Don’t forget to live

I was proud of myself.
All four kids were fed and appropriately dressed, and we had made it to the high school recognition night on time. We’d even picked up my mother-in-law on the way. That was a huge success for me, considering all I had tried to juggle that week.
So I was smiling inside and out as I made my way to the table full of cookies, veggies and cheese with crackers.
Until I looked at my feet to determine why my gait felt funny.
I was wearing two different shoes — both black, both ankle boots, but one with a slightly higher heel than the other. I made the best of it, pointing out my error my family and to the women serving the food. We all had a good laugh.
But I knew it wasn’t a good sign.
Summer was quickly approaching and I wanted to enjoy the time with my kids. Stress was threatening to make that impossible. Something had to give. So I examined my priorities.
There were people who needed me: the kids, my husband, my mother-in-law and my father. My sister was terminally ill and lived a state away. I wanted to be available if she or her family needed me, too.
I wasn’t willing to push the people in my life to the sidelines.
That left two possibilities: my health or my writing, and I had already vowed to improve my health.
The timing was perfect.
I had just finished one novel rewrite and was almost done with a second. My agent would need time to read both. I emailed my agent and told her I planned to take the summer off. She agreed to read the manuscripts over the summer and start the submission process in the fall.
So here we are.
I’ve had wonderful summer with the kids, though it never seems long enough. I was able to be there for my sister’s husband and children when she died. I visited my father in the nursing home weekly and helped with my mother-in-law’s care as she recovered from a heart attack.
My husband and I shared many-a-coffee and glass of wine on the porch, watching the deer.
School starts in less than a week.
I began to prepare about two weeks ago, organizing my notes and my thoughts. As I sat there, I got thinking about the advice so many writers hear and take to heart, that we need to write every day, that daily writing is essential to the craft.
And I got the urge to type.
I wrote a blog post.
The post was picked by a magazine that is well-read by fans of my genre.
I wrote a short story.
The story was accepted in an anthology that will be released next year.
I’m writing another blog post now.
I’m sure daily writing schedules work for those who can do it, but I’ve never had the time. I am fortunate if I can write for a few hours twice a week. Yet it hasn’t hurt me. I’ve completed  four novels and I have an agent who believes they will sell. I took two months off and immediately placed two pieces in publications. I plotted out my next novel during swimming lessons, long walks and long drives
Of course, we all need to practice our craft to improve, but what we often forget is that sitting at the keyboard is only part of the process. Thinking, experiencing, and thinking some more is just as essential.
For two months, I produced no writing, but I wrote in my head, collecting experiences, analyzing those experiences and letting my imagination roam.  My creativity did not fade during my time away from my laptop. Rather, I would argue, it was enhanced.
My advice to aspiring writers?
Write, but don’t forget to live.

She gave up her career for her son and our country. Meet Kitty, former teacher and stay-at-home Navy mom.

The decision to stay home with our children can be hard enough, but it’s even harder when it seems there is no choice.
Kitty began her career in anthropology, but fell in love with teaching while interviewing residents of rural Alaska for a National Parks program. She taught elementary school for twelve years, but gave that up when she met her husband, a Navy pilot, and they moved from her home state of Washington to Florida.
There, she made plans to start a PhD program in public policy with an emphasis on education and was excited to begin. Those plans came to a halt when she became pregnant with their son, their only child. Kitty found her role as military spouse and mom made full-time work nearly impossible.
I interviewed Kitty four years ago when she was 40 years old and her son was 15 months. Since then, she and her family have moved three times, landing back in Florida again.
Kitty does not regret her decisions, but she plans to return to the workforce in a few years when her husband retires. 

This is Kitty’s story, in her own words:

I don’t know what I’m going to do.
When my son Evan gets older I am definitely going back to work. I cannot do this for the rest of my life, although I don’t really feel the drive to go back to the classroom.
I was doing a lot – up in Washington – of consulting work. I was on a state committee that was looking at fairness and bias, and I loved that. I really felt like before I got married I was heading in this direction where I was eventually going to be able to leave the classroom and sustain myself through the consulting work.
But that kind of came to an abrupt halt when I got married and moved down here. I don’t have those contacts and I’ve been out of the scene up there for two and a half, almost three years now. We’ll see what happens when we go back.
We’re going to be back in Washington again and I certainly can get back in contact with people, but my husband is going to be gone for months at a time on the air craft carrier and I don’t want to get myself into a situation where I’m in the classroom, working Monday through Friday. I mean I would have my parents around to help me, but you know, they’re elderly and they’re not up for babysitting every day.
I firmly believe that doors will open and that it’s right for me to stay home with Evan right now, but not forever. I wasn’t satisfied with teaching, and I knew that (graduate) school was one of those things where it would be lot of time commitment to do it right. I didn’t know if I was ready to jump into that.
Also, I knew we had a finite amount of time here in Florida, and that we were going to be moving eventually. If I didn’t hit it hard in those two years, I wasn’t going to get my coursework done.
In retrospect, that was really a very good decision. I wound up with postpartum depression and it was all that I could do to keep my head above the water. I’m glad I didn’t have the pressure of school or work on top of that.
Another reason I wanted to stay home was I always knew that if I had kids… I had spent twelve years in the classroom and I could pick out which of my students had been day care and which ones had been home with mom. The kids that had been home with mom or with a caregiver, like an aunt or a sister or a grandparent – somebody who is family and loves them and who wasn’t paid to take care of them – you know. There’s a difference.
Those kids were not as needy of my time and seemed to be a little more adjusted to who they were as people. The day care kids were adjusted as far as teams and following directions, but they just didn’t seem to know themselves as well. It would be hard for any nine-year-old to know themselves, but there was just a different confidence level that I saw in the kids.
I’m not knocking parents who had to put their kids through day care. I know that for most families it’s a financial decision to keep working put their kids in day care. I certainly have a lot of friends who are not in any position for the mom to quit their jobs.
The other reason, too, is that maybe there really is a subculture (in the Navy) – and here’s the anthropologist in me coming out — with its own customs and rules for belonging, and the vast majority – and I am not kidding when I say the vast majority – of women who have children stay at home.
One reason is because it’s very stable. I am talking officers’ wives here. It is a little different with enlisted. They don’t make as much money. My husband is not, for the amount of education and training he’s had, is not compensated very well. But we’ve lived comfortably, and part of it is through our benefits like the Commissary and the free medical. Right there, we’ll save hundreds of dollars. But there really is a support system amongst the wives. But, it’s kind of the expectation that you’re going to stay home and I just kind of slid right into that.
I miss intellectual stimulation. I miss the validation. I miss feeling like I’m in control and competent. I miss the satisfaction of a job well done. I miss the “thank you” and just the reassurance that, you know… I guess I had a lot of my self-worth tied up in working.
While I know in the long run what I’m doing by staying home with my son is going to be best for him, he’s like this little fifteen- month old. Now he gives hugs and kisses and stuff, but when he was little, it was just pooping and screaming and eating, and there weren’t a lot of reward in that. You know. Outside rewards.
It’s getting easier partly because I think I have adjusted, but little things where he comes up and gives me a big mouth kiss on the cheek or a hug, those are his little ways of letting my know that I’m the most important person to him.
That melts my heart.
But one thing I did take on is I became president of my Spouse’s Club. As I told one of my friends back home, “I’ve become that which I used to mock” because I’d look at the Navy wives – remember I taught in a Navy community – and they were all these moms who were just hanging out at school chit-chatting and gossiping with each other. I would always be thinking in my head, “Get a life.” Then they would move down in a pack to get coffee, talking about squadron stuff, and their whole conversation was “Oh, the squadron this. The squadron that.” I would just think, “Oh, they don’t have a life outside their husbands’ identities.”
And I’ve become that.
I mean, the first thing you do when you meet someone else in the military community is, “Oh, my husband. He’s a lieutenant. He’s a pilot over in whatever unit.” At what point did I become that versus, “Hi. My name is Kitty. I teach fourth grade?”
It was actually really hard and a real source of contention between my husband and me. Because I was like, “You don’t understand. I gave up my job. I owned a house in Washington. I sold that to move down here. I gave up my name. Now I’ve given up my job, and where am I? Who is Kitty? I am identified through Trent’s wife and Evan’s mom, and I don’t have anything that identifies me as “I am this. I am a teacher. I am a consultant. I am a committee member for fairness and bias.”
I have lost those identities to the past and I don’t like the fact that all the hats I wear now are not mine. And he was just like, “Oh, well. What’s wrong with being my wife? What’s wrong with being Evan’s mom?” And I’m like, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
I’ve come to realize that I’ll get my hats back.
If I could do it again, I would still decide to stay home and that goes back to the classroom. When my son is nine, I know he’s going to be better off because of the fact that I stayed home.
It has meant a lot of changes for us financially. We don’t eat out anymore. That’s an easy thing to wipe off your budget. The household is given $1000 every two weeks from which groceries and gas and incidentals, clothes for Evan or something for myself come from. Before, if I wanted something I would buy it. I think the big one is the eating out. We go out only for special occasions now whereas before we went out two or three times a week. And we don’t really buy prepackaged stuff anymore.
I don’t regret my decision. I know I will not be a stay-at-home-mom forever. I’ve just taken my hats off and hung them on the hat rack for a little bit. I’ll dust those hats off and they’ll be back. As you get older, you get more and more hats. I wear two very important hats now as a wife and a mom, but that does not mean I have to throw away those others.

All interviews in this series can be found in their own blog: Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms.

Twice she stayed home with her children, and twice she went back to work. Meet Billena, proof that moms can have it both ways.

Billena and her family on New Year’s 2013

Many stay-at-home moms worry they will never be able to re-enter the workforce. Billena is proof that fear is invalid. She has returned to the workforce twice after stints at home, once as a massage therapist and, just this month, as a medical assistant.
I came to know Billena of Chelsea, Michigan, nearly six years ago through a forum for women who were pregnant with twins. We have remained friends since. I interviewed Billena four years ago, just after her twin girls were born.
Billena is now thirty-nine years old. Her oldest daughter is fifteen and her twins are six.
Billena stayed home with her oldest daughter until she was in kindergarten. Then she went to school for massage therapy and worked in her field for about three years. While pregnant with the twins, she put her career on hold, returning to school just before they started kindergarten.
She and her husband initially gave up one car to make the decision financially feasible. Her husband is an engineer. 

Here is Billena’s story, in her own words:

We always said that I would stay home and be with the kids while they were little, but I think it was mostly my choice. He (her husband) didn’t mind, but he does prefer for me to stay home. He doesn’t like the kids to be in other people’s care.
I do miss work sometimes.
People ask me all the time, “When are you going to start working again? I need a massage.” I haven’t decided when I’m going to do that. But I have to say I do miss it. I have thought about a couple weekends a months or something, but I haven’t got any definite plans yet.
What did I give up? I sacrificed my car in October. I sold my car and we did pay off our credit card with it. We have no credit card bills at all now. That’s awesome.
I don’t think I’m going to have to sacrifice it for very long. I’m hoping by spring I’ll have a car. But we thought, just for this winter, let’s try to save some money and see what happens with that. I mean you have to sacrifice.
I don’t get to go out like I did before. With Marina (her oldest), when it was just the three of us, we used to go out to eat probably three or more times a week. Now we rarely go out. But we mostly rely on his income.
My income wasn’t a huge income. I guess that was kind of play-around money. Going out and doing fun stuff. I do have to say having the twins has been a little bit more strenuous.
We do live about eight or nine blocks from downtown. So I can walk.
Of course, in the winter I’m not going to want to do that with the kids. So, basically, I don’t really go anywhere during the week except on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He has a friend who picks him up if I want to use the car. Actually, I meet Holly and Rachel (friends) at the mall and we exercise.
I do have the car two days a week.
I am enjoying life right now.
I love staying home with the kids.
I really do.
To me it’s just a small sacrifice to make because they are just little for a very short time. I can give up going out to eat and going to the movies. I’m not liking not having a car. I told my husband when we had to take the kids to the doctor, I said, if we had two cars, I wouldn’t have to worry about you getting here. He’s notoriously late for everything. That doesn’t fly with me.
But, to me, it’s just a small sacrifice because they’re small for only a short time. It goes by so fast.
I think that staying home has freed up more time because I have dinner ready and I’m not rushing to get it done because I’m just getting home from work. I have it done earlier. We like to play Scrabble and board games and I think it has freed up more time. But, on the other hand, I think my husband does think I should do everything.
I still think we have more time as a family because we do more things together—playing games and things. The babies, of course, can’t play the games, but the three of us—we always sit down to dinner together and, usually, we pull out some game after. So I think we have more time together.
Usually, I would get home and I’d forgotten to get something out of the freezer, so everything’s frozen and I’d say, let’s go get something take-out, or we’d go to the restaurant. That was just with the three of us and now, with the addition, with the twins, we don’t eat out very often at all.
He (her husband) will say, when you’re done, when you go back to work, things will be better because we’ll do this. And actually I’m thinking about going back to school to finish—to be a physical therapist or an assistant. I’m going to go for the assistant first. I’ve been talking about that, so he’s been talking about when you do that we’ll have a second income and it won’t be so bad. And we’ll do this and that.
I think sometimes he’s a little stressed because we don’t have that second income.
I worked when she (Marina) was in school, but with being a massage therapist, I had the flexibility of making my own schedule. I was my own boss. I was self-employed. So I always made my schedule around her. I think our relationship is the same as before because I always made sure I was available to her when she came home from school.
I may be in denial about my identity right now.
I realized that I just put on a form that I am still a massage therapist and I’m not doing that right now. So I may be struggling with that a little more than I thought I did.
They are just growing up so fast. I do think that I do struggle with that (identity) because you get out and you are doing something and you have a title. Not that I don’t have a title now. My new title is mommy and homemaker and that’s such a great title.
Still, it’s something more. You’re in the world out there doing something for people. I think maybe I have to explore that a little bit more.
I think that it (staying home) has impacted me physically too. Before, I used to work out a lot more than I do now. I think that mentally I am more tired even though I’m at home, but it’s probably that I’m tired because I am at home.
There are so many more things to do and you can’t get it done. It seemed liked when I was working, I think I did get more things done maybe because—I don’t know—maybe I’m a little bit more lax on my schedule because I am home. I think I’m more tired because of the twins.
But definitely, physically? Yeah. It has impacted me. I am struggling with the weight loss. I think I did have a better grip on it when I was working because—this might sound silly but—I think I cared more about what I looked like going out and getting dressed everyday for work, putting makeup on and getting it all put together.
I think so.
Yeah.
I don’t go anywhere anyway.
I think it will change.
I told myself the other day I really need to start exercising and eating better.
If I could do it again? I’d stay home.
I would advise them (other moms) that if they could do it financially, if they didn’t have to have a second income, then I would recommend staying home. It’s very rewarding to stay home and see all their little milestones.
I mean, I don’t have all the clothes that I need for work anymore. Sacrificing that—going out and all the extras, going to the movies all the time and all the little extras—to me, it’s such a short time to sacrifice.
We’re almost at a year now. If I stay home with them until they go to school that’s three to four more years, depending on if they go to preschool or not.
Really, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing much at all to be able to stay home with them. I know I’m lucky to be able to stay home. I know there are many women out there who are not able to. But if they are able to financially, I would say, go for it.
I do feel that being a stay-at-home mom, a homemaker, it is a full-time job. I feel like it’s twenty-four/seven. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t a break.
But it’s rewarding.
It is.
It can be challenging at times, but I feel it’s very rewarding. It’s peace, I guess for me. I know that they are safe with me and that they are not being exposed to someone who could hurt them. I mean you hear things so much.
You hear so many stories about day care providers or nannies doing something horrible to someone’s child and that, to me, is just a fear that I don’t want to have to think about when I’m at work. I don’t want to have to fear someone is hurting my child.
A lot of my friends who have children who go to day care, they are always sick it seems like. The bigger the day care, the worse it is. I know that they are getting fed and cared for because I’m doing it here at home. That’s a peace of mind for me.
And I would hate to think that I missed their first step or a new word that they said or a new game that they learned or blowing kisses. I want to teach them that. I don’t want anyone else to teach them that.
I’m selfish.

All interviews in this series can be found in their own blog: Who Am I Now: Honest Conversations with Stay-at-Home-Moms.

The long summer

It’s been a long summer.
A very long summer.
With early sunrises and late sunsets, no one sleeps in our household.
And no one wants to stay home.
That means no writing at night or early in the morning, and no sneaking in a few words here and there during the day.
I can’t even jot down notes at the pool or the lake because our youngest two are still swimmers-on-the-verge. Both have taken their first independent strokes. One even started swimming a little distance the other day. But at 4 years old, they still have no judgment and they certainly don’t have enough endurance.
My eyes must remain focused on them even when lifeguards are present.
I know.
I could make it a priority.
I could squeeze a few words in here and there.
But we have four kids and they tire me out.
What I really want at the end of the day is a glass of wine.
What I really want in the morning is a cup of coffee.
But my mind won’t rest.
Even without a laptop or a pencil and paper, I find that I am writing. I am writing in my head constantly, focusing on my characters when I should be focusing on the road, blurting out plot dilemmas during conversations about minnows and tadpoles, revising while I’m loading the dishwasher and scrubbing pots and pans.
When September comes around and the kids return to school, I know that I will have trouble doing anything but writing. I will obsess. I will forget my vow to exercise more. I will procrastinate on those home remodeling projects. I will be surprised to realize that it’s time to get the twins from preschool and nearly time for my husband to bring the older kids home.
I will have my hands on the keyboard, banging out those words — those characters, plots and settings — that are fighting for space in my head. The experience will be freeing just like it was last fall. I will be productive. Very productive.
I am excited.
But …
why then do I still dread the fall?
Why do I find that I am reluctant to send the kids off to their classrooms, where they will be challenged daily, where they socialize with their friends, where someone else will feed them lunch?  Maybe even saddened? Maybe even a wee bit depressed?
I love to write, but the reality is that I love my kids more.
And it’s healthy to be pulled away from my keyboard, to get a little color on my arms, legs and face, to have lunch on a picnic table that is situated between the beach and the playground.
It’s good for me to converse with other moms while the kids swing or climb on the monkey bars. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to sit into a chair at night with stars bright above me and fire crackling in front of me and my husband beside me, watching the older kids instruct the younger ones on the qualities of a perfect s’more.
The things is that every September brings us closer to ages when the kids won’t be interested in hanging out with mom in the summer anymore. Every September, I realize that they’ve grown just a little bit more. Grown a little more independent of me.
That makes me proud, but it also makes me appreciate the time I have with them.
I will always be able to write provided my mind remains sharp and my hands can still navigate a keyboard, but I will not always be able to a push swing or coming running to see a captured crayfish in a net or catch a child jumping off the edge of a pool.
Because the kids won’t need me that way.
So for now, the words in my head will just have to move over, cram closer together and make room for more.
They are not going anywhere.
But I am.
The pool, the deli, Darien Lake, the library, the playground, the beach, up and down the street in front of our house, grandma’s, Aunt Karen’s, cousin Amy’s, maybe Aunt Angie’s one more time, the mall, Market Street, a hike, and who knows where else.
Who knows.

I am a coffee addict, or am I?

Winds are gusting at about 50 miles-an-hour so far today and the weather folks are warning us to prepare for power outages. The last time we had gusts this strong–the effects of Hurricane Ike—we lost power for four days.
My first thought?
I’d better brew fresh coffee.
Quick.
Four kids, and that was my first thought.
I’m an addict.
It’s time I admitted it.
In my defense, we do have gas heat and a gas stove. Even without power we will be warm and I can cook. So really, all I can do to prepare is to stock up on batteries and candles and maybe get some ice to keep the milk cold. I could do that now. The twins are at the sitters’ house for another half hour.
But I don’t want to.
I just keep thinking about that coffee that will done brewing any minute.
Coffee with milk and one Splenda.
Drinking it at the kitchen table with today’s newspaper spread out before me.
Maybe it’s not so much a caffeine addiction as it is an addiction to what that cup of coffee stands for. I rarely wrote on deadline without coffee beside me in my full-time journalism days. I walked to the cafeteria for coffee whenever I needed to think.
I met my friends in coffee shops.
I wrote good chunks of my novel in an Arizona Starbucks.
My husband and I often end date nights in coffee shops.
So maybe that’s it.
Maybe coffee stands for an identity that started to fade when I had my first two kids and that sometimes seems forever lost now that I have the twins.
But I don’t have time to think about that now.
The coffee is done.
The clock in ticking.
The newspaper is waiting.

Slump. Please help.

I am in a reading slump.
And it’s disappointing.
Until recently, I’d always had two or three books going at once. I kept one on my nightstand, one on the kitchen counter and one near the treadmill in the basement.
Now, only the nightstand holds a book and it’s gathering dust.
I just haven’t had time to pick it up.
Time.
Maybe that’s the problem.
I haven’t used the treadmill since summer.
I’m always on the defensive in the kitchen these days, trying to keep our very-independent twins from emptying the fridge, pretending to cook on the stove and pushing chairs up to cabinets to get the van keys out of my purse.
I never seem to sleep anymore.
I have too much to do.
But I love to read.
I crave a good novel.
I enjoy the escape.
This is a place where I cannot remain.
It is time to map a new course.
The trouble is that I don’t know where to begin.
Do I try to get more sleep, foregoing the measly hour a night I get to hang out with my husband, cuddle, watch silly sitcom reruns and talk uninterrupted?
Do I climb on the treadmill more often, ignoring the editing, writing, cleaning and cooking that tear me in other directions? And, oh yes, our four kids?
Do I remove all glass and hot sauces from the fridge, disconnect the gas from the stove and disable the horn button on my key chain so I can just set the twins loose in the kitchen while I read?
Or am I looking in the wrong direction entirely?
Is it the novels?
Is that the problem?
It seems that over the summer, the novels I picked up were impossible to put down. They pulled me out of my world with so much force that I couldn’t resist. Not even four kids, a messy house and a pile of unedited interviews could keep me in reality.
Nothing I’ve read lately has done that for me.
So, perhaps, it’s not the time constraints at all.
Maybe, what I really need is a good book.
Any suggestions?

Everybody’s dancing but me

This is the week of the happy dance in the Cincinnati area.
School starts Aug. 24 in our district. Some schools started last week. Others start this week.
Parents all over the region are clicking their heels high in the air.
They are doing jigs, popping their joints, sliding gracefully across the kitchen floor.
Not me.
I haven’t even bought school supplies yet.
I’ll be dancing away Sept. 9 when my twins start preschool. I adore those little guys and they are a blast, but I get nothing done when they are around. They will go for only four hours a day, two days a week.
We’ll all benefit from that.
But I’m finding it hard to let the older kids go this year.
I’ll be honest.
I have great kids.
My oldest son is nine and my daughter will be eight this month.
Eightty percent of the time, they get along beautifully. They are each other’s best friend. When they do argue, it’s never because one was intentionally cruel to the other.
They don’t do that kind of thing.
And they are really smart: book smart and people smart.
I can talk to them about grown-up stuff and they understand. I can explain the impact of their own behaviors and they understand. They are sensitive and empathetic, so much so that I often have to remind myself that they are children.
And when they are gone, I miss them.
Two weeks ago, they went to Pennsylvania for seven days with my husband for their grandfather’s funeral. I’d never been away from them for so long before and I quickly came to appreciate how much they help me around the house and with the twins.
Yes, they have their moments.
Sometimes, they are so whiny I just want to scream.
Sometimes they decide to do “experiments” and they destroy my kitchen.
Sometimes they find every reason possible to avoid going to bed and when 9 o’clock turns into 11 o’clock, I’m ready to tear my hair out.
But there is one other thing that tips the scale in their favor, no matter what else my older kids might do:
When their friends ask them what I do, they don’t say, “She makes us dinner.” They don’t say, “She drives us to school.” They don’t say, “She cleans the house, takes care of the twins or does the dishes.”
They say, “My mom writes books.”
My mom writes books.
That’s what they say.
Nope.
I just can’t feel the rhythm of that happy dance.

When kids are screaming and an editor calls

A fellow writer fretted loudly on an online forum the other day. She was a nervous wreck.
Her agent had just told her that an editor from a publishing house would be calling her within the next “few days.”
No specific day.
No set time.
Nothing.
She has children.
What should she do, she wondered, if the kids start acting up when the editor calls?
The tone of her post was apologetic, embarrassed, like she felt she should hide the fact of her motherhood from the editor and she didn’t know how. What she wanted, it seemed, was advice on how to pretend she is not something that she most definitely is.
But here’s the reality:
With the exception of John Grishman, Jodi Picoult, the “other” Lori Foster and a handful of other wildly successful authors, most writers either have day jobs or they are home taking care of children, writing on scraps of paper while cooking dinner, helping with homework or hiding in the bathroom.
Editors, if they are experienced and good at what they do, should know that. They should know that if they call unannounced, they are taking their chances. And the author should know that the editor knows he or she is taking a chance.
So why get the jitters?
Now, I have not had the good fortune of chatting with an editor from a publishing house just yet, but I have received important calls while caring for my four children. The older kids can usually be controlled with a stern look, but the twins, like most toddlers. tend to get in certain uncontrollable “moods.”
Sometimes, they want me to hand them the phone so they can say, “‘ello” about 50 times in a row. And they won’t let up. They follow me around, both of them together, tugging on my legs saying, “‘ello? Please?” and then screeching when I try to shoo them away.
Other times, they are in the fighting mood–cranky and tired, and tired of each other.
Still more often, they are in the “I want” mood. In this mood, they want something, I give it to them and then they want something else. It doesn’t end until either they nap, someone takes them outside or Diego comes on the TV.
So I’ve developed my own rules for handling such situations.
I start with a bribe–a movie, a Popsicle, a lollipop–artfully and quietly handed off or popped in the DVD player while still talking, uninterrupted, in an adult manner with the caller.
If that doesn’t work and I get the feeling that things will be okay if I just have a moment to get them under control, I ask the caller whether I can dial back in a few minutes. If he or she can’t agree to that, then why calling in the first place?
What’s two or three more minutes?
We could have killed that with awkward silence at some point in the conversation.
If I know it’s just going to be one of those days, I ask the person on the other end whether I can return the call at a later hour or on a later date, and I make arrangements for someone to help me with the kids.
Then, when I return the call, I hide in the garage or the basement.
I don’t mind chatting with the kids around if the caller doesn’t mind.
But there is one thing I will not do: I will not give into intimidation.
No call is important enough.
I have a passion for writing. I keep a notepad in the kitchen because I can’t help scribbling down my thoughts throughout the day. In fact, I wrote this post between 3 and 6 p.m. on an old steno pad and here I am typing it in at 12:39 a.m.
But my passion for my children is, and always will be, greater.

The karate scam

Originally posted March 11, 2009

My 7-year-old daughter became interested in karate through a short introductory course, which was promoted as a fundraiser for her school. She was hooked, so hooked that she quit dance and gymnastics to join.
I had the twins with me when I registered my daughter and they were screaming to get out of their stroller. So I didn’t pay much attention when one of the owners explained the six-month contract and the automatic deductions.
I just signed the papers.
Fine.
A six-month commitment was probably a good idea anyway. It would force her to stick with it long enough to know whether karate was really her thing.
And it is.
She loves it.
But now we must quit.
It’s a matter of principle.
It’s a scam.
For the past several months, the folks at the karate school have lured her deeper and deeper with tips on her belt, new belts, more tips, more belts and lots and lots of games. She has anxiety issues and she loves the fact that the instructors simply take control.
They tell her what to do and she does it.
They tell her not to cry and she doesn’t.
They tell her to be respectful and she is.
But two weeks ago, she received a letter. The letter informs me that she is nearing her testing for lime belt and that’s time to make a greater commitment. My daughter may continue only if I sign a three-year contract, agree to let some outside company continue to withdraw funds from my account, pay double the tuition I’m paying now and give 90 days notice for cancellation.
I’m not stupid.
This is about money.
This is about hoping that, if my daughter stops going, I won’t get around to cancelling for a month or two, and then I will still have to pay for another 90 days. This is about using outside companies who have can easily send those who oppose this system to collections, possibly ruining their credit.
This is not about karate.
One of my daughter’s best friends joined about the same time. Her mother, a single mom, recently lost her job. Two months remained in her six-month contract. She tried talking to the owners. They offered to let another family member fill the slot (She has no siblings), but they refused to cancel her automatic deductions.
I have left two messages, asking to talk about the 3-year contract. They have not called back.
Since then, I have learned from others that they will not call back and they will not budge if I approach then face-to-face (which I will do this week). Fortunately, my daughter is very bright. I explained the situation and she understood.
She’s going back to gymnastics, where I pay tuition every eight weeks by check.

Writing

Originally posted Nov. 8, 2008

I am a mom.
I am a wife.
I am a stepmother, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, a niece, a cousin, an aunt, a great aunt, a friend. I’m sure I am even an enemy to a select few.
But no matter who I am to others, I am always a writer.
It is as a writer that I see the world even when I am too steeped in laundry and dishes to reach for a pencil and paper or to tap away on my laptop.
There was a time when I didn’t believe that, when I didn’t believe that writers perceived things all that differently than others and I didn’t believe in myself. Even during my years as a full-time journalist.
But I was over-thinking, and isn’t that what writing is all about?
Writing is about thinking. It’s about perception, analysis and vision. It’s a constant craving to understand the complexities of the world and of human nature and to convey that understanding through written words in a way that excites, energizes and entertains.
When I finally understood and accepted the distraction of that craving and the strength of that lure, when I finally caved in and called myself a writer, other things became clear to me and I began to accept them as well:
That’s why my house is a mess.
That’s why the walls need painting.
That’s why I have no garden and the flowers by the mailbox always die prematurely.
That’s why my older kids roll their eyes when I try to explain the dynamics of their friendships and the various points of view in their arguments.
That’s why my toddler twins grin, cackle and run when they see my laptop.
That’s why I can’t bake a decent cake, knit Christmas gifts, wrap a present with style or learn the art of scrapbooking.
That’s why I don’t get enough sleep.
So I’m sorry PTO.I’m sorry Dr. Sears, Martha Stewart, Suze Orman.
My house is a mess, my desk is a mess, my bills are a mess and I don’t dress well.
It’s not my fault.
I’m a writer.
I write to think; I think to write.