I want to tell you a story about my Mom. But you need a little background. She had her three children in the late 1950’s and early 60’s — a day and age when a lot of women didn’t breastfeed. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be that formula was best.
From the moment my mom met my son, a few hours after his birth, she was crazy in love. Every coo, every glance, every burp was commented on and discussed. He was so beautiful, so obviously intelligent. As a new mom I spent hours at my parents, where she and I would hold him, care for him, diaper him ... watch him sleep.
The first Book Club I ever attended as an author was hosted by a dear friend. She invited her book club which had disbanded a few years earlier because no one read the books. It was a sweet, generous, supportive gesture. Later that evening I told my husband, “They can only get better from here.” Two people showed besides the hostess and me. One had read part of the book. One hadn’t read it at all.
Daniel had come downstairs and sat at the kitchen table, toast and oatmeal on his right, a notebook to his left, his casted leg propped on a side chair.
After Mike gathered up his breakfast things, he joined Daniel.
“I finished the book last night,” Daniel announced.
Mike had suggested Daniel read A River Runs Through It for his English novella project. To convince Daniel, they’d watched the movie two nights ago.
“I liked the book better,” Daniel said. “There are great parts in the book the movie just brushes past.”
“Agreed,” Mike said.
“We should go fly-fishing sometime.”
Olivia had been cleaning inconspicuously. She looked up now from collecting the four odd remotes strewn about the family room and saw Mike set his hand on Daniel’s shoulder.
“July,” Mike said. “We could go over the Fourth.”
Daniel looked delighted, evidently not expecting such an immediate result to his query. “That’d be great, Dad.”
“I remember my dad giving me Norman MacLean’s book for Christmas one year. I was a sophomore in college,” Mike said. “I must have given him a look when I opened it. Something to imply it wasn’t much of a Christmas gift. But he said the second part was taking me fly-fishing. He wanted to plan a big trip for my college graduation.”
“Was it the next year he died?” Daniel asked.
“Yep,” Mike said, keeping his voice matter-of-fact. “That’s why we won’t put these trips off.”
Olivia tried to catch Mike’s eye to show him she approved of his plan. But Mike was looking at Daniel, and then he stood, having quickly finished the bowl of cereal. Walking to the sink, Mike added, “We won’t even let your broken leg keep us from fishing this weekend.”
from Available to Chat
Yep, that’s about it. Much like high school, my Friday and Saturday nights are basically free.
Truthfully, there is no greater joy for a writer than hearing readers discuss the story you’ve written. How fun to have my characters -- these trespassers, who have rummaged through my brain for years – traipse through other people’s thoughts.
I know it was yesterday because the book is on NetGalley, a review service for professional readers. (And all these years I’ve been protecting my amateur reading status – just in case.) Yesterday was the first day I gave access to readers. 10 AM. By 5 at night I had two reviews. Meaningful reviews. (Good reviews!)
It’s easy to spot a great dresser. They’re the ones who pair the Target sweater with the Gap jeans and look like Blake Lively.
Great readers are harder to spot.
It’s not about quantity. (Although that helps.) But, I have a wonderful friend who goes through romantic paperbacks like a preoccupied adolescent left alone with a bag of Doritos.
It’s not about genre. (Although that helps.) Personally I’m a fan of diverse reading, but I think there are enough classics in any category to keep a person occupied for a lifetime.
For me it’s about reflection. I don’t want to casually discuss books, I want to dissect them. Don’t tell me you enjoyed it. Tell me what shocked you. I don’t want to hear you couldn’t put it down, I want to understand what made you bristle, what reminded you of a long-lost friend, what forced you to rethink values you’ve held since you were a kid.
When I find someone who wants to delve into the pulp of fiction, I tend to latch onto them. Meet my new book friend, Nina. She’s a writer’s reader, cataloging past reads with Pithy Reviews that pull you in and convince what to pick up next and what to shelf.
See for yourself HERE.
And (full disclosure) I’m thrilled she’s currently reading Available to Chat. And, while I enjoy reading her insights, in all honesty, if she were to simply say, “I couldn’t put it down,” I could live with that.
I loved planning birthday parties when the kids were younger. We had Thomas the Tank themed parties, pirate parties, parties at swimming pools and parties at pizza parlors.
When my youngest was in fourth grade, he made his guest list -- ten 10-year-olds. He wanted to bring into our home nearly a dozen boys with energy levels ranging from overzealous to overzealous on steroids.
In school one of my boys studied the ancient Mayans. At dinner he told us stories of their deadly ball game, Pok A Tok, where lore says the losing team was sacrificed. The biggest Mayan Ball court in the world is at Chichén Itzá, a couple hours inland from Cancun.
Chichén Itzá may be best known for the Temple of Kukulcan, an ancient pyramid and a mathematical and archeological wonder. Built between 800 and 900 AD, the design captures the edge of the sun’s shadow on the fall and spring equinox, leaving one side in total sunlight and the other completely in a shadow, creating the optical illusion of a snake slithering down the massive castle steps.
A few years back, when our spring family vacation to Cancun fell over the equinox we couldn’t wait to visit the ancient ruin with our easy–going, little travelers, aged 9, 7 and 4. (Ha!)
I got a thank you note the other day. It was for a college graduation gift. I gave the young man a neon bar sign of his college’s mascot. So yeah, it was a pretty awesome gift. And, following protocol, he sent a Thank You.
When my son was a senior in high school he’d chosen his college and picked the dorm. All that was left was the roommate.
I went to school conferences today. For the last time.
I’ve been going to conferences since my oldest was in preschool, squeezing my derriere into those tiny little toddler chairs. I’d listen attentively to the teacher telling me my oldest son was developing strong pre-reading skills or that he liked the science station.
My son was in Guatemala last month doing volunteer work. He worked with some other young people, all women. The group, seven total, took a weekend trip to Tikal, an ancient Mayan city in the northern part of the country.
The tour guide and my son became fast friends that weekend, bonding both as the only males and the only Spanish speakers. One evening, my son tried to convince the rest of the group to take an additional tour - a night hike through the jungle, I think.
None of the women were interested. The tour guide listened as my son pled his case, with no success. With the matter settled the guide turned to my son and said - in Spanish, “In Guatemala, the man always gets the last word.”
My son tells me he was trying to think through an answer to that when the man finished. "The man always gets the last word -- yes, my love."
Read the rest of my blog on Writing and other things I don't want to discuss with my children at ow.ly/XLVk6
Visit Next Avenue for a piece I really wanted to write but feel a lot of guilt over, as though I'm spilling family secrets.
I’m not sure how old my son was, it’s been two decades now, but we were at the pediatrician’s for a well-baby check with our oldest - then, our only. My husband met us there. At this point of relative calm in our life, although we didn’t see it for that then, he made it to every appointment related to the little tyke; light years different than our busier future. (I remember one school spring carnival during my middle son’s fifth grade year. My husband met up with me in the gym and joined my conversation with a young woman. After she left, he asked who she was. Our son’s teacher.)
But back to the pediatrician with our, let’s say 18-month-old. After the usual height and weight measuring my husband turned to the doctor and said, “He has a set of plastic blocks with Sesame Street characters on one side and numbers on the other.” My husband then launched into a fairly elaborate story about games they’d play with the blocks where my husband would ask for a character and my son would hand the correct block to him. My husband was sure our son recognized the numbers, too. During this now-lengthy description of my son’s capabilities the pediatrician listened carefully and nodded. When my husband finished the doctor paused a long moment and said, “Well, he doesn’t have a lot else on his mind right now. It’s not like he’s trying to keep track of pin numbers, right?”
When I was in college no one loved Wisconsin Badger Football more than me. I had no understanding of what occurred on the field, but that was okay, because I never watched the field. I polkaed in the stands, bashed beach balls over my head and took entire quarters to wander a section over and see who I knew.
An excerpt from Available to Chat
“Look, my Mom talked to me exactly three times about sex and marriage. The first time, I was in fourth grade and Nina Murman told me that boys put their penises in girls’ vaginas. I’m not sure she used the correct anatomical terms. Anyway, I didn’t believe her, so I went home and asked my Mom how babies were made. She handed me a book and I read the first two pages, which were so spectacularly dull I knew immediately Nina must be right.
“The second conversation was at the end of the four-hour drive to college my freshman year. We had just pulled up to my residence hall. I was going to point out a parking spot, when my Mom, sitting in the backseat, said, ‘Olivia, whatever you do, don’t get pregnant.’ That was talk number two.
About marriage, she said, ‘It’s nice to get a three piece ensemble for the dance. Hiring a DJ looks tacky.’”
“Did your family have religious parameters?”
“No, it was the eighties. There was no such thing as Sex in the City, yet.”
Visit the New York Times Motherlode section to read my post about reconciling motherhood and writing a sizzling novel.
Worry less and embrace joy more
Compose fewer to-do lists but more novels
Call my parents more. Facebook chat my sons less
Be more open to possibilities and to the 7-minute workout
Stay home less but read more
Authentically appreciate the moments and my family
And sincerely wish everyone a Happy 2016!
Visit Perfection Pending to read my post about what a mixed bag it is to be Jewish in December. www.perfectionpending.net/2015/12/21/my-jewish-december
The year I turned 41, the husband bought me a nice, little cake -- just enough for the five of us. The boys were not yet eating ridiculous amounts of food, as they would in the near future. I'm sure there was a present too, but I can't remember what that was.
The hubby brings the cake out and they all sing to me, joyously off tune. I blow out the lone candle, appreciative that no one tried to stuff the cake with an accurate count.
As we finish, my youngest, then six, climbs out of his seat, walks to me and gently pats my head. "I’m sorry no one came to your party,” he says, then turns and follows his brothers outside to play.
My youngest son and I just got back from a visit to Cornell College in Iowa. At this fascinating school they uniquely teach one course at a time. So you study only Physics for 18 days or just Philosophy.
Students have only one course to focus on. Likewise, the faculty have just one group of students, never more than 25, to mentor and teach. Cornell will tell you this is learning at the speed of life. I first heard about this small liberal arts college from the book, 40 Colleges that Change Lives.
In 1996, Loren Pope, a writer and independent college placement counselor, profiled schools he claimed would "do as much as, and perhaps even more than, any name-brand schools to fully educate students and to give them rich, full lives.”
I’ve become a big fan of the book and believe it’s a must read for all parents and students considering higher education. I’ve lent my copy to many friends.
Recently, I was talking with a young woman who was a freshman at a small liberal-arts school out East. She told me she loves her school. We discussed her major, her roommate, the food at the cafeteria. As we finished up I asked her again the name of her school. It sounded so familiar that I said, “Is that one of those colleges that change lives?”
She looked a bit surprised and answered, “I sure hope so.”
Thanksgiving at our house is casual and haphazard. To accommodate everyone we butt up our rectangular kitchen table against our oval dining room table. There are lapses in hard tabletop surfaces, but it’s worth it to not have long table ends where conversations get lost.
My good china is 12 plates, so I need to mix in the everyday dishes too. My best silverware stretches to just eight. Holidays at our house are mismatched, at best.
In my childhood, my Mom cooked all day long. The table was set the night before. A centerpiece: mandatory.
The first time I saw my house, in a real estate ad, I fell in love with the sweeping yard and wrap-around porch over the walkout basement. But when my husband and I drove up to the home to tour it, we felt turned around. What we’d assumed was the backyard was actually the front. Our house is like that. Unexpected.
My kindergarten-aged son loved Packer Football, the cartoon Gargoyles and pestering his younger brother.
I don’t remember all the things his new kindergarten friend loved. But one day on a car ride over to our house, the friend told my son about a video his mom had just bought. “It’s called Care Bears. And they have all these great bears. They live in Care-A-Lot land. And there’s a bedtime bear. There’s a Funshine bear. And there’s a Tenderheart bear.”
My son must have been considering this deeply because it took him a long moment to respond. Finally, he asked, “Do they have any bad bears?”
Available to Chat