Friday, February 24, 2012

Why I Write

The problem with writing a blog, or with any writing really, is that you continually have to come up with new material. It's especially intimidating when coming off of a blockbuster week like "The Peanut Butter Sandwich" post. Last week drew two hundred and thirty-four readers. Do I know two hundred and thirty-four people? I began the year with just twenty-five views a week, and I think at least five of those were from my husband. How did that happen in just eight weeks? There was a five month plan in place, not a fifty day plan.

If you'll indulge me I'd like to share some thoughts on why I write or more specifically why I dream. It will help us figure out how we got here in just eight weeks, and hopefully give you a few ideas about your dreams.

Everyone has that superstar life they imagine for themselves where they're the next singing t.v. super star or accepting an Academy award. Maybe in your daydream you've just won the Super Bowl and now you're going to Disney World. In those dreams we have million dollar homes and private jets. Those are your just for fun dreams, but then you have two other levels of dreams that are there to inspire you and build your faith.

Level two dreams are how we build lives. This is the house with the white picket fence, the dog and 2.5 children. You could also call this your expectations for life. I always knew I would have a house and a family and that we would find ways to provide. My husband on the other hand wasn't sure he would even have a double wide in his parent's backyard. You could say I'm the optimist in the family. In fact if my glass is half full, his is three-quarters empty. So, I make my plans, say a prayer and drag my husband along. Things have a way of working themselves out. Going to college, getting married, even vacations could be considered level two dreams.

Some people live their whole lives with no level one dreams. These are things that other  people do. We can almost see ourselves living out these roles, and once upon time, when we were kids, maybe we dipped our toe in the water. It might be that you've always wanted to own your own business, live in France, or act in a local theater company. For me I've always wanted to write a book. Heaven knows I've had all these stories bouncing around inside my head long enough. Why bother having these kinds of dreams though? Aren't we just setting are selves up for heartache? There are bills to pay and children to raise, it's not like you can just go off an do any of these things. Well it turns out you can. I know people who have done all of the things listed above.

I've dreamed of seeing one of my stories on a bookstore shelf for many years. There's actually a seventh grade English teacher who's probably very disappointed she hasn't been thanked in the acknowledgements of my first novel yet. (I'm very sorry Mrs. Norris) It wasn't until I met a published author that I finally got to work on my manuscript. I can't say he was normal, because he was very odd, but he was just a regular guy with a family. Surely if he could do it I could at least try. It took nearly three years of writing during stolen late nights and sacrificed vacation days, but I finished what I started. I have a completed edited novel. That's not good enough, my dream was not to write a book and stick it away in a closet. I want to write as a career. The more feedback I get on the novel the more I want to write. There are so many characters I need to bring to life. The only thing I knew to do was live as if the dream was going to be our new reality. Now, instead of dreaming I'm making plans. Those plans have led to the expansion of this blog and will hopefully take me all the way to the bookstore.

What dream can you start living? Is it really that far out of reach or can you start making plans for your new reality. I know why I write, do you know why you dream?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Peanut Butter Sandwich

Do you remember your first friend? Chances are you're thinking about the buck-toothed kid that you grew-up next door to or the little girl in braids you met in kindergarten. If you take a look closer to home though you might find an even earlier friendship.

Your brothers and sisters are your first friends, enemies and hopefully the only people you ever try to maim or kill. My brother was all of those things to me. I often think fondly of childhood memories or cringe at the near misses we escaped, but this coming week offers me a special opportunity to do so. This Wednesday will mark the four year anniversary of my brother's death. All week I remember the adventures we had as children. After all no one really knows your childhood experiences like a sibling, someone who lived those experiences with you.

Though he was six years older we were forced playmates, because, we lived in the country, and our nearest neighbors could be spotted only through binoculars. Living on a farm gave us a super-sized playground with fields, forests and barns to explore. We could often be seen racing across the hills on his dirt bike. When I was very small I would ride cross legged on the gas tank holding on to the handle bars. (Safe, I know) As I grew I rode on the back of the bike hanging on to him. I couldn't begin to count the number of bumps, bruises and burns we obtained from motorcycle crashes. Who knew that two people on a dirt bike doing X-Games style jumping could be so risky? The force of that wipe out is nothing in comparison though to hitting a petrified cow patty at fifty miles an hour. Didn't know manure could turn to stone did you? Well it can, and when it does it can send a motorcycle and its riders flying through the air. Unfortunately you miss the whole flying part. One moment you're on the bike, the next you're slamming into the ground, and the next you're bloody and limping pushing a busted bike back home.

Just like with other childhood friends I didn't always play nicely with my brother. I can remember him chasing me through the house, I'm not sure what I'd done, but I'm sure it was a doozy. Reaching the brand new bathroom I slammed the door and locked it behind me. He hit the door so hard it cracked. That was it, the fight was over. We had to work together to patch and paint the door before our parents got home. On another occasion I'd grown so tired of his picking that I hid in the hall coat closet to surprise him. I'd been in there for quite some time when he jerked the door open to scare me. It worked. I was so startled I punched him right in the face, knocking him to the floor. Our parents were painting the living room, and could barely cling to their ladders they were laughing so hard.

My very best memory of my brother contains no blood or bruising and I think about it all year not just on February twenty-second. Even though we were not affectionate siblings I know he loved me. Not because of all the things we did together as children or because of the great lengths he went to in order to attend my college graduation. It's not even because of the trust he put in me with helping with his health and addiction issues in the last few years of his life. I knew of his love because of a peanut butter sandwich.

When I was around nine and he was fifteen my parents were going out for the evening and just the two of us were staying home. It was a warm summer evening and he and I were making sandwiches for dinner to eat outside on the picnic table. Around that time I'd developed an affinity for ham and cheese sandwiches on lightly toasted bread. Yes, I was an odd child and a very picky eater, but that's beside the point. I had already toasted my bread when I realized we were out of ham. Now my Mom, being a mom, insisted that I not waste perfectly good bread. Which I understand now, at the time I thought she was a lunatic it was just bread. The only sandwich materials we had were pimiento cheese and peanut butter, not even any jelly. A battle ensued between mother and daughter, which ended with Mom and Dad heading out for the evening and me having a peanut butter sandwich on now cold hard toast. I was completely distraught. Picking at my nasty sandwich in tears while sitting across the picnic table from my big brother. Suddenly he leaped up and grabbed the monstrosity.

"Haha, I've got your sandwich!" He ran across our back yard carrying it high above his head laughing. I still remember his red and white Hawaiian shirt flapping behind him. I gave chase just to see what he was going to do. When he reached the fence at the far side of the yard he sent that peanut butter sandwich sailing into the field, scattering wild eyed cows. Shrieking with delight I perched on the black board fence in my bare feet. He had saved me. We never said anything else about it, not that evening or in the next twenty-one years before his death.

It warms my very soul to see my children interact in a loving way. My daughters are best friends. They hold hands when they're scared and take care of each other at every turn. That is when they're not screaming bloody murder and smacking one another. Their brother tolerates their affection and will let them play Legos with him from time to time. Always though my favorite is to see him cheer them up after a bad day, he can't stand to see them sad. Sometimes he'll even offer the coveted sleepover in his room.

As the years go by many of us lose touch with our families. Differences and arguments can drive siblings apart as can miles across the globe. Shared blood shouldn't be the only thing that brings you back together. Remember your very first friend. The one who's been there since the very beginning, and knows all the wacky things you did as a kid. Actually encouraged you to do those weird and wacky things with them. You weren't just born into the same house, you were born into a friendship.

So who loved you enough to throw your peanut butter sandwich?

Special thanks to everyone that has shared my blog on Facebook. It's the main reason I got to 1,000 hits so quickly. Please feel free to use the comments section below or send me an email with your thoughts!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lunch Boxes and Lunatic Mothers

In 1697 when William Congreve said, there was no "fury like a woman scorned", I believe he was not acquainted with many mothers. There is something that happens to women when we first hold our children. Whether it's after exhausting hours in a delivery room, agonizing waiting during a cross country adoption trip or watching the spaceship beam down your little jelly bean, the first time a mother holds her child a switch flips. You may have a been a meek and non-aggressive person before, but just let something or someone threaten the bubble of happiness we create for our child. A mother on a rampage can make the latest fight scene from a werewolf vampire movie seam like fluffy scampering lambs by comparison.

We discipline our children, teach them right from wrong, and according to them ruin their lives. So why is it when someone else inflicts something unpleasant upon our offspring we become the proverbial mother bear protecting her cubs?

Last week my son came home from school and said half of his lunch had been missing. He said since we had forgotten to pack all his food he had been hungry in the afternoon. I felt terrible! My poor child, sitting in school hungry and there was nothing he could do about it. Then the thought came to me, I was sure I had put everything in his lunchbox. Because we pack as much of the lunches as we can at the beginning of the week I was able to count what was left. Sure enough the correct number was there. He had been sent to school with all of his lunch, somewhere between our house and the lunch room half of his food disappeared. Are you sure you didn't eat it at snack time? Or take it out and misplace it? He's easily distracted, not even necessarily, by shiny objects. After a few suggestions we sent him off to school the next day with some extra food in his lunch box and a snack hidden in his back pack just in case. The result was the same, half of his lunch was gone by the time he reached the cafeteria. Some little punk was stealing his food!

Deep breath. Did you tell your teacher? "Yes, she said she couldn't do anything about it." Luckily I remembered I was having the discussion with an eight-year-old, so I didn't take this explanation at face value. "Maybe she couldn't do anything right that second, is that what she meant?" After some serious thought, he decided that was probably it. I sent a serious yet understanding email to the teacher to find out what was going on. It turns out they'd had a problem with "disappearing" lunches, snacks and school supplies all year. To protect the lunches she'd started having the students place their lunch boxes on a table at the back of the room where everyone could see them. This was the best solution she could come up with until she could figure out who the culprit was.

Oh, how school has changed! Bring back the good old days and empower those teachers. Keep those kids in from recess and grill them until someone confesses, stare them down, have the principal take them out in the hallway one by one until they crack. I wanted blood.

However, with my son I had a very calm conversation about the situation. We discussed how sad it was that  someone in his class must be so hungry they felt they had to steal, but that it was still very wrong and left him hungry too. Together we decided on the best plan to keep his lunch safe. As crazy angry as I get about these things, I still think it's important for my child to never actually see me act like a lunatic. Not that I'm perfect and it never it happens, I just try. That's unfortunately part of the parenting job too. We have to protect and teach. Sometimes though I think I'm the one doing all the learning.

About a year a go my son was getting really mopey and sullen around the house. After a lot of prodding I discovered he was being picked on at school because he was small. Being called "shrimp" and worst of all he was given the weakest super hero powers during recess games. I had known this day was coming, but come on wind power? It was too much, I was snarling. My husband stepped in to give advice, because he too had always been the smallest in his class. Ahh, this would be a manly speech on standing up for yourself and giving it right back to them. But, no his father sat him down and explained that not everyone is raised like he is knowing what's right. They may not have knowledge about Christ and how other people should be treated and that's not their fault. "If they're really your friends you should tell them that's not how you play."

Really? We're going all wise and mature with this? It was extremely good parenting and I'm very proud of my husband for it, but it was not what the lunatic mama bear was looking for.

Oh, how the tables can turn though. Apparently lunacy can infect papa bears as well. A few weeks after our twin girls started kindergarten one of them came home very upset. Another girl in class had called her a name. It started with "L" and was the opposite of winner. Makayla was stricken. Before my blood could even get a good boil going her father jumped in. "Well, you tell her she's a baby and needs to go back to pre-school!" Where was his wisdom on Christ-like behavior now?

We did go on to discuss more appropriate options with her, but it just goes to show how with an all consuming love comes a certain level of insanity. I've broken into hysterical sobs in the middle of a NICU to hold my baby, driven through three states to take my brother to rehab and chased down a doctor in an emergency room to get my husband pain medicine. Chased, assaulted it's a fine line really.

It's part of the survival mechanism to protect the ones we love. We just need to remember to internalize some of the crazy long enough to evaluate all of the facts, especially when the story is coming from third graders, and use these moments as teaching opportunities. Even when we'd rather make vampires and werewolves cower in their little grassy meadows.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Reading the Cover

Picture, if you will,  a beautiful summer day outside a small rural hospital not too many years ago. The sunshine has warmed the air to a perfect eighty-two degrees, and an enormous American flag drifts lazily in a breeze overhead. The sidewalks are framed by heavy fragrant blooms. It's the kind of day that you'd rather not be working, but either way you can't bring yourself to be in a bad mood. You see a drug rep tip-tapping down the sidewalk in very cute shoes and looking very professional in her business attire. She too looks pleased with the day as she totes her heavy bag of drug samples, computers and who knows what else along the side of the hospital. Quite suddenly you see her jerk her head to the right almost laying her ear on her shoulder and then back to the left shoulder. Next she shakes her head back and forth while reaching both hands towards heaven as if pleading for help. You watch horrified as her back begins to arch and buck with each twitch. Muttering to herself she begins hobbling away poking herself in the head. Should you offer assistance or run inside for help? Is she having some sort of seizure or has she escaped from the psychiatric ward? There could be a naked drug rep locked in a janitor's closet somewhere in the hospital right now. If you get involved you may end stabbed in the carotid artery with a sharpened plastic spoon this woman saved from last night's pudding cup. Better stay in the car and mind your own business.

Let's open the cover and look inside this slasher novel. I of course was that drug rep on the beautiful sunny day, and I hope no one was sitting in their cars watching the scene unfold. I have big hair, after all I'm southern, and to achieve this requires a variety of hair spray and styling products. The effect is a pouf that is airy on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside, like a fresh donut at the fair.. On that happy summer day a bee flew into my hair and became trapped in that pouffy cage. Of the initial thoughts that run through your head when this happens, none of them involve what you might look like to other people.

When my brother was thirteen a bee flew up his shirt sleeve while he was riding a motorcycle, and stung him six times. It was instinct on the bee's part, when trapped a bee will continue to sting until it dies or escapes. That was my first thought while the frantic insect was trying to escape my coif. My second thought is how to get rid of it with out beating my hairstyle into oblivion. Vain, probably. Pertinent for the rest of my work day, definitely. The resolution was a head tossing, hair shaking approach that got me away sting free. I will admit that I don't like bee's so I was also doing the scaredy cat shuffle at the same time. In paranoia that the little sucker was still there I continued to poke at my hair all the way to the car.

With out all the details a situation can look very different, and we may point and laugh at what we don't understand. Was this a funny situation? No it was a hysterical situation, but what if a few details were different. What if I had been allergic to bees and didn't have an epi-pen. Or what if it had truly been a seizure.

In college a friend and I went into a gas station late at night. She was barefoot, and to say her feet were dirty would be an understatement, they were green. It was not a warm reception. People stared at us like we were there to shoplift the ingredients for our Daddy's moonshine.

They should have been thankful she didn't wear her shoes, they were caked with fresh cow patty. That green coloring on her feet was a also a "fresh" stain. Those that judged us could not have been more wrong. We were both dean's list students, from a women's college and my friend was a city girl that would pull over to talk to cows because they were cute. Visiting her boyfriend that night, who was a farmer, she had stepped in a rogue cow pie coating her strappy sandals and her feet. Spraying them off with a hose was not going to cut it. Tossing her shoes in the trunk we headed home, but had to get gas first and paying at the pump was not an option in those days. Did she want to go into a gas station of all places with bare feet? I think she still has nightmares about it, but she didn't have much of an option. I have often wondered how many nasty remarks were said about us as the door swung shut.

How many nasty remarks are said on a daily basis? Or how many jokes are made at someone else's expense? These were two off the wall examples, but all too often we're quick to judge when we don't know the situation or what's going on behind the scenes. We accuse someone of being snobby and standoffish when really they're just shy or at least quieter then we are. Jokes about a crabby and mean spirited co-worker are funny until you realize that all along they've been battling depression or cancer. Sometimes we try to read the book by the cover.

Many years ago, before our children were born, my husband and I took a last blast weekend trip to an amusement park. We wanted to get in all our thrill rides before we were relegated to the "other" side of the park. At the end of the first day we each picked our favorite roller coaster to ride one last time. Mine was Apollo's Chariot, taller than any other ride in the park it had huge drops, smooth cork screws and it made you feel like you were flying. As we were strapped in and awaiting our take off some tween girls in line called out to me. "It's OK!", "Don't be scared!" ,"It's really not that bad!" I had just enough time to wave and thank them before we shot off. As we clicked up the one hundred and seventy feet I asked my husband what he thought that was about. He shrugged "You just looked really serious". Apparently my serious face looked like pure terror to those girls. That can't be a good look. I loved that roller coaster, we'd ridden it something like eight times that day. I made a note to keep my thinking face a little lighter in the future. That little lesson has always stuck with me, I have nothing to look so sour about, but people will judge our thoughts and feelings by the expression on our face. I feel bad for worrying those girls, but good for them reaching out to comfort a stranger like that. Somebody I know might call that a seventeen second miracle.

For good or for bad things just aren't always what they appear. We don't know all the details that have led someone down a particular path. Nor do we always know what's going on right in front of us. Someone may literally have a bee in their bonnet.

Special thanks to Jason Wright and his shout out to my blog this week. He's brought a lot of new eyes here, and I hope I don't disappoint. Please, please leave a comment below, I love hearing from you and if you like what you see share it with your friends!