Archive for August, 2006

Literary agent Kristin Nelson posted this very interesting item today. You can even read a comment I left for her!

In short, she received a nastygram from a parent upset that she’d rejected a child’s query letter. I can sooo relate. That’s because at least once a quarter, my husband, a high school history teacher, brings home at least one story of a parent who wasn’t happy with a decision he made about their child’s education. Whether it was to fail them or issue a lower grade or, heck, kick them out of his room for distracting other kids, these parents felt that he had done their children a tremendous disservice.

It constantly amazes me that parents would rather become part of the “instant gratification” mania that makes people think they are entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want, than train their children that life is unfair, there’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s important to learn how to make lemonade of lemons. (Forgive the cliches. I want to get back to my rewrite.)

I’ve already seen this in play with Hamlet – and honestly, among other parents on the playground. We tell our kids to share, to take turns, not to push; if they push, it’s a time-out. And if the other kids don’t want to play with my kid – in other words, if they reject him – I don’t scold them or their parents; I reassure Hamlet that sometimes other kids just don’t want to play, and he can do his own thing. Often he figures this out on his own. (He’s got a leg up on me. I spent years taking that kind of thing personally.) I advocated for him exactly once. We were at a friend’s house, her kids were playing rough and he was scared, so I asked them to find a quieter game. They did.

It is clear that even at the age of 3, he’s starting to learn the hard way about rejection. While our natural instinct as parents is to protect our children, we would be better served to think of ourselves as a “safe place” within which to learn them. In other words, we are not the ones rejecting – our job is to put the rejection into context, give it some perspective. I think a lot of parents have a hard time with this most of all because rejection of their children represents their own failures. I’d like to think, however, that whatever Hamlet decides to do with his life, my career can serve as a guide for him. I’ve had a ridiculously easy time getting accepted in some places – and a ridiculously hard time, like every other writer, in others. I’d like someday to be able to tell him, “Yeah, rejection sucks. Let me try to help you improve.”

In closing, I will take the opportunity to link to one of Kristin’s other commenters, Liane, with whom I agreed. Her most recent post is about not making excuses as to why one can’t write. It’s a very motivational, powerful item for a writing mother to read. And I think it ties in, in a roundabout way, to the whole “life is unfair” concept. As her end point shows, it’s all about hard work and perseverance – not entitlement. You want something bad enough, you work for it. Otherwise, really, what’s the point?

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I said I would never….

As mothers, we all have things we swore on the graves of our ancestors we would never do. For instance, co-sleeping. I was brought up to believe it was the worst possible thing you could do to a child; never mind the dangers of suffocating – you might actually spoil your child! Of course, that lasted until about two hours after bedtime, the first night we brought Hamlet home. Once I figured out that it was easier to night-nurse while lying down, that was the end of the no-cosleeping vow.

Another no-freakin-way-you-can’t-make-me vow was never to subject us to children’s music. Many variations of this exist. There are the classical CDs in which Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach are played only in the tinkling notes of the lullaby mobile. There are kids-only musicians like Raffi. And there are musicians, like Laurie Berkner, who write and play for kids, but supposedly appeal to grown-ups too.

Not this grown-up. I don’t know what it is about kids’ music; maybe the lack of angst. In any case, Hamlet’s Dad sang songs by Tom Waits and The Beatles to him. He still loves them, plus songs by Gorillaz and Los Lobos and even Audioslave. And he recognizes jazz when he hears it on Mr. Rogers, which makes me very happy.

So I guess it was out of a sense of fairness that I allowed him to listen to the Sesame Street “Dreamytime Songs” CD we recently got from a friend. “Sleepytime on Sesame Street” was OK, but only because Hoots the Owl plays jazz and blues. I gritted my teeth through Elmo’s off-key rendering of “In Your Imagination.” Hamlet started to look as zoned-out as I felt through Kermit the Frog’s “If I Were”; he perked up during “If Moon Was Cookie,” but he may have associated it with Mr. Waits.

We both lost all patience with the next track, however… for slightly different reasons.

I was just plain bored by the time Snuffy sang “The Snufflelullaby.” Hamlet, on the other hand, was Upset. “Sad song! Turn it off!” he wailed. So I did. I skipped to the next track, Telly Monster’s “Afraid of the Dark.”

“No sad songs! Mama, turn it off!” By now he was really starting to cry. Who wants to make her kid cry? I turned the CD off. To make it up to him, I put on Robert Cray. Sad songs are, after all, easier to take when they’re bluesy. Hamlet calmed down. So did I.

Nearly a week later, Hamlet tells me, as I put CDs on, “No lullabies. I don’t like them.”

The interesting thing about this little episode is that it reinforces just how sensitive Hamlet is. I’ve caught him hiding behind his Dada’s chair, crying his little eyes out, when he heard a “sad song.” He doesn’t like when Sir Topham Hatt chastises the engines. And he yells at us (“Don’t say that!”) when he thinks our voices sound tense.

When I was a kid, I was often told that I was “hypersensitive.” I internalized everything I saw and felt – I still do. A lot of people saw it as a detriment; I needed to toughen up. I never did figure out how, and I’m glad for that, because it might have made the difference in whether I began to write for a living. Watching Hamlet, I wonder what this trait we share will mean for him – along with all the others. He loves to see how things work; will he be an engineer? He loves our attention for his silliness and his songs; will he be a musician? Or will he give into his shyness (as I did) and turn to more solitary artistic pursuits? Or will he retain his interest in construction and simply enjoy the hum of machinery and the beauty of a building he helps put together?

Time and nurturing will tell. Meanwhile, even with a second child on the way, I’ve been working to maintain a third vow: no minivans. Ever.

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I don’t do many of these, mainly because 1) I have no time, 2) many of them aren’t relevant to my subject matter (and I’m anal about that!) and 3) I’m always a bit leery of posting personal information online under my real name. However, this one will work!

What’s on my desk:

  • Flat panel monitor (Dell). I’m being specific because I love this thing. How did I survive for so long with a CRT?
  • Speakers.
  • Headphones. Which I can only use when the husband is around to watch Hamlet, because otherwise I will never hear “That” sound – or silence – that I must check on.
  • Pencil sharpener. Hamlet likes to sit on my lap and use pencils. He also likes to “try” the pencil sharpener. So I have to keep it within eyeshot and out of his reach.
  • Keyboard. Normal, not ergonomic.
  • Two pens – ballpoint and fountain. I’m anal about these too. The ballpoint is for freelance work. The fountain pen is for fiction. Hey, writers are supposed to have quirks, right?
  • My watch, which I normally don’t wear but try to have on hand for those rare times I do need it.
  • PDA cradle, currently with PDA attached.
  • Memory stick/keychain/PR thing that one of my source companies sent me. Not as cool as the memory stick/pen they sent me the year before that, but it’s memory. And at least I can tell which novel is on which.
  • Pile of paper scraps with phone numbers and other info that I need to go through.
  • “Typewriter” paperweight/pad holder. Contains empty scrap paper.
  • Letter “T” from refrigerator magnet set that lost its magnet.
  • Answering machine.
  • DSL modem.
  • Telephone. (Should be cordless, but isn’t.)
  • Loose paper organizer. Holds letter-sized things, but not those scraps, dang it!
  • My computer. (On top of this are my pregnancy journal, various CDs, a book, Hamlet’s scribbling paper, and a game he was trying to destroy.)

That’s my desk – not the file cabinet beside it that I use for a desk extension. I won’t get into that.

Aren’t you glad you asked, ML?

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I just haven’t had the time. Once the first-trimester exhaustion became the second-trimester glow (HA), I found myself needing to focus on two things: helping the husband find a new job, and saving money. So the freelance stuff took priority over nearly everything else. After the husband found the new job, and the deadlines were met, the priority became relaxation. We’ve had hectic summers, and we really wanted to spend this one enjoying ourselves and our boy. Sort of a last hurrah before three become four.

I’m coming out of the hole to offer two links. First, Silandara offers a matter-of-fact approach to nursing in public. If you’ve seen the flap over the Baby Talk cover, you’ll appreciate her no-nonsense approach to her personal experience – which is very similar to mine, and one I hope to repeat once Hamlet’s little brother makes his appearance.

The second link is to a guest spot on one of my favorite blogs, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, by one of my favorite authors, Julia Spencer-Fleming. Besides being a fellow Mainer (heck, she only lives two towns over), she has tackled some deeply emotional issues in her books: what happens when two true loves conflict; when personal convictions collide with religious doctrine; when small-town politics clash with small-town character. I hope this guest spot means she’s thinking of starting her own blog, but in the meantime, she has a regular column at Crimespree.

Enjoy. In coming weeks, I hope to get back to blogging… at least until November!

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