Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wide Open

“In time it could’ve been so much more

The time is precious I know

In time it could’ve been so much more

The time has nothing to show”

- Craig, M.; Moss, Jon; Hay, Roy; O’Dowd, George. “Time (Clock of the Heart)” Culture Club

School ended last Wednesday. (sigh of relief.) I hit the ground sprinting. As soon as I got home, I straightened the house (shoving a not-so-small pile of papers into my room, on top of my “clean” pile of laundry on the floor), ordered the children to clean up clutter, vacuum, and mop. And then I prepared a nice dinner for company.

Two of my children's friends slept over, so the next day, I fed them all breakfast. Thursday was spent reading for and meeting with the brand new critique group. Then I took my children to their Taekwondo classes.

I spent Friday washing, drying, folding and putting away laundry, and packing for our trip to New York to visit family. I even cleaned up the pile of papers in my room. I’m officially caught up on the house since the wedding a few weeks ago.

When I visit Long Island, very few days are open. On Saturday, my children and me visited a friend and her children, and my cousin came over afterwards. Sunday was my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. Monday morning my daughter began daily swimming lessons at the beach (don’t cry for me). In the afternoon, my poor husband left for home so he could go back to work. Yesterday was actually a down day with few obligations. This afternoon and evening I spent time with my mother. There are also plans with family and friends the next two days. Then my daughter and I head home.

My son is staying for another week with his grandparents. And my daughter just decided she wants to take a week of soccer camp. When I looked online, I realized (drum roll please…)

The soccer camp is NEXT WEEK.

This means I have NO CHILDREN next week!

What to do with my time?

The obvious: WRITE.

What to write?

I have the rough draft of Naked Eye waiting to move beyond chapter two. And I have to thank Lydia Kang who is a writer and part-time doctor: I asked her a question for “Medical Mondays” to do with this WIP. Her quick e-mail response means I can move ahead to chapter three. Thanks, Lydia!

My critique group sent me comments for chapter one of The Disappearances. While I may not incorporate a drastic change in the very beginning, I found other suggestions helpful. While I’ve incorporated feedback from one member, I haven’t worked on the other two women’s comments. I’m excited to query this soon(ish).

This story tackles environmental consequences, in an unpreachy manner. It also has a pair of best friends, one with unrequited love, and a love triangle (or two), so it should be appealing to teens. My protagonist has to find her voice and figure out what’s most important to her. Oh, and some pretty scary stuff happens too. Best of all, NO vampires.

My beta-reader, Aubrie just finished reading Aura. That manuscript has had more eyes on it than any of my other manuscripts. People seem to connect with and like it. And I’ve gotten the best feedback on this from agents and editors than anything I’ve previously written. The problem is… well… vampires. Even if she’s the vampire who doesn’t get bitten by a boy, so she’s not a victim and has a strong voice, the market is saturated with vampire stories. My recent rejection from an agent I admire:

“I'm really full to the brim with Vampires and other beasties…”

While I haven’t combed the world with queries, I don’t know how much harder I should bother trying. So I’m thinking of setting up a second blog and serializing it for fun.

Would you read it?

Of course, there’s the thorny problem of my job search. Not working full-time so long after my certification is hurting me. The economy is hurting me. Blah, blah, blah. It all feels like excuses, no matter how many examples I heap on top of my pile. So my time also must be spent figuring out a next step. At this point, I may need to call someone like a Dean to find out what would make me more marketable.

I have weeks stretching out ahead of me. But I also have a couple of family trips, visitors, and an out-of-state wedding. Somehow, the time is always snatched away before I’m ready. I already feel like I haven’t accomplished enough. Instead of relaxing, I’m: Barking. Snapping. Plotting. Fretting. Dreading.

I have one week, from 9:30 am until 2:30 pm. It’s like a gift. I want to use it well.

Teachers, how do you fill your summer?

Teacher-writers, how do you best utilize this time?

Writers, how do you budget your time?

“Oh, time is on my side, yes it is

Time is on my side, yes it is.”

- Ragovoy, Jerry. “Time Is on My Side” The Rolling Stones

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


"I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all."

- James Baldwin

My mother taught me what is not normal.

It’s not normal to bang pots and pans out the window and shout, “Happy New Year!” at midnight, making your child cringe when she realized nobody else was doing it.

It’s not normal to go to a party and collect all of the recyclables out of garbage bags to collect the nickels, becoming a family joke.

It’s not normal to watch soap operas from 11:30 am until 4:00 pm.

It’s not normal to need two cups of coffee before your children can open presents on Christmas morning.

It’s not normal to tell people you don’t like/can’t use the gifts they give you.

It’s not normal to have your “conversations” resemble monologues.

It’s not normal to fail to make eye contact when speaking to someone.

When I was fifteen, my family took a vacation. During this vacation we had an old fashioned picture taken at one of those storefronts. My mother, sister, and I wore off-the-shoulder gowns. We all had hats. It’s my favorite picture of our fractured family because it spoke volumes. My sister had a determined expression, which conveyed her stubborn streak. My father looked exactly like himself, although in atypical garb. I, for the first time, thought I might not be as ugly as previously believed, if perhaps I could have all of my pictures brown and white and serious, hiding my braces. But my mother’s picture was the most telling. She has a serene smile and is looking away, eyeballs tilted slightly upward.

For many years, I spent my time studying other mothers. In them, I looked for the mother I longed for. And the woman I wanted to be. And to some extent, the mother I hoped to someday be.

And so I strive to be a better acquaintance, friend, wife, and mother than my early “role model”. I remember in an argument to say specifically what I’m unhappy about instead of name-calling. I remember to listen when someone else is angry, instead of drowning out his words.

This means I can’t overreact the other way. Just because my mother made embarrassing calls to other mothers to say I’d be coming to the birthday party but because I was on a “pure food diet”, I’d bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to McDonalds doesn’t mean my children eat McDonalds every week. Just because I couldn’t have the birthday cake doesn’t mean my children have a steady diet of Twinkies. And just because my Easter basket was filled with carob and beet-dyed Easter eggs, doesn’t mean my children get to gorge themselves on chocolate and candy.

I learned a better relationship with food.

But some things have been harder...

Seeing my body as it really appears has been really hard. I have to remind myself just because it isn’t as small anymore doesn’t mean it’s big. And it doesn’t make it misshapen.

Seeing my face as it appears is difficult too. I resemble her, and one day I worry I’ll look in the mirror and see her reflected back. I remind myself I am my own person.

I hardly had an alcoholic drink until my 30s because I worried about alcoholism. At some point I believed I had control over this as in everything else, so a drink or two, here and there is okay.

Why am I writing this?

Because I’m home. I find it hard to go home sometimes. Doesn’t everyone?

Also because my relationship with my mother forms my first three manuscripts. In the first, the mother is distant. In the second, the mother is mean. In the third, the mother is an alcoholic who inappropriately confides in her daughter. I don’t so much borrow the scenarios I experienced, but more the feelings of isolation, embarrassment, and burdens I felt in my childhood.

Writing must’ve gone a long way towards healing because my mother’s presence comes up in my manuscripts less and less.

But my presence is in all of my manuscripts. And the protagonist often takes my same journey. The journey to find his voice. Because only in doing so can he confront his demons and move on.

Writing has been cathartic in more ways than I ever imagined when I began. It’s probably not a coincidence that I stopped looking for signs I was becoming my mother when I began writing. Part of it was because if it hadn’t happened then, it probably wouldn’t happen. But the other was writing revealed what made my mother and I different.

We are a product of the people who shaped us. But we are our own people. We decide the path we take.

How did your family shape you?

How have you shaped yourself?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Relating to Relations

"You are not judged by the heights to which you have risen, but the depths from which you have climbed."

- Frederick Douglass

Family gatherings. Every family’s got ‘em. At one time or another (or all times or anothers), every person dreads them.

There’s always someone who shows up begging the question:

Why did she give birth to/marry/invite him?

And there’s always at least one who’s so embarrassing that you dread seeing her – let alone engaging in conversation.

Then there’s the relation (or two or more) with a drinking problem. If that person drove, is anyone brave enough to take away the keys?

Why is there always an unruly pet or child? Haven’t they ever heard of setting limits?

And why is he always so late/early/rude to say he’ll come but then doesn't show up/thoughtless when he doesn’t RSVP?

Then there’s the person who thinks he’s too good for this family. Of course, you do too, but you’re not so obvious about it. I mean, really.

Try to avoid the jokester:

“No, I will not pull your finger."

"You told me the one about the maiden and the goat last time.”

Why is there someone who always equates success with money?

“He made six figures last year? You must be soooo proud.”

Is this a conversation or an interrogation?

“YES, I’m exercising/looking for a job/thinking about taking that class.”

“Yep, we’re both graduate students. How many years? Five, so far. A PhD takes a long time. When will he get a real job? Umm...”

Then there are those who don’t have a clue:

“I’m still writing. What kind? Children’s books. No, not picture books. Uh, no, you don’t need to be an illustrator to write a picture book. I write mostly for older children and teenagers. No, I don't have any books published yet. Right now? I’m trying to get an agent. Well, it’s really competitive. I enjoy writing. Yes, I’ve heard all about the success story the women who wrote the Harry Potter books. Mmm hmm, she wrote her idea right on a napkin. Oh really - she had only seventeen rejections? How many do I have? Uh yeah I did hear she’s the richest woman in England next to the queen.”

While others want to know why you haven’t succeeded, others want to ensure you feel like a failure:

"You never bought maternity clothes, preferring to wear your husband’s clothes? Wow, that is a small amount of weight-gain. And you lost the baby weight in two weeks. How lovely.”

Then there are the judgmental ones:

“Yes, that is my second piece of cake.”

Which is why you shouldn’t (outwardly) judge others:

“Training to become an Ultimate Fighting Champion sounds like a fine idea!”

And then there are the "race" relations who think life is all about jumping over the next hurdle. I wish she’d stop pestering her to get a boyfriend. Then to get married. Next to have children. And what after that? "When are you buying a burial plot? You really should get on that before the best spaces are taken."

Discussions to avoid with family members (unless you know beyond a reasonable doubt their philosophies are the same as yours):




Sexual Preference


You won’t convince them.

No. you. won’t.

Then there’s the frail person sitting in the corner who always seems too old for proper conversation. And when she’s gone, you’ll lament that you didn’t ask her to tell more stories about the old days. And maybe you should’ve written them down…

Big gift? Showoff. Little gift? Cheapskate.

And if it’s your party, a guest or two will be sure to mention what a hardship it was getting there. Whether it’s the distance/date/time/other. Why didn’t you send tentative dates and let everyone take a vote for the best one? And why not get consensus on other details? Shouldn’t planning a party be a democracy?

Why does everyone insist on destination weddings these days? As if the grand day itself were the point of the marriage. Besides the cost (airfare, hotel, meals, GIFT), you’re stuck with these relatives - not for four or five hours – but for two or three DAYS.

But then, sometimes, you spend all this time eating meals, taking walks, and having conversations. Real conversations. And you find you never knew this much about that person. Small talk never covered these kinds of topics. You realize, these people aren't so bad. Maybe outside of this crazy, mixed-up family, if you met each person on the street, maybe you’d become friends. Okay, maybe not friends, but at least acquaintances.

Look at it this way:

Plane tickets, $1000

Hotel room, $200 per night (EUROS!)

Dress, $60

All that writing fodder… Priceless

Friday, June 25, 2010

Swallowing Critique

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

- Mark Twain (Thanks for quote, Julie Dao)

Four years ago, just after I wrote my first rough draft, I tried to join a critique group. I was far from home and to say I was nervous doesn’t express the terror I felt having strangers look at my work. I wound up being lost and late. Only one person showed up, and she intimidated me. She was kind enough about my work, but I knew I clearly wasn’t in the same league.

I dropped out.

Then I wrote another manuscript. I think I waited a year before finding someone through SCBWI. I e-mailed her and she wound up living in the same city as me with children of similar ages. We cliqued on-line. We cliqued in person. We exchanged manuscripts. She helped me grow as a writer. But then she got a job and wrote less. While we maintained our friendship, we didn’t keep up our writing exchanges. (It didn’t fair to submit to her if she had nothing to submit to me and a job and family to keep her busy.) Now she’s returning to writing, so we’ll see if we rekindle our manuscript exchange relationship. (And she started a blog:

My husband looked at my first manuscripts, but said it was hard for him to be objective. (Besides, he’s a little mean in his delivery and doesn’t know anything about the sandwich method. More on that later.) My sister has read them all and given me good feedback. Here and there, family members, friends, and others have read manuscripts.

This past January I tried a critique group, but after three months, I had to drop out. There were too many people. Seven is too much to commit to reading and too many writers were sending within two days of the meeting. In addition, nobody wrote children’s books and only one wrote fantasy. While I liked them, it wasn’t the best place for my manuscripts or me.

I have another beta reader, Jackee, whom I met through Mary Kole’s kidlit site. She’s been awesome, but we don’t have a consistent schedule. She's busier than me with little kids at home.

Then I offered to read Aubrie’s manuscript and she’s offered to read mine. That has been awesome. Not only is she a prolific reader, but also she’s a fast responder to my pieces. She’s made my manuscripts waaaay stronger.

Justine Dell just had a nice series about her Beta Reader relationship, if you want to check it out:

Truth be told, I prefer beta readers to groups. The one-on-one suits me. Having to read a bunch of work, while it takes months to get through mine, makes me antsy. But then I read these blogs with these built-in support systems and thought, I need that.

In May at the NESCBWI conference, I met a nice writer. She asked if I’d be interested in joining a critique group she was setting up. I said I would. We’re to meet every two weeks so the manuscripts should move ahead steadily. And we’re to post our work a week in advance, so everyone has ample time to critique. I like the parameters.

In the last few weeks, I read a post (I wish I could remember whose it was) by someone who was reluctant to join a critique group or even have a beta reader. By the ends of his comment thread, he seemed to have been convinced of the benefits.

There are many benefits:

- Objective feedback. (Not, “My dog loves it!”)

- Other people’s strengths may counterbalance your weaknesses.

- You’ll have more confidence your manuscript is strong before submitting.

- Finding someone else’s mistakes will make you a better writer.

- When your book is on, you’ll have thicker skin when someone skewers it.

- Support!

How to be a good critique partner:

Critique sandwich:

What’s good.

What can be improved.

What’s also good.

And there’s ALWAYS something good. It’s not your job to crush dreams. You’re no authority on who will fail and who will succeed. We all start somewhere, and where we start is usually horrendous. It’s your job to give them idea how to improve their piece.


Beth Revis, in her series of posts that chronicled her writing career, wrote that someone told her she was a terrible writer. Thank goodness she didn’t give up because now she has a three-book deal and quit her day job, thankyouverymuch.

But what about when you get negative feedback? And you will. You’re supposed to smile, thank everyone, don’t argue, and sit on the information for THREE DAYS. Nearly everyone swears this is enough time to process it and be ready to make the changes to make your writing better. Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird suggests this method. Stephen King in On Writing recommends at least three people look at your piece. If the readers have conflicting opinions, do what you want. If they’re all saying the same thing, change it.

After three days, if something isn’t sitting well, don’t do it. Show it to someone whom you trust. That’s my advice.

This happened to me with my new critique group. I’ve put more into this manuscript beginning than any other. It’s been on my blog. It was on Miss Snark’s First Victim contest. It won Miss Snark’s First Victim contest. An agent liked the beginning as is. This new group wanted me to change the beginning.

I’ll sit on the idea for three days before making a final decision. But I’ve already discussed the suggested changes with my beta reader to get her advice. And there other suggestions were helpful so I've already strengthened my manscript by joining.

There are examples of writers who say they were given advice, ignored it, and wound up being successful. This puts writers who are considering critique groups and beta readers off, but it doesn’t need to. Trust your instincts. And make sure you can separate your instincts from your ego.

If you are submitting without people looking at your work…

If you are submitting after little changes from a rough draft…

If you aren’t scouring blogs and books about what agents expect…

…then your chances of getting published are slim.

Even if you’re getting requests for partials or fulls, don’t fool yourself. If the beginning is solid, but it falls apart later and you haven’t had anyone (besides your cat) reading it and telling you how to fix it, then you’ll just receive rejections on those partials and fulls.

Swallowing critique from other writers can be intimidating but if the goal is to be published, you’ve gotta suck it up. And if something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut.

Remember, we’re in this strange journey together. Good luck!

Where are you on your writing journey? Who reads your manuscripts?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Last Days

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

- Dr. Seuss

On Monday afternoon I received a call to sub the last two days of school. The job was for PE at the “rally” school. I’d subbed at the school (especially the middle school grades) pretty often, but not too much lately. I thought for sure I’d be off the last day of school. Who takes off the last day? But I thought the same thing last spring and worked at the same school.

Last year, the morning of the last day of school I received a call to sub Spanish. When I arrived at the office, I couldn’t find the absent teacher’s mailbox. Because it was early (and there was a teacher/staff party in the library), the office was empty. When a teacher or two trickled in, I gave the name of the absent teacher. They had no idea whom I was talking about. The school’s Spanish teacher had a different name. (Great.)

I clutched my paper with the unknown teacher’s name. The custodian entered the office, so I decided to ask him. He actually wanted to help, leading me to the soiree and introducing me to the Spanish teacher. Turns out she worked with another Spanish teacher on that day, but most of the staff don’t know her since she hardly came in. This Spanish teacher asked me if I was looking for a job, introduced me to the principal, and made sure I had coffee and a danish.

When we went up to her classroom, the students showered her with end-of-the-year gifts. That’s when I got melancholy. For the last bunch of years, I’d been with my students for the last day of school. I imagined the students I’d left three moths ago at that moment. Normally, I bought each child a book (Scholastic has these specials like 8 for $20). I’d give each student a card with a personalized note. I called the teacher I’d worked with and left a message for her to tell the students I wished them a good summer.

It wound up being a rainy day. The teachers hadn’t planned what to do with the students if it rained. All the activities had been for outside. So they scrambled with movies and games, and I floated from room to room to help out.

Because my job was for PE this time, rain or shine, I knew the students would be sent to gym on the last day of school. Of course the teachers would want a break to clean, do cumulative reports, or just take a break.

First-graders came just before some flag lowering ceremony, so the other sub and I had to usher over forty kids we didn’t know outside by the flagpole.

Question: How do you keep track of that many children when you don’t know which ones you’re in charge of?

Answer: Not well.

It didn’t help that the other sub could care less about watching children or stopping misbehavior. On a ninety-degree day, you’d think six-year-olds might be lethargic. But these boys were able to pull up chunks of grass to hurl at one another, spin, and play tag. My job became TIME OUT MASTER. Soon enough, it became clear to the children it was easier to listen to my rules than to sit off on the side and not be able to see anything. Bonus for me, my time out spot was under a shady tree.

After the ceremony, we had second-graders. While the rest of the school was bathed in air-conditioned glory, the gym was not. It was actually hotter in the gym than outside. So 40+ children ran and sweated in the sweltering room. I actually had to use a paper towel to blot my head and neck. Lovely.

The two second-grade teachers thought it was perfectly fine to show up over ten minutes late to pick up their charges because they were setting up to take them outside for sprinkler and popsicle fun.

After a prep and lunch (I fled to the air conditioned teacher’s room), we had eighth-graders. These kids graduated last week. And the day before, only about eight of them showed up. On the last day, nearly ALL of them showed up. The room became hotter and sweatier. Plus I had to make sure they didn’t sneak out the back doors to look for friends on the playground or slip out into the hallway. This would’ve been easier if the other sub cared about helping in these endeavors. He didn’t.

He did, however, confiscate a small (softball size), Styrofoam ball. “No dodge ball,” he told a nice group of girls, who were not using it as a dodge ball. Even if they were, what damage could it do? The room was filled with basketballs, plastic bead jump ropes, and hula-hoops, plus a few folding chairs. If the students wanted to inflict damage on one another, the squishy soft-balled sized dodge ball wouldn’t be the weapon of choice.

The other sub got whacked in the eye with a basketball. After five minutes, he decided to go to the nurse. (Baby.) He returned with ice and a popsicle. Where did he get a popsicle? Did he even think of me? Sniff.

Sixth-graders came next. They were calmer. Ten minutes before class ended, we had to take them to the auditorium for an assembly. (How often do they have assemblies at this school, anyway? This is my FIFTH ONE.) It wound up being a really good band of parents. The students and teachers bopped along to the rock-n-roll music.

When the assembly ended, there was still twenty-minutes left of school. The other gym teacher had disappeared. We were supposed to have the seventh-graders. I spoke with some of the middle school teachers, and we decided to take them outside.

I never saw the other gym teacher again.

It’s funny to watch students and teachers say goodbye, but be outside of their circles. Children and teenagers went out of their way to say “Hi” and “Goodbye” and “Have a good summer” to me in the hallways, but it’s not my school. They’re not my people. This year was easier than the last because my heart had no other place to be.

Now I just have to hope that next June I don’t have another last day of school post that isn’t reporting about my classroom.

Or maybe I'll be talking about my upcoming book release. That would be awesome too.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weight Matters

“You’ve got bad eating habits if you use your cart in a 7-Eleven, okay?”

- Dennis Miller

The above picture is a reminder.

It reminds me to trust my instinct in defense of my children.

When my son was about ten months old at his monthly checkup, a new doctor noted his weight hadn’t increased at the same rate as the previous months. My child had never been big. At birth he was six pounds, ten ounces, and twenty-two inches long. A string bean. By six months babies are supposed to double their body weight. He weighed barely twelve pounds.

At around eight or nine months, my son tried to eat finger food. He’d sit proudly in his chair, attempting to shovel bits of stuff into his mouth. I’d think he’d eaten well until I lifted him to see all those bits fall off his lap and onto the seat. Feeding him baby food was no better. One jar lasted for three meals. Songs and other distractions didn’t help. The boy wasn’t hungry.

I knew his lessening reliance on milk and attempts to eat “adult” food accounted for the slowdown in weight gain. He’d dropped to -5th percentile. He was officially off the chart. I told the doctor I’d been small too.

She told me all the things the drop in weight gain (not even weight loss) could mean. She rattled off a list of diseases – each worse than the last. By the time she’d uttered “cystic fibrosis”, I panicked. She wanted me to go to the hospital down the road to have him tested.

I called my husband, who thought the doctor was overreacting. But what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t make sure? Off to the hospital I went.

The staff needed a urine sample. The meant placing a little bag lined with tape in the area and trying to get a TEN-MONTH-OLD to stay relatively still. It seemed like forever and a half before he finally got something into the cup. Then came the challenge of removing the cup without losing the “sample”. The poor boy cried from having the strong tape pull at his baby flesh.

This was nothing compared to what came next. My first clue this was a colossal mistake was when the staff members tried pawning off the task of sticking my son with a needle. When someone won/lost, and took the job, it just got worse. My son got pricked over and over. His pathetic sobs made my heart break. I finally came to my senses and refused to let them try again.

I refused to go back to the hospital.

I refused to return to the doctor’s office.

The new doctor had been hired because my favorite one in the group had retired. There was no point staying. I got recommendations with friends, made sure the next group was on my health insurance, and then interviewed. I asked how my son’s weight “issue” would be dealt with. The doctor was honest with me. He was small, so I was supposed to keep a food diary to see what and how much he ate. If he continued to slide, we’d test. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t.

I fed him the most fattening foods. He didn’t gain at a faster rate, but he didn’t gain at a slower rate either. At a year, he was eighteen-and-a-half pounds. But he was bright and fast and happy.

My son didn’t make it onto the chart until elementary school. By fourth-grade, he was no longer the smallest in the class. I mentioned in the last post he was aware of his small stature. And once, we were taking a walk, and my son spied a GNC store. He saw some gigantic jar of pills in the window. He asked what they were for. A person we were with said, “They build muscle.” It took awhile to convince my son he wasn’t less than because he wasn't ripped. At age FIVE.

Now my nearly twelve-year-old boy appreciates what about his physique makes him special. It makes him wiry and quick, which is great for weaving through players during football. He’s got great form in Taekwondo too. And just try to hit him during dodge ball…

Back to that day I let the hospital staff torture him. I was young. I was a new mother. But I knew better.

Several years back, my husband took the kids to the pool. He saw a mother feeding a tiny infant blue juice. Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s water, corn syrup, flavoring, and blue dye. They sell it “4 for $1” in corner stores in the poor parts of town. I’ve spoken to students who eat fast food at least three meals per week. And they’ve admitted to having few fruits and vegetables in their homes. These are the children doctors should worry about.

Children are vulnerable. They rely on grown ups to do what’s right for them. If it doesn’t come from their parents, it should come from teachers or neighbors or doctors. There were a few times in my childhood I could've used people to advocate for me.

I snapped the picture of my exhausted baby when I got home to remind me that it was my job to protect him, even from people who are supposed to know better.

Have you ever been in a similar situation with your child or parent or even yourself? When you failed to rely on instinct, and regretted it later?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Body Image

“I’ll starve to death before I’ll cook for myself. I think I could survive a week without eating.”

- Megan Fox*

Megan Fox has ticked me off.

I don’t normally follow Hollywood and music gossip. Most of my celebrity information comes from the TV show “The Soup” and the occasional look through “O.K.” and “People” when I’m at a hair salon. Once, I heard Ms. Fox had bad-mouthed the director of the “Transformers” movie. And I know she’s pretty with an impossibly perfect body and has a Marilyn Monroe tattoo.

When flying back from France, I read an interview with her in Allure magazine. On page 159, the woman commented on her underwear add for Emporio Armani:

“People always airbrush me, especially in my stomach, because it looks like I have a 24-pack – they soften it. It’s been softened, which you’d think they’d want to make me skinnier, but…”

Who needs to hear this? Imagine having those problems.

I’d love to say:

Can you imagine Calvin Klein thought my legs were too long? They airbrushed off part of the thighs and calves to make them shorter because my gams couldn’t fit on one page.

The funny thing is the interviewer called Megan “down to earth”. The problem is people in the industry hover over earth so high they wouldn’t recognize someone all the way down on earth.

Now I’m not a big “body image in the media” complainer. I loved my Barbie dolls, even if at full-size Barbie would be anorexic, and topple over on her too-small feet. Hey, I didn’t even mind that they were all blonde and blue-eyed until Hispanic “Teresa” came out in the 1980s.

Every person on the planet has body issues. Every woman. Every man. There’s some part we’d like to increase, shrink, stretch, lighten, darken, remove, add. My list would be long indeed. But at this point in life, I don’t dwell on it. I highlight the assets and hide the not-so-assets as best I can.

Why am I writing about this? I’m glad you asked. (SEGWAY.) Last Monday and Tuesday, I was given the honor of teaching two days of Spanish at a very difficult middle school. This was NOT a good way to get back to work after a week break. (Don’t cry for me since I vacationed in Dublin and Paris.) Apparently, the teacher was on Paternity Leave and left the same boring plans for the kids to do each day. The kids had already endured several days of this, and were beginning to rebel. To add to the fun, his Smart Board had just been changed, and decided not to cooperate. And I had jet lag.

Considering the obstacles, I survived Monday. The first classes on Tuesday went better because I gave them choices. Then a particular middle-school class came in. Two girls volunteered to do the date and weather on the Smart Board. The rest of the students were pretty cooperative, and it looked like it would be a decent class.


One of my two helpers got right to work, while the other, a big girl, started speaking to a few boys in the back of the classroom. I would’ve tried to get her back to her own seat, but I was helping a student define a word. I caught her movement in the corner of my eye, so I looked up to see her charging at a group of boys. I ran to the back of the room just as two boys restrained her from a third one seated on a desk. I warned, “Don’t kick him or I’ll have to send you to the office.”

The girl kneed him in the groin area anyway. She must’ve missed because he didn’t double over in agony. “That’s it. I’m calling the office,” I said. The boys kept her back and she took a couple of steps back. As I made my way to the phone in the front of the room, she charged again, pushing the boy in the chest. He fell backwards, landing on the side of his face, with his neck at an awkward angle. How he was okay, I have no idea.

The commotion caused both side doors to open, as well as my front classroom door. Another teacher escorted her to the office, while I phoned to announce her upcoming arrival. I sent the boy to the nurse to get ice. He came back without any, insisting he was fine.

(On the upside, this is the only fight that’s ever occurred in one of my classrooms)

For a good fifteen minutes, most of the students would only talk about the Jerry Springer event. I sat with the boys to find out what happened. They told me she was trash talking, calling them skinny (they were tall and thin). One boy told her she was jealous. She said, “I got all this,” giving a peek of her stomach. “Yeah, you do,” the boy on the desk shot back. Then she lost her mind.

I reprimanded the boys for taking the bait and talking back about her appearance. “She’s not as confident as she pretends. I know it’s hard, but you shouldn’t say anything back.”

Being that every teacher wrings their hands over these eighth-grade classes, I’m sure it didn’t work.

Children notice appearance. My son knew he was the smallest out of the boys in the kindergarten classrooms in his school without anyone having to tell him. When he wasn’t, he noticed that too. I was a skinny thing who was teased for being skinny. My own grandmother called me “Olive Oyl”. My teenage years weren’t any better for self-confidence over my stick-like appearance. It was a time for voluptuous girls – not waifs.

When I write teen characters, I always have them note how they feel about the way they look. No teens are entirely happy with their bodies or their faces. And they check out their classmates, A LOT. They’re experiencing big changes and never feel quite normal.

As an adult, I’d love to let teens know they’ll want those tight bodies back when they’re older. Because even the physiques that aren’t exactly tight aren’t going to get any better unless they’re willing to work at it....

... unless you’re Megan Fox:

“She doesn’t do cardio, preferring Pilates and yoga for their mentally calming properties.”

- Alexandra Jacobs on Megan Fox

*Top and bottom quotes from “Allure” magazine, page 156.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lost in Translation

“Baseball is like church. Many attend but few understand.”

- Wes Westrum

On Thursday I was called to sub at my former school for the second day in a row. But instead of having my beloved sixth-graders, this time I’d sub kindergarten. (This wasn’t the kindergarten class that had the boy every teacher feared would “blow up”.) When I arrived, the assistant said she planned to sub the class. She didn’t want an assistant because she wouldn’t get the extra sub money on top of her salary. Not only that, she said there wasn’t supposed to be a sub. Fabulous.

I went to the office, called the sub line and left a message, waited for a call back, got a call back and was told, “she called in sick but didn’t say she had the assistant subbing the class”, and was then offered a job to sub gym at the school where the Jerry Springer incident occurred the week before, so I took it, ran home and changed, and rushed to the school just before the bell rang. ...Breathe out.

The sub job was fine except for one preschool class where boys behaved much like Damian from the Omen. NOT an exaggeration. If they’d been left unsupervised, I’m sure children would have died.

That night we had tickets to the Red Sox game. Once a year, the assistant principal at my children’s school gets a block of tickets in the bleachers for us to buy. It’s a lot of fun for the kids, who don’t care much about the game, but often socialize with their friends and beg for food that all the vendors carry up and down the steps. “Get your hotdogs heya!”

While most of our seats were in a block, in front of us sat two men who were NOT from the school. Here and there I heard them speak in what I thought were Eastern European accents. Atop their heads were two brand new Red Sox baseball caps. At some point, the man on the right turned around and asked my husband the score. Then he said it was his first Red Sox game.

As the game progressed, so did their drinking and chattiness. The man on the left seemed less confident speaking English and increasingly embarrassed by his friend’s rowdiness. The man of the right loved chanting, “Let’s go Red Sox; let’s go!” so much that he’d stand and command our bleacher neighbors to join in. Because it was also game seven of the Lakers vs. Celtics, he also tried to get a round going of, “Beat LA!” (Sadly, we didn’t beat LA.)

But some chants were lost in translation. When Kevin Youkilis went up to bat, the crowd yelled its ususal, “YOOOOOUUUUUUK.” The men in front of us began to shout, “Boo!” and put their thumbs down. I tapped the man on the right, explaining, “It’s You, for Youkilis,” pointing to the sign with his name on it. Shrugging with an embarassed smile, he then pulled a pint-sized t-shirt with the player’s name on it and declared, “For my son.”

From then on we were buddies. The man on the right always liked the Celtics because they wear green, just like his soccer team.He told us that he and his best friend were from the Czech Republic. His friend was visiting his sister in Chelsea, and took him along. They spent two days in New York, but liked Boston better because it looked like Eastern European cities. He lived in Prague and owned a pub. We were invited to visit anytime for cheap food and drink, and he’d show us the city.

We told him about our wedding in Serbia, further bonding us. And we answered any questions he had about America, sports, and Boston.

He went for a beer run, turning to my husband and I, asking, “Do you want a beer?” We both declined. A few minutes later, he returned with two beers, declaring, “One man. Only two beers.” Then he handed my husband and his friend one. Refusing to take money, he took off again. A few minutes later he again returned with two beers and said the same line, handing me a beer and keeping one for himself. I hate beer. So I’d drink a little, my husband would drink faster, and then we’d switch, until both beers were gone.

At some point, my daughter needed to pee and procure a drink (which would cause a future bathroom break, I was sure) so we asked the men if they wanted beer. They said they would buy, but we insisted. After finding a restroom, and buying water and three beers (since I didn’t want one), we returned to find they’d bought four beers in our absence so now we had SEVEN beers.

This was déjà vu all over again. When my husband and I visited Serbia about three years ago, my we were jetlagged, without luggage, and in a country very different from our own. That night, still without a change of clothing and few toiletries, we attended the rehearsal dinner at my husband’s best friend’s fiancée’s parents’ home. All night, the mother and father kept bringing us clothes and shoes in case our luggage didn’t arrive on the next day’s flight. And the father kept giving us shots of some really, really strong stuff that tasted like grappa. Not wanting to be rude, I took the first. After that, I declined. The father, who didn’t speak English, pretended he didn’t understand, “No.” He’d smile and pour more. At first, I’d give it to my husband, but concerned he’d get alcohol poisoning, I resorted to pouring the shots in large potted plant. Sorry plant.

The night became more surreal as it went on (and not from me, since I hardly touched my beer), but from my husband (who may or may not have hidden beers under his seat) and the two men, who had many cups of beer to finish. After the seventh inning, the man wanted going to buy ANOTHER round, but I told him the bar closed after the seventh inning. This news was as shocking to him as when he asked where he could smoke a cigarette, and I explained he’d have to leave the stadium.

They thoroughly enjoyed singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Sweet Caroline”. I pointed to the screen so they’d know the lyrics. The man on the right was waaaay into the wave, even standing to let our area know when it was coming (as if we couldn’t see it). And when music came on after a great play, he’d dance along. (I tried to get a picture of this but my camera ran out of batteries.)

In the eighth inning, my husband bet the men $1 over what the final score would be. Probably because they’d had so much to drink, they kept to double-checking which score they picked. My husband lost his dollar when the Sox won against Arizona 8-5. After many high-fives, handshakes, and promises to see one another in Prague, we parted ways.

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game.”

- Walt Whitman