The pressure of January 1st

I’m very glad January 1st is almost over. It’s a lot of pressure, this one little day out of so many, pressure to make resolutions and plan life changes and carpe diem and all that stuff.

Gah.

I don’t like to make resolutions any more. I used to — I’m a huge fan of lists, and crafting a Things To Do or Accomplish in the New Year List used to make me happy. But then I’d always get to December and realize that I hardly did any of the things on my list, and the failure make me depressed. I mean, what’s the point of making a list if you can’t check things off? So I stopped making the darned list.

Lately, what I do, ’round about this time of the year, is think about how I’m going to live better. Just little things. Remember that I don’t need to save all the vegetables for the kids — I need them too. Get some more fresh air. Stretch. Laugh. Possibly come up with a system of organization that once and for all relieves me of all the clutter.

My sister, who’s a health coach and possibly the biggest cheerleader anyone could ask for, recently wrote about New Year’s and talked about the idea of “do overs”:

I like to think of the new year as a do-over! Did something you tried not go so well?  What if you yelled “do over” like we did when we were kids and tried again?  What would your life be like if you gave yourself permission to let go of your disappointment and try again?  Why don’t you take this year to find out?

Isn’t that a great way to look at it?

This year I’d like a do-over. To try every day to just be a slightly better version of the last-year me.

I’m also going to challenge myself to blog more. My cousin did a great project last year — a picture that captured a moment of inspiration or beauty or challenge — and she posted one a day. I’d love to try that, but, frankly, I don’t go to that many places which would make for a boring 365 pictures. But could I do a blog post a day? Hmm….perhaps.

The other thing I’d like to accomplish is to finish my novel’s revisions and start submitting it — AND work on a new one.

That’s it. Humble goals. Live better. More vegetables. Fresh air. Stretch. Laugh. Write more. *

Happy New Year!

*Notice that none of this mentions my husband or children. That’s just because, really, a better me is good for them, too. It’s an all-around win!

Let the revisions begin…

Today I am trying an amazing experiment. It’s possible that by doing so, my house might crumble and frogs might fall from the sky and a darkness might blanket the world for two eternities.

Today I am doing *my* stuff first. Which is to say, today, I am focusing on revising my novel. (Remember that thing? The first draft I finished way back in the spring?)

Most days, revision is on my to-do list, but way down at the bottom. Before I can get to it, I must first do all of my other writing, my chores, paperwork, scheduling, and everything else that keeps this busy household of six up and running. And by the time I do all that, I’m too fuzzy and tired to revise. Day after day, this is how it goes.

Because, isn’t that what grownups do? Get the work done before you can play?

So now it’s been six months and my manuscript just waits patiently, tucked away in its hard-drive bed, hoping that I’ll stop by and say hello. Maybe take it out for some fresh air and a good scrubbing. And every day I look at that little Scrivener icon on my desktop and say soon, soon, even as a part of me knows that today will not be the day. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after that.

Six months have gone by; six months that could’ve seen perhaps two rounds of revisions had I *made* the time instead of hoping that someone was going to give it to me, like a weekend pass to a theme park. Oh, I’ve picked at it here and there, brainstormed and got help from some terrific crit partners on where I needed to go and what I needed to do, but nothing substantial has been done.

I’m tired of the picking and the poking and the playing around.

Does it matter if the breakfast dishes (or the ones from last night’s dinner) don’t get done until I’m cooking tonight? That laundry waits for hours in the washing machine before it gets moved to the dryer? That paperwork piles up? Heck, no.

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It’s just that I don’t think that way. You first, me second — that’s how I usually roll. But, if I don’t make myself a priority some of the time, who will?

Moms tend to put everyone else first — we have to. It’s our job. But it’s easy to fall into a routine in which we put ourselves way down at the bottom of the never-ending list of stuff we have to do.

I hear my writer friends cheering in the background — today, the writing comes first. Today, darling family, my work is more important than your stuff.

Luckily, I’m pretty sure that everyone has clean underwear.

SEE YOU AT HARRY’S by Jo Knowles

At the beginning of the summer, I spied a copy of “See You at Harry’s” by Jo Knowles on the ‘new books’ shelf at our library. I snatched up immediately, having heard all the pre- and post-release buzz on the internet. When I tweeted that I had it in hand and was getting ready to dive in, a friend tweeted back: Keep a box of tissues nearby. (She also said how awesome it was, of course.)

My friend was not wrong. I read the book in one sitting, ignoring the impossibly beautiful summer day outside. I just could not put it down. The kids, perhaps sensing my intensity, had a rare afternoon of playing nicely with one another. By the end, I was wrung out. I needed space and time to process the world I’d just been living, the ways that the author had seamlessly created a story that felt so real it could have happened to a neighbor, a friend.

And I think this is one of the strengths of this novel — Knowles has created characters that have quirks and problems, and a family that is somewhat dysfunctional, but it’s all so normal, and in some ways, familiar.

Before I go on with my thoughts about this book, here is the jacket flap copy:

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. Her dad is always busy planning how to increase traffic to the family business. Her mom is constantly going off to meditate. Her sister Sara, who’s taking a “gap year” after high school, is too busy finding ways not to work; and her brother Holden is too focused on his new “friend” to pay attention to her. And then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, and  the center of everyone’s world. 

If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s best and oldest friend, there would be nowhere to turn. Ran is always calm, always positive. His mantra “All will be well” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe.

But when their lives are unexpectedly turned upside down, Fern feels more alone than ever, and responsible for the event that wrenches the family apart. All will not be well. Or at least, all will never be the same.

Fern is a wonderful character, well-developed and authentic. Like many “number threes” in a four-child family, she is desperate for her mom’s attention — this is established in the first pages, as Fern remembers that the best day of her life was when she was sick with a stomach bug, and her mother spent the day alone with her, taking care of her. And, like a typical 12 year old, Fern also finds the rest of her family annoying and frustrating: Dad’s attention is on his latest scheme to improve the family’s struggling restaurant. Sara spends more time with a busboy than doing her job, and when she is around is a little too blunt in her comments and observations. There’s Holden, coming to terms with his sexuality and struggling to be open about it. Mom spends her time either seeking inner peace or doting on Charlie. Charlie, always sticky and demanding in the adorable way of most three year olds, is very attached to Fern, who is often the one left to watch over him, even when she’d rather be doing other things.

Knowles spends the first third of the book developing the family dynamics and Fern’s reaction to it all. The family reminds me of many other families in the world — two working parents who are often so focused on making ends meet their children are not a priority.  And that is, unfortunately, life for a lot of us. In the first third, there is some humor, especially with Charlie and Fern (for instance, Charlie is always holding his beloved Doll and shaking its naked plastic tush in Fern’s face).  And while Fern finds her siblings irritating, the mutual affection is obvious, especially the bond she shares with Holden. There might be bickering and annoyance, but in the end, there is love and support. As a side note, Holden’s issues — coming out and dealing with school bullies — are woven into the world of this book, rather than dominating it, which I find masterful. It also contributes to the reality here — it’s something that happens in a lot of families, but it is not always the only thing going on.

It is all so very real and familiar it makes what comes later that much more shattering.

So, without spoilers I can’t say much more about the story. But as Fern moves through the second half of the book, we struggle with her, and we thrash and we want to cry out. Her pain becomes ours — and if you are a parent reading, it becomes that, too. The end is not a neat wrap-up, a solid conclusion that life will be rosy from now on. But, true to the needs of the middle grade reader for whom this book is intended, there is moving on, the beginning of peace, and the hope that some day the world will be patched back together again — even if the end picture is not what you had before.

Mitzi read this after I’d finished and really liked it (I think she also read it in one sitting). It’s recommended for ages 10 and up; however, depending on how sensitive your reader is, 10 might be a little young for the intensity of the novel — just read first to check.

But read it, you should. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, which is really saying something. I thought about it for a long time after I read it initially. Then I had to read it again. A few weeks ago I took it out of the library for a third time, though this borrowing was for another reason: this is exactly the kind of book I’d like to write one day. A book that grabs the reader, makes them laugh, breaks their heart, then rebuilds it — in all the right ways, the ways that make it real and true.

As a writer, I want to study Knowles’ work as if it were a textbook. Parse it to find out how she built the world, how she carved the characters, how she did it all so precisely — and effortlessly (although I know this last is not true, that a book this well-written was certainly the result of a lot of hours, sweat, tears, and chocolate). There is a lot I can learn from this book, and I hope to — also, that with each book I write I get closer to the awesome that is “See You at Harry’s.”

Crazy. Stupid. Freelance. Love.

Wow, A Mom’s World is sure full of crickets lately. (Much like my inbox from recent subs, but that’s a whole other post.)

But it’s been a crazy busy time for me since I last checked in. I spent a week or so as guest editor for the Hingham Patch. My former duties as community board moderator for boston.com changed into a new position altogether — I’m now the events editor for the site’s new parenting blog, Parent Buzz. It’s a fun (though more time-consuming) gig, as I get to stay on top of cool and fun family activities in the Boston area. I’ve also been keeping busy with my regular posts at besuretotest.com, a site for diabetics and their families (you can find my work on the parenting blog section of the site). I’ve also tried to keep up with my other freelancing aspirations, and will be having an essay in the September edition of FamilyFun Magazine.

Something had to give, and sadly, this month, it was this little blog here. Because after a morning of work that sometimes dribbled over into the afternoon, I still had a house full of kids eager to do something fun. I mean, I could only let them get zombified in front of the TV or Wii for so many hours…..

Luckily, my Patch job allowed me to take the kids along much of the time (ice cream and photo shoot!). And we’ve spent a lot of days getting reacquainted with the outdoor pool at a nearby YMCA. Cooper started summer baseball and Mitzi is doing a summer pickup basketball group. We treated ourselves to a day out in Boston to take advantage of the free admission at the Children’s Museum, and have discovered many new books at the library.

And speaking of which, I am so excited to share with you a great new novel I read last week. But another day. Believe me, it’s one you want to hear about. And I’m hoping to do a better job at sharing my thoughts on books I’ve loved, new and old, in future posts.

Oh, and my own novel? Sadly, it too has taken a backseat with all this lovely freelance work and super summer family fun. But I think of it often and sometimes even jot down those thoughts, so when the whirlwind subsides I’ll be ready to give it the attention it deserves.

Time to get the kids ready for their afternoon at police camp — and, yes, I’ll tell you all about it. Tomorrow.

Where did April go?

Eeep! It’s been weeks since I posted. What happened?

Well, for one, I finished the first draft of my first-ever novel for middle grade readers. *happy dance* The process was overwhelming, amazing, scary and a true test of commitment for me. It still needs a lot of work, but I can finally say, “I wrote a novel, even if it’s a crappy one!”.

There were birthdays — Ellie turned 7 and Joanna turned 6, on the same day — and there was spring break and there were other moments of not-so-happiness that sucked the inspiration out of me. So April, the cruelest month, was a roller coaster for me — an apt metaphor, because, frankly, roller coasters scare the crap out of me and I avoid them at all costs.

I’ve also been blogging over at Be Sure To Test, a great new site for diabetics and their loved ones.

So, that was April. Today there’s a gusty, post-storm wind stirring up the newly budded trees, right outside, and things are growing.

And, yes, this blog will be one of them. I promise.

11 Upcoming Trends in A Mom’s World — what’s hot, what’s out

Instead of reflecting about last year or setting goals for this year, I thought I’d give you predictions for what’s gonna be hot in A Mom’s World this year. (Sugar-free? That was so 2011! 2012 will be filled with all that’s sweet!)

 

     2011                                  2012

 

Raising my voice to get the kids’ attention                Using a bullhorn to get the kids’ attention

Picking up after the kids                                            Throwing away what the kids don’t pick up

Time outs                                                                  Manual labor

Cooking for the masses                                            Cooking what I like

Moon Dough                                                             Old-school Play-Dough

Red wine                                                                   White wine

iTunes                                                                       My acoustic guitar

Staying up to watch bad TV                                      Staying up to read good books

Chocolate as self-medication                                    Chocolate as breakfast

Writing for publication                                                Writing for myself

Being grumpy                                                            Being grateful

 

What do you hope will change in your world? Stay the same?

Cheers to a wonderful year to come!

A day of reading AND for a good cause!

A friend of mine drew my attention to this super wonderful international event:  World Read Aloud Day, sponsored by LitWorld, a global literacy organization based in New York City.  On March 9th, thousands of readers around the world will join forces to show support for the 774 million people who cannot read or write.

Imagine yourself as someone without words in your life.  Imagine never experiencing the power of language, the way a story can change your world and the way you see it.   Imagine not being able to harness that power and express yourself.  (Imagine not being able to read this very awesome blog!)

Everyone has a right to literacy.  If you agree, visit LitWorld’s website and commit to helping them achieve their goal of global reading on March 9th — 774 minutes, one for every person in the world who can’t read or write.  Donate, if you can, and help support their very admirable mission of bringing literacy to those who need it most.

A day of reading out loud, for a good cause?  You betcha.