Why You Need To Do The Tough Stuff

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I was having a conversation with Noodge 2 the other night. She told me about a friend of hers, let’s call her Carolann, who has a bad habit of sucking face in the hallways at school. Carolann can’t seem to control herself when she’s with her boyfriend. Others aren’t pleased with her. I can’t same I blame them. I’m not a big fan of tongues, spit, and slurping sounds while I’m present. (Unless I’m the one doing it, with the Coffee King, in a very private place, and preferably in the dark.)

More importantly, no one is telling Carolann to knock it off. At least to knock it off in public. Do what you want behind closed doors. (Not that I’m condoning fifteen-year-olds make a habit of sucking face.) When I suggested someone take Carolann aside, and in a nice way say “Yo, keep your tongue in your mouth for crying out loud.” Noodge’s response was, “easier said than done.” Yes, true.

But nothing changes if you don’t make yourself uncomfortable once in a while. How can you expect to grow and learn about life if you always take the easy way out? You don’t want to be the person who watches life go by because you couldn’t stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m not just talking about speaking your mind here.

Easier said than done sounds a little like a cop-out. Like there’s no point in really trying since whatever is easier said can’t be done without effort. “Well, since it’s easier to say I should quit smoking than actually doing it, I don’t really have to.”

 

Writing novels isn’t an easy thing to do, though there are plenty of people who think it is. They are wrong. Trust me. Those that sit down to write an entire novel and complete it will feel uncomfortable a lot. Writers can feel so badly while writing that suddenly cleaning the concrete of your sidewalk with toothpaste and an eyebrow pencil becomes appealing.

As writers, we are told to make our characters sweat. That’s what I tell my creative writing classes. The more uncomfortable your character is, the better. In fact, give your protagonist two choices neither of them with perfect outcomes and force her to choose. You bet your character is going to feel uncomfortable. In fact, the writer should feel the same way putting the words on the paper.

I’m working on the first drafts of book two in my Heritage River series, (book one, A Second Chance House, is in edits) and my heroine has a choice to make. She doesn’t like her choices and wishes she didn’t have to make one, but if she doesn’t hurry up and decide, fate will decide for her. I feel badly for her. I’d like her to have it all, and since I’m kind of in control of her world I’m going to attempt to give her what she really wants. I don’t know if I can, though. Neither choice has a good outcome.

Nothing happens in a story if the characters take an “easier said than done” approach. Sure, make-believe people aren’t the same as real life fifteen-year-olds trying to navigate through life. I understand why a teen would rather say nothing to the friend who’s tongue performs acrobatics during study hall. Who likes confrontation? Well, except me, maybe. But characters on the page, even teenage characters, shouldn’t get the same pass. Not if you want the reader to keep turning pages.

It’s interesting to me how people shy away from confrontation in real life and how authors shy away from confrontation for their characters. When I edit, I often find myself saying, don’t let them out of it so fast!

You can’t grow as a person if you don’t do the tough stuff. Someday you will have to say the words, “please stop.” You’re also going to have to say, “I’m the most qualified, the best choice.” You can’t grow if you don’t ever ask, “what could I have done better?” Even my character has to come to terms with the fact she was too afraid to tell the truth. Speaking up is always easier said than done. But it’s well worth it.

 

Why It Pays To Be a Helicopter Parent

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If you Google “are helicopter parents bad” a huge list of articles from places like Forbes, Psychology Today, and the Huffington Post (Not a fan of everything coming out of HP) saying being a helicopter parent is the worst possible thing you can do for your child. I’m about to tell you why it isn’t so bad.

Some people may describe me one of those parents who do too much for their children. I drive them to the bus stop even though they’re both in high school now. (In my defense, the bus stop is not near our house, we don’t have sidewalks or street lights and the majority of the school year the bus arrives in the dark.) I do their laundry, make their lunches, I’ve been known to bring things to school when they’ve forgotten something. I have also been involved at school; Class parent, library volunteer, Girl Scout leader, PTA volunteer, Band Parent volunteer, and probably other things I’ve long forgotten. Oh, chaperone for class trips! And I wouldn’t let Noodge 1 fly with the marching band on his first band trip at the age of 14.

Am I ruining my children’s lives? Well,the verdict is still out on that. Ask them in twenty years.

But here’s what happened. Noodge 1 forgot his marching band uniform on the bus on Friday and didn’t realize he left it on the bus until 6 pm Friday night. He needed that uniform for a performance on Sunday. A performance, if missed, that takes seven points of his grade. Yes, they get a grade and credit for being in the marching band. This isn’t your average extra-curricular activity.

I could’ve let my son sink. In fact, many of you and all those articles say let him sink. It’s how he learns. Let me tell you what, you need to know your kid before you make that decision.

Because I’m involved in my kids’ activities I’ve had the great fortune to get to know people. Nice people. Moms like me. (And a few moms nothing like me.) So I sent a text. And we were able to get him another uniform. Mom to the rescue.

I rescued him because something bigger was going on. A more important learning lesson for both of us. Just the idea of losing seven points was enough of a consequence for him. You see, he’s my rule follower. Always has been. I keep waiting for that to change. Especially as he entered the teen years. It hasn’t. Most likely it won’t. Sometimes I wish he would, but he is and always has been an old soul.

His reaction to the idea of losing seven points worried me. Leaving a uniform on the bus wasn’t the end of the world and a very fixable problem since I knew the right person to ask for help. He didn’t see it that way. He had a committed an unthinkable act being so irresponsible. And he didn’t know how to handle how he felt.

Now we were dealing with the lesson; how to handle stress. Much more important in my book. Especially since I come from a long line of Italian people swimming in stress. What can I say? We’re hot-blooded passionate people.

Allowing him to blow a simple thing out of proportion, and punish himself over it, (the rule follower thing) without the tools to change that thinking process wasn’t worth my taking a stand not to help him so he could learn a lesson. He learned it. All by himself. I just saved him extra anguish he would’ve piled on over nothing.

Mistakes happen and what I think childhood often is a time when we’re taught mistakes are bad. “Don’t forget your gym clothes or you’ll get in trouble.” We all forget things. More importantly, we need to learn not to sweat the small stuff. Do we need to learn to follow rules? Yes. Should we make kids learn to fear making a mistake? No way.

Now, if you have a kid who could care less about making mistakes, doesn’t worry about the consequences, I don’t have answers for you because I’m not an expert. I know my kids. I try my best to be the best parent I can and pray everyday I don’t screw up too badly.

I may be a helicopter parent at times, but there have been enough times I wasn’t. My kids know I’m not an open threat. That’s good enough for me. I won’t let them go down for making an honest, harmless, fixable mistake.

What I hope I showed him was be nice to people, give of your time, be helpful because someday you might be the one asking for help. Show your appreciation for their kindness. (We gave our savior a big bag of truffles.) Don’t sweat the small stuff.

And mom is always near by flying her helicopter.

 

The College Tour

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We went looking at colleges recently. Noodge 1 is a junior in high school and I’m under the impression this is the time to get serious and check things out. There’s a lot of pressure to pick the right school. I have a friend whose son is also a junior and she’s been on a binge to see as many schools as possible before Christmas.

But anyway, looking at colleges is the right thing to do, so we’re at it. As long as we’ve seen every school he’s interested in by marching band camp next summer I’m good. We can skip the discussion about how ridiculously expensive school is. It is. That’s that. The Coffee King and I have made our requirements known. Though, the cost of school is a very important discussion and if you want to have one here at the blog, that’s fine, but please have one at home too.

You know for me, the most important thing was how clean the dorms were. Okay, not THE most important, but I’ll admit I elbowed a few people out of the way to make sure I took a look at the room on display. I controlled myself and stayed out of the bathroom. But I will be sending Noodge to school with bleach. Mark my words.

It isn’t easy to choose a school. (Here’s an article from The New York Times about how to pick a college. I’m not a huge fan of The Times, but how badly can they screw up this information?) For us, we’re looking at location. I want him to go to school in my backyard. He wants to go anywhere. We’re compromising. Anything withing five hours. The Coffee King had to weigh in and talk me off the ledge. I know, I know. I’m a controlling, paranoid mother. What can I say? I take my job very seriously.

Degrees offered is also important. Noodge has an idea what he wants to do. He’s changed his mind several times already, which is fine, but based on today’s desires we have a place to start.

The ugly cost is a factor. How much money the school offers in aid is important. It might be the most important component for some people. The schools seem to give financial aid information at their orientation, but if they don’t, make sure to ask. Internships and opportunities as well as activities for the students should also factor in. One big thing for Noodge is the campus itself. He likes a traditional campus more than an urban campus. That rules out plenty of schools. Oh, and size is a factor for some students. He goes to a very large high school so a larger college isn’t intimidating and a smaller one is fine too. Every kid is different. Make sure to find out what the teacher to student ratio is. Some kids will thrive in a lecture hall of three hundred and others will drown.

Helping my child to pick a college is like every other stop on this journey of motherhood. I’m leading with my heart, offering advice, and praying. The rest is up to him.

I mentioned earlier Noodge has been changing his mind about his career choices. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m learning changing his mind isn’t so easy for him. I don’t know if it’s because he’s told people what he wants to do and now that story is different, but over breakfast, while we were away, we talked. Really talked. I led with my heart and gave advice. I told him the decision was his. He didn’t have to explain his career choice to anyone.

It’s okay to change your mind. You don’t have to know what you want to do with your entire life at sixteen. Do what makes you happy because you’ll be doing it for many years, many hours of the day. Life is too short to hate what you do. And if you start doing something and you decide you don’t like it, change it. You’re going to be okay. Dad and I are proud of you.

My son looked at me and said, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For giving me advice and being so nice about me wanting to do something else.”

Since we were in a public place it took all the strength I had not to grab him and hug him. My heart swelled as I watched him taller than me, stronger than me, smarter than me, with his unshaven face, (It’s No Shave November and though NSN is an organization helping cancer awareness I think Noodge and his friends just want to compare their ability to grow a beard.) The little chubby baby I held in my arms is almost a man.

“It’s what I’m here for.” A stupid grin plastered across my face. As we left the restaurant, I gave him an aww shucks shoulder bump.

My boy is leaving the nest soon. No matter which college he chooses, I know he’ll be fine. Me on the other hand…..

 

 

More Stubborn Than My Dog

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Stubborn and untrainable. No wait. That’s me. But not me in the picture. At least not after I shave. 

I’m going to be honest here, so please don’t hold it against me. I’m one of those people who love their own children, but not all children. And I like/love my dog, but not other people’s dogs. Honestly, there’s plenty of adults I don’t like either. If I’m going to be honest I might as well get it all out. But I digress. And so soon.

We’re in the middle of dog training. Munson is two and he needs some tweaking. Well, it’s really me that needs tweaking. I know how this dog training business works. You’re really training the human. Munson and I have had our share of problems in the past year. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say I wasn’t exactly thrilled with him either. Are we noticing a pattern here? I’ve always said the Coffee King is nicer than I am. Anyway, back to the point.

Dog Training. It’s overwhelming. Have you done it? The trainer comes to our house and shows us what to do. He makes it look so easy. I have to keep reminding myself he has over twenty years experience. It’s kind of like when I read a Stephen King novel and then wonder why I bother to write at all. I suck compared to King and the dog trainer. Has King written a book about a dog trainer? Well, he wrote a book about a possessed dog. I should check that out again. I’ll feel better about Munson. He’s not possessed. At least I don’t think so.

When the trainer leaves and I’m left alone with the dog all the things I’m trying to stop happen again. It’s like the dog knows to behave in front of guests, but the minute the guest leaves, ka-bam! Trouble.

I repeat to myself the cues like “eyes on your dog.” I start the process of “go to, sit, and down” over until he listens so he knows I’m not giving up until he does what I say. Guess what? He’s not giving up either. One stubborn husband and two stubborn children weren’t enough. Oh, no. I had to get a stubborn dog too! Does everyone have to have a mind of their own? Can’t he just listen to me?

The trainer says I’m better than I think. I don’t believe him. That feeling of “I can’t do this” creeps up my spine the second I take the leash. How am I suppose to get him to follow me around the yard when all he wants to do is eat bugs and the leash? The dreadful feeling of incompetence reminds me of when I first became a parent and had to bathe Noodge 1. If it wasn’t for my mother, he’d still be dirty. All right, that’s not funny considering his age. He would’ve been dirty for the first three years. How’s that? Better?

I have to admit, it’s pretty cool when I tell Munson to “got to the desk” and he knows exactly where that is. At moments like that I think maybe I can do this dog training thing. Maybe he and I will get to a compromise we can live with: I’m the pack leader and he’s the soldier. I understand this. Why can’t he?

I guess like everything, all in good time. Some day I’m going to learn patience. In the meantime, I have to be more stubborn than my dog.

Do you have any dog training tips? Please share. Munson really wants to learn.

Driving In Cars With Boys

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Okay, it should really be, driving in a car with a boy. My boy. Noodge 1. Noodge is taking an SAT prep class this summer. After much research the Coffee King and I decided on one about thirty minutes from our house. Just about everything is thirty minutes from my house. After five years of living in the country, I’m starting to get used to it.

Anyway, today we were getting on the highway and traffic was backed up on the on ramp. Traffic is bad at rush hour in NJ, but this was really bad and sure enough there was a tractor trailer on fire and we were being rerouted.

Thank God for technology and my kid. He navigated the Waze app and I navigated the roads. They were long, windy, and bumpy. Wherever we were driving was way more country than I was used to. No worries, I can handle this.

Until we came to a downed wire. Some crazy people were driving under it. I turned around and went back the way we came not sure how to get back to the highway or to the school with the SAT class. But, technology served us again and with a little guidance from my co-driver, we took more windy, curvy, bumpy, and frighteningly small bridge roads.

Then there was a police officer blocking our way. We’d been in the car for close to if not over an hour by now. I was starting to get the feeling the Universe didn’t want us to get to the class. Far be it for me to argue with the Universe.

So we headed for home. And when I was finally back to an area I recognized I was behind a very large construction truck doing 25 in a 50. My patience had worn thin. I wasn’t handling things so well any longer. We know I’m not a patient person, (number one flaw besides being judgmental) and I hate driving in cars for too long. I expressed my feelings about the slow driving truck out loud. (Big mouth, third character flaw.)

Noodge 1 said, “You sound angry.”

The child is spot on. Scary really.

Me, “I hate driving in cars and we’ve been in the car for an hour and a half.”

Him, “But you got to spend time with me.”

Shut up. Feel badly. Mommy guilt. How could I be so stupid and when am I going to learn to shut my mouth? (Considering my age, probably never sadly.)

He was so right and I hadn’t thought of it that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love being with him and try to tell him that every chance I get. Plus, he’s the kid that lets me hug him unannounced and I take full advantage of that.

But I shouldn’t have become angry at the truck driver even if he was driving like a putz. I should’ve taken a big deep breath and thanked the Universe for saving us from some horrible event and for getting a full hour and a half with my kid. Uninterrupted. No video games. No earbuds.

I quickly apologized for my misstep and thanked him for being my navigator. He’s also the kid that doesn’t hold a grudge, so I was forgiven in a quarter of a mile. But lesson learned. Be grateful for what you have and never mind the rest. It wasn’t wasted time getting a tour of the hills of New Jersey it was quality time with Noodge who will be going off to college in two years and driving around with others instead.

Don’t resent cooking dinner. It means we can afford to eat. Don’t hate doing laundry. It means we have clothes to wear and I don’t have to go to a laundromat to do them. Don’t hate running the vacuum because I have the strength to do it. Don’t worry that your bathroom isn’t updated. At least we’re not peeing outside. Don’t worry that I’m not a best selling author. I have the privilege of spending my days writing and the health that allows me to sit at a desk and type. You get me?

So, how about you? What are you grateful for? What do you toss aside as a nuisance that you can turn into a blessing? I love to hear from you. You, my faithful reader, I am grateful for too. For without you, how would I spend my time besides driving in cars with boys.

I Told You So.

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I told you so!” 

Don’t you just want to say nah, nah, na, booby when someone says that to you? Of course you do. I do. So, you must too. It’s that awful moment when you know you’ve made a mistake and some other person thinks they’re smarter or better than you and is about to point out that ugly truth. Go ahead and say nah, nah, na, booby to me. Go ahead. ‘Cause I’m about to say, “I TOLD YOU SO” to you.

Well, not all of you. Just a few (what few? Tons) of you who told me to let Noodge 2 die her hair blue. Do you remember that conversation? If not, or if you missed our discussion, you can check it out here and get up to speed.

About a week or two ago I was in the car with the kids driving them to one of the hundreds of places they need to go to during the week. I don’t even remember what brought the conversation up, but Noodge 2 sat in the back flipping through her phone. Noodge 1 sat in the front probably knee deep in some music playing through those earbuds that are now a permanent extension of his ears. (Which you can see now because he cut his long hair.) When Noodge 2 says, “Mom, you were right. I’m glad you didn’t let me die my hair blue. That would have been awful.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

I thought the heavens had opened up and angels were singing. I was right??? Of course, I was right. She would’ve looked ridiculous with blue hair and I didn’t care that hair grows back and what’s the big deal? She has beautiful very dark brown hair that would’ve been ruined if she tried to die it blue not to mention in four weeks time she would’ve had dark brown roots. And looked more ridiculous.

There are plenty of times when I don’t know the answer to a request one of my children makes. I’m constantly weighing the choices. How much freedom do you give without giving too much too soon? I struggle daily with my role of mother and trying to do the right thing without screwing up too much. But sometimes, I’m certain and no blue hair was one of those times. So, thank you for your input, but I told you so!

Recently, Noodge 1 asked if he could spend the weekend with a new friend at this friend’s lake house. My answer? After I was done laughing? Absolutely not. I had met this friend only once. The young man barely muttered two words. Common for some teenage boys. Noodge didn’t know where the lake house was located or what they would be doing while staying there. And the boy’s father would be the only parent present. You do know that 95% of pedophiles around the world are men, right?

Here’s my source:

• Nearly all the offenders in sexual assaults reported to law enforcement were male (96%).
Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement, 7/00, NCJ 182990, U.S. Department of Justice

That decision was an easy one. Not going. End of story. Oh, and did I mention, no adult had discussed this idea with me or the Coffee King? For all I know, the friend’s dad didn’t even know about the invitation. Either way, the answer was still no. I don’t care how old Noodge is. When he lives on his own he can do what he wants. While we’re footing the bill, he answers to us. And he wasn’t going away with total strangers for a weekend.

When the kids were little I used to think things would get easier as they grew, but nothing gets easier. It just changes. The challenges are different. Instead of trying to find the best way to potty train or learn to ride a bike, I’m dodging questions about blue hair, Victoria Secret underwear, and weekend getaways with Jeffrey Dahmer. Okay, kidding, it’s probably not that bad. Having an over active imagination doesn’t help them any. I’ll tell you that.

And some day I’ll look back and miss this craziness. Then it will be your turn to tell me “I told you so.”

 

 

Choose Your Time Wisely & The Hat Trick

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Photo courtesy of Ankakay at Flikr Creative Commons

 

Everyone I know never has enough time to get to everything they want and usually the things that get ignored are exercising, health, and passions. I hear this a lot. “I’ll write that book when the kids go to college or when I turn 50.” “I don’t have time to exercise after a full day at work and running the kids around.” It’s hard to find the time.

We all get twenty-four hours in a day. No one gets extra time. (And if you’ve figured out how to get more than 24 hours let us know.) It’s how you choose to spend that time that matters. Yes, it’s a choice. You can choose to sit on the couch and watch your favorite television show or you can choose during the commercials to drop on the floor and do twenty push-ups. You can choose to go for a walk around the neighborhood or you can choose to eat the ice cream. You can choose to start writing that book or you can do the laundry. I can’t tell you how many people tell me they don’t have time to read. But I bet you money, if they got off that computer, stop playing Candy Crush, scrolling through Facebook, or staying away from Amazon there would be more time to read.

I know how hard it is to “find the time.” When I decided I was going to take my writing seriously, learn my craft and write a novel, my children were toddlers who didn’t nap and I was the primary care giver. The Coffee King had recently started his own business. He worked all day making sure he was successful enough to support all four of us. He used the only computer we had. That meant, if I was going to write I had to get up before the kids did at 6 a.m. I woke at 5 and wrote by hand.

I thought when the kids were old enough to understand, “Mommy, is going to do some work now” they’d know they couldn’t come looking for me for a while. How wrong I was. So, I employed the red baseball hat trick. I told them, when I was wearing the red baseball hat they weren’t allowed to talk to me unless there was blood or vomit involved. I promised to warn them before I put the hat on so they could ask all the questions they had (and they always had questions) but no talking to me until I took the hat off. It worked. But it was a choice to carve out the time.

Even now that they are teens I choose to say, “I’m working now.” Or I stop what I’m doing and pay attention to them. I choose to work out instead of taking a nap because exercise keeps me nice. Sometimes I choose the cookie and not the fruit. Or I choose to return a call to Person A instead of Person B.

But at the end of the day I’ve chosen how to spend my time. And you can too.

I like lists and calendars. I mark out my whole week on a calendar. I pencil in the things I can’t get out of. Like going to the bus stop or doctor’s appointments or making dinner. Then I see how much white space is left and then I pencil in the other stuff. Sometimes I have to choose exercise over writing. I don’t like that choice because I want to be able to do both in a day, but I choose. Or I choose not to meet a friend for lunch so I can write and exercise. That’s how I carve out my time.

I’m always looking for ways to improve. But I’ve published three books in three years, I exercise pretty regularly, I keep a somewhat neat house, and I’ve been known to volunteer. In no way am I perfect, far from it, but you can trust me when I say you have a choice on how you spend your time.

So, tell me. How do you spend your time? How would you do it differently? What’s the one big dream you want to go after if you only had the time? Namaste