Monday, August 25, 2008

It happened in a book I read

I'm reading Chocolat.  I was sort of trying to cut back on sweets before I started that book.  But now I feel that any day that goes by without a petit four is a complete waste of existence.  I haven't finished the book, so I can't decide if I will love it until the end.  But for now, it's a pretty little literary treat I get to open in all my free time.  I love the way it feels like a fairy tale even though she uses words like television.  And I love the different points of view.  And the imaginary rabbit.  I don't remember the movie, so I can't possibly have seen it.  

One of my favorite Anne books talks about a Dickens novel.   A character in the Anne book says when she reads the Dickens one she always gets ravenously hungry because the people in it always seem to be eating good things.  Kind of like the fact that every time I think of Heidi I get a craving for cheese and milk.

Do you know what I mean by Anne book?  That's what I call the eight-part series by L.M. Montgomery that begins with the children's classic Anne of Green Gables.  It could really be bad for my literary future that I love those books so much.  I'll never think I've written a lovable  character unless she has red hair.  And a book will never be good enough unless I think my reader will want seven more in the series.  

But I'll push past those feelings.  Just like I pushed past the feeling that life wasn't worth living unless it was the late 1800s again.  Just like I pushed past the craving for the petit four.  I'll just write about regular old dishwater blonds and dull brunettes.  And then I'll go eat those chocolate donuts in the refrigerator.  Pre-processed, factory-packaged donuts.  It won't look or smell like it came from a chocolaterie, but my taste buds aren't nearly as picky as my soul.  

Thursday, August 21, 2008

the next thing

Not long ago I wrote about how children sometimes grow and change in such a way that you notice it suddenly as if you're a distant relative just seeing them at the annual reunion. "Look how you've grown!" you think. Even though you've seen them every moment for the last twelve months and hadn't noticed anything different. Well, it turns out that can also happen when you suddenly find yourself with just one of your three children.

I take the older boys to school. See last year's back to school post for how I do with that emotional milestone. It's just Jake and I during the day now, and it's kind of like seeing him after a long absence. I keep thinking things like, "You tickle people's feet now?" and "When did you start singing every few minutes?" and, "You get jokes?"

Everything seems new for me in the fall. It's totally my New Year, autumn. (Although, I love the New Year too). I get the urge to clean out closets and things this time of year more than spring. This year I'm going to put Jake in a certain school of his own. There's only one lesson: The Toilet.

I have a project too. I need to get busy on the next book. My agent has started sending my first manuscript to editors. That means all of my angst has shifted from her to them. But she told me from the beginning that once that happened I needed to pour all my energy into the next thing. So that's what I'm going to do.

The thing is, it's really hard to find time to write for myself when I write all day for others. And did I mention the new little person running around who shares jokes? Keith Urban's greatest hits CD is called 19 Kids. I've heard artists say that - that their movies, sculptures, books, paintings, or songs are their children. They are that proud of them. It took as much work as raising a child. It matters that much if someone criticizes them. I get that. But when I watch Jake making up completely inarticulate songs and laughing almost nonstop all day long at literally everything, and I weigh that against writing books, I can't help but think, Dude, he's so my greatest hit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

the I Love You list

I have been following the CaringBridge site for a young woman diagnosed with cancer when she was pregnant.  The baby was delivered early so the woman could receive treatment.  The baby struggles in an NICU now, trying to overcome her too-early start in life.  But the young woman lost the fight and passed away last week.  

Her husband writes beautifully of the entire sadness.  (You will need to enter your email address to view the journal).  He puts his emotions into words that are very moving.  In the post immediately after the news of her death, he published 101 things he had loved about his wife.  But here's the amazing thing - he wrote them long before she was even diagnosed.  He sent them to her in an email several years ago and was just reprinting it now for those of us following their story.  The list was just beautiful.  It said things like, "I loved when you taught me how to ice-skate", "I love it when you laugh at my jokes", "I love that you love your family so much", and "I love your bumper" - the last of which I'm pretty sure is code for something a little cheekier than an automobile - but I can't know for sure.  The list is very personal, including situations they had experienced together and a couple of inside jokes.

It moved me.  One hundred and ONE - that's quite a few.  And what moved me the most, of course, is that she got to see it herself.  She knew all those things that he loved about her long before she left.  

Um, do I actually have to tie up the moral here?  Because I don't think I have time.  Perhaps you could just listen to the scratching of my pen:  "Dear Michael, I love the way you sign your cards to me . . .  I love your chiseled jaw . . . I love that when we were in Silver Dollar City on our anniversary, you missed the kids . . ."

"Dear John, I love that you iron your shorts."

"Dear Drew, I love your sense of humor."

"Dear Jake, I love when you get thirsty and tell me so by bringing me the jug of milk."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mr. Grubbs and the lady at Lambert's

This is Mr. Grubbs. He's Grandpa to me, Pap to many, and Clifford officially. He's loved by everyone who knows him. And apparently if you go with him to Lambert's at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night, complete strangers will pay for the meal.

She was a friendly stranger though with long, pretty reddish hair. She walked right up to Grandpa while we waited with the masses on Lambert's porch. She told us she was a songwriter and a preacher's daughter. Our table was ready before hers. We ordered just what we wanted, including all the extras and even the 2 dollar drinks (or is it 3 or 4? They really get you on the drinks). But when Grandma asked for the bill, our waitress said, "Actually, you've been blessed today. Someone already paid your ticket (and my tip, she added later). The lady who paid it said she just loves that Mr. Grubbs."

We were there because Michael and I drove Grandpa and Grandma to Silver Dollar City this weekend to watch my brother-in-law's band perform. Grandma called me Friday morning: "I have a crazy idea," she said. And by the evening, the four of us were off on our whirlwind visit complete with the plan to eat supper at 8:30 at night at the famous restaurant where they throw the rolls. I called Mom at that point to tell her I was out with a bunch of crazy night-lifers.

We had the best time. It was so fun to surprise Felicity and her husband. And Grandpa and Grandma know all kinds of things about the park we didn't know - like the awesome breakfast buffet before the rides open. And the veterans parade they do each day to raise the flag. You can see Grandpa marching with his fellow veterans. Grandma has seen him do it several times, but it still makes her eyes water. I happen to be reading a very horrific story that took place in a very oppressive Islamic Republic of Iran, so I was feeling even more grateful for my country than usual. The ceremony moved me as well.

I googled our benefactress ("It was our whole table actually - we pitched in together") later that night. Her name is Chelsea Perry, and you can see her music video at that link. Someday I'm going to find my own "Mr. Grubbs" at a restaurant and do that very generous thing, because I so want to make someone feel some day the way she made us feel that night. But for now, I kind of like the Mr. Grubbs I already have.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

being present

This weekend it's my mom who has the kids. She picked them up this morning. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the house without them here - is that when they're gone, I'm much nicer to the cat.

It's almost school time again, and I'm kind of obsessed with the thought. This is a picture of Drew his first year of school. See how his hands are behind his back, and his lips puckered as if he's blowing bubbles? That's his Tiger tail and bubbles position they use to help the kids be orderly in the hallways.

My friend Lori drug me to a PTC meeting this week. I say "drug" because I know she reads this. I was actually thrilled that I went, and I plan to go the rest of the year as well. (PTC - Parent Teacher Club). I read a terrible story yesterday about one of the worst cases of neglect ever uncovered in this country. Millions of emotional, logical miles from any of our own lives. And yet, I can't help thinking about some of the tiny ways I neglect my kids sometimes. When I think about school this year, my obsession is in how little a parent actually has to do and still at the end of the year find that their child has learned. I graduated from an intimate, private school. My children go to public. And with both systems, I have seen that you can be barely present in your child's school world, and they still get educated. The school system I send my children to is especially diligent with reading. I can't believe the way my kids have taken off with it. And they're boys. I've always heard it's harder to get them to enjoy reading. But my middle son read two chapters of Joshua in the bible the other night without breaking a sweat. It's exciting to me. And as school starts this year, I keep thinking, I want to be more present this year. I don't want to get to the end of the year and realize they grew by leaps and bounds despite me. I think it started at the beginning of the summer actually. At the library the other day, my sons had videos picked out, and I told them they had to get two books each. A young friend asked my son why they had to do that, and (in front of his principal who happened to be standing there), John said, "Because my mom wants us to read this summer." That was awesome. It made me feel very present.  (And, yea, I totally owe him for making me look good).

So I keep thinking about these things. How I want a better system for the five thousand papers they each come home with every week. How I want to be at more of their parties, stay late on the morning they get to say the pledge in the intercom system - stuff like that. It's my current obsession.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go tuck in the cat.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hold the Mustard

Last night I fixed Drew a hot dog with ketchup.  When I put the plate in front of him, he said, "How did you know I didn't want mustard?" as if I had just performed a mind-reading miracle.  Um, because you never want mustard ever and because you don't change your mind about these things.  After three or four baseball games this summer when I asked what flavor Gatorade they each wanted, he said, "Red.  You don't actually have to ask me.  I'm always going to want red."  Thus, the hot dog without mustard, without having to ask.  I swear I had the same conversation with Michael about toothpaste the first year we were married.

I always think I'm the opposite of that.  I kind of pride myself on changing it up.  Which wouldn't explain the cinnamon Crest whitening toothpaste I've been buying for years now or the same old bread and butter brands every time I go to the store.  It does explain the big fat yellow shampoo and conditioner in my shower at the moment.  That one I really do change all the time.  This one smells like coconut.

So the mustard thing made me think of Drew as a little Michael clone.  But, you know, Drew used to only get hamburgers when we went to fast food places.  And now sometimes he gets chicken.  And Michael's not the adult in this family who orders a chicken chimichanga every single time we go to a Mexican restaurant.  You can't really generalize people about this I don't think.  We all like change in some ways but not in others.

It's actually a fault of mine that I tend to over-generalize people.  Kids are good for that fault.  Just when you think you get them, they totally change it up on you.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

And also, he named the boy Knox . . . that's my county!

When I was in the store Tuesday night, I realized a tremendous oversight. I had not yet bought the People magazine with the new Jolie-Pitt twins on the cover and the 16-page Jolie-Pitt album on the inside even though it had been in stores since the day before.

I remedied that immediately. Michael thinks I have a problem. I told him he won't think that when I make money someday on that novel about a girl obsessed with fame and that this is "just research."

But despite the fact that I don't think I have a problem, I do refuse to comment about how beautiful the babies are or on the fact that I was moved by how normal and tired the parents seemed and how normal and un-polished the other children's clothes were. It's one thing to buy the magazine; it's an entirely different thing to bring it up in discussion (or on a blog) as if the birth of two little babies really deserved all that attention.

Actually, you know what I really believe? They did deserve it. Every baby does. But there aren't nearly enough magazine issues for that.

Monday, August 4, 2008

in praise of children and grandparents

So, I'm not sure it was the smartest thing to start a new job right at the beginning of summer vacation. Have I already mentioned that? I was used to sticking headphones in my ears while the boys played around me. It was easy to tune out their cartoon commentaries and frequent hunger pangs (very frequent hunger pangs) when I was listening to a physician in my head set. It's a little more difficult when I'm writing about educational attractions around the country. Plus, although it is technically an at-home job, I have to be at the office to record video, so there's childcare to think about. My employer has been really helpful with that, but it's still an added stress when it's not something I had to think of before. It's gone totally fine of course. Just like when you're a mother for the first time - there's a lot to worry and stress about, you're completely exhausted and terrified half the time, but - you know, so happy you don't care. So I haven't actually been too thrown by the difficulty of throwing a new job into the summer vacation mix.

But then, the kids are staying with Michael's mom for a couple of days, and well - suddenly, having a job and still cooking supper and keeping the house straightened AND driving out of town to renew my driver's license today - it was all so much easier. If you're a grandmother, (or an aunt or friend without children of your own), consider this. The occasional over-nighter. Seriously - once a year even. It will SAVE YOUR CHILDREN'S LIVES.

Now, please, don't misunderstand. If the fact that I completely, unnervingly, without exception totally adore my children is not superbly clear on this blog, then I'm shutting it down this very moment and starting over from the beginning WITH MORE PICTURES. (Have I shown you Jake's hair cut? SO CUTE.) But, just a little break. A few moments where you only have to straighten the living room once and you don't have to change any diapers and you miss them so much that it hurts - it's really helpful.

So thank you to Jane for the breather. Apologize to Kent for me for the fact that he's probably not getting meals any more, and please tell them that by the time they see me again it will be like a whole new mommy - or rather, the old mommy, but BETTER.

Friday, August 1, 2008

what to do while I'm waiting

So, I told you I have the end-of-
a-book blues. I haven't been able to shake them yet and move on to the next one. I glanced at Sense and Sensibility in its display corner today, though, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Ah yes, I thought, the old favorites. That will get me through this.

"This" of course is not just the end-of-a-book blues but the pre-publication impatience. As I said in an earlier post, for all I know Jesus will return before my memoir is ever actually published. But knowing this and resolving to be patient have not actually made me so. I wish I could be in that Sesame Street documentary about how crayons are made. I loved watching that wax roll around in the big old vats and eventually get wrapped into paper and put into that wonderful smell-good box. I wish I could watch every step of my book that way. Starting now and without any other responsibilities until its finished.

Mom says the thing to do once one book is out of your hands is move on to the next. That's what she is doing while her first is being edited. I know she's right. But I haven't done it yet. I feel too uncertain of who I want to be as a writer. It's not like I've found my niche with memoir - there's only so many of those in one person.

I think there is only one thing I know for sure. I'd like to write books that give people the feeling I had when I glanced at Sense and Sensibility today. The feeling that they can trust me to make them feel better. That would be a lovely accomplishment.