Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Learning Curve

I don’t know about you, but when I was young, I couldn’t wait to grow up, get married and have a baby.

A baby. [sigh]

That image was so appealing: the freshly-soaped and powdered scent, the gurgling smiles, the naps on my tummy. I truly wanted a baby.

I never considered wanting a toddler, a preteen, or a teenager, for heaven’s sake! And I didn’t realize at the time it was a package deal. Somehow, I missed the fine print. I must have been in a baby powder haze.

My husband and I were young, and eager to get started. We had grand notions of growing up with our child, ‘being friends as well as parents.’ We planned to be kind but strict. Oh, I had it all worked out in my mind. I once saw a preschooler at a grocery store who laid in the floor, kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs, because his mom wouldn’t buy him what he wanted. “Oh, no, no,” I thought in a smug, self-righteous way. “My child will never do that.”

I was right. At least, not in a grocery store, anyway. It was in a filthy convenience store just down the street from our home. My two-year-old threw herself onto the disgusting black and white(ish) tile and proceeded to pitch a fit that would have embarrassed Dennis the Menace. I think my bottom jaw hit the floor as well.

With three kids--two girls and one boy--there was a giant learning curve to master. I had to be taught children try to kill themselves. It’s true. With forks and vans and animals and roofs, and so many other ingenious devices. I learned you spend a lot of time on your knees. And running. Someone once said, “Deciding to have a child is like deciding forever to have your heart go walking around outside of your body.” I think that sums it up rather well.

A couple of interesting highlights:

Our two-year-old daughter totaled the family van (You read correctly.)
Our sixteen-year-old daughter totaled her vehicle.
Our three-year-old son decorated the new, white carpet with blue and red permanent markers. (My fault. What was I thinking? White carpet?)
One of the children dropped the family dog off the top of the stairs to see if it would land on its feet like a cat.
One of the children painted the newly finished hardwood floors.

Fast forward twenty-six years. I don’t have babies anymore. My children are all rather large people now. But I know a lot more than when I started. Now that it doesn’t matter. [sigh]

If you’re interested, I’ll share a couple of things I’ve learned in these past, very enlightening years.

The key thing my husband and I discovered is that we’re the parents. We were not put here to be friends or buddies to our kids. They have a whole host of people, generally speaking, clamoring for that job. Unfortunately, there are only two…count them TWO…who can ever serve the roles we’ve been given. If we abdicate, it creates huge holes in a child’s life. Regardless of what they say now, regardless of what their friends’ parents are doing, your children need parents who parent.

We also learned not to train our children to disobey us. Seems strange? Yet when the kids were young, we had a habit of counting to three before unleashing our ‘wrath’. Have you ever done this? (I see heads nodding.) If you pay attention, you may notice that your child continues the negative behavior until you reach that magic number three. (And, tell the truth, have you ever found yourself saying in frustration, 'two and a halllllf'?) One day, it dawned on us we were actually giving our children an extra count of 2 or more to disobey us! After that, it was so long to counting three!

Hold onto your hats for this one: We were surprised to learn that our kids wanted discipline. I know – crazy! But the world is a big place, and it’s really nice to know where the boundaries are. Knowing there are fences can offer safety and security.  As parents, we clearly laid ground rules, and shared what the consequences would be for crossing the lines. But I can remember several occasions when our children came home and admitted something to us.  We were so proud of them for being open and honest, we were willing to forego the punishment.  Invariably, they would remind us! 'Don’t you remember what you said?' The punishment would be meted out.

Another thing I’ve realized is that we need to let our kids learn-and-do as much as possible without our help or interference. In fact, our whole ‘job’ as a parent is to prepare them to be independent, and to no longer need us. In the book, “Sacajawea,” by Anna Lee Waldo there’s a rather harsh example of this theory.

While on the trail with Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea gave birth to a baby boy.  One night, as the group sat around a large camp fire, Clark noticed the toddler easing his way toward the fire, fascinated by the flames. Clark watched carefully, waiting for the child’s mother to stop him. Though Sacajawea watched as well, she did nothing.

Finally, Clark couldn’t stand it any longer. He jumped up and shouted at Sacajawea to rescue the child before he was burned. The calm Indian woman shook her head. “If I tell him no, he will resent me and  still be intrigued by the fire,” she said. “But if he touches the flames for himself, he will learn that they are hot and the lesson will be that much stronger.”  (paraphrased)

Clark was dumbfounded at that reasoning, and me too, a little bit. But when I see mothers who help their children with every step, every sip, every movement, I understand the logic.

Finally, I learned that “No’s” should be precious and few. When your child asks for something, really think about it before you answer. If at all possible, say yes, especially if it means you’ll be involved in an activity with them. And when you do say No, be ready to back it up, because it’s the consistency that matters.

For example, you told little Leah that she couldn’t have a snack before supper, but while you’re in the living room watching your favorite TV show you hear her come toddling past. She’s covered in chocolate. Oops! But, your show is at the best part…and she does look so cute. You glance from the TV to Leah and from Leah to the TV. Finally, you say, “Okay, I’m going to let it slide this time, but next time, it’ll be big trouble, understand? Now, go wash your hands.” Then you make sure you throw in a stern look.

Leah just learned a big lesson. She can get away with anything when Mommy’s watching her show! Hurray! Party-time in Kid-Land!

So, choose your No’s carefully. Ask yourself: ‘Am I willing to enforce this no-matter-what?’ The good news is it won’t take long to train your kids that when you say it, you mean it. If you act on it. Every time. Without fail. (Now that’s for the moms who are starting out. Sadly, it takes a little longer to RE-train.)

Well, those are some of the highlights. Yes, parenting is a big job and a thankless job. And it often feels like that terrifying moment when a paratrooper has just been pushed out the door of a rushing airplane at ten thousand feet. But there are those moments…those heart-stopping moments when you can barely breathe because your whole body is so filled with love, joy, and pride.

It is worth it? The baby? Who becomes a teenager? Who becomes an adult? Who gets married? Who…. Oh yes. Heavens, yes. And I highly recommend it. 


What lessons have you learned in your journey as a parent?  What wild experiences have you had?  And what would you want a new parent to know (that perhaps you wish you had known)?  Share your thoughts in the comment section.  And don't forget to feed the fish! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chatting with Author Peggy Bird

Well, friends!  It seems like I’ve been on a month-long hiatus!  And I feel as if I’m still a bit jet-lagged from the holidays…is that a reasonable complaint?  Or am I simply inventing excuses?   *smile*    At any rate, I’m glad to be back. 

We have a special treat today.  I’m excited to be hosting Peggy Bird, a Crimson Romance sister, and a very prolific writer.   Although Peggy and I are only just beginning a friendship, I’ve watched her interactions with other writers for a while now and can honestly say she is a wonderful, tireless cheerleader and a never-ending source of light and inspiration.  I admit I haven’t had a chance to dive into her books yet, but they are definitely on my TBR list!  (If you’ve sampled them, please comment!)

Greetings, Peggy!  Thanks so much for stopping by.  It’s wonderful to host such an experienced writer as yourself!   I know my readers – like me – are anxious to find out a few intimate, intrusive things about you,  such as… what your workspace looks like…?

Actually, I have two desks and at the moment, one is tidy and one a mess.  On the neat one, I have my MacBook and a cup full of pens along with my latest manuscript in two piles—already edited and to-be-edited. So far, so good, right? Take a glance at the other desk that sits at right angles to my smaller one, the one I use when I handwrite. On it I have two iPads, one iPod, a stack of books to be mailed to my Bookmooch buddies, my “to-do” pile (unattended over the holidays, it apparently reproduced and created new baby “to-dos”), and my paper calendar. Oh, and my printer. And the new ink cartridges I just bought. And the box for the new iPad. And the labeler my husband just returned.  This week’s task? Clean it all up, of course.

I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who ‘foundered’ a bit over the holly-days.  You’ve helped my spirits already!  Now, let’s see, one MacBook, two iPads, one iPod, and a labeler.  Sounds like you’re a die-hard techie.  I love it!

Can you share a favorite quote?

One of my favorite writing-related quotes is from E. L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Brilliant!  (And mighty encouraging, too.)   Peggy, it’s a given that you write Romance, but do you dabble in other genres?  Do you write other things besides novels?

I have written a mystery that got very good rejections from agents and editors and I have a half-finished YA (Young Adult) historical I co-wrote with a writing buddy. Both are buried someplace in my filing cabinet. I have had memoir pieces published in a dozen or more anthologies, stories in several children’s magazines and three plays produced locally, one in a grade school and two as scripts for puppets in the Kids on the Block Awareness program.

Sounds like you are equally at home in many genres.  That’s great!  I’m sure that adds a lot of diversity and range to your work.  And I love the ‘very good rejections’ comment.  Often an acceptance comes right on the heels of an encouraging rejection.   

Tell me, how much of your books are based on real life?

My latest book has a number of elements of my real life. Together Again is the story of Margo Keyes, a woman born and raised in Philadelphia who moves to Portland, Oregon and never wants to leave. We share a birthplace, an addiction to sticky buns from the Reading Terminal Market and a love for Portland and the Columbia River Gorge. That’s where it stops, however. I didn’t marry my childhood friend, am not a lawyer and have never, to the best of my knowledge, met a Russian mobster.

That’s probably a blessing!  What books would you say have influenced your life most?

For my novel writing, two books I read when I was young from an old box of my mother’s books were probably formative—one was Forever Amber, the other was a British romance, The Sun and the Sea. I changed the way I looked at the world after I read Guns, Germs and Steel and The Feminine Mystique. And I’m a great admirer of/believer in Karen Armstrong’s books, particularly A History of God.

What are your current projects? Can you share a little here?

I can just about see the end of my six-book series, Second Chances. The third book, Together Again, will be released on January 14th. The fourth book is under contract with Crimson Romance. Book #5 is in the process of final editing before submission to Crimson (see question re: what’s on your workspace?) The first draft of the final book, number six, is finished. The book I’m editing is Believing Again which is, of course, a romance, but it is also the story of two people who have lost faith—in themselves, in their vocations or their loved ones. When they meet, their attraction calls into question their cynicism about life and love. It may be my favorite of the series. But then, I always say that about the one I’m working on.

You are definitely a brave soul.  A six-book series!  Wow.  Sounds like a project that keeps you hopping!  Thinking back, what do you think was the hardest part of writing your latest book?
I just finished a blog post about how hard the research was for Together Again. The story is set in Philadelphia, where both Margo, the heroine, and I were born, and Portland, where I’ve lived for most of my adult life and where Margo now lives. I know Portland’s quirks and pretensions quite well. But I haven’t lived in Philly for some time. So I did lots of research online. Took me hours. Not because the subjects were arcane or obscure. But because I kept getting sucked into the vortex that is the Internet, bouncing from one shiny object that distracted my attention to another. To justify the time I spent, I’d have to set at least two other books there!

I can so relate!  I always think of the Chip and Dale cartoons…wasn’t it Dale who was always distracted by the shiny, sparkly objects?  That’s definitely a danger in our line of work!  *smile*

I realize you’re a prolific writer.  Have you ever hated something you’ve written?

On a daily basis, some weeks, it goes with the territory. Some days, if I wind up with one decent sentence, I’m lucky. On the other hand, sometimes scenes I delete because I think they suck turn out to be not so bad after all six months down the line and, with a little revision, can be used in something else I’m writing. And I’d bet I’m not the only writer who, at a public reading of his/her work, changes a word or two because he/she realizes how much better it would be if THAT word was just different.

I agree.  I’ve learned not to permanently delete any passages.  It’s best to let everything ‘percolate’!

What was your last Tweet, Peggy?

I have resisted Twitter because I couldn’t handle the idea of Peggy Bird tweeting. However, I finally caved. I’m not as addicted to it as I am to Facebook and Pinterest—yet—but I can feel it coming. My last tweet was to RT (re-tweet) an announcement about Crimson Romance sister Synithia William’s newly released book Worth the Wait.

One of the things I’ve learned is that a truly blessed writer has a great support system.  Who makes up Peggy Bird’s support system?  What do you do when the support isn’t there?

I have the most amazing group of women friends anyone has ever been blessed with. Some of the women I’ve known for decades, others for only a few years. Some I’ve lived next door to, some I’ve worked with, others I’ve met through my art interests. In addition, my husband and I have three adult daughters between us who are as close to me as friends. I have no idea what I’d do without this fabulous group of females. I’m lucky enough never to have had that experience. They can interpret my emails and Facebook posts to know when I need cheering up or a celebration—and they provide it.  They show up for readings, launch parties, birthdays, holidays or just because. We hash over books, problems, music, politics, theater, children, and health on a regular basis, in person, on the phone or electronically.  

That is awesome.  Sounds like you know just exactly how lucky you are! 

Now, Peggy, I have some fun and unusual questions for you. 
Please fill in the blanks: 

If my closest friends could describe me they’d say I was smart and well read.

Don’t be surprised to find me bragging about my perfect grandchildren.

If I had a super power, it would be: the ability to make peace between people and nations.

It’s the simple things that mean the most! A “small” thing that I adore is: chocolate.

Most days I smell like clean clothes.

When I grow up, I’m going to be surprised.

You will never, EVER find me willingly in a grocery store.  Except to buy more chocolate.

I want to send a Shout Out to someone special. My life is more extraordinary because of all the women friends who always have my back.

And finally, for your fans – let’s leave our readers with ways to get in touch…

 Find Peggy Here:

Link to order Together Again       Amazon

Thanks so much for spending time with us Peggy, and for patiently answering our questions.  You’ve been a great sport!  Good luck with your series!   --