Winn Dixie and The Mouse and The Motorcycle, next.

What I’ve been watching: In order to force myself back onto the treadmill, I’ve guided myself back to my first season obsession with Once Upon a Time. Catching up on season 2 on Netflix… It’s not as good. BUT… it’s enough to get me onto the torture machine, so I guess it is worth it. My husband and I have just started watching True Detective (HBO) and Black Sails (Starz). Both are really good. True Detective has given me some honest respect for Matthew McConaughey’s acting chops, and Black Sails (while occasionally falling into the GoT gratuitous sex scene trap) has drawn me in, in two episodes, more than Agents of Shield has in half a season. I’m looking forward to these two shows’ next episodes more than I am the return of Walking Dead, for what that’s worth.

Where I am at, writing-wise: Alas, I am not much further along than I was, last Friday. The knights screwed everything up, and I had to do some edits to fix the paradoxes that they had created. Ugh. But I have done some other cool writing related stuff, this week (see below).

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I figure that if the best I can do is set aside the period between packing five lunches at 6:30 a.m. and driving the smallest heathens to school at 8:20 a.m., every Friday morning, for blogging– well, so be it. So here you have it, the second weekly recap. Ta-da! Aren’t you impressed? Thank you… thank you.

But seriously… it has been madness around here. We are all at the point where we just want to throw the windows open to get rid of the germs and the winter blahs with a little fresh air, but the wind chill is -20, right now, so fresh air = frozen flesh. Not really what they’re depicting in the sales brochure. Our five-year-old was home sick with a cold for a couple of days this week, and every one has that drug out, sort of “winter overdose” look on their faces. The snow piles next to our driveway are taller than the minivan, though, so it’ll probably be June before it is all gone.

In Valentine’s Day preparations, we are busy putting together goodie bags and the 3rd grader has to design and assemble her own Valentine mailbox. Have I mentioned how the 3rd grader is my overachiever? This process has involved blueprints (yup… blueprints), two trips to the craft store, and use of the oven on two different occasions. I’ll post results, next week when it is finished, but this is clearly not an amateur project. (Meanwhile, the kindergartner could not care less about any of it. Go figure.)

The two big kids are in the midst of mid-winter chaos, too. Our 15-year-old is on the tech crew of The Crucible, which is showing this weekend, as well as preparing for the forensics team. I think she will be home for a total of about 12 hours, this weekend, hopefully some of which she’ll spend sleeping. Sixth grade son is busy with basketball, and he has spent a great deal of time figuring out EXACTLY how many games they can still lose and make the playoffs. Its high stake stuff, here.

Speaking of playoffs, let us never speak of that Super Bowl, again, shall we? It wasn’t just that the Broncos lost… it was how truly, disgustingly awful they played. That was the single most boring game of football I have ever watched, and frankly, I was just relieved by the time it was over.

In word related news, I am excited to be heading to Art Hop, tonight. My youngest daughter and I are planning a special date to go see a show of college artists who have illustrated some pieces by local writers (one or two of which *might* have been written by yours truly). It should be fun, and I haven’t seen the artwork, at all, so I am interested to see how they interpreted my pieces.

Also this week, I participated in my first Twitter pitch party. For those of you not on Twitter, or not familiar with the process of trying to get published, a brief explanation: Once an hour, you can post a “pitch” for your book. It has to fit in 140 characters (which is about as painful as childbirth, but without the drugs), and agents and editors will peruse the posts. If they are interested in seeing more of your project, they can “favorite” your pitch, which is sort of an invitation to query them, with the added bonus that you get to say, “You WANTED to see this… Like me! Like me!” It was a fun and interesting experience, and I received two requests from agents and two from editors, so we shall see where this goes. If nothing else, it was a great learning experience, figuring out how to describe my book in such a short space and how to hook the reader, with such limited word count. I’d love to think that an agent is on the horizon, but if not… I’ll definitely do another one of these. Reading other authors’ pitches was incredibly helpful, and there are a great many books out there that sound really interesting and fun. I wish all of those that participated in #adpit, good luck.

Beyond that, I am very excited to get back to our tradition of Saturdays spent playing RPG’s, which has been on hiatus since Christmas (Stupid winter.), a weekend full of art and time with my kiddos (Except for the big one. Soon, I’ll forget what she looks like.), and a full day, today, dedicated completely to working on Whirlwind. It is like my birthday and Christmas and the county fair, all rolled into one! Happy Friday!

Giving Books – The Gift that Gives Whole Worlds

So, yesterday, I read this.

And if you clicked the link, you can imagine why this moved me. One book for every 300 children! That is abysmal. That is astounding. That is, perhaps, the single saddest statistic I have heard this holiday season.

We are a bookish family.

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See? And that is just the shelf closest to my desk.

My kids know that they will receive many books for Christmas, and honestly, pretty much any time of year. I have a hard time saying “no” to books. So, when I read those stats to my kids, looking for that coveted moment of realization that they live a privileged life, I was incredibly proud to actually see it. They stared at me, dumbfounded. They were speechless for a moment.

Then my nine year old said, “What do they do when it is bedtime?” and my heart swelled. My five year old said, “That makes me feel sad.” And then, in a moment that parents wait years for, sometimes forever for, my fifteen year old said, “We should donate books, instead of buying each other presents, this year.”

I waited for a dissenting voice. I waited for a riot. But there was nothing but unanimous agreement. My kids just stared at each other, then me, and agreed that rather than drawing names and buying gifts amongst themselves this year, they would donate the money we would usually spend on that, to First Book.

I honestly don’t know if I could be prouder, and thanks to generous matching donations from Random House Children’s Books and Patrick Rothfuss (who is quite honestly one of the greatest fantasy authors of our time. You should check out The Name of the Wind. Seriously.), my kids’ donation will go even further.

So, I am curious. What books are you looking forward to getting, or giving, this holiday season?

For me, I am excited to read Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman and Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which will both be under my tree, but shhhhh… don’t tell the kids.