Friday, December 30, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Lost in Austen

Once again, Foreign Service Friday is a little light this week. All I can tell you is that we got really, really lucky, because apparently a bunch of people were just added to the register with incredibly high scores (must be a lot of people learning Arabic and Mandarin these days). Someone with a 5.8 is somewhere like 45 on the list, which means John's 5.575 would almost certainly not have gotten him called off the register for a very long time. I guess it was meant to be!

This week, John is in Italy with friends. Even worse, it was my idea. What was I thinking, you ask? Well, I was just coming off of my Cancun high, and I was feeling generous. As the departure time approached, however, I started to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. But it's actually not so bad being on our own. I get to watch all the bad TV I want when John's away, and I have a little more time to write. Speaking of TV, this week's inspiration comes in the form of a British miniseries I discovered on Netflix (desperate times, my friends - all of my shows should be starting again soon, thank goodness!). The series is called "Lost in Austen," and I'm in love with it.

I was a little late hopping on the Jane Austen bandwagon, at least compared to most women I know. The first Jane Austen novel I read was Pride and Prejudice, and that wasn't until the Keira Knightley movie came out I think. But thanks to a Jane Austen collection I got back when I used to work for a book distributor and got all my books for free, I read all of her novels at once, so I caught up fairly quickly. Since then I've watched almost every film version of every novel, but I'd never come across "Lost in Austen" until the other day. The thing that's so great about this show is that it's basically every Austen-loving female's fantasy. The main character, Amanda Price, lives in London with her lazy boyfriend and reads Pride and Prejudice over and over, wishing she could be a part of a world where chivalry and manners aren't dead.

Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price
One day, after her boyfriend proposes in a drunken haze, Amanda goes into her bathroom and discovers Elizabeth Bennett standing in her shower. Amanda then goes through a secret door in her bathroom wall and finds herself in the Bennet's home, Longbourn. Elizabeth locks the door from the other side, and Amanda is forced to stay in Longbourn while Elizabeth roams around 21st century London. Amanda finds herself right at the beginning of the novel, with Darcy and Bingley having just come to town.

Amanda does her best to keep things in line - Jane should marry Bingley, Elizabeth should marry Darcy, and Mr. Wickham should get what he deserves - but try as she might, Amanda can't seem to help screwing things up royally. And she can't help falling in love with Darcy, even though she knows he belongs to Elizabeth. I won't give away too much more of the plot, but I will say the series is funny, romantic, and surprising, which is pretty much as good as it gets in my book. There's also this:

Like I said, every Austen-loving female's fantasy.

Do yourself a favor and watch "Lost in Austen" this weekend (or give your wife/girlfriend/partner a few free hours to watch it). Happy New Year to all of you - see you in 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: New Year's Resolutions, of the Writing Kind

Every year I have a few recurring New Year's Resolutions: worry less, live in the moment, be a better wife and mother, run more, etc. See last year's post for the whole list. And every year, I think I get a little bit better about all of those things.

But every year, I also have my separate list of Writing Resolutions, and those ones seem to be a little harder to stick to. For example, it's been a goal for about five years now to get a literary agent. Obviously that's not as easy to do as running twenty miles a week. I can write the best book I'm able to write, and an awesome query letter and synposis, and still not guarantee that I'm going to get an agent. Running, on the one hand, requires putting one foot in front of the other. Whether I succeed or fail depends on nothing but my own dedication. But publishing? That requires about a dozen moving parts, ten or so of which are completely out of my control.

One of my goals last year was to finish a book I started in 2003, the first book I ever attempted to write. I did work on it for a while, but I found myself stymied fairly quickly, and after that I floundered around aimlessly, sending out a few last queries on The Book Collector, then revising an old book and querying that without success. But I finally realized that just like with running, what I really needed to do was move forward - to put one foot in front of the other and refuse to look back at all the failure and rejection. The wise words of one editor and the idea for an undead girl named Friday helped me to stop obsessing over the past and get excited about the possibility of future success.

As much as I love writing lists and crossing things off, as awesome as it feels to set goals and meet them, there are some things in life that simply refuse to stick to the timelines we set for ourselves. John always tells me that you don't have to make resolutions on January 1st; there are 364 other perfectly good days in the year to decide to change your life. And guess what? 2012 is a Leap Year, so we all have one extra day to make something positive happen.

What are your Writing Resolutions for 2012? Please share in the comments!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mommy Mondays: A Christmas to Remember

I'm sure most of you are still enjoying your holidays, so I'm keeping this week's blog posts short and sweet. I just wanted to share a few of the highlights of Christmas 2011, particularly those involving Jack. I mentioned in a recent post how the spirit of Christmas was alive and well in our house, and that certainly proved true this year. Having Grandma Patti, Uncle Mike, and Auntie Shasha here to celebrate helped immensely. Jack was introduced to the vintage Rankin/Bass Christmas movies thanks to Grandma Patti, and Rudolph is a big hit around here, let me tell you.

What's not to love?

On Christmas morning, Jack came downstairs to find his Christmas gift (the main event, anyway - this kid is ridiculously spoiled by friends and family members; I have a feeling things are going to be a little different next year when we're living in BFE). I was hoping to recapture some of the joy on his face when everyone sang happy birthday at his party. It wasn't quite to that level, but it was still pretty good.

Elmo AND a bike? Woohoo!
I think everyone received something really special this year. John got the Kindle Fire, courtesy of me; Sarah got a gift card to Forever21 and clothes from Anthropologie AND Urban Outfitters; Mike got a dive watch for his upcoming training at the Commercial Dive Academy (we're incredibly proud that he earned a full-ride scholarship there); and I got a beautiful necklace I spotted in Annapolis from John, as well as a family heirloom ring from John's mother, and the cutest pair of hot air balloon tights ever from Sarah. Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Bob also bought Jack a little tractor to go with his farm - it's adorable, but the song it plays is probably going to drive me crazy in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks a lot, Grandma.
 Of course, the thing that REALLY might drive me crazy is this dog.

The singing dog, also known as the antichrist.
Sure, it may look like a harmless stuffed Basset Hound. But let me assure you, this thing is from the devil. If they ever need a new interrogation technique at Guantanamo, they need look no further than this hound from Hades. He sings a song that is so obnoxious it literally makes my stomach turn when Jack pushes that little red button on his arm. I hate him. And I told Patti that if she left this dog in my house, I could not be held responsible for what happens to him. Guess what? She left him. He is so horrible that I'm not sure it would be the kind thing to do to donate him to charity. This dog belongs in one place and one place alone - the fiery pits of Mordor. But it would take a fellowship far stronger than anything Tolkien dreamed up to maintain their sanity in the company of this wretched creature.

I think I could probably devote an entire blog post to annoying children's toys - the people who create these things are clearly parent-hating sadists - but it's the holidays so I'll end on a positive note.  I'm grateful for so many things in my life, but first and foremost are the friends and family I am lucky enough to be surrounded by. Thank you all for your support and generosity this year. We love you guys so much.

Oh, and the dog is going to get it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I know today is technically supposed to be a Foreign Service Friday, but unfortunately there isn't much new to report. John got his salary offer and it was the best we could have hoped for, so that's one less thing to worry about. He also got his package of paperwork, which means at some point this weekend we'll be doing a lot of research into health insurance plans. That's one thing about the military I'll miss - free health care.

As far as this week's inspiration goes, I should clarify that I haven't seen the new movie yet. John and I are hopefully going tomorrow (thank you, Grandma, for the free babysitting!). I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for book club last year, and to be honest it wasn't my favorite book. I think Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character, but I was left wanting more of her. That's one of the things I'm most looking forward to in the American film version (I'm almost finished with the third Swedish film): unlike the Swedish films, which are apparently quite true to the novels, the American film explores Lisbeth's character in further detail. To which I say: bring it on! Talk about a badass female character!

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
I'm glad that they chose a relatively unknown actress for the role. Rooney Mara has some pretty big shoes to fill - Noomi Rapace made an excellent Lisbeth - but I don't know if I would have believed some of the people who tried out for the role, including Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson (I mean, seriously?). And I'm thrilled they chose Daniel Craig to play Mikael Blomvkist - perfect casting in my humble opinion. It will be interesting to see how violent this version is - the book is very graphic and the Swedish film doesn't leave much to the imagination. For now, I'm going to hop on the treadmill and finish the third film (they're all streaming for free on Netflix, by the way). I'm hoping afterward I'll feel inspired enough to rewrite the first chapter of my novel...

I hope you all have a very happy holiday weekend! In the meantime, here's a little something to tide you over until Monday.

The resemblance is uncanny, right?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Tweet This!

Yesterday I entered a contest on Kathleen Ortiz's blog. The winner gets a query critique from an agent, which is an awesome prize, right? But the contest ain't easy: Pitch your book in 140 characters or less, aka, in a single Tweet.

I for one am not a Twitter user. I rarely even update my Facebook status these days, so I highly doubt I'd have much to Tweet about. I do enjoy following a few agent and author Twitterers (I don't even know the damn terminology!) but that's about as far as my involvement goes. So I'm not really used to this whole "think in 140 characters" thing. If you've never Tweeted, let me tell you something: 140 characters is nothing. It's hard enough to limit a single thought to one or two sentences. But condensing an entire book into 140 characters is a true test of one's summarizing capabilities. Here's what I came up with:

Seventeen-year-old Friday Anderson discovers that the hipster musicians she's working for are actually immortals, and she's one of them.

That right there is 136 characters my friends (including spaces). I've noticed that many of the entrants in the contest did not stick to the parameters, and in my experience, people aren't always held to the rules in these sorts of things. This irks the living twit out of me. For example, I entered a writing competition once where the word limit was 300, and several of the winning entries were close to 400. Why have rules if people aren't going to be forced to stick to them, I ask you? What can I say, I'm a stickler for rules. And besides, I kind of enjoyed the challenge.

This picture is worth at least 140 characters.

So, my writing friends, you still have a few hours to enter the contest. And even if you're not at the querying stage, I'd love to hear your 140 character pitch in the comments!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mommy Mondays: All Growed Up

Yesterday our little guy turned two years old. It's hard to believe that just three years ago he hadn't even been mentally conceived, let alone physically. Back then, John and I didn't have a clue what the next couple of years would bring: we couldn't imagine the joy we'd feel when we got to hold our brand new baby for the first time, or the fear we'd experience when we brought him home from the hospital (as John would say repeatedly, "They're really just going to let us take him home? Just like that?"); I couldn't anticipate all the countless laughs John and I would share just watching Jack experience the world around him, or the way our bond as a couple would be strengthened by the presence of one little boy. Like I said, we didn't have a clue what life had in store for us for the past two years.  I think it's safe to say that's going to prove true for the rest of our lives.

Photo by Courtney Halvorsen

As I watched a gaggle of toddlers terrorize a soft play room yesterday, I marveled at all the individual personalities on display, the way these miniature people interacted with each other, their parents, and a pit full of plastic balls. The joy on Jack's face as his friends sang "Happy Birthday" to him was beyond priceless. He ate his homemade cupcake with complete abandon, then spent the half hour while I opened his presents playing with a single card. A friend posted a blog to her Facebook page last week, in which one mother explained why she wouldn't be teaching her children about Santa Claus. On the one hand, I could sort of see where she was coming from - yes, it's a "lie," technically - but part of the wonder of childhood, and to be perfectly honest, parenthood, is being allowed to believe in magic, to live in a world of imagination without price tags and credit card statements. I am so grateful to be able to provide that magic for Jack, and to have such amazing friends and family members who helped make Jack's special day just that - special.
Which is why, for now, Santa Claus is alive and well in our house. After all, it won't be long before Jack is all grown up and doesn't believe in magic anymore. At least until he has children of his own one day, and gets to experience that wonder through their eyes all over again.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Foreign Service Fridays: Let the Games Begin

Okay guys, so I know I usually do an inspiration post on Fridays, but I've been waiting for quite some time to make all my alliteration dreams come true with the introduction of Foreign Service Fridays.

That's right - John got his offer, and he has accepted! Which means he'll be starting the 165th A-100 class (or "Intro to the Foreign Service") on January 17th. For those of you who are wondering if this means we know which country we're going to - nope, not yet. We'll know somewhere around February 24th I believe, just in time for my birthday. But on January 18th we'll get the bid list - aka the list of available posts. And that is going to be an interesting day indeed.

According to John, there are 60 people in the January class. That means there will be 60 posts on the list (not 60 countries necessarily, since some countries have multiple posts). I feel like 60 is a good number. There should be a nice variety, but it won't be completely overwhelming. Of course I say that now - I'm sure 60 will feel totally overwhelming when the time comes. But for now, it sounds good.

For other Foreign Service folks who might stumble across this blog, John's score was a 5.575. He would have eventually had a 5.75 with his veteran's preference points, but he couldn't get those until after he officially gets out of the Marine Corps, some time in April. It turned out that having the January offers go out much later than usual worked in our favor - so many people who aren't local turned down their offers, because a lot of them have jobs they can't just up and leave on short notice, or because they can't move out here in less than a month. I'm not sure if a 5.575 would have been high enough under normal circumstances, but fortune smiled on us this time around. Not that I'm necessarily ready to move as early as next April or May (if we were to get a non-language coded country). Most likely we'll move some time next fall I'm assuming. It's so hard to say at this point. But I have a feeling the next few months are going to FLY.

So there you have it. I'll continue to update you guys on the situation in the coming weeks. But for now, all I can say is - IT'S ON! Let the Foreign Service games begin!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: When In Doubt, Ask An Agent

Every Thursday (well, most Thursdays), literary agent Meredith Barnes of Lowenstein Associates holds a forum on her blog, La Vie en Prose (isn't that a great title?), where you can ask a real live agent any question you have about publishing. Even if you don't have questions to ask, reading other people's questions - and Meredith's answers - is still extremely useful. Last week, I asked how quickly requested materials need to be sent to an agent. This question arose from having read about several people who queried while they were still doing revisions, and then waited up to six months before sending their manuscript. Anne Mini also says there's no rush to send materials. But I wondered how true that was from an agent's perspective.

Here was Meredith's answer:

"If you're querying, I assume that you think the book should go to print the next day. It's PERFECT. (It won't be, but that's ok.) It should be written, edited, read by beta readers, re-edited, and copy/line edited. Ready. And, of course COMPLETE.
So, if I request your book and never hear back, two things will happen:
1. I probably will forget that I requested it, since I'm requesting 10 other things that day.
2. When I do remember "Hey...where was that one thing..." I'll feel grrrr because 1. you queried when you didn't mean it; you faked me out or 2. you signed with someone else and didn't have the courtesy to let me know. I won't know which...but those are the most common scenarios and I'll feel negatively.
There are cases, though, where you've queried multiple agents (totally fine) and someone wrote you a nice fat editorial letter that you're working on right as my slow a$$ requests, too.
So you might think "Oh, can't sub to her until I'm finished!" But then I'm in NYC thinking "Damn. She 1. faked me out or 2. signed elsewhere." And I'm in a bad mood!
What you should do, if you're caught in this scenario, is email me back and let me know what's going on. You're revising, here's the gist of what's changing, and what should you do.
I might come back and say "oh sounds good, let me know when you're finished" or "Oh, no, I think it's fine as is, send me the original." OR I might say "Send me the Frankenstein manuscript." Just tack on the original for whatever you haven't revised and explain anything that needs it.
But either way, you've got to let me know what's up or I'll get all cranky. 
And if you've just queried an unfinished book, shame on you."

Pretty thorough, right? In response to her answer, I mentioned that it was sometimes difficult to know when your manuscript is really "perfect," especially when you're getting different feedback from beta readers. This prompted two separate blog posts regarding the subject. Talk about thorough! The first post talks about knowing when it's time to query. The second discusses what to do when you're getting different feedback from beta readers. Both were extremely helpful to me. I hope they'll be helpful to you too!

And just for fun... Some of you will recall our Christmas tree from last year, Custer. John and I hiked through Custer National Forest (in Montana) and chopped him down ourselves, with baby Jack in tow, in the snow, and we were quite proud of him. There were some haters on Facebook who made fun of Custer, but we loved him just the same.

Custer, naked.
This year I asked John if we could please just get a nice little tree, maybe even a tabletop tree, so that we (meaning I) wouldn't have to deal with Jack pulling off the ornaments and potentially trying to drink the water out of the tree stand. But no, no, we had to have a REAL tree, a BIG tree, a tree that smelled good and would take up roughly one third of our house. We had to have, in other words, the anti-Custer.

This year's monstrosity.
"This tree is massive," I said to John as we attempted to squeeze him into a corner of the living room.
"He's the anti-Custer," John said. "We'll have to name him Sitting Bull."
And so there you have it. Our tree, Sitting Bull, is REAL, he's BIG, he smells good and takes up roughly one third of our house. So far we have had one ornament casualty and no attempts at drinking out of the tree stand. But it's early days. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mommy Mondays: The Great Pacifier Dilemma

Ever since Jack was a teeny tiny baby, he has loved his pacifier. It wasn't something I ever set out to use, but if your child is a pacifier user, you understand its power. Why wouldn't you want to give your child something that helps him sleep through the night, helps calm him down when he's upset, and looks so cute all at the same time??

Jack at 5 months. Photo by Erin Manfredi.

For a while I was in denial about Jack's dependency on his "sucky"(my mom called our pacifiers "suckies" when we were little, and what can I say? It stuck), but eventually I had to face the truth. I knew that the day would come when I would have to take the sucky away, and I knew that day would not be pretty. In the meantime, I did what any sensible mother would do: I found ways to justify his addiction: It's just for now, while he's little; Once he's sleeping through the night on his own, then it will be time to take the pacifier away; Hey, it's better than thumb sucking! You can't throw that away! I promised myself that by the time Jack was a year old the sucky would be gone. But a year came and went in the blink of an eye. Eighteen months, I said, that's when we'll ditch the sucky. But eighteen months flew past, and still, Jack was using his sucky. Now, one week before Jack's second birthday, the decision looms once more: take the sucky, or put it off for another six months (or, let's be honest, quite possibly another year)?

A friend told me that her pediatric dentist said pacifiers are okay until three, which was music to my ears. After all, what harm IS the sucky, really, if it's not going to permanently damage Jack's teeth? Braces are inevitable in this kid's future anyhow, since I had mine for four painful years; of course, I also used a pacifier until I was four... Jack only uses his sucky at nap time and bed time, and when we're traveling. (Sure, sure, he's a little old to have one in public, but as far as I'm concerned all's fair in air travel with a toddler. I'm sure countless fellow passengers would agree.)

Of course, the sucky isn't just beneficial to Jack. I'm terrified that if I take the sucky away, the three hour naps will disappear with it. Jack sleeps eleven hours most nights - I shudder to think what might happen sans sucky. And on a deeper level, I think there's a part of me that doesn't want to say goodbye to the pacifier because it means Jack isn't a baby anymore. Sometimes when I go into his room to wake him up from his three-hour naps (the kid can SLEEP), he snuggles into his blankie and sucks a little harder on his pacifier, like he's willing me not to wake him up. It melts my heart.  But with his second birthday looming, I'm afraid I have to face the truth: Jack is growing up.  And yet...

Can you blame me?

Fortunately, I know that when the time does come (confession: I'm probably not going to take the sucky away just yet), Sesame Street will be there to help me, as always. There are several clips about Elmo giving up his binky, including the adorable Bye Bye Binky. And there's always the Pacifier Fairy if things get desperate.

Or I could just make Jack throw his sucky away on his fourth birthday, like my mom did to me. I still have the scars. (Just kidding Mom.) In the meantime, I'll just keep praying that Jack gives his sucky up on his own. Because if there's one thing that never fails to work for this mom, it's denial.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: One-Liners

When I work out, I like to watch TV. It's the only thing that distracts me from the monotony of the treadmill. Unfortunately, when my favorite shows go on their annoying winter hiatus, I'm forced to scan the Netflix archives for something decent to watch. Today I stumbled upon a fairly boring - yet surprisingly gory - film called "Ironclad."  I'd never heard of it; chances are you haven't either. I wouldn't bother. Except...

There's a scene between the stoic Templar knight and the young and beautiful wife of the lord of the castle. Naturally the lord is old and "uninterested" in his wife, so her roving eye falls on the handsome knight, who is doing his very best to stay away from her. Of course she continues to pursue him, handling his sword (I kid you not) and asking if she's holding it properly, just in case she needs to defend herself. Cheese-o-rama. But then, just when I think I'm going to have to look for something else to watch, the knight comes along with one of those great one-liners that I just can't resist: "I fight so you don't have to."

I admit it - I'm a sucker for a good line. Take, for example, Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Last of the Mohicans:" "No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you."

Outta my way, lady!
Clark Gable in "Gone With the Wind." Ryan Gosling in "The Notebook." Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice."

They all have great one-liners (it helps that they're all hot, too. Yes, even Clark). Sure, on their own the lines might seem a little over the top, but if there's enough blood, sweat, and tears to raise the stakes high enough (or if you're Michael Fassbender, in pretty much any situation), you can ask me my sign and I'll probably fall for it.

What about you? Are you a sucker for a good movie line? Feel free to share any favorites I may have missed!

And happy weekend, all!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Interview With an Immortal

Normally I regale you with tails of writerly woe on Wednesdays - or occasionally, if I'm feeling particularly upbeat, something I hope will be inspirational. Since I'm still stuck on revisions at the moment, I don't have much to report from the trenches. So I thought I'd try and do something more in keeping with a lot of writing blogs - pose a question to the readers, and see what you guys have to say.

So, my question for today is: Do you use a character profile worksheet?

I have never done one of these before. Usually my characters are pretty well formed in my head and I think of whatever details I need as I go along. The main character for my current WIP is Friday, a seventeen-year-old high school student (Technically she's sixteen, since she "died" just before her seventeenth birthday, but she doesn't like to be reminded of that). You'd think given my own miserable high school experience my main character would be plagued by insecurities, but I've written that character before, and I was a little sick of her. Friday is amazingly resilient given everything she's been through, but that comes from her upbringing (a lot of moving around, never having many friends), her tough-cookie mother, and the fact that she's actually very pretty. I'm told that helps in the self esteem department. Basically Friday is nothing like me - although we do share the same sense of humor, since I'm the one writing her and all.

I scrounged around online for a while and came up with quite a few character profile templates, but many of them are pretty dull, just sort of a laundry list of physical traits, background, likes and dislikes, etc. I'm not saying those things aren't important, but I think most writers probably know that much about their characters anyway (they certainly should!). What I wanted was something a little more unusual, questions that would force me to think a little harder about Friday's character. I found a pretty cool interview questionnaire on Here are a few of the questions I liked the most, and the answers I've come up with on Friday's behalf (I don't think she'll mind).

Favorite pig-out food: Nothing. Friday isn't much of a foodie, and now that she's immortal, she has no appetite anyway. But Glenda's apple pie is pretty good when she's feeling crappy.

Favorite book: Friday is into fantasy novels, so I'm going to go out on a limb and guess The Lord of the Rings. We haven't discussed this though, so don't take my word for it.

Every New Year's I resolve to: Have a boyfriend. Finally she can cross that one off her list.

I'm a sucker for: Long eyelashes. On horses and boys.

The worst advice that my mother gave me was: Not to be afraid. Sure, they were her dying words, but how is Friday supposed to not be afraid when she's got crazy immortals after her? Of course it's probably the best advice Friday's mother ever gave her, too. Life's like that sometimes.

My pet peeve is: Trucker hats.

I can die happy when: Friday can't die, so I liked the irony of this question. Friday doesn't appreciate my sense of humor in this particular instance, however.

So, do you use a profile worksheet? Inquiring minds want to know! And if you've got a good one, please share!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mommy Mondays: Thoughts From a Rabbit Mother

Yesterday Jack had his second preschool playdate, where the families from Jack's class got together at a park so we could get to know one another outside of school. If you've ever seen a bunch of two year olds playing together, you know that they're not actually playing together. So, for the most part, these playdates have consisted of parents scattered across the playground, watching their children amuse themselves with an abandoned ball or a broken pushcart.

For the first ten minutes Jack hopped back and forth across a small suspension bridge, gleefully shouting, "Jump, jump, jump!" Eventually a couple of other families made their way over to the bridge, including a kid who looked to be about three and a baby who had recently learned how to walk. I watched in a mixture of pity and amusement as John introduced himself to the children's parents, but finally I had to step in and tell him that their children didn't actually go to our preschool, so he was in essence introducing himself to random strangers for no reason. "I'm never speaking to anyone at a playdate ever again," he said.

Once John had recovered from that experience, we tried to make our way over to the swings, where the really friendly, outgoing, dare I say "popular" mom was. I've been trying to make friends with this woman since orientation, but alas, her son and Jack do not seem to be particularly close, and she's always surrounded by other mothers anyway. While Jack wandered in circles in the "stockade," as John dubbed it (you know, that metal cage thing with a pole in the middle), the popular mom was laughing gaily with several other mothers whose children had enough good sense to be interested in the swings. Try as I might to herd Jack in that direction, he inevitably decided to play with something as far away from the swings as possible. My other attempts at conversation were not well received. John and I stood with our hands in our pockets, feeling rather out of place while Jack wandered aimlessly around the playground with a plastic chair. Hey, at least we had each other.

Perhaps parents who weren't social outcasts in their youth don't share the same fears as me. But sometimes when I watch Jack I see glimpses of the future, visions in which Jack is sitting by himself in a corner (eating grapes, most likely) while the other kids play tag and dodge ball. He is pale, plump, and prefers the company of small mammals to other human beings. He's described as "gentle" and "introspective." He is picked last for softball. He has braces and glasses; his pants are far too short.

I know what some of you are thinking - Jack is fine! He's not going to be a nerd! How can I project such a terrible future on a two year old! But the thing is, that was ME! I HAD braces and glasses. People talked about "floods" in my presence and I had no clue what they were talking about. I was picked last for everything. Sure, I turned out okay in the end, but no one wishes that kind of a life on their child. I want Jack to be secure, even if he's not the most popular kid in school. I want him to fit in, even though deep down I know that being different is a good thing. I don't want him to be like everyone else - I just want him to be happy.

When Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother came out, there was a lot of talk about different kinds of mothers. There was a very touching op-ed in the New York Times called "Notes From a Dragon Mother" (warning: you will need a box of tissues for this one). There are "helicopter moms," the ones who hover constantly over their children, and soccer moms and mother hens and granola moms and everything in between. I think a lot about what kind of mom I am, and what kind of mom I want to be. I try not to project my own insecurities on my son (although I know I fail at that more often than not). I try to be firm without being stern (but sometimes I lose it). I try to comfort myself with the fact that John is one of the most secure people I know, so hopefully we'll at least balance each other out. I tell Jack twenty times a day (at least) that I love him. That's one thing I can say I'm doing right.

I guess I'd like to think of myself as a Rabbit Mother: soft and gentle for the most part, but protective if I need to be (high-pitched squealing and furious leg kicking can be quite effective). I value my family more than anything, my home is warm and safe, and I enjoy watching my offspring fill his cheeks with as much food as they can hold (fyi, it's a lot). And while I may not be the most popular mommy at play group, some day I'll be able to tell Jack from experience that you don't have to fit in to be happy; you just have to find that one person to stand next to who never makes you feel out of place.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: Imagination

I've been having a little trouble drumming up the ol' inspiration this week. I think it's a combo of struggling to get back into the swing of things here on the home front, and the fact that this cough medicine is SERIOUSLY messing with my brain. I spent most of yesterday in some bizarro drug-induced stupor, sitting on the couch and staring at the computer screen, which simply refused to come into focus. I'm feeling a little better today, but still not exactly inspired. I contemplated several different things, from the fact that Sarah is currently in Uganda getting ready to film mongooses (and sharing her hotel room with a gecko and a giant spider - sounds fun, right?), to the holiday season (because I really do love it; peppermint bark, anyone?), to the utterly fabulous chick flick Never Been Kissed (because I was watching it on Netflix and honestly, does it ever get old?). But none of them were truly inspiring me.

Then Jack pulled lightly on my pant leg and said "Cram? Color?"

Jack contemplates his next artistic move - squiggle, or dot.
And so I said, "To hell with inspiration," and came downstairs so Jack could color with his "crams." It lasted all of five minutes, but it was the first time Jack had ever asked me if he could color.  And inside I was doing a happy dance, because I love art, and I want my child to love art.  His parent-teacher conference had me a little freaked out, to be perfectly honest ("Jack Jack needs to practice painting with brush strokes and rolling clay" sounded more like "Jack Jack is going to be drawing stick figures for the rest of his life" in my head). And so I say to all the nay-sayers out there:

How's THAT for creative genius?!
Sure, a one-pawed cat could do better, but do you see those LINES? He's not just stabbing the paper anymore, he's actually (sort of) drawing! Most of us grow up believing that we have no artistic talent whatsoever - and if you've seen John's rendition of a squirrel, you'll understand why - but I love the fact that each and every one of us starts out with the desire to create, to put cram to paper and convey whatever we imagine to the world. (Perhaps this was Jack's artistic interpretation of his mother's Robitussin-fueled trip.)  Even if Jack is genetically inclined toward his father's stunted creative potential, I plan on encouraging him every step of the way.  After all, without imagination, how would any of us ever find our inspiration?