Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Tortoise and the Chicken

It's been a year and a half since I started writing this blog, so I edited my profile. My boys have had two birthdays. The older two are in school. To say that I home school them now would be a farce. They home school me.

Richie, for instance came home from pre-k and said, "I learned something today: Walking is better than running."

"Really, where'd you learn that?" I asked.

"We read a book called The Turtle and the Chicken. And the turtle was very slow and the chicken was very fast..."

"Wait a second--do you mean The Tortoise and the Hare?" I asked. "Was the chicken a rabbit?"

"No, it was a chicken," he said. "And the chicken was stopping, stopping and the turtle won."

"Was the moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race?"

Richie looked at me like I'd pulled a rabbit out of a hat. "How did you know that?"

"Because slow and steady does win the race," I said.

Actually, fast and steady wins the race, but that message would be disheartening to Richie, who dislikes even walking fast.

He told a friend the other day, "I don't like soccer. Well, I like soccer, just not the running part."

That story always made me wonder. Sure the tortoise beat the rabbit, who obviously had attention deficit disorder. But put him up against a cheetah. Would slow and steady still win the race?

But you know what? The story works. If you're in an actually race, speed is of the essence. But in life, you can't rush things. You can only go as fast as the tortoise. Unlike the hare, or--nowadays--the chicken, the tortoise travels slowly; nothing breaks his stride. Not even the constant prospect of losing. And so, he wins.

If you try to rush something, like the, um, chicken, you get frustrated and give up.

Maybe Richie has the right idea. Walking is better than running. And running in dramatic slow motion while looking at the fans at your soccer game and kicking the ball in the wrong direction beats both, I think.

Slow and steady wins any race worth undertaking, from growing up to building a business to parenting. Everyday, I remind the boys to say please. Seven years later, this habit is taking hold for Johnny.

Second, I can't really say I dabble in freelance writing and editing anymore. Business in good. So good, in fact, that it took me five hours to carve a chicken last week. As soon as my hands were nice and greasy, I'd get a phone call.

With Richie in school two days, my mornings go like this...Play choo choo...Take a phone call...Play cars...Take a phone call...and so on.

It all goes smoothly, except days like yesterday, when I had to hide in our attic to interview somebody because J.J. was changing the channel on the T.V., which infuriated Richie.

An editor had called me at the park, where the boys and I were hanging out with friends. Apparently when he says, "Try to turn this story in by Friday," "try" is not the operative word. Because Lord knows I tried.

When it comes to deadlines, slow and steady does not win the race. So I had to wrap it up. Hence, minutes before my new deadline, the attic phone call.

Also, Johnny needed patches sewn on his Cub Scout uniform. Sewing is not just something I can do overnight. First, I have to figure out where you buy needles and thread. Then, learn how to sew.

"Just have your grandma teach you," Justin said.

"Or: have her teach you," I said.

What I meant to say was, "Just because somebody teaches you something, doesn't mean you can do it right away. Learning a new skill takes time."

Case in point: I know that to climb a mountain, you put one foot in front of the other. But that doesn't mean I can climb Mount Everest.

Sewing is my Everest.

My mom came to the rescue and said she would sew the patches on.

In the meantime, Johnny had his first in-uniform meeting. He looked so handsome. Earlier, I felt bad that I didn't get the patches sewn on. Apparently, Johnny's friend wore his uniform to school with everything sewn on.

"His mom knows how to sew; his grandma knows how to sew; everybody in his family knows how to sew..." Johnny said. (This being the Versace family.)

But now, that didn't matter to him. He looked so proud to wear his Cub Scout uniform and have the motto memorized: Do your best.

After the meeting, he was rushing around. Unlike Richie, Johnny is always in a hurry, always has so much to do. Last night, he had to 1. Rearrange his club. 2. Draw a diagram of his uniform so that his grandma would know where to sew on the patches. 3. Rearrange the shelf above his bed to include his Cub Scout handbook. 4. Count his Pokemon cards. 5. Pass out light sabers to his brothers in case Siths attacked overnight.

At some point, every mom sees her child in a new light and thinks: He's going places. When I saw Johnny in his Cub Scout uniform, it was that moment for me. I just hope that where ever he's going, he remembers to go slowly. There is really no other way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My First Manuscript

I mailed off my first book manuscript.

It's a children's nonfiction book about larvae: from cute caterpillars to gross maggots...although that's in the eye of the beholder. Johnny once saw a maggot in our basement...I mean, somebody else's basement...and said, "Aww. It's so cuuuute."

I've always been fascinated by how insects change so drastically. And scientists think this metamorphosis offers clues to how interspecies evolution occurs. I left that out of the story, though. Too complicated. Just because it's a bedtime story doesn't mean I should try to put the kids to sleep.

Now, I just need an editor and lots of other people in a publishing house to like it.

Authors say that sending a manuscript out is like casting a bottle into the sea. They also say things like, "Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead."* Could writers be anymore frickin' melodramatic?

I think mailing out a manuscript more like throwing the story into the fireplace and hoping the ashes reach Mary Poppins, who happens to be flying by on her umbrella, magically restores the paper and delivers it to an editor who at that instant is saying, "If only somebody would send me a larvae story!"

But that's just me. I'm an optimist.

I guess the careers of many writers go like this:

1. You send out a manuscript.

2. It gets rejected for several years.

3. You write another book, which is also rejected.

4. By this time, you've become a pretty good writer, having had plenty of time to hone your craft. Your third book gets accepted. Unfortunately, you have starved to death by this point.

No, I'm kidding about that last part. But I do think I have something going for me that not all writers have: poverty. It's a wonderful motivator. Well, that's exaggerating. But this is my career. I depend on writing to make money.

When I hear writers say, "I don't do it for the money; I just do it for fun," I can't relate to that. If I didn't need money, I'd be a freelance T.V. watcher, not a writer. Don't get me wrong. I love writing. But have you watched television lately? It's outstanding. Even ABC Family has some great original shows, such as Greek, a show about a sorority and fraternity. I watch it while folding laundry. Whereas most viewers watch it while doing their homework.

Not that I expect to get rich. But it is a business. And to that end, I've done what the professional Web sites tell me: join a critique group. Research publishers. Go to conferences. Talk to people. (Now, that last one I'm not sure about. I don't know that meeting people face-to-face helps my cause any. I'm a nice person. But I'm not a mingler. I don't think anyone, after meeting me, has said, "I'll be sure not to spit my gum out in her business card."

Anyway, I digress. The manuscript is out there. Please pray for its safe arrival at somebody's warm doorstep.

*Gene Fowler

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Your Inheritance

Do you ever get e-mails like this?

Dearest Stranger:

My name is Maria Van Veeder Vader. I am dying from a most horrible disease: eczema. Worse, I have $2 million that I have no idea what do with.

I thought of giving it to charity, but I didn’t want to seem like a goody-goody. So I’ve decided to give it to you, soccermom151@yahoo.net. I guess I just fell in love with your name.

Don’t I have relatives? you might ask. I did. And I do.

My husband, sadly, was eaten by squirrels while dressed as a tomato for a play. My children were kidnapped by Saddam Hussein. This was back when I was an opera singer touring the Middle East.

But reminiscing is a luxury I do not have. Nor do I want. It is simply too painful.

My children now live in Orlando, but I was forced to disown them when they borrowed one of my opera wigs without asking.

So I have but one question, my angel: Do you want this money?

Then all you need to do is send me your bank account number, social security, and the name of a someone who might be willing to blackmail you. I anticipate dying in 5-7 business days, so please e-mail me immediately.

And don’t tell anyone, lest you suffer, shall we say, an operatic ending.

In the meantime, pray for me and my horrible itching,


Heck yeah, I'll send her my info. I mean, she seems nice enough, right?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The other night, Johnny called to me, "Mom, will you come in and kiss me goodnight?"

When I got in there, he was sitting up in bed, brooding.

"Why don't any of my friends ever ask me over?" he asked. "I ask them over. And I work really hard looking up their phone numbers and dialing."

It's true. Only one friend in his class has ever invited him over. He's had different friends over lots of times. I was hoping he would never do the math.

I'm sure the explanation is not as dramatic as he thinks. I told him that their moms probably worked during the day, and maybe even on weekends, and they weren't allowed to have friends over when there's a babysitter.

"But they have other people over," he said. "They ride home together."

"That's called a carpool," I said. "The moms take turns driving each others' kids."

Since we walk to school, Johnny is not familiar with this concept.

He wasn't buying it.

"They never play with me at recess," he said. "I feel like I only have one friend this year."

"One friend is a lot," I said. "And if you want to play with other kids, just join into what they're doing."

"I don't like what they're playing, though," he said. "It's kickball."

Johnny is the only kid I know who doesn't like kickball.

"Sometimes, you have to play things other people want to play. It can't always be what you want to play," I said. (You know, not everybody wants to go through your 31-step ninja training program, I didn't say.)

He still wasn't accepting these explanations. But, he wiped his eyes and laid his head on the pillow.

I tucked him in. Having explained everything quite logically, I went into my room and cried.

"Why? Why?" I asked.

Now, in fairness, he gets invited to birthday parties and to join teams, and that's really all you can ask. I'm sure a lot of kids simply don't have people over. They play with kids on their block, that kind of thing. And I'm sure once I'm working full time, the boys won't have friends over a lot, either.

Still, he really does work hard dialing the numbers. It takes him like 50 tries.

Don't even get me started on when Richie calls people. I read the number, and he takes a total guess on what that number looks like. So 555-5432 is 719-222222222. "There we go," he says, as he finishes dialing Finland.

Yet they want to place the calls by themselves.

That night, I couldn't sleep. I hadn't felt this way since I was a kid.

You know how you worry about fitting in when you're younger? If you're a girl, you want to have the same shoes and hairbow and shoelaces as the cool kids in your class. And then one day you show up in neon shoelaces and pigtails with hot pink ribbons and pink shoes and you think...Why am I the only one who looks like a clown? It turns out you're not supposed to wear all the trends at the same time. So you're just like, "I can't figure this out," and you do your own thing.

Little did you know that you would one day worry about fitting in again. Only this time it's worse. It's your kid.

The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed, got my coffee and went into the living room, where Johnny was watching a cartoon.

"Can I have a friend over today?" he asked.

"I thought you were tired of dialing the numbers and then not getting asked over to their house," I said.

"Yeah, but that's just because their moms are at work," he said, cheerfully. "They're not allowed to have friends over when babysitters are there."

I think my kids have subcontracted their worries to me. And I'm pretty good at the job. After all, I have a lot of prior experience.