“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Simplify; Hop Over Detours

Rule 5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Once again I am struck by the way that the Pixar Rules of Storytelling match life. Imagine this not as a strategy for good writing, but one for life.

Think of the most recent problem/setback/stress in your life. The one that gave you that piercing headache in your eyebrow, made you want to pull the covers over your head, and eat a lot of carbs. (Wait. Doesn't everyone do that?) What did you have to do to get through that problem? Well, honestly, I can't know. Maybe you did fill up on bread and French fries and pretzels and...okay, pregnant lady is getting distracted...

Back to the point. Whenever we're bogged down by life, we generally need to take a step back. See the proverbial big picture. There are a lot of details about the situation, a lot of backstory, that we get all hung up on. There are what-ifs or could-haves. There are worst case scenarios and distant, but probably unattainable, possibilities. There is so much to the whole circumstance that our brain overloads just thinking about it, resulting in that piercing eyebrow headache.

So what do we need to do? Cut to the point. Every problem has its solution, even if we don't like it. Even if it's hard. And it's not just hard to carry out that solution, it's hard to forget the little things that we know about all the rest. The he-saids and she-saids, the fine print, the emotions. But we have to forget all that, and ask, "What is really the issue here?" and "How can I best fix it?" So we have to forget. Or put to the side. Grow larger and force ourselves to remember those things are smaller in the grand scheme of things.

Simplify. Focus. Hop over detours. Let go of what seems important (probably only to you) in order to be free to correct the problem.

And that part about combining characters? In writing, this is important because too many people with too many roles is confusing and cumbersome both to the reader and to you, the writer. There's too many "he saids" and "she saids" and varying scenes and details to remember. In life, it's no different. We tend to spread ourselves out among the people we love or value or even dislike, wearing ourselves thin and knowing we'll never please everyone.

As a writer, I say choose the qualities you like from each character and place them into one great person, or two great people. For a life situation, limit yourself in a situation to the people who will help you the most. If you are bogged down by the negative things people have said, or the scary things they've predicted, or how a person has hurt you, cut it loose. Forget it. Focus on what you can learn, what you can change, and what you can control. The rest is useless.

The truth is, life is just writing your own story. No, I know I didn't invent that. But it's such a valid point I had to use it here. In both a good story and the lives we want to lead, we've got to eliminate what holds us back. We must be strong, we must be choosy, and we must make our story worth telling.

Please check out what the other bloggers are saying about Rule #5!

Butter Lambs and Easter Baskets

Easter has never been my favorite holiday. On a certain level, I feel a little bad about it, because as a Catholic I'm supposed to feel extra reverent and know this is the most important day of the days, but I've always found it a little disappointing. Perhaps it's because I live in Buffalo, and the weather is rarely as nice as they show it on TV, or maybe it's because when I was little my brother and sister kept moving my hidden Easter basket on me every time I got close so I could never actually find it. (Isn't that mean? Don't you feel sorry for me?)

Today my husband Joe is taking our boys to have their Easter baskets blessed. I'm not sure if this a Catholic thing, or if it's just a Polish Catholic thing. Though Joe and I both did this as children (with our Polish grandmothers), we've never done it before with our own kids. In fact, I was really surprised when he told me he wanted to. Like...really? You want to go to church an extra time and take the boys? And then, there was another thing.

When he told me, I leaned over and whispered, "But won't the baskets be empty? Because, you know, the Easter Bunny won't have come yet?" I threw in a lot of winks and nudges, too. Because I'm subtle like that.

Joe just rolled his eyes, which means there were about fourteen different times that I had to lean over and whisper, "But won't the baskets be EMPTY?" See how "empty" had to be capitalized that time? Every time I had to ask again without receiving a proper answer, I became a little more nervous. Of all the things about having children, reviving the magic has been the most fun. I was terrified Joe might be considering killing that.

The thing is, when I was a little girl and my grandmother took my brother, sister, and me to have our baskets blessed, we didn't bring our own baskets from home. (Because they would be empty while we prepared for the arrival of E.B.--duh.) Rather, my grandmother had three baskets she kept at her house for the three of us, and which she gladly filled up with goodies ahead of time. It was actually really exciting, because we'd get to see our treats but not have them. That kind of suspense is so intense she probably could have filled the baskets with a pack of looseleaf paper instead of the chocolate bunnies and jelly bean and foiled eggs she was always sure to include, and we would have been equally excited.

But I'm pretty sure that my kids have to bring their own baskets today, and maybe it was my pregnant brain, but I couldn't seem to figure out how this was all going to work, other than the kids walking into church to have empty baskets blessed.

"No," Joe finally said this morning. "We'll put stuff in them."

"Like what?" I asked, horrified that my worst fear was confirmed.

"Like...the colored eggs. And maybe a butter lamb."

"A butter lamb?" I repeated. I couldn't help it. Thanks, Joe, for reaffirming for me how lame Easter can be. "Here kids, here you go, here's your very own butter."

"You don't get it, do you?" he said then. "It's all part of the tradition."

And it struck me. When I was little, my grandma gave me chocolate and goodies. We got all dressed up in our Easter clothes, went to the chapel in the basement of Our Lady of Victory Basilica, and sat very quietly while staring into baskets filled with treats we couldn't have. Afterward, she took us to the Botanical Gardens to see the Easter Bunny. Church aside, the whole thing was magic for me. It was a way of building up and getting more excited for the holiday. It was spending a special day with my grandmother, a person we really, really love and were close to as children. No matter what Buffalo's weather was, inside the Botanical Gardens we took off our coats and ran through rows and rows of spring flowers and forgot winter and took off to find the Easter Bunny. No wonder Easter is so disappointing for me now. We haven't gone with Grandma for a long, long time. (It all ended on the fateful day of the Horse and Carriage Ride That Never Happened, a story for another blog.)

Maybe this all started as a Polish custom, but in the end, every family really creates and recreates their own traditions. It doesn't have to follow a definition, it just has to be something special your children will remember doing with you year after year. I guess the kids probably could bring empty baskets, if that's what we chose, and they'd never realize there was anything weird about it. But, alas. Apparently, they're getting butter lambs.

Noah in a wig? Nope. That's me at my Grandma's when I was Noah's age, peeking in my basket.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Rule 4, Filling In the Blanks

I'm still participating in the Pixar Blogging Challenge, in which we discuss the 22 Rules of Storytelling according Pixar writer Emma Coats (find that list here if you are interested).

Rule 4: Once upon a time, there was ____. Every day, ____. One day, ____. Because of that, ____. Because of that, _____. Until finally, _____.

I wish I'd had something written out so simplistically when I assigned creative writing projects to middle schoolers. Because without this, no matter what I explained or told the little darlings, they would spring forward from a winning opening line and never look back. They never really looked forward, though, either. As pre-teens tend to do, they didn't really pay attention to anything except what was right in front of them. This made their stories about one person to whom five-hundred things happened, with no connection between events and no resolution in sight.

Rule #1 explained that our hero must fail, preferably several times, before he succeeds in the end. If he succeeds in the end. This rule simply applies a structure to that rule, and prevents what I call, "The Downfall of the Middle School Writer."

Basically, love your character. Build your character. Make them whatever you think they should be. ore But remember to put them in situations that will be difficult. Better yet, have some idea what those situations will be, and have an ending in mind as you write. A lot of writers rail against this, because writing is a magical process that comes from within, unfolding before us in a mysterious and wonderful way. But if your story is meant to be quite good, to have purpose and to please an audience, you might want to have an end point. Otherwise, you'll do what the middle schoolers do: go on and on and on and be very surprised when you just get tired of writing.

And it isn't just Pixar that came up with this as a structure. Pixar, wildly successful and stupendously awesome Pixar, was just smart enough to know that utilizing a formula--as a starting point only--makes a solid and complete story every time. You can change things as you can go. You can rewrite and revise and be true to your character and your craft, but without structure and control, you won't end up with a very good story. I know one particularly great writer who was a great fan of this. His name was Shakespeare and he called it the three-act play.

Please check out what the other bloggers are saying about Rule #4!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Letting Life Happen (And Rule 3)

Rule 3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

There was this boy I knew in high school. Average height, blond hair, blue eyes, always wore his varsity jacket. He scored crazy high on his SATs, getting the math part totally perfect and coming close on the verbal. He had two sisters and a brother, and he drove one solid minivan.

Oh, yeah, and I was in love with him.

The night we met, I found out his name, where he went to school, and what sports he played. That was when I decided I wanted to marry him. Astonishingly, he did not feel the same way. But I persisted. I was like a hangnail, I was. Impossible to get rid of, constantly annoying. Even when he tried to forget about me, I made sure there were constant reminders of my belief that we were meant to be together (phone messages, notes, a mutual friend dropping "accidental" hints). After awhile, he relented and got to know me as a friend. It was probably both his biggest mistake and best decision.

To him, I was Annoying Girl Who Inexplicably Loved Him. To me, he was Amazing Guy I Would Someday Marry.

By becoming friends, however, and having to bother getting to know each other, I found out he had a strange and quirky sense of humor. That he laughed too loud at movies and ruined every romantic moment by shouting something obnoxious and irrelevant. I learned that while he didn't love the idea of accounting, he knew he'd be good at it and wanted to be successful in life. He loved funny movies and he was really good at making me laugh when I was having a bad day.

About me? Well, quite honestly I have no idea what he found out. I never really asked him, because I was so busy being shocked by the fact that this guy, this Amazing Guy I Would Someday Marry, was an actual person. His name was Joe and the things he said and did reached into my heart and made me feel tingly.

For awhile, I tried reading into the nice things he said to me. Things like, "Your hair curls up in a crazy way at your temples. I call it your Squiggle," and, "Why don't you ever just be yourself around your friends? I can tell when you're pretending," said to me, "He notices me! He sees all the things no one else does. He loves me!" Because I was still rooting for my first impression to be right, to be real.

And then one spring night, he told me he wanted to ask my best friend to the prom.

I had spent all my time trying to force a theme into our relationship. I wanted it to be romance. I wanted it to be true love. But that's not what it was. It was friendship. And I had to acknowledge that as much as it pained me, the two characters in our story took the plot in a different direction.

We can't force themes into our lives. We can't take the things that happen and make them mean whatever we want them to. Rather, we have to look at the things outside of ourselves to find meanings. Whether they're real people, characters in books, or characters we write. If you want an authentic story, fiction or nonfiction, the characters will be different from each other and have minds of their own. Their interactions will build the plot. Sometimes, it will be exactly what you want. Other times, it will serve a crushing blow. But most importantly, it should be surprising. Stories are meant to mirror real life, and real life never turns out the way we think it will.

Because if it did, once I realized that Joe liked my best friend and not me, we would have drifted apart, lost touch, or maybe I would have forgotten him. But I never did. I never could. And it turns out, he didn't forget me either. We lived our lives, we wrote our stories, until one day, we came back together. And I don't think it took him more than five minutes to tell me that seeing my face was like "coming home."

In less than a year after that, he asked me to marry him.

I think it's always best to let a story unfold in the way it's meant to. Let it surprise you, or make you cry, or be angry, and let it live. A story, truly, has a life all its own, as unique as the people in it. And it's only once we look back on it that we see the themes that truly matter. Not the ones we tried to make happen, but the ones that did all on their own.

Please check out what the other bloggers are saying about Rule #3!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pixar Rule #2 (and me as a writer)

Rule #2: You gotta keep in my mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

I think this one depends on what your ultimate goal is. I mean, if you're just writing for yourself in an Emily-Dickinson-locked-in-a-bedroom-hiding-poetry-in-a-box kind of way, then, hey, knock yourself out. You can write about gremlin toes and fungus to your heart's content. But if you're interested in having people read your work, nay, wanting to read your work, then it's all about what's relevant.

I wrote my first novel when I was thirteen years old. Let's hope that never sees the light of day. My second novel was much better, but it was the 90s and my computer was old and erased the whole thing when I went to hit save after typing, "The End." (No, not kidding. And no, not over it.) 

I fell away from writing for awhile when I entered the "New Adult" phase of life, because having a career, getting married, and having a baby all kind of made things a little crazy. But you can't ever kill the writer inside you, not if it's what you really are. I'll never be able to stop my brain from punctuating people's sentences while they speak. I'll never stop adding descriptive narrations about what people do when they aren't speaking, and I'll always add, "he said," along with a jaunty adverb when people have finished talking. So one night, a dark, rainy night when wind was rattling the windows of our little starter house and rain was pattering the roof above my sleeping baby's head, I sat down in front of my laptop, and did something I hadn't done in a really long time. I opened a Word document.

A beautiful, blank Word document. The cursor blinked at me. I blinked back.

And then my fingers took over. When a writer writes, it's like the brain is connected directly to the fingers, pushing those words out onto the screen in a magical way. At least, that's how it is for me. And that rainy, windy night, I had things to say. After a few years of silence, I had a lot to say.

And it was one of those things where when I finished, I looked back over what I'd written and I was pleased. I laughed at my own jokes, loved my own voice, and knew I'd accomplished my point fluently. I saved the document. I titled it, "Venting." Because that's what it had been. I'd had an argument with my husband--my arrogant, snooty-falooty, "I was in the Honors Program" husband--and I'd put all my thoughts about it into that one document.

The next night, I was excited. After tucking my son into his crib, I walked/ran to the family room where my laptop waited. I couldn't wait to write again. It was like I'd torn down the dam and everything was spilling out. I opened the same document, "Venting," inserted a new page, and titled it, "Chapter One."

From there, I began the tale of how I met my husband at fourteen. Every meeting, every exciting moment, every letdown. I loved writing it! I was long over our little argument, of course, and was positively giddy to have all these stories and memories fresh in my mind when he came home from work that night. He walked in the door, and I greeted him with a huge smile. "Remember our first date?" I asked him, throwing my arms around his neck and kissing his cheek. "Which one?" he replied, because when you meet at fourteen and stay friends for ten years but are always secretly in love, there are a few first dates, not just one.

I loved writing "Venting." I loved when my mom and my sister read it, too. (They both cried.) I loved sharing it with my husband Joe. But in the end, it wasn't marketable. Not even close. It was meaningful to me because it was mine, and it was a hard fact to face when I realized the rest of the world didn't really care. The rest of the world has its own stories that are just as personal and special. 

Had I taken time to consider that while writing, what would I have done differently? I would have left out a lot of fluff, for one thing. Does a reader really need to read every second shared between two people from 1994 to the present? Not if it lacks conflict. Not if it lacks jarring and interesting stakes. A long, linear list of events that only mattered to me, my story was both too much and not enough, and it had to be shelved. With a lot of revision, it could be something. Some day. But not any time soon.

That's just something that I think every writer must face. You decide how you spend your writing time, and what you want to come of it. But if you want other people to be interested in what you write, it has to be something they want to read. I write this blog mostly about parenting and life, and sometimes I include some of those stories from "Venting," but I'm also well aware of who most of my readers are. They are fellow moms and wives, people who grew up like I did with a crazy family they stayed close to, who love another person with everything they've got even on the bad days, who know what it is to love a child even when they drive you crazy (like my Noah, the self-proclaimed rock star), and who understand that life is something to be taken...one day at a time

I have an audience who wants to read that. So the trick is, find your audience, and write something they want to read. Make it relatable. Make it real. Build a world that is familiar, but interesting in a way they hadn't thought of. Write people who they feel they've always known, or would want to know, and more importantly, who they will care about. And I think the beauty in it becomes that once you begin to accomplish that, you'll love writing it, anyway. Even if it's not what you originally wanted to do.

Please check out what the other bloggers are saying about Rule #2!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pregnant Lady Super Powers

The average person's body temperature is 98.6 degrees. I think right now mine is 1000. I'm like Jake from Twilight. Also, I'm producing like 75% more stomach acid than regular people.

God gave pregnant women super powers, but they're not really any good. Like, what's up with my sense of smell? I'm a bloodhound. Actually, if you gave both a bloodhound and me a piece of fabric to sniff, I'm pretty sure I'd find the criminal first. The other day, my family and I were sitting in the family room watching a movie. After about ten minutes, Joe had to pause it. "Why are you sniffing like that?" he asked. "It's so loud I can't hear the movie!" It's true. I was sniffing. Somewhere around me I could smell something foul. Turned out it was the garbage in the kitchen. Nobody else noticed a thing. I recognize that could be because they're all boys, but since this issue has only arisen in the last few weeks, I'm thinking it's me.

I have the power to fall asleep anywhere, any time. This one just takes a power I already had and kicks it up a notch. I've always been a powerful sleeper, but now? In the last two weeks, I have fallen asleep in the bathroom (Noah was taking too darn long), in the hallway (another incident with Noah), on the couch, in a chair, and at the kitchen counter. It's partially my fault, I know, because I stop to take little rests and, well, one thing leads to another, but after a point it becomes ridiculous. I looked the extreme exhaustion up online. Apparently, all my energy is going into building a placenta. So, okay. Super power number five.

I could probably be dropped off a twenty-story building, and if I landed on my breasts, I'd just bounce gracefully up to my feet, completely unharmed.

I have really thick hair. Take that, world. Oh, and super strong fingernails. Ba-bam!

I burp like a fifty-year-old man with a beer belly at a bar.

My brain has morphed into fluff. That's not a super power, though. It's really more of...a super excuse. Today, for example, I had no memory of the fact that it was Noah's snack day, that Joey was having a party at school (for which I was meant to buy treats and actually come in to help), or that Joey was getting his report card. I also just now realized that at least eight times in the last forty-eight hours Joe asked me to take care of something in the mail and I still haven't done it. And I mean...I haven't even opened the envelope. Honestly, I don't even know where the envelope is. I also sat on my glasses when I got into the car. Because instead of putting them away, I just left them on the seat. Why did I do that? I don't know. I have fluff for brains.

Oh, and what about this horrid taste in my mouth all the time? I never had that with my first two babies. You know that taste you get in your mouth after you've accidentally fallen asleep? The one that makes you frown and slap your tongue around in your mouth for a minute before you get up and brush your teeth (I hope)? I have that all the time. And you want to know the kicker? Brushing your teeth makes the taste worse. I thought I must be crazy, but then I Googled it. Some other pregnant lady out there in the Internet void had posted about it. Her solution? Swish baking soda and water around in your mouth. Well, super. If I weren't so nauseated all the time, maybe I'd get right on that. Anything pasty looks gross to me right now. Along with raw meat, wet paper products, and bathrooms in general. Although...again, I do live with three boys. That bathroom thing sort of goes for all the time.

I cry at really strange things. Anything with children. Kay Jeweler commercials. My children crying. Banging my elbow for the fortieth time in one day. Actual sad things, of course, like terminal illness and death. Running out of laundry detergent. Indigestion. Although, go back to paragraph one, my indigestion might make The Rock cry.

I think it would be really funny if I somehow managed to save the world using my new powers, but for now, I'll just keep reminding myself why I have them. It's kind of the greatest super power of all.

I'm growing a person.

Pixar Blogging Challenge #1

Hello! I'm really excited to be taking part in a new blogging challenge, started by writer, teacher, and industry intern Kate Brauning.  For more details on the Pixar Blogging Challenge, check out the details here: Blogging Challenge: Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

Last year, Pixar writer Emma Coats tweeted 22 Rules of Storytelling, all things she had learned, discovered, or been taught in her time with Pixar. In this challenge, we're looking at each one every day for twenty-two days. So...here we go!

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling, Rule #1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.  

Unavoidably, we grow to know a character as they carry us through the plot, as we watch them...try. We learn about them through their methods and their reactions, whether they grow angry and bitter over failure or whether they dust themselves off and begin again. And I think it's true because it doesn't just apply to fictional stories. It applies also to the way we view real people. Life is nobody's instant success. We all come to it in different ways, but at some points, many points, we are presented with challenges and we fail. It is these moments where we discover, and show the world, who we really are.

A mother of two little boys, I consider myself something of a Pixar expert since I've seen all the movies at least thirty times each. (I really don't think I'm exaggerating.) If I'm going to point to a Pixar example on this, the first one that springs to mind is Marlin in Finding Nemo. I will never forget when I watched it for the first time in a movie theater, long before I had children actually. It was that moment in the very beginning where the boat is motoring away, a churning wake behind it. We hear Nemo shouting, "Daddy!" and Marlin is both terrified and helpless as his child is taken from him. I sat in the theater thinking, "Well...that's it. This is hopeless. He's never getting Nemo back."

Quite honestly, I didn't like Marlin very much up to that point, and I don't think I was meant to. We see him blundering his way through social conversation among the other dads at school. He is overprotective and a bit of a nag. In fact, we mustn't forget that the reason Nemo was taken by divers is because he felt pushed to defy his father, who had humiliated him in front of his friends by following him on his school trip.

But that's just it. That's where Rule #1 comes in. It is Marlin's failure--when he attempts to protect his son a little too zealously, thereby losing him--that brings us to sympathize with his character. How unimaginably terrible, horrifying, crippling, to watch your child be taken from you. Powerlessness and loss.

And how does Marlin deal with it? Annoying, irritating, overzealous, overprotective father that he is? He chases that boat. Long after its trails have disappeared, his son's cries are lost, and hope is gone, Marlin takes on the entire ocean to save his son.

Many people could argue that the success of the rule is only there because this is Pixar. Because the colors and the images are so vivid, bringing scenes and emotions to life in a much more powerful way than any other story could do. The violin music swelling and flowing with the sway of the ocean throughout the film certainly helps to play my emotions, but it is really that moment. That crushing moment where every parent in the world knows what Marlin is thinking: "Oh my God. What have I done?"

Stepping away from the movie screen and into literature, call to mind the characters who have stayed with you the most. The characters who have nestled themselves in your heart so that when you hear mention of them, you say, "Ah. Elizabeth Bennett," and, "Oh, Pip!" In Great Expectations, we follow poor unfortunate Pip through his life, wondering at each chapter whether he will ever truly have what he wants, what he deserves. With each disappointment, we see his hopes and dreams, his kindness and love, and his perpetually good conscience. As he grows and learns about his world and the world at large, it is these good qualities that have us rooting for him, begging the book itself to allow him to overcome and succeed. That feeling, the wanting for our protagonist to do well, that is what drives us to keep reading. And that, on its own, is evidence enough of Rule #1.

When my oldest son Joey was reading Harry Potter for the first time, he was only five, but extremely precocious and intuitive. My husband and I were going back and forth about the various winning qualities of Gryffindors, most specifically of the leading trio of the series. Joey was quiet for several moments before suddenly interjecting. "I feel bad for Percy," he said, naming the lesser loved Weasley. He went on to explain how Percy's older brothers have all grown up and done great things, and his younger brothers are always getting attention for being wild and funny. "I think he acts mean and bossy because he doesn't know another way to fit in."

Of all the characters in the Harry Potter series for a little boy to pick up on, and mine chooses Percy Weasley. And yet...what was it that struck my little reader? The fact that Percy is a character who tries very hard, and never seems to please anybody (at least not as far as Joey, a kindergartener, could tell).

So, to conclude my first blog for this challenge, I'm going to shout AMEN! to Emma Coats and her first rule of storytelling.

Please check out what the other bloggers are saying about it:
Kate Brauning  Alex Yuschik  Regina Castillo  Talynn Lynn

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Building People

Noah has decided to be in charge.

I'm not sure where this comes from, because I certainly don't foster a household that would leave any child to believe they're in control. In fact, it has been said that the children in my house are actually out of control. (haha, I laugh at my own joke)

But I find myself reflecting on the age in which I grew up, what I was taught, and the sorts of children I see out in the world now. Not the littler ones, but the ones I teach in middle school and who are fast growing up and believing themselves to be the next world leaders. It's unavoidable I suppose, but frightening just the same. Because we all are victims of this ridiculous thing called self-esteem.

It only affected me peripherally, as its real age was only up and coming while I grew up. But I caught wind of it here and there. "Believe in yourself, because you are special." I say this to my children, too, but as Noah was storming in my kitchen and declaring himself dictator of our household, I had to add to it. And it's this that I think the new generations are missing.

"You are special, Noah, and I love you, but you are not more special or more important than anyone else in this house."

I really believe this is where the self-esteem preachers went wrong. It is important to teach children their value and a sense of self-worth, but it went to such an extreme that they actually began to believe they were better than any others, more deserving than the rest. But how can that be? In a world of billions, I do not want my children believing that anything is owed to them simply because they are who they are. I believe they are unique and have outstanding qualities, but that their value will come as they contribute to what goes on around them.

So I added in my statement to Noah, "This family is a team, and our job is take care of each other."

Separate from any sort of self-esteem issues, I also have to add things like, "There is only one mommy, and TWO boys. I can only take care of one of you at a time, so somebody has to wait." I know it might seem hokey and time-consuming to some, but I like to take the time, if I can (like if no one is on fire or bleeding), to analyze each person's situation. "Noah is hurt and crying. Joey wants a snack. Who needs Mommy more right now?" They don't like it, and they always (hear me, always) want to turn it into a case of "Who Does Mommy Love Best?" This only branches into deeper conversation as I strive to make them see the point. I've found it's very hard for children to ever see the point if they aren't it.

Which brings me back to the self-esteem thing. I've come to believe as a teacher and a parent that children naturally see themselves as the center of the world. It isn't even wrong exactly, because their worlds are small and limited to what they know. At young ages, generally, the world begins with themselves and having their own needs met. What becomes our job is making sure to meet their basic needs (not iPhones and video games and the Internet, btw), and then that they understand how to identify what is unique in themselves, and how to apply it in a valuable way to the world in which they live. This may be their home, as in my case with Joey and Noah, or their classroom at school, or at the playground. Wherever they are, they are meant to make it better. We all are.

Does this always work? Not for me, no. The other day, the game was played--or I was played, really--where Joey needed clothes and Noah needed a playmate. I'm sure we can all logically see the easiest way for this to work out. Clothe Joey and he can be Noah's playmate. But no. Joey in his underpants danced around in circles while Noah shouted, "Nobody loves me! You hate me! All I wanted was someone to play with me!" and I was buried in a pile of laundry trying to figure out how it happens that all the jeans in one basket could all be Noah's and never Joey's. The chaos escalated, I extracted myself from the mountain of clothes that had tumbled all around me, tripping and sliding over stray socks and underwear, and found myself crying out, "I really don't like ANY of you very much right now!"

How's that for building self-esteem?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On Having More Children

This is for all those annoying people who find it humorous to nudge Joe and me in social situations (a little too hard, always, as they prepare to love their own joke) and say too loudly, "Why don't you have another baby?" I mean, seriously. What is wrong with people? Even worse are the people who respond to my polite, "Probably not," with, "Don't you want to try for a girl?" Ew. I really don't like that expression. Try for a girl? Like...it's just rolling the dice? Because if I don't get a girl, I still have a whole person, you know. I'm not going to fling my hands up and cheerfully say, "Whoopsie! Roll again!"

So, to all those people, I'm going to go ahead and share the reasons that my husband and I have for deciding our two boys were enough for us.

1. Joey and Noah are as perfect as two kids can get. We feel so lucky to have had such great kids, we  don't feel it's fair to monopolize the Universe by adding another perfect child to our family.

2. Money. We currently have negative dollars. I mean, we're not dressing the kids in brown grocery bags yet, but don't be surprised if that's what you see in a few months. Maybe some cardboard box shoes, too.

3. Joey is seven, Noah is almost five. We have reached that comfortable point where our children are big enough to have earned us our freedom. I don't mean I'm taking off for a global cruise and leaving Joey in charge, just that they are independent enough that I can leave them with a babysitter any old time, or have them stay overnight at my mom's without worrying. (Much.)

4. I probably would not survive an additional person needing me in the middle of the night. Perhaps if Noah had EVER slept through the night, it would be a different situation. I'd also like to add that his sleep issues are not because I'm stupid or inept. I'm pretty hardcore about sleep, as I myself need more than normal people. However, it is has been a learning experience for me as I've come to accept Noah is a person who A) is different from me, B) needs less sleep than anyone I've ever heard of, and C) doesn't conform. On that last note, I'm a big enough person to point out that one day (though not now, or any time in the next twenty years) that will serve him well and make him awesome.

5. Joe would not survive me not surviving an additional person not sleeping in the middle of the night.

6. We are thirty-three years old. If we had another baby, we would be fifty-one when s/he graduated from high school. Unacceptable. My own parents were much older than everyone else's and I felt like an outcast. I won't inflict that on my child.

7. Babies make me nervous. Nay. Scratch that. Never mind. Yes. Babies make me very, very nervous. They are small, they are helpless, and they cannot verbalize their needs. What a nightmare. Also, I never really overcame my fear of their wobbly, vulnerable heads.

8. I hate potty-training. Nothing good about it.

9. Joey and Noah would have to share a room. I had to share a room with my sister and it made her hate and resent me. My brother also hated and resented me, but it was because I was not a boy. That hardly seems fair so I'm moving on. When I was born, baby number three and a BIG surprise to my parents, who were super content with their one boy and one girl in their adequately built three-bedroom house, my mother put me in the bathroom. I will not inflict that on my child. (It's unclear, btw, how long that lasted. She gets all vague and sketchy when you ask her point blank.)

10. There is no guaranteeing I would have a girl, and I don't even know that I would want one. I'm a lot of work, and I certainly don't think I could handle another me. Also, maybe Noah would be really scarred. He's quite content to be the baby of the family, and both children are old enough at this point to be insanely cognizant of the goings on involved with pregnancy and new babies. Unlike Joey, who was unsuspecting at age two when Noah arrived, both boys would see their lives changing, and they will remember it forever. I don't want to scar them!

11. I do not enjoy being pregnant. I've also been working on a top-secret recipe/experiment for permanently removing stretch marks after the birth of a second child. If I had a third, all bets would be off and I'd have to start all over again with my ground-breaking work.

12. I've used up all my time off at work. I simply cannot have another baby.

I'll wrap this up like a middle schooler writing an essay. In conclusion, as you can see, there are many reasons Joe and I have decided--firmly--not to have another child. So to all those people with their smug smirks and light social laughter, kiss off.

And anyway, none of it even matters. Because as much as we all love to make plans and think things are in our control, God points and laughs at us and then fills our lives with special blessings we never thought we'd have. SURPRISE!!!!!

Monday, March 4, 2013

A *Little* Homework Story

Me: Homework time!

Noah: I don't have homework. I've been home sick.

Joey: Yes you do. I brought it home for you.

Noah: You MADE homework? Why would you do that to me?!