30 March 2012

Adventures Abroad

Two is in Europe with his high school choir, singing in cathedrals in Vienna and Prague. I hugged him good-bye at the bus stop yesterday, texted him once before he boarded his plane, and will not hear from him again until he lands next Friday. There are two reasons for this: his phone will not work in Europe, and he wouldn't bother to text me anyway. He went to Florida a few years ago with a friend, and didn't communicate with us once. Finally, the Captain sent him a "call your mother, you idiot" text, and Two got mad that we yelled at him from a thousand miles away.

Ah, the bliss of ignorant self-absorption.

Pappou, who spends his life traveling the globe, kindly sent an Italian phone for Two to use in case of an emergency. Two didn't understand why he would need it.

"In case of an emergency. You know, if you get abducted or something. Like that Taylor Lautner movie."

"Mom, if I get abducted, I'm going to beat the crap out of someone and then run for my life. I won't be looking for the phone."

"But can you fight as well as the Twilight kid, Two?" the Captain asked. "Which one is he in the movies?'

"Jacob. He's a werewolf," I said. "Right. Can you fight as well as a werewolf, Two?"

Two looked at us like we were nuts, his expression not unlike the one I fix on him when he does something inexplicably bone-headed. My eyebrows have been raised in stupefaction for so long, I look like Nicole Kidman. Hmmm. Maybe I could rent out the teenagers as an alternative to plastic surgery. No. My astonished expression acts as a natural eye-lift, but I have to color my grey hair more often. It's a wash. Damn.

It took a year of saving and planning to get Two on the plane, but there were all sorts of last minute items to get this week. Like euros, which do not convert dollar for dollar, thank you. Since when does our financial situation seem more dire than Europe's? Next year we should go to Greece, where they're hard up for cash.

I had to drop off all of Two's luggage at the school the night before, so it could be searched for illegal items. Yesterday, he went to school with his wallet, his passport, his iPhone for music, and my voice in his ear.

"Be safe. Be aware of your surroundings. Put your dress shoes in your garment bag when you hang it up, or else you'll forget them for your concert. Have fun."

I drove home and allowed myself a moment to think all the bad thoughts: Lockerbie, the Madrid and London subway bombings, the bus crash in the Swiss tunnel. When I knew it was time for him to board the plane, I texted one last time.

"Love you."

"Love you too."

Someday, he'll appreciate how much we love him. For now, the return text is good.

Author's Addendum: I take it all back. On Sunday, April 1, Two called from Europe! He borrowed a friend's phone because he couldn't get the Italian phone to work (which will frustrate Pappou). We talked for about five minutes, and he sounded great. At the end, he said, "I love you and miss you. Tell everyone I said hi." I might actually be sad when he goes away to college.

27 March 2012

Selfish Love

This Sunday, while stuck watching a scene from "Watchmen," I reminded the Captain that I don't  care about comic books, in any of their permutations. I've never felt it necessary to learn the difference between the D.C. and Marvel universes. I don't read "graphic novels," and it will never occur to me to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I have seen big-screen adaptations of the comics (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America), but I'm not there to judge whether the script remains faithful to the mythology. Because I wouldn't know. I'm there because the lead actor is cute the Captain knows, and he'll care. 

Later that day, I asked the Captain if he wanted me to make him a grilled cheese sandwich. He had a migraine, and he looked fairly pathetic. Plus, we've reached the point in the "Buy No Food" experiment where you've really got to forage to find anything good to eat.

 "Only if you want to," he said.

"This is a little like the comics," I said. "I don't ever want to help anyone. But I do, because I love you."

"Wow. That's a little selfish," he said.

"Really? I think it's completely unselfish. I don't want to help you, but I'm going to anyway. Isn't that what love's all about?"

Listen, by Sunday I was cranky and aggravated, so my responses may have been a tad skewed. I wasn't in the mood to do anything for anybody. I understand that these depressions in the valley of self-sacrifice happen most often when I'm feeling overwhelmed. Actually, "over-used" is more accurate. I do occasionally get overwhelmed by the volume of tasks I must complete. But I get totally pissy when I feel over-used, like I exist solely for the convenience of others. And by others, I mean my children.

The Captain doesn't make me feel that way. He's much more giving than I am in our relationship. He would have just made me the sandwich without my asking.  But I consider him an able-bodied adult, so his lunch order never even makes it to the back of the diner. I've got too many other humans begging for my time, and it's exponentially worse on the weekends.

 I don't like the weekends. It pains me to say it, but it's true. Especially in the spring. The weekends are so busy with pack commitments, there is no time for me. I barely get to sit down, much less write. And I need to write, people. I have a deadline. But there is so much planned over the next six weeks, I may be dead before I reach the line.

I'm going to have to explain my notion of love to my children. Help me, even if you don't want to. They're selfish, maybe they'll understand.

23 March 2012

Spring Me

The trees are blooming, the frogs are singing, and the moths are hanging outside the front door trying to terrorize Two.

But this is the surest sign that Spring has arrived:

This weekend, various members of the family will play basketball, baseball, and hockey, sometimes in the same day. On Saturday morning, Five will miss baseball practice, because we have to attend his First Holy Communion retreat. At the same time, the Captain will coach Three's basketball team to victory in game two of the championship series. At two o'clock, Three will go to baseball practice, and at four-thirty I will drive him to his basketball league practice. The Captain and Two will go to five o'clock Mass, so Two can fulfill his Greeter commitment for Confirmation.

At eight a.m. Sunday morning, Two gets on a bus to go shoot paint balls at his friends. At nine o'clock, Five attends CCD. At six o'clock Five goes to baseball practice, and shortly thereafter the Captain leaves for hockey. During taxi downtime, Two has to finish a science project and pack for Europe. He leaves on Thursday with his choir to go sing in cathedrals in Vienna and Prague.

Maybe this is the official sign of Spring:

20 March 2012

Querulous About the Query

I wrote my first official query letter and sent it off to an editor!

Before you get all excited, let me explain the circumstances.

For those of you who do not know, a query letter is a request sent to an agent or editor, asking them to pleasepleaseplease love your book enough to represent it, or publish it, as the case may be. The query has to include the details of your novel, but written like cover copy. It has to capture the tone of the book, your "voice" so to speak, and it has to be interesting enough that a weary agent or editor will want to read pages of your actual manuscript. Easy peasy, right?

I wanted to vomit. Actually, I think my text to the Captain said, "Fuckity fuck fuck fuck I can't believe I have to write a damn query for this conference!"

In April, I will attend the New England Chapter of the Romance Writers of America conference. I went there last year and stayed with Delia. Even though I was recovering from the mother of all gallbladder attacks, I had an amazing time. I met great people, learned more about my craft, and left feeling like a real writer. This year I'm going back to meet with an editor.

All conferences host agent and editor appointments, but they are usually pitch meetings. NECRWA offers the opportunity to submit ten pages to the editor to critique prior to your appointment. It's a great way to get real feedback from someone in the industry. I was prepared to submit the pages, but I had no idea about the query. Okay, I wasn't even really prepared to submit the pages, because I hadn't read the beginning of the book in a dog's age. A really old, arthritic, toothless dog. So it needed a little work. I locked myself in my winter office (Mom's room) to revise. Two days later, I sent the pages to June (default agent), Janet (default editor), and Delia (default expert).

June and Janet love me, so I always take their opinions with a grain of salt. But they read a ton of genre fiction, so I trust them. Delia likes me, but she's not as emotionally invested, which allows more objectivity. Plus she's industry smart. She takes her craft seriously, and she knows waaaay more than I do about everything. Like how to put comments in the margins. All three were kind enough to read the pages and offer suggestions. I locked myself back in the office. The Captain kept the children alive. I emerged Saturday night with ten decent pages.

I was completely unprepared to write the query. Oh sure, I read blogs entirely dedicated to writing effective queries. But I haven't been paying attention, because it hasn't been a priority. You know my work ethic, people. So my first attempt sucked. Delia was very gentle. She has apparently learned the "criticism sandwich" (compliment/criticize/scrape the remains off the floor, bolster them up, and send them back into the breach), which was just what I needed to feed that clunker to the shredder.

At that point, the query was all I could think about. I stopped showering. I forgot to feed my children and pets. I nearly died while operating heavy machinery. Finally, I was so frustrated, I found my first line.

"Sibby O'Connor is tired."

The rest flowed fairly easily. I sent it off to Janet, who loved it. I sent it to Delia, who told me to condense it. They both told me not to blaspheme. I kept my favorite sentence.

 "Especially if it involves a naked lawman and a kitchen chair."

In the end, it was shorter but still profane. After all, it's my voice.

15 March 2012

Lenten Starvation

My children are starving. Starving, I tell you! I am depriving them of their favorite foods, while I force them to eat...all the other fecking food that's in this house!

Last week I came home from Costco with my usual order which, on average, runs me $200. I went to put some of it away in my pantry in the garage, and there was no room. The shelves were filled with other foodstuffs. I hadn't checked the pantry because the garage gets chilly in the winter, so I keep my visits brief. But it was warm enough that day to get a real gander at what's been hiding behind those doors all winter. Then I went and checked my kitchen cabinets and my freezer. Pretty much the same deal.

That night, the boys and I sat down to dinner and I told them I had come up with a Lenten project for the whole family. We would learn to be less wasteful and more grateful for our blessings.

"Let me guess," Four said, "you want us to give up something."

"Not exactly," I replied. "I want us to eat our food."


"I want us to eat all the food we have in the house before I buy any new food."

"I think that's a great idea," Two said. "Especially that top shelf."

The kitchen pantry houses the chips on the top shelf. For some reason, it drives Two nuts that we have so many open, half-eaten bags up there. It's probably because he's the only one tall enough to eyeball the inventory.

The little boys demanded clarification. Did this mean when the cookies were gone, we wouldn't buy any new ones? What about waffles?

Yes and yes.

"I'm  going to starve!" Five whined.

"We need to start saving the cookies!" Four cried.

"What about milk?" One asked.

We decided milk, vegetables, and fruit could be replaced after they were all consumed. I'm wavering on sandwich meats, because I'm pleased that my previously picky eaters will now eat protein in the middle of the day. Desserts did not make the cut. That caused the greatest amount of consternation, only because the boys have no idea how much crap is stored in this house. They could eat Hershey's kisses until May.

Yesterday, I toasted the last two waffles. Five eats waffles for breakfast every morning. He actually leaps out of bed when he hears them pop up, then runs, semi-conscious, to the kitchen table. It's amazing he hasn't separated a shoulder bouncing off a wall. This morning I made him eggs and an English muffin. Apparently, English muffins do not jump out of the toaster with the same noise frequency as waffles, because I had to wake my slumbering lad.

"What's for breakfast?" he mumbled into his pillow.

"Eggs and an English muffin," I whispered.

"Are the waffles gone?" he moaned.


"I'm going to starve," he said, before trudging down the hall.

We'll see.

12 March 2012

Dear Jeremy Lin

Dear Jeremy,

I feel I can address you by your first name, because I'm old enough to be your mother. And it is as a mother that I write to thank you.

Today is One's birthday. He is nineteen. Don't ask me how he got this old--I'm busy raising a passel of boys, so I don't always notice them growing until they're, well, grown. One is special. He is autistic and right-side hemiparetic, which means he has cognitive, social, and physical challenges. He has succeeded in life far beyond what we initially believed would be possible, given the dire prognosis of his neurologist. He's different than most children his age, but not always in a bad way.

One is a font of information. From the moment he could read, he has immersed himself  in the topics that interest him--weather, animals, history, science. He spends hours on the computer researching, reading, and watching videos. He is our personal Wikipedia--when any of his younger brothers (he has four) asks a question, my initial answer is usually, "Go ask One." Except if the question concerns sports.

One has never had any interest in organized sports. His physical limitations made it difficult for him to play, although he is the fastest one-handed PlayStation operator I've ever seen. He knows the teams we follow, even though half the house roots for New York and the other for New Jersey. So, you can imagine my surprise when One started quoting your statistics.

Like everyone else in the nation, One was captivated by your remarkable performance. I would walk past his room and see him watching highlights on his computer. He dug up every video ever made about, or by, you (he's particularly fond of "How to Get Into Harvard.") He began watching games with his father, and asking questions about the team. He now knows more about pick-and-rolls than I do. He can discuss the Knicks schedule with his brothers, and predict success based on the opponent. (He's unfailingly optimistic.) He wears his "Linsanity" t-shirt in gym class.

Early news coverage of your amazing debut focused on the "Cinderella" aspect of your story. I want to thank you for reminding everyone of the hard work and dedication it took, especially when you were on the bench, to maintain your level of play. It is an important lesson in perseverance and preparation that I repeat for all my boys.

In my version of the fairy-tale, you aren't Cinderella, but the prince. Your dynamic presence on the court was the glass shoe that finally fit One. He slipped it on and became connected to the world, and our family, in a new way. For us, that has been sweeter than the Knicks beating the Lakers.

Thank you,

One's Mom, Megan

07 March 2012

Panic and the Slacker

I was talking with Two about personal motivation. We were having one of our numerous conversations about effort and commitment. It was actually a very constructive discussion--illuminating in many ways. I was explaining how it can be frustrating for his parents to watch him fritter away time like a slacker, because we're not wired like that.

I was lying. I am totally wired like that. The Captain is not.

The Captain is one of the most competitive people I know. The others are his sisters, who have been known to play Hungry Hungry Hippos to win. Against kindergartners. The Captain has always been goal oriented, literally and figuratively. He still plays hockey like it's Game Seven of the Stanley Cup, even though it's Men's League, and he wants to be better than everyone else in every other aspect of life. I've taken to telling him "Go win your conference call!" or "Go win your trip through security!" which, thank God, he laughs about, because he's not crazy--competition is just his motivational tool.

Panic is my motivational tool. I am not inspired to accomplish anything until it's almost too late. The year before I got married I worked in an attorney's office half the day, then I would drive an hour to attend college in the afternoon. I wrote all my term papers the night before they were due, and I would go to the office at 6:00 in the morning and type them before work. I was also planning a wedding. Miraculously, everything got done. I graduated with honors, and got married about a month later.

Nowadays, I call this type of insanity "prioritizing." Nothing gets done until it reaches the top of the list. Unfortunately, I have a long list, so some things really languish down there on the bottom line. Often, last minute additions, like dioramas or book reports, leapfrog over the long-suffering low-listers, until they almost vanish from view.

My writing had almost been smudged out of existence, so I forced myself to prioritize. I signed up for a conference and applied for an appointment with an agent.

This is typical of my approach to my career, which is generally ass-backward. Usually, when an aspiring author asks to meet with an agent or editor, it is presumed they have a completed manuscript in hand. Not literally, because no agent would ever ask for the whole shebang during the sit-down. But if one is lucky, one will be asked to submit the first three chapters after the meeting.

So here's how I justified taking the appointment: I am almost done with the novel. Really, I'm cranking out the pages. I will be done by conference time. The agent will have read my first ten pages before our meeting, and because I am an awesome writer, she will ask to see the first three chapters. Only after that will she request the full manuscript.

I am praying to be in such a predicament.

The odds are stacked mightily agin' me. I don't know if you know this, but it's incredibly difficult to get published. But if I don't imagine this scenario, I will not finish. I know me too well. I'm already planning how I'll relinquish the time slot to someone more worthy. See? Inducing panic...NOW.

02 March 2012

Happy Birthday, Captain

Today, the world rights itself on its axis. The Captain and I are once again the same age. In reality. In my "Forever Forty-Five" scenario, he is two years older. I offered to let him join the club, but he declined. The Captain has always been mature. Well, not always. He was a baby once.

I didn't meet the Captain until we were in college. He was a smart, funny, normal guy, which at the time was a departure from the type I had been dating. He looked like this:

And I looked like this:

We don't know why we started dating.

We grew up in different parts of the state. He was a hockey player

while I was, briefly, a cheerleader.

But it wasn't until we became Alterna-Girl and Frat-Boy that we met.
Each year I thank the Captain's parents for bringing him into the world, so the Universe could figure out a way to get us together. For that reason, this day is one of my happiest.

Happy Birthday, my Captain.