26 August 2011

I've Been Busy

I've been busy.

Not writing posts, as my husband has requested. Yes; after a few days, he actually asks when I'm going to post again. And my mother-in-law warns me that my followers aren't following, because there isn't anything new to read.

But you know, I've been busy. In an actual productive way. I've been doing floor moves. This means the entire house is in flux. It's our version of the butterfly effect. If the contents of one room travel, everything else shifts, too.

My mother is going to stay with us for the month of October because Pappou is travelling for business. Then he'll join us in November, and they will stay through Thanksgiving. Yay! So, even though my house is like a uterus, and will stretch to accomodate new occupants, this news triggered a cavalcade of activity.

This week, I finished moving Two downstairs to the guest room. I organized Three's new solo room, but both he and One will also relocate to the lower level, soon to be known as The Dorm, so that Mom and Pappou can have a main floor bedroom, and a den/office/place to hide.

I emptied the garage a bit more, in preparation for its partial transformation into a Guy Cave. The Captain still isn't entirely convinced, but I'm working on it.

I weeded through tons of clothes and boy toys (not that kind- I wish!) to donate to Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It's my form of tithing. I don't go to church often enough to feel like I'm making a contribution, so I give a lot of stuff away to charity.

I cleaned the whole house. Okay, I didn't actually clean it, but I picked up all the mess so that my lovely friend, Elsa, could vacuum and scrub it. Elsa used to come and clean every two weeks, but then the economy fell apart, and I thought she was a frivolous expense. The Captain has missed her desperately. I felt bad about letting her go, so  I asked her to keep coming every two weeks to clean the bathrooms. I have a low tolerance for pee-soaked areas.

My mother, perhaps suddenly aware of the slovenly conditions of the home she would be sharing, generously offered to hire Elsa to do the whole shebang. I don't think Mom was aware of the floor moves. So, for the past two days, I've worked feverishly to straighten, organize, and otherwise uncover the house, so Elsa could clean it. And now, it looks and smells great!

Too bad we will be tracking wet paws and feet across the floors, courtesy of Hurricane Irene. I'm in the midst of stowing outdoor furniture, and loading new lanterns with the last of the "D" batteries. We'll ride it out here, with Mom and Pappou. If Mom's apartment building loses power, she's stranded on the fifth floor, because the elevators won't work. So, they're joining our hurricane party. I foresee lots of Rummikub by candlelight.

And finally, in addition to all that home-based activity, I WROTE. I passed 86,000 words this week. The Captain asked me what I thought my final count would be, and then informed me I am 86% done. Of course, that number is before endless revisions, but nonetheless, it felt great.

So, I've been busy. In a good way. But not so busy that I won't be thinking of all my friends and family in harm's way. Be careful out there, people.

22 August 2011

The Belated Birthday Tale of Boy Four

Four turned ten years old last Friday. Which was a bit of a surprise, as I had told him all week that his birthday was Saturday. But my mother called to wish him a happy day on Friday, and sure enough, when I checked the calendar, it was indeed the date that marks his entry into this world! Four is the only one with a summer birthday, so it's hard to remember. Okay, technically, Five also has a summer birthday, but his is in September, during the school year. When I actually pay attention to my datebook.

Four's birth story isn't as dramatic as One's (blizzard; medical complications), or even Two's (water broke in Mall; precipitous, drug-free birth), but it does illustrate the true summeriness of his arrival. I was quite huge and uncomfortable, and although he wasn't due for another ten days or so, I was determined to get him out of me. I had weeded that morning, and shopped at Costco that afternoon, in an effort to achieve my goal. (Have you been to Costco on the weekend? Heck, I was there last Sunday, and  it was so crowded and exhausting, I felt like I was in labor all over again.)

On this particular Sunday in August, 2001, the Captain was recovering from back surgery, so Mom Mom and Pappou had come by to help prepare our regularly scheduled barbecue. I took a late afternoon nap, and was awakened by the distinct feeling that something had changed within me. I laid still for twenty more minutes to confirm that the contractions were occurring at a regular rate, and then I went outside to cut zinnias for the table.

I love zinnias.

Pappou met me outside, and asked how I was feeling. I told him I was in labor, but added he shouldn't tell the Captain. Pappou was fairly alarmed.

"Shouldn't we stop cooking, and get you to the hospital?"

"Are you kidding? We're having steak, corn, and tomato salad! They're going to feed me ice chips at the hospital. I'm eating first." By the fourth birth, I had my priorities straight.

During dinner, it became apparent to the Captain that I was in labor. I'm pretty sure my frequent slow-breathing breaks between bites gave me away. He was eyeing me suspiciously, so I didn't lie when he asked what was happening. When I said I was having contractions, he stood up, slammed his palm on the table and declared, "We are not doing this! Stop eating. We're going to the hospital!"

It would have been quite dramatic, except at that stage in his recovery, he was most comfortable in boxer shorts, and he didn't exactly leap up out of his chair. I agreed it was time to go, even though I'd made the foolish choice to eat the tomato salad first, and not the corn-on-the-cob. Sure enough, when I got to the hospital, they put me on an I.V. and ice chips, so I was satisfied I had made the prudent decision to eat dinner. Four arrived a short time later, and after we were settled in, I sent the Captain and my parents home to care for the rest of the pack.

Four was the baby I was bouncing in my arms on September 11, when it didn't even occur to me to be worried for the Captain, although he was working in New York. He is my second child to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but we were able to identify it at a much younger age than we did One. Clearly, our world has changed dramatically in his short lifetime. He is a loving, sweet boy who has struggled, but we don't regret a moment of our journey.

But I still regret choosing the tomato salad over the corn.

18 August 2011

The Why of the Blog

Tonight I was driving Two and his friends to sleep over at Chuck's house. We've known Chuck since kindergarten. He's a good kid-funny, smart, mellow. When he found out I had a twitter account he signed up to follow me, even though he generally only follows sports.

During the drive up to his house, he said, "Oh, Mrs. D, I read your blog now."

"Oh, Chuck," I said, "you don't have to read my blog." I felt like I had pressured him, through our twitter connection.

"No; I like it! I like your writing style."

I told you-he's intelligent.

Then, a voice from the back said, "Wait; you have a blog? What do you blog about?"

"Well, I blog about being the only woman in a house of men. It's also about my writing, and my annoying teenagers."

At that point, Two started quietly groaning.

"Oh, Two," Chuck said, "what do you care? I know, you said 'don't read it, there might be something embarrassing in there about me.' It's your mother; she's not going to embarrass you."

I quickly abandoned my plan to write about Two's hickey-splotched neck.

When I dropped the teenagers at their destination, I thanked Chuck for his compliment, and told him he was allowed to keep reading. But as I drove away, I struggled for a moment with the knowledge that I had acquired teenage readers. I worried it would influence my choice of topics.

Which made me wonder, do I tailor the blog for my audience?

A few weeks ago, I typed lyrics from a Linkin Park song, and I hesitated before adding "motherfucker" at the end. I thought about my mother and aunt wrinkling their noses as they read it, disappointed that I printed the word.

Each time I write Oh My God, I worry I've offended both the Christians and the Pagans-one, for using the Lord's name in vain; the other, for referring to one specific all-powerful deity.

When I write about being uneasy, frustrated, or restless, I'm concerned it I will make my husband anxious.

If I talk about medicating my autistic and ADHD children, I'm certain there are readers who think I should try an alternative.

Every time I detail a fight, or failure, I'm sure someone reading thinks I am a bad parent.

But I can't whitewash or fabricate details, because the posts are the truth. Admittedly, it's my truth, which is subjective. Although I do sometimes think about my readers when I compose, ultimately the blog is just for me. It offers a way for me to sort through my feelings, to organize my thoughts, and to practice my craft.

Is there something you do just for you?

15 August 2011

Terminator Mom Versus Addiction

The other night, Three and I got in an argument because I wouldn't drive him to the playground at 8:30 to meet a girl. I couldn't understand why the girl's parents would let her go to the field in the dark, and I certainly wasn't going to put him in a situation that could turn out badly. He stormed off, and I drank iced coffee, which is my poor substitute for alcohol.

The next day, when tempers had cooled, he apologized.

"Thank you," I said. "I need you to understand that when I make rules, Three, it's not because I want to be a bitch. It's my job to protect you, and keep you out of situations that could be misconstrued. I was young once, and I made mistakes..."

"Yeah; you smoked crack, right?"

"No; I never smoked crack."

"What did you smoke? Marijuana?"


"And heroin?"

 "No, I never did heroin."

"Things that make you hallucinate?"


"What else have you done? I don't think you've ever told me."


"I can do that another time. And it's important to refrain from classifying drugs as 'bad', or 'not so bad.' Because otherwise some idiot tells you to smoke a joint, because it's not so bad, and believe me, I've met addicts who ONLY smoked pot. Addiction is addiction, no matter what the drug."

I've had this conversation before, with One and Two. Two has told his friends I'm a recovering addict, and they always ask what drugs I was addicted to. Ummm....whichever ones were available? True, I did prefer drugs that sped me up. But if I was very hung over, I'd smoke pot. If I was at a party, and everyone was on Ecstasy, I'd take some too. You get the idea.

So this is the beginning of the frank-discussion phase with Three. I will gladly tell him all the drugs I've snorted or swallowed, because if I had to pick one kid as the future addict in our family, it would be him. I've pretty much had him pegged since he was five. His personality is a destructive blend of bravado and need. He's easily influenced. Like all parents, I hope I will be the stronger influence. But, I know that for the most part my children are like dogs, and only hear, "Blah, blah, blah, Two. Blah, blah, blah, Three..." as I prattle on about how cocaine is proof that the Devil is alive and well on Earth, and how I almost died from alcohol poisoning. Invincible teenagers are a tough crowd.

I keep talking, admitting, but not condoning. I worry that my honesty dulls some of the fear factor that might dissuade the average kid from using.  I know that no amount of talking will stop my boys from trying drugs if they want, and nothing will stop an addict from using.

Except maybe a recovering-addict mom. This disease is relentless, but I like to imagine I'm Sarah Connor in "Terminator 2." It'll have to go through me, and my awesomely toned arms, to get to my kids. I've kicked its ass, and I know its guerrilla moves.

Fear me, Addiction.

12 August 2011

Small Victories

This has been a weird week. I've been tired, cranky, frustrated, and sick. Because this is not my usual state of being, when I get like this, everything I'm feeling is amplified. Annoyance turns into anger. Weariness becomes melancholy. Small frustrations become paralyzing obstacles. I want to sleep.

There is nothing to be done about the days slowed by illness, but wallowing is an exercise in futility. Part of my frustration stems from my inability to complete anything of consequence this week, so laying around only makes it worse. Instead, I'm going to try one of those annoying self-help tricks, where I list everything I did accomplish.

Wrote a little.

Weeded through half the crap in my room.

Did laundry. And put it away.

Got the new shower rod and curtain.

Nursed my vomiting child.

Tried a new tactic with Cobie, and it seems to be working.

Actually, that last one is pretty significant, because monitoring her behavior has been a huge part of each day.  After writing about her, I decided to stop trying to re-train her. Although she had been sleeping all night in her crate, lately she'd been barking, and then I would find her standing in her pee. Now, most dogs think of their crate as a safe haven, but at this point I decided it must be causing her great anxiety, so I let her sleep in the (gated) kitchen. No more barking.

I had an epiphany. I realized Cobie is like those children of mine that cannot be negatively incented. I had been trying to bend her to my will, and it just wasn't working. As her behavior worsened, I had imposed more restrictions, which made her behavior worse. I decided to give her what I thought she wanted--freedom.

I gave her access to roam the house. I set the timer to take her out on a regular schedule, but I let her determine the rhythm of her day. Apparently, this means lots of sleeping on my couch, while Leo sleeps on the floor below her. When she wakes up, I take her outside. One takes her for a walk, and she and Leo play for a bit outside. Three days; no accidents. To reward her, last night I put her crate in the garage. I gave her a nice, soft mat to sleep on in the kitchen, because that tile can be unforgiving. Especially if you have no fur.

I feel better.

Okay, your turn. List something you accomplished, even if it seems insignificant.  You can even brag, because that can be inspiring!

Then, go have a great weekend.

08 August 2011

Of Paint and Pee

I am trapped in my house by painters. Remember how we remodeled two of our bathrooms right before my gallbladder surgery, One's graduation, and the RWA conference? Then we went on vacation, so now we're having the bathrooms painted. And my laundry room, which caught all the drips from the leaky bathroom above it. The painter and his helper are nice enough guys. But they're in my space, and it's weighing on me.

After our first painting estimate, I entertained the idea of doing the job myself. I always imagine I have more hours in my day than other human beings, with the possible exception of Martha Stewart, who only sleeps for four hours, with the lights on, to prevent excessive wasting of time. I told the Captain I was going to make Two help me with the painting, and he laughed and laughed. I don't know which he found more amusing-the notion that I have time to paint, or the idea that Two might wake up, in daylight, to help me. So when we got a reasonable estimate, I admitted that sleeping is important, along with keeping the children alive, and I hired the painter.

I've been hanging out in the kitchen with the dogs, so I'm desperately hoping the job gets finished today. They are recovering from their visit with the groomer, especially Cobie, who had to be shaved. Our dog-sitter thought she was doing the right thing by washing her after she peed in her crate, but she didn't get brushed out, so she was a matted mess. Now she looks like the cat from "Austin Powers."  Consequently, she's running around the kitchen in a panic, trying to bite her itchy, shaved parts. Leo just sleeps through his depression.

 You may recall that we adopted Cobie from a family whose son was allergic to her saliva. The family is friends with my sister-in-law, so when she heard they had to give her up, she called me. I had a wheaten-mix dog growing up, so I was a sucker for her sweet face. I asked the owner a few questions about her behavior, including her house-training, her barkiness, and her compatibility with children. Then I picked her up, and brought her home. And she's been peeing in my house ever since.

We tried several training methods, and things stayed pretty much the same. Finally, after direct questioning by my mother-in-law, who could single-handedly stop the spread of terrorism if allowed the chance to interrogate the inmates at Gitmo, the original owner revealed the details of Cobie's early life. She had not purchased Cobie from a breeder. She was the second owner, after Cobie had been rescued from a puppy mill. They didn't crate train her, because it  freaked her out, probably a result of spending hours locked up  at the mill. She spent most of her time outside, where she was allowed to use the facilities as she pleased, thus making it difficult to teach her to hold her urine when indoors.

And you know what, guys? I wouldn't have adopted her if I'd known. I've got enough special-needs kids; I don't need challenged pets. I certainly would have approached her training differently if I'd known. Now I'm playing catch-up, trying to give her one last chance before I  find a nice rescue person to place her somewhere they're willing to do all the rehabbing. Because she just peed on my floor in front of me.

And the painters will be back tomorrow.

I'm going to eat a Twizzler.

05 August 2011

Jersey Shore: Past and Present

This is what the real Jersey Shore looks like. We took One, Four, and Five to Island Beach State Park. It is just down the road from Seaside Park, and a million miles from Seaside Heights, the home of  MTV"s "Jersey Shore." It is a barrier island, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Barnegat Bay to the west. It is protected from development, and home to many creatures. It is One's favorite place to visit when we are at the beach.

We drove the island, and stopped to walk one of the many trails that meander through the thicket. We trudged along in the buggy darkness, and emerged out on the dune, the grass waving a greeting in the breeze. We continued on, following the sound of the surf, until we reached the crest, and saw the ocean sparkling below. There were no people; only us and the gulls.

My sister and I were driving through Point Pleasant, a lovely shore town about twenty minutes from Seaside, and also the next town over from where we grew up. We visited some great shops and antique stores, and then drove around to find a gas station. We passed the church where I married the Captain, and through neighborhoods we knew from our childhood. Erin asked if I missed living there. I paused to really consider my answer.

Every year we go to the beach, and it is comforting in its familiarity. Gazing out across the wide, open vista is calming, and after a few days, breathing falls almost in sync with the steady swoosh of the ocean. But I am a visitor there now. If I lived there, the rhythm of my life would be no different than it is here. There would be school, sports, chorale, play, doctors, dentists, driving. There would be work.

When I married the Captain, I left the shore, preserving my memories in the clear amber reserved for youth. We lived for a bit in Jersey City, and then Queens, before moving here, which is one town over from his hometown. I like this part of New Jersey. It's woodsy, green, and dotted with lakes. It's where all of my children have been born. And each summer, we link our lives, past and present, in the place where I grew up. The real Jersey shore.

Did you move away from home? Would you go back?

04 August 2011

One Voice, Too Many Heads

I got to read two books at the beach. The first was my autographed copy of Maybe This Time, by Jennifer Crusie. I've been on a self-imposed Crusie ban since I started writing my novel. In the beginning, I lacked confidence in my "voice," or style, so the last person I wanted in my head was my all-time favorite author. But I thought I owed the woman my attention after she so kindly signed the book, so I dove in one afternoon. I went to bed at 2 AM that night. When I get the chance to read, I do it until my eyes burn.

However, now when I read, I find I am doing it for research as much as for pleasure. I am wading in, testing the water, figuring out what the author does well, and what I find jarring. When I was reading Crusie, I paid close attention to point-of-view. Crusie, the teacher, forbids what she calls "head-hopping." A story can only be told from the point of view of the hero or the heroine. No one else can weigh in. I have a problem following this rule.

Apparently, the constant chatter of my daily life has infected my writing. I spend half my day as a detective, and the other as a referee. In the midst of all the squabbling, I must deduce who has committed the crime, and then negotiate a truce. As you can imagine, there are varying points of view in these disputes. I give everyone a chance to share their feelings, before I mete out punishment. I think it's only fair.

But it's not about equality in my manuscript. Most of the critical comments I've received from contest judges focus on fixing my POV, so that my readers can more easily immerse themselves in the story. I just got my reviews from the final, I swear, contest I entered, and they were very complimentary, except on this issue. I already knew the problem, so I wasn't surprised. I did have a laugh, though, when one kind judge suggested I read some other authors to get a feel for point-of-view. "But not Nora Roberts," she said, "because she can get away with anything." So, I shouldn't write like one of the most prolific, successful authors in the business?

I wrote a little on vacation, stealing time at a small table in my bedroom, my laptop propped up on two books, three fans running in the background, to keep the heat and noise at bay. Hemingway in Cuba it was not. But it was me, still, my "voice" uninfected by my brush with Jennifer Crusie. I considered that quite the accomplishment. I'm proud of what I've written, even though I know there will be revisions.

I just may have to spin my awesome secondary characters off into their own book. To be fair.

02 August 2011

Project Oriented

When I return from vacation, I am energized. I'm ready, like Five, to take on the world. Sometimes, this is a reaction to sleeping on an uncomfortable bed for two weeks. I'm so anxious to return to my familiar comforts, that I'm willing to ditch the lazy pace and head home. Other times, I'm so relaxed from the respite that I arrive at the homestead full of vim and vigor. Such is the case this year.

I have several home renovation ideas brewing, most of which require minor construction. This type of thinking makes the Captain nervous. He likes his walls to remain where God, or a project manager, put them. I've reassured him I won't be demolishing any sheetrock, but he's leery. Apparently, I damaged my credibility when I banged a hole in the kitchen wall of our last house, in a desperate attempt to get heat into our three-season porch.

Mostly, the projects are about creating new areas for the kids to hang out. Away from one another. We are at that point in age ranges where we need to unmesh, for the sake of all concerned. Plus, I am trying to create space if Mom Mom and Pappou want to stay when they are home from Florida. And the lovely Erin needs a room, too, for all the times she visits, and tries mightily to bring order to our chaos. If any of you need a place to bunk, I'm sure I can figure that out, too, because I love space planning. It's so much more fun than cleaning.

Right now, I am knee deep in laundry, which is seriously stressing my project buzz. My get-up-and-go is unhappily idling in neutral, as I wash voluminous mounds of sandy linens to be boxed and stored for future seaside vacations. I want to be sorting, and emptying, and throwing things away! I want to be unburdened of the old, and clean-swept for the new! I want to create more space, so I can fill it with more people!

And that, folks, is my own particular brand of  goggle-wearing, karate-chopping crazy.

I have a desire, deep within me, for wide open spaces. I have no use for neighbors, and I'm happy to use only one hand to count the number of my true friends. But I've acquired children and family and pets over the years like they were the last items at an auction. I can't reconcile it in my brain. It's not logical. Well, that could be the answer right there!

I am not always logical. The Captain is the linear thinker in our family. I am the messy, creative one. We aren't polar opposites, of course. Our marriage is more a series of checks and balances, with a lot of common ground in the middle. It's how we all wish our government actually worked. And it's why I know that when I go clean the garage, he'll be so happy that I got rid of all the junk, he won't mind when I throw up some walls and let Two use it as a guy-cave. Likewise, when I move the teenagers to the big room downstairs so Mom can sleep upstairs, he'll agree. Because he loves my family, as I do his.

Love isn't logical. But it does require space. So, I'm off to make some more.

What projects loom on your horizon?

01 August 2011

Into The Woods

Here we are, almost all of Mom Mom and Pappou's family, gathered on the steps of the old Victorian by the sea. We are only missing Erin's husband and daughters, but she is holding a photo of them, so they would be included in this shot. Everyone except my brother Sean's family stayed together in the house, and during the first week we also accommodated two cousins and an aunt. Sean and his family stayed a few blocks away with my in-laws; the Captain's sisters, et al, booked a place for a week;  and my cousin Bobbi and her mother moved in down the road. It was, truly, a family vacation.

I doubt we will ever assemble like this again, but we accomplished our goal of being together for "Mom Mom." Her pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease, and we don't know how she will feel next summer. Her prognosis is such that we plan for the future, but know that it's not a given. I choose to hover just outside the fringes of despair in this regard. I am, generally, an optimistic person, but I have enough experience with tragedy to keep my sunniness in check. A few well-placed shadows have left me a pragmatic realist.

I've heard the exhortations to "live like you're dying," and I've encouraged my mother to really think about how she wants to spend her time. Interestingly, she's chosen to hew to as much of her normal routine as is possible. The fibrosis hinders her mobility, so simple things like a trip to the store, or the hairdresser, are appreciated. Time with family is savored, but in smaller bites than we would like, due to the pace of our daily lives.

The Captain's grandmother passed away when he was young. My mother-in-law reminds me to take what time I can, now, to share with Mom. I try, but my life is constant motion,  lurching forward, an eager child dragging me into the future. There is no way to delay the end of summer, the start of school, the fall play, the soccer games, the holidays.

Except on vacation. Where time does slow, when we are released from the constraints of our lives. Where the rhythm of the day centers on the rise of the tide, and the heat of the sun. Where the most pressing issue is whether to  play a game or read a book. Of course, there are children who need tending, but that is normal. And we are learning that normalcy is to be cherished.

So, I've left the beach, and come back to the woods. Some of my flowers died while I was away, but everything else is green and lush. There is still possibility left in the season, for all of us.