Sunday, July 29, 2012

Children's book to agent? Check. Slice of humble pie? Yes, please

Well, now that we've gotten all that heavy stuff out of the way, let's get back to the fun stuff. Namely how I made good on a promise I made to myself years ago. I finally—finally—submitted a children's book I wrote to an agent.


I've been eagerly awaiting a response for months. I only submitted the story, which is a one page rhyming picture book, to one agent. She was highly recommended by a friend of mine. In fact, my friend practically guaranteed I'd get published because this agent's specialty is quirky, weird authors who write quirky, weird stories.

Ding, ding.

Well, the agent responded via email last week. (If there's an astrologer reading this post, could you shoot me an email and explain why the Universe threw me a trifecta of thunderbolts last week? I'm Capricorn, thanks.)

Before I read the agent's email I imagined the best: a 3-book deal. Phrases like "You're amazing!" Accolades. Advances.

I'd sat on this dream for more than a decade. Why not give myself a mental orgasm? Why not?

I soon found out why not.

The agent responded in bold, capital letters. So easy on the eyes! She used words like "heavy handed," "clunky" and "implausible."

Um hello, is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs plausible? The townspeople are fed by the skies. Is any Curious George story plausible? Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't most children's books loved and revered because of the nut-grabbing fabulousness of their implausibility? 

The agent told me that if a teacher behaved the way mine had in my story she'd be fired and/or sued. "THERE WOULD BE A REVOLT!"

I guess she hasn't read Lynn Plourde's Science Fair Day—the one where the teacher lets a little girl wreck other kids' science projects without reprimanding her whatsoever. Or how about when Curious George visits his friend's school for the day and none of the parents sign waivers? What kind of teacher would allow that?

Nope, according to this agent, if it's a children's book it must be politically correct.  

And then. I understand that pulling off a book full of rhymes is challenging, not so much because of the task itself but because the rhymes must feel effortless. You must not feel as if someone picked a word just because. Sadly, she accused me of just that. 

Like Steve Martin's children's book Late for School? I wanted to ask. When he writes, "Elbowed grandma passing by. Her face went into a pie"? Why the hell is grandma eating pie for breakfast? Wouldn't an Ensure or a big ole bowl of Fiber One be more plausible?

Or how about when Martin writes, "Leapt across three lawn flamingos. Waved to Sal, he's Filipino." 


I didn't bother telling the agent any of this. I accepted her critique. I thanked her profusely for her input. And you know what? I don't feel that bad. One, because venting is good. Second, because at least I got the damn draft out of my house and into a mailbox. Third, because I let my mother read it and you know what she said?

"This is cute. Did you write this in elementary school?"

Er, maybe it does need some revising...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Just another uneventful ass

Something wonderful and terrible happened last week, right around the time we were ringing in Junior's fifth birthday.

My father stopped over and happened to catch Junior pushing one of Chuck's video game magazines under the kitchen table. When my father asked him why, he told him that the cover was too scary. The magazine needed to be placed far, far away from everything.

Junior was right. The cover had a monster with fangs, talons and blood-red eyes.

My father asked Junior to sit down with him and explain what was so scary, but Junior wouldn't even look at the magazine cover. So he told Junior to get some paper and markers, which he did. He bet Junior that he could draw something even scarier, which he professed to have accomplished—although the images were ridiculous and, of course, elicited many laughs from Junior. 

He told Junior to draw something even scarier than that. This is Junior's monster eating machine:

My father and Junior did this for some time. 

As I watched them on the couch, I suddenly remembered being a child. I remembered how my father's factual approach to things I'd found scary and unknown had made them feel tangible. Manageable, even. 

I thought about how lucky Junior was to get to experience that for himself. It made me appreciate all the ways we as parents may not understand the profound impact we have on our children's outlook, and of course, how they confront what they are most afraid of.  

It also made me think about God. 

See, at the moment my father and Junior were drawing pictures, I was thinking about the doctor's appointment from which I'd just come. I'd found out that I would need an MRI to rule out a cancer diagnosis in my brain. The doctor didn't know what was wrong on my x-ray from the previous week, which he'd done because of recurring headaches. There was a good chance it wasn't cancer, but once you hear a doctor mention that word as a possibility, it's all you can think about. 

You think of it as you sing your five-year-old "Happy Birthday." As you kiss your children good-night. As you do the dinner dishes. I won't list every activity during which you think about possibly having cancer; suffice it to say, it's all consuming if you don't beat it back with a stick.

Since that night last week, I've had the MRI and gotten the results.

I've learned that I do not have cancer.

I can't help but think that I've been given two gifts in the course of seven days: one, of course, the healthy prognosis. But that's not where God comes in. He comes in when I think about the second gift, the scene between my father and Junior. Because while I was watching them, I could almost hear someone whispering, "See, look, this is how you're going to handle this. You're going to grab yourself some markers and..."

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Autobutts don't cry over birthday cake

Junior turned five last week. It doesn't seem possible that five years have gone by and yet, poof, there you go.

Five years.

In the last few months the Thomas the Train decals have come down from his bedroom walls—"too babyish"—and the "big kid" toys have eeked their way into our lives. It's been challenging for me. I can build an elaborate train track for a Useful Engine. I cannot, however, transform Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, from a truck into a robot in under 45 minutes.

 Even with the aid of the instructions—which are the size of a tablecloth.

Optimus Prime and his robot friends have met the Little People, though, so I guess they're here to stay.

I had wanted to write an eloquent post—a real ode to this child of mine who seems to outgrow a pair of shorts a day—but I find myself scrambling for the right words to express my feelings about Junior's fifth birthday. There's happiness, of course, that he's a bright, energetic and compassionate kid, but there's also wistfulness. How did it go by so quickly? Does he have to keep growing?

There's a little bit of frustration—for frick's sake he's five now, does he still have to whine?—and then there is appreciation. Now that Junior understands more and is more articulate, he feels more like a real person. There's actual dialogue. I appreciate his presence in a way that I didn't when he was a screaming, unreachable toddler.

Go figure.

There's curiosity. How will he handle kindergarten? There's anxiety. What if he's teased?

Yes, there's a bit of everything in this birthday.

I underlined a line in a book I'm reading, and I suppose it captures what I'm trying to say a lot more succinctly that I have. The book is Best Friends, Worst Enemies. When I grabbed it off the shelf I thought it was a book about siblings; it's actually about the social lives of children. The line is this:

"...a central paradox of parenting is that we securely attach with our children so that we can someday let them go."

Why didn't someone tell me this journey was going to be so damn bittersweet?

Happy birthday, Junior. You are loved.

Monday, July 16, 2012

5 ways motherhood has made me stealthlier. Alternate title: My brain now has tentacles

That was a bold declaration I made in my last post. You know, the one where I patted myself on the back and pronounced that I rock motherhood sometimes. It's true though, some days I do feel like I have a handle on things. I really, really do.

Then one of the kids will grow up a little more and change the rules a little bit and I'll look at him and think, Frick, this is uncharted territory. Now what?

It's like making it to the next level of a video game only to find that the magic torch and invisible cloak with which you'd defeated the wizard in the previous level are now worthless.

But I'm wiser for having children. Here are 5 ways how:

1. Reinforcing basic people skills ("Say you're sorry to Billy for taking his toy") has made me a better communicator.
Before having kids I would have sat back and enjoyed the fireworks of a good argument. Now, if someone is having a disagreement, I feel more confident helping them work it out. I've reasoned with this, after all:

2. Five years of explaining things to a child ("Trees produce oxygen, so we shouldn't cut them all down") has improved my professional career.
Before having kids I would have just written off a colleague as inept if she/he didn't understand a point I was making. Now, I know better how to put 1 + 2 together for him/her. Spelling things out makes everyone happy, especially bosses.

3. Trying to anticipate the irrational needs of a little person ("You wanted a blue one? But your favorite color is red!") has challenged me to prepare for anything and everything.
Before having kids I would have forgotten my own tampons. Now, instead of thinking in linear terms, the tentacles in my brain stretch to the far recesses. I pack supplies for everyone, even the cat. I trouble shoot for Scenario A, G, and Q. You'd be amazed at how often Q happens. 

4. Being continuously interrupted in the bathroom (Knock! Bang! "Mom, I need you now!") has made me a whiz at finding "me time" anywhere.
Before having kids I would have gone in, done my business, and gotten out. Now I sneak upstairs, lock the door, sit on the bath mat and read a few chapters from my favorite book or Real Simple magazine. If anyone were to call me out, a simple toilet flush would silence them (yes, two can play at that game, Chuck). 

5. Being under constant surveillance ("Mom, are you eating ice cream? Can I have some? Can I??") has made me adept at product placement.
Before having kids I would have shoved whatever I wanted into my mouth whenever I wanted to. Now, small beady eyes watch me like scavengers. I have to be better, faster, smarter. I'll put Oreos in the broccoli bag, chocolate bars in the soap dish. As long as you pass the first suspicious glance, you have a few minutes to actually taste the food on the way down. Although, it's amazing how much you can cram into your mouth while rummaging through the fridge for that darn apple juice.

Shoot, is it really 9:15? Arg. I just thought of another one: Being constantly robbed of my sleep ("Mom, I dropped my bear! I need to pee!) has made me a skittish sleeper. Dear God, they could be up at any hour for any issue.

Goodnight. Go to bed!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Please love socks forever, please love socks forever...

I keep a little pair of socks in a little bowl on my night stand. I keep them there because changing Everett's clothes or diaper is a major pain in my ass. He won't lie still. He thinks that flailing his arms and legs is a game. He likes to kick.

I've never mud wrestled or hog tied anything, but I imagine that this is what it's like. Reasoning with him doesn't work. Singing to him does nothing. He's impervious to "no" and "please stop."

So yes, socks.

This is what I do: I lie him down on the bed. As soon as he starts to squirm or flip over, I grab the socks and put them over his hands like mitts. As he laughs and tries to get them off, I quickly—and I mean quickly—slip on his clothes, take a shot of tequila, and/or praise the Heavens that this sock-on-hands game has worked again.

I know one day it won't.

I dread that day.

But let's not think about that right now. Let's think ahead to the day that Everett enrolls in puppet school so he can pursue his childhood dream of becoming a puppeteer. Guess what? I'm going to take full credit for birthing the next Jim Henson. I mean really, how great am I? Employing the age-old art of distraction and instilling in him a love of the arts.

We're seconds away from cotton ball eyes and pipe cleaner mouths! Seconds

Motherhood: we so rock this shit sometimes.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I don't want a hot dog. I want my baby back

Chuck's response to my last post—the one regarding his long-winded siiiiigggghs about the wobbly toilet seat—elicited this response:


Like I couldn't have seen that coming.

Just as I was about to torture him for a more concise response, my friend Rachel called, so I let him off the hook.

Rachel was a mess. Even more so than when she almost bought out Babies R Us. She had her first baby a few months ago, and she's kind of freaking out about it. To make matters worse, she's freaking out about the fact that she's freaking out.

When she called me, I told her what one of my wise friends had told me when I first had Junior: "Don't even try to get your shit together until, like, week 16. Just don't." (She also bought me "The Girlfriend's Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood" which I highly recommend.)

It's true. You're a wad of hormones and responsibility. You feel guilty because you secretly wish the hospital would take your baby back so you can get some sleep and try to figure out what the fuck you did to your life.

You need some time to let the dust settle.

Poor Rachel—in the midst of all that settling dust, breast feeding and sleep deprivation—had taken her baby to a family picnic. Innocuous enough, yes, but she'd had a full-blown panic attack when her husband's aunt asked to hold the baby, then told Rachel to "go get a hot dog" and to "stop hovering."

"I didn't want a hot dog!" Rachel had sniveled. "I wanted to gauge her eyes out. I wanted my baby back."

Rachel's story hit a nerve with me because I had a similar experience with Chuck's mother at a party. Junior was three months old. We'd been nervous new parents, and so we hadn't taken him out much (i.e., ever). I knew Chuck's mom wanted to see Junior, but when I say that the woman was standing at the front door with her arms outstretched, I mean she didn't even give me a chance to get through the entryway before she grabbed him.

Then she planted herself on the couch and declared that she wasn't giving him back. Every time Chuck or I went over to retrieve him, she said no (!) and told us to relax/beat it/leave her alone. (It's true: I blogged about it.)

I ended up sitting outside on the stairs with Chuck's sister, who hugged me and told me it was okay to cry, even though I:

a) was the one taking Junior home with me and

b) had only been physically separated from him for about 30 minutes.

That conversation still strikes me as one of the kindest I've ever had. I sobbed snot on her shoulder for Pete's sake.

I told Rachel a lot of what Chuck's sister told me:

You just had a baby. That's a big deal. You love your baby. You want to hold your baby. There's nothing wrong with that. Maybe you don't want to share your baby. There's nothing wrong with that either. The person who is holding your baby will have to give him/her back eventually (I finally got Junior back from Chuck's mom when her bladder all but burst on the couch). If you don't feel up for sharing, set boundaries. Don't go out. Lock your door if you have to. Do what's right for you.

Most important, you shouldn't ever feel badly for putting your baby in the tub as soon as you get home because she reeks of your mother-in-law's/husband's aunt's rank perfume or because her forehead is covered in red lipstick/pieces of hot dog.

You didn't spend nine months caring for your belly to have it all effed up by Jean Nate and Oscar Mayer, right? 


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I am woman, hear me flush

After my spider killing spree (hey, eight legs make it a spree), I got a serious case of woman-balls and decided to attack something that has been plaguing my family: the toilet seat.

Yes, our toilet seat has been a frightening place to perch these past few months. The things that hold the seat onto the toilet (they have a technical name, but that comes later) constantly come loose, and if you sit down on the seat and your butt cheeks are just a little askew, the seat slips and you fall off. (Yep, can't imagine why my mother and mother-in-law call our house a death trap.)

Even worse, every time I've asked Chuck to fix it, he's sighed like it was some major undertaking.

It was these heavy-winded sighs that have kept me from asking what the job actually entailed. He had me thinking there were multiple tools involved. A blow torch maybe? Surely spackle or lube. Perhaps a toilet troll whose favor we needed to win?

The sighs were so bad I even started apologizing before I asked him for his services.

"Honey, I hate to ask again but could you possibly—please?—fix the toilet again? My mother fell off and hit her head mid-stream. She's, um, covered in urine and crying. Pretty please?"


Then, yesterday morning, after Chuck went to work, Junior called to me from the bathroom to say that the seat was sliding around again.

I decided to take matters into my own hands.

"Stand aside, Junior."

I lifted up the white things behind the seat. I expected to find a labyrinth of gizmos and gadgets—or a mouse spinning on a wheel at least—but no, there were just...screws. Plain old screws.

I felt underneath the screws, just to make sure I wasn't missing something. A piece that needed to be soddered perhaps? A locker padlock? Something! There had to be something more than screws to make my handyman husband sigh so!


Just two plain old screws.

I grabbed a....screwdriver.

Then I held the bottom of the screw while tightening the screw's head. I did this until the damn thing wouldn't move anymore.

Approximate duration of repair: 30 seconds. 

"Jump on," I told Junior. He did. "Now wiggle for me." He did that too.

The seat didn't budge.

The easy conclusion to draw here is that when we take matters into our own hands, it is quite liberating to discover we can reach a solution all by ourselves. QUITE. The not-so-easy conclusions have been running through my mind like a broken record for the last two days:

"That's it? Why the sighs? That's it? Just screws? That's it? Why the sighs? That's it? Just screws?"

Chuck, I'm calling you out on this blog. You have one day to respond. Ok, two, since tomorrow's a holiday.

(Happy 4th of July!)

Make laundry fun — and punishable

I don't know why there's so much effing laundry. Yes, there are five of us, but we aren't going anywhere. Part of me feels ...