For Moms & Kids Everywhere

School starts tomorrow. In some places it has already begun. In others, summer will last another week. No matter your location, if you are a mom with school-age children you face a new beginning:

Your child is going back. Or going for the first time.

Maybe you feel like this

crying

Or possibly you’re more this

excited

You could be both, but one thing is certain, you are feeling something. And that something is okay to feel. You should be anxious, a little bit stressed, not quite sure how it’s gonna pan out, and also secretly lusting over the brief moment in the morning after you’ve dropped the kid off but before the day actually has to begin for real. Savor the precious solitude of the car ride to wherever (if you don’t have a toddler in the back throwing Cheerios at your head) (if that’s the case, remember you chose to have that baby, and she is a precious cherub sent from God) because uninterrupted thinking time is vital.

To mother’s of Kindergartners, don’t panic. Kids are scarily intuitive. You might think you’re holding your shit together but in reality you look like this to your five year old

crazy

I’m gonna be real with you, most kids will lose it, or at the very least cry, on the first day of Kindergarten. That new classroom and those new kids and all that new shit on the walls they can’t quite read is just TOO MUCH. It’s hard to process, and they don’t want to disappoint you, or to look like a wuss, so they need you to be brave for them. Remember that earlier gif of TSwift? Yeah, get that out of your system before tomorrow morning. Be a Disney Princess smiling through the emotional damage you’re about to incur.

cinderella

It’s for the kids.

My son starts first grade tomorrow. I am not old enough to have a first grader. Some days, I’m not even old enough to have a houseplant. But, somehow, in the years since I had my sweet baby boy to now, he has grown tall and lean, started playing video games and decided he wants to marry the Pink Power Ranger. He’s able to read. He won’t just sink if he falls into the deep end of the swimming pool. He’s lost five teeth.

Part of me wants to pretend he hasn’t grown up at all because the reality that soon he won’t be able to sit in my lap or let me kiss him on the lips is almost too much to accept.

You could too. But we shouldn’t.

As parents, it’s essential that we give our babies the chance to be big. We have to let them face fears and conquer obstacles because the world is littered with traps and terrors they must learn now to overcome. Yes, we may want to tenderly kiss their foreheads and coo in their ears like when they were babes, but that’s not really what they need from us now.

They need us to listen. To play the game with them. To answer their questions and acknowledge their anxiety. They need us to agree that it’s scary — kindergarten, first grade, LIFE — because holy shit it really is, but it can also be great if you work hard and stay strong.

They need to learn from us that backing down from the challenge isn’t the answer. And when they struggle — because they will struggle, guys, they will hate it and they will cry about it, and around Christmas they will be DYING for a break — they need to know you care that all they want to do is veg out on the couch and watch Holiday movies while eating cookies.

And they need you sitting beside them. Just existing with them in the moment, showing them it’s okay to slow down, to say no, to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

In the end, it’s not really about school, or tests, it’s not how well they behave or what the other kids think of them. It’s about knowing they can (you can, too). We all can. Knowing you can is a powerful concept. An idea worth believing. A chance worth taking.

fly

9/11: Past, Present and Beyond

IMG_3776

We were living in Brooklyn for the 10 year anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks, and I wrote a blog post that weekend on my experience. I dug it out to share pieces of it with you today.

On the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks, I found myself at a Brooklyn Catholic Mass. As we approached the anniversary, the wounds stung in the hearts of the country. It is felt all over with acute pain, but here in New York they saw the smoke in the sky, they stood in their streets watching it rise. Here in New York they knew the people that worked in those towers and performed the service of going in to search for the living, and the dead.

I was new to writing. I was new to motherhood and adulthood and my neighborhood. I was living in a strange city, one I simultaneously hated and adored, and I was trying to connect.

 As I sat on my stoop yesterday, Maria, my landlord’s wife, shared a few memories with me about the event.

She is not one to mince words. She is a matter-of-fact, Italian-Catholic with jet-black hair and eyes almost as dark. She is an immigrant to this country, and she is a Brooklynite to the core. She was pregnant with her son Anthony when the 9/11 attacks occurred. She was the one to tell me she could see the smoke from the impact of the planes. Then, as the dust began to settle, so did the debris. It settled as far as our street.

She watched people flock to the churches, crying for mercy and understanding. She watched anger and resentment wash away — it was replaced by deep and confusing wounds. She hoped people would see why they need a saviour and she told me she secretly knew that most of them would forget.

This is the way I will always remember Maria. Her stern, serious face turned outward, watching her street from the top step of her stoop, hair braided to fight frizz and heat, hands gently clasped in front of her. I knew I was not that kind of woman — she was black and white, I lived often in the murky gray area.

We were different, unique, not better or worse, and I was still learning what that meant.

When the attacks happened, I was sixteen-years-old. I was floundering, lost in my own world. I had never really felt the impact of this global war we are in. 9/11 was the first time I really saw the horror and senselessness bred by ignorance. It was hatred illustrated in a tangible way. It did that for all of us. It opened our eyes to the reality that we are not immune to terror, we are not isolated, and we are not untouchable. In this world we are unsuccessfully trying to share, we can be hit, we can be shocked.

We will never forget 9/11, we can’t, but there is a whole generation of children who did not know the time before, who only know now. They never got to meet someone at the airport arrival gate, they never saw the New York skyline with those towers shining in the sun. We will never forget the moment the towers were hit, but they will never a know a time when they weren’t.

The Stoop Life: Sam and his buddy, age 2

The Stoop Life: Sam and his buddy, age 2

If current events are any indication, they will never know a time without war. They will grow up fast. They will get their news from Twitter because sometimes that is more reliable. They will breathe air that is more polluted, but maybe they will drive cars that are kinder to the environment. They will have less wild land to explore, but more options for affordable housing.

We will watch them grow up while we are still growing up ourselves.

So, today, we went to Mass at our landlord’s church. We went to remember this tragedy and the hope that came out of it, with people who felt it deeply, with people who watched it happen on their stoops and from their balconies.

There were elements of Mass that I will never understand, and don’t need to, but I am not threatened by what I do not understand. I wouldn’t be here, in New York or at Mass, if I were.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy I got a chance to do something the people who took down the towers will never get to do — share in an expression of faith that is different from my own, and see it as no less valid.

I lived two years in New York City, and I discovered the only thing we have the power to change is ourselves. I have watched people I love be unwilling to change, and become lesser for it, while others have overcome impossible hurdles, transforming themselves, changing lives around them. have changed in ways that are terrifying and breathtaking, that are obvious and personal and none of your business.

It is not enough to Never Forget. It was a national tragedy, but since 9/11 there have been tragedies beyond measure all across the world. There has always been war. There has always been terror. These are not things we can prevent on a grand scale. It begins with you, and me, and here and now.

We are the post-9/11 heroes.

 

 

 

Independence Day Musings

From WingsofWhimsy.wordpress.com

From WingsofWhimsy.wordpress.com

Today, I feel the pressure of being closer to thirty than twenty-nine with an acute pang of melancholy and reflection. I have used my twenties to find myself, maybe in the most obvious ways — maybe in ways that are only obvious to me —and still I am not sure it is myself I have found, but this years version of myself instead. And that thought scares me more than I like to admit.

It is like I am racing with myself. Not toward a finish line, but toward the memory of who I have been and who I wish I had become, toward the apparition of who I am becoming and who I will never be. There are those who will say thirty is just a year, another birthday in a long line of birthdays. But those people have never been almost thirty as an American female.

It’s not really about aging at all. When I look in the mirror, the face I see isn’t that different than the face I saw a few years ago.

Maybe my face reflects the discovery that I could write —write well, and keep writing even when I failed, even when I wanted to stop. Behind my eyes are years spent in Brooklyn, chasing a kid around Prospect Park and questioning my own status quo. There is darkness hidden there too, questions I grapple with daily that the 25-year-old me would never have dreamed challenge.

There are also answers pressed into the tiny wrinkles that crease my eyes when I smile, now, because I do know a little something of the world and am OK with not knowing everything.

This woman is young and old. Silly and serious. Moved and unchangeable.

No, the pressure of thirty is deeper. It is the rush of time as it speeds around me, propelling me forward but trying to keep me from flying. When I was a child, I was made of dreams of the epic variety. I wish I could say I no longer harbored those aspirations to greatness, but that would be a lie. Dreams are the fabric of my person, the thread that sews me together. As thirty approaches, my seams are being stretched out and examined, re-stitched and altered.

Today is Independence Day, and I am thinking about the idea of Independence. In many ways, I am an average American: busy, a little self-centered, overcompensating for the guilt that comes with privilege and ambition. All around me I see freedom wasted on laziness, on fruitless wandering, on the inability to commit to being more than your current state.

I am not above this waste. I shit around with the best of them. But then I see people trying. People with ambitions to alter the world, whether the world for them is their backyard garden or the local food bank or their city government. I was raised to believe that I can do anything, and that is a very American concept. That is the result of a life lived in independence.

Independence is honesty. It is acknowledging what you fear, owning it, then conquering it. I fear the unknown beyond my twenties, but that is just a symptom of the probably never-ending fear of what I cannot see. What is beyond me to see.

Countries have borders and laws, but so do human beings. The person I found in my twenties may not be me in five years, but it is me now. It is me at this level of achievement, at this time in life, in this version of the world. The somethingness I strive for will never be in reach because even when I am living the dream, a new dream will be born.

I am not thrilled with feeling this way. It makes me itchy and snarky and want to sell all my belongings and hit the road with my husband and son. It tugs at me, unsettling me on the very best of days, and rattling my core on the worst. I am having to learn to accept that this is how it feels to be living, actively, and that is better than being stagnate. Where I am is the place I am, in the day I’m living. It is not about being thoughtful or calm or blissful or willing. It is just showing up today, then tomorrow, and then one day I will be thirty and I will have moved from the seat I warmed when I was twenty-nine.

 

Who’s driving?

I could have lost my leg this evening. You may read that and think I’m being dramatic, or drinking again, and while I am currently nursing a gin and soda, light on the soda, no, that account is pretty accurate.

Today was a good day, and even though North Texas was shrouded in a cloak of storm clouds this afternoon, even though the heat was the kind that made you sigh when you walked out into it, even if I took my first Zumba class and confirmed that all things must be achieved through baby steps and blind faith, I had a sense of rightness. Oneness with my path. Destiny.

On the way home from my son’s art class, the storm hit. Rain pelted us, but we soldiered on, the promise of pasta and red wine (grape juice for Sam) on the horizon. I drove across a bridge, swept up by the wind and heaven’s tears — a fear of mine, one I am acutely aware of — because I felt sure that was the right way.

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person. Sure, I look for meaning in fortune cookies and chance encounters with valuable strangers, but not everything is a sign from On High. Though, I do believe On High speaks in signs and gets your sense of humor.

Life is a mixture of those things: signs, wonders, human error and kitsch.

When my son and I were driving we saw a deer running from the storm. She was magnificently close, her eyes wide with fear, her mind driven by instinct, and I thought, I’m like her, sometimes, afraid of where I find myself, exposed without warning and seeking shelter.

We arrived to the house, safe, sound and ready to eat that pasta. I jumped out of the car, and as I came around to the passenger side I realized I’d left the car on. I opened the passenger door and reached across to turn off the ignition. In that moment I don’t know if I hit the break when I leaned over or if the break had not actually engaged, but the car began to slide.

With my son still strapped in his car seat.

I didn’t think. I just jumped in.

Many things fly through your mind when you’re racing down an incline at a ridiculously fast speed, your leg hanging out, trapped beneath the bottom of the door, scraping along the rock drive.

My leg will be crushed when we hit the gully.

We can’t hit the gully.

I don’t want Sam to know I’m afraid.

I want someone to help me. Please help me.

As long as I can remember I have had this recurring nightmare. I am in the passenger seat of a car that is going too fast and no one is driving. When I realize no one is driving I begin to panic. When I panic the car begins to accelerate, careening uncontrolled away.

In the moment before we hit the gully I turned the wheel away and somehow, even though I couldn’t get my leg in the car before, it was in the car, bruised and screaming with pain, but not crushed. My eyes were locked on Sam, cocooning him away from his fear.

We slammed to a stop, not in the gully, not in the brush, fine, dandy, shaken beings. I am not someone who speaks often publicly of my faith, but this was a moment where that faith was enlivened.

Sometimes we fear things that are beyond our control to begin with. Sometimes that is a fear that will carry us off our path, into some chaos, away from safety. And sometimes, yes, you are hit with the thing you fear when you aren’t looking for it at all. You must jump in anyway, because often, there is something more important than your fear. Something like a little boy strapped in his carseat who doesn’t like roller coasters let alone backward speeding SUVs.

FAUBION-79 copy

 

17 & Gone and Me

This is a post in two parts, wherein I examine both the brilliance (without giving away spoilers) that is Nova Ren Suma’s book 17 & Gone, and the treacherous time that is being seventeen going on eighteen.

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That’s me, seventeen years old. I’d just chopped my hair short for the first time ever a week before my birthday. My skin was going through a fresh scrubbed, sun-kissed phase. Soon I would go on my first real date, with my first real boy, and we’d kiss for the first time on a swing set. Soon all of my hopes would be dashed, eroded by choices too hard to make for a seventeen year old girl. Soon, the bubbly, confident girl I’d always pretended to be would start to fade, into someone volatile and confused, ever-shrinking, ever-wandering. I’d get in fights I couldn’t win. I’d fail tests I should have aced. I’d wreck cars and friendships and store signs. I’d stand by while everything around me crashed and burned, leaving in the wreckage the shell of who I’d been before. And it all began after I turned seventeen.

17 & Gone is the story of Lauren, a seventeen year old girl who is having visions of missing girls. The common thread between the girls is that they are all seventeen, and all suddenly gone without a trace. Lauren launches headlong into investigations, seeking answers for both their stories, and her own. Why are they speaking to her? Will Lauren be the next seventeen year old girl to vanish? Is there anything she can do for herself or the others?

This book is layered with depth, and intrigue, and finely crafted plotting, but what makes 17 & Gone so utterly engrossing is the trepidation the reader carries with them through the pages. The need to put the book down, but keep it close. I actually, very nearly, had to put this one in the freezer to diffuse some of my anxiety.

It is hard to write about 17 & Gone because so much of the story must be experienced first hand. I would never take that away from you, but for the purposes of this post, I will share something that has nothing to do with the twists and turns in the plot. Speaking, here, about her mother, Lauren says:

I nodded and let her keep touching me, even though every finger on my scalp and every brush against my neck felt wrong all of a sudden, weird. It wasn’t so much her. Again, it was me. All me. My skin was tightening against intrusions. My body was pulling in on itself like a knot tied over a knot tied over a knot that would never come out.

This is seventeen. Much of my late teens were filled with this raw, hidden pain. Pain I couldn’t quite make sense of, or put words to, or recognize for what it truly was. But more, what Lauren’s words remind me of is feeling desperately and hopelessly misunderstood, because suddenly the girl I had been wasn’t fitting with the girl I was becoming. I wasn’t a woman, not by a long shot, but suddenly I was doing womanly things and being asked to just accept them. My future was growing complex.

At sixteen, I remember driving around with my brother and one of my friends, cranking Jimmy Eat World up in my beat up Jeep Cherokee, and talking about Harry Potter while we ate Frosties. Sixteen was the last time things were simple. Sixteen was filled with certainty. It had been about school and books. It had been me and music and giant drinks from Sonic.

Seventeen changed everything. Suddenly I was about to graduate, and I was supposed to pick a school and take the SAT’s, and plan a future. At seventeen, I was eyed. Boys looked at me more like meat and less like furniture. My cheekbones were sharper, my eyes caught on the curve of a guys muscle under his sleeve, and not the idea of his charm. Seventeen meant I had to act, not observe.

For Lauren, seventeen meant danger. It meant you could be stolen, and no one would care, because isn’t that just what happens if you’re not careful? 17 & Gone illustrates a universal truth about the perilous downward slope of the seventeenth year. The knowledge that you leave behind the girl you were, but you may never make it to the woman you should become. For Lauren, the fear manifests in waking nightmares of the lost girls before her. For me, the fear followed me into every decision I made.

Somehow I managed to survive seventeen, though I can’t tell you if Lauren does — you’ll have to read the book to find out! — and become the woman I was warring with back then. As a teenager, I don’t think I would have believed you if you’d told me I would. I think, like Lauren, I would have been sure my fate lay with the other vanished girls, trapped at seventeen, never getting to move on or see if they could hack it. That’s why 17 & Gone is such a valuable read, for a girl struggling to stay upright on the slope towards eighteen, or a woman who still remembers tripping along that same path.

Many things about my seventeenth year were magical, and everything I had ever wanted or more. Seventeen forms us, and in some ways, it is impossible to avoid the dangers that await on the other side of it. But you won’t be seventeen forever, I know I wasn’t, no matter what that ends up meaning for you now.

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17&gone

Buy 17 & Gone where books are sold, and follow Nova on Twitter by clicking here. If you live in the DFW area, Nova will also be at the Irving Public Library on July 11th for an author panel. Don’t miss it!

 

What’s Up Wednesday?

whats up wednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of this post. We really hope you will take part!

If you read my post about Hawaii, you’ll know why I’ve not been participating in awesome blog hops like this one. I have been keeping up with what everyone is up to, so, don’t stone me. Anyway…

What I’m Reading

I seem to be only capable of reading one book at a time. This trend follows in writing. I’m not someone who can work on multiple projects at once. I tend to get consumed by one, and everything else will fall to the wayside. This may be a discipline issue. Hmm, not sure. Currently I am reading Legend by Marie Lu. So far, I am casually attached. There are things I do like, and then there are things that almost (but only in the teensiest way) remind me of the epic space opera Farscape — if you haven’t watched it, shame on you — which then makes me grab it a little closer. I’m invested, but not sure yet if I’ll fall in love. I am (when critiquing the aforementioned two book rule doesn’t seem to apply) beta reading for a writing friend. Her book is seriously clever. With what I know going in, (got to read snippets in the workshop we both took with Nova Ren Suma) I feel like I’m in very capable hands.

What I’m Writing

So, as I said in my post about Hawaii, I have been taking a writing break. It’s been like two weeks since I’ve done any real writing. The wheels are beginning to turn again. Characters are beginning to nudge me for attention. But I remain firm in my break taking, at least until next week. I, very politely, tell all of those shiny new ideas (and plot points for the sequel to my novel that’s out with agents) to shut the hell up.

What Inspires Me Right Now

The things I learned and experienced in Hawaii. Here are a few, very important, lessons you too can glean from:

1. Hula dancers do not always wear coconut bras, nor are they swaying their hips. Rather, they have incredibly powerful leg muscles that make the hips move, and the movement is very controlled and intentional. I am a very awkward, slightly scrawny mainlander. Here is a picture of me poorly hulaing. (The very tall guy next to me is my brother who married a beautiful Hawaiian. The man cackling off camera is his father-in-law.)

2. The Hawaiian word for thank you is mahalo. I love this word so much more than thank you. I feel you can say almost anything, then follow it up with mahalo, and the recipient will somehow walk away smiling. “You’re a bitch, mahalo.” Just feels different.  Try it, I have.

3. The Hawaiian people didn’t have a written language until the English Colonists (invaders and plague bringers) showed up. This meant that the recording of ancient history, customs, pastimes, etc. was maintained orally. Talking stories remains to this day to be a valued pastime among the native Hawaiian’s.

4. The Hawaiian Islands are home to some of the most beautiful, warm, genuinely kind people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I grabbed onto the arm of my brother’s mother-in-law and cried, “Please don’t make me leave.” They are that spectacular.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Did you get that I went to Hawaii? Have I made that clear?

Black rocks and blue water.

Black rocks and blue water.

*Sighs* Other than that, I am spending time getting my house settled. We’ve been back in Texas for four months, and still our living room is unfurnished, our walls need touch-up paint and pictures, and I just discovered two boxes that need to be unpacked. Yeah, lots to do on that front.

So…what’s up with you?