Monday, October 22, 2007

Now That's How You End a Story

Every 5-year-old kid tells stories.

As a writer, I feel especially happy to write down my son Richie's stories for him. Not that I want him to grow up to be a writer. God forbid. No, it's because I've never seen someone take such joy in listening to his own story.

In writers' critique groups, somebody else usually reads your story to the group. That way you can hear it from a reader's standpoint. You sit there, turning bright red, as you realize that parts of your story make no sense whatsoever. And the other parts are boring.

No writer listens to her story and laughs out loud at her own jokes. At least not in front of the group.

But Richie never gets enough of his story. He asks Justin and I to read it over and over, and his laughter is as loud the 14th time he hears it as it was the first time.

His latest book, with the catchy title "Richie's Club Richie's Book Richie's Rocket ship," is about the Unstoppable Pants Team. Made up of Richie and his friends, they fight the evil Strong Rock, Lobster and Werewood, in a seemingly never ending battle.

Some excerpts:

There were two people that never existed--but they did exist.

If only they could go back to the end.

Attack that bullet!

The ending is my favorite part, though:

"Everybody--even Strong Rock and Lobster and of course Werewood--are in jail. That's all the announcements. Now, let's eat!"

Endings are hard to write. You can tell because some people don't even write endings. For instance, how many times have you read a movie review that says something like this: "The movie does not tie things up neatly but rather leaves you to draw your own conclusions"? That's code for: no ending.

On the other hand, you know a writer nailed the ending if you are either crying or, days after closing the book, thinking: "I wonder what Emma's up to..." only to remember that Emma is a character. She's up to the same things she was up to when you read the book a week ago.

Since I write non-fiction, I don't have to make up endings. I just have to find, out of the rubble of real life, the ending. The place where you've learned something, but haven't yet begun a new lesson.

I wonder if Richie would mind if I start using his trademark ending for my stories:

So anyway, the bad guys are in jail. That's all the announcements. Now let's eat!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Temper Tantrums

Never mud wrestle a pig. You both get dirty. But only the pig has fun.

The same could be said of joining your five year old's temper tantrum. Only nobody has fun.

Not that I'm calling my son a pig. If we're comparing people to animals I'd have to choose a Labrador puppy. Cute but hyper. J.J. is a pigeon because of the way he approaches people who have food. Johnny is a chimpanzee, running around the house like it's a jungle. I'm a hippo because I love to swim and grapefruit. Not that I've given it much thought.

Anyway, it's just a figure of speech.

We had driven to Chicago for my brother's birthday and nephew's baptism, which was very fun. But I won't write about the good parts, which lack melodrama.

I'll deny this if Johnny and J.J. ever ask about it later, but usually Richie is our easiest child. If I ask him to do something, he'll at least pretend to do it. He won't argue. He doesn't get bored easily. For instance, he can do one thing--like write his name big, then small, all day long. He's just an easy-going guy.

But on this morning, he was not easy going. He wouldn't get dressed in his church clothes.

Typically, I have a policy at our house that the kids dress themselves. Because otherwise they fight me about what I pick out for them.

My friend says they make a sticker that says, "I dressed myself today," so that everybody knows it's the kid--not the parent--who's an idiot.

Well, when I see kids dressed nicely on a day to day basis, I think their parents should wear stickers that say, "I dressed my kid today," so that I know that they are idiots. Why else would they fight that battle? Or maybe it's not a battle at their house.

Getting Richie dressed, as he complained every step of the way, I began fuming. Between carrying him into time out and telling him time out doesn't count if you're yelling, "Mom, can I get out of time out?!" the whole time, and going back in the room saying, "Stand still so I can get you dressed!" I thought:

Sometimes, Richie, you have to wear what your mom says. And,by the way, I cannot get you dressed while you're collapsing like a marionette doll. Also, when I say to go in time out for that, I'm not saying it for the sake of argument. I really really mean it. I need some "mommy" time.

And when, finally, you're dressed and it's time for me to get ready, I would appreciate you not following me into the room so that I can continue to hear you throw a fit. Furthermore, thanks for setting a trend. Now J.J. is throwing a fit. And you know what? If everybody else is going to have a fit, maybe I will too.

So I pulled a guilt trip that Justin (who was not on the trip--to Chicago, though he was in the guilt trip) thinks went overboard. I don't think a guilt trip can ever go overboard. But that's just me.

I said, "You know what? This has been a really bad morning for me, too. When you throw a fit in a house full of people, that's not fun for me. Daddy's not here, and he asked you to be the man of the family. And you're not helping.We're not going to church with everybody because 1. You took forever to get ready so we're running late. 2. I don't take people throwing fits out in public. 3. I'm exhausted from this temper tantrum."

He looked at me and for a minute, I thought he'd ask, "Whose temper tantrum are you exhausted from? Yours or mine?"

Instead, he said, through tears, "I want to go back to Kansas City."

Maybe I did go overboard.

Sometimes, I act as if I am the leading scholar of temper tantrums. I tell other parents, "I know by now to ignore them when they throw a fit. It always passes."

Other times, I get worked up and jump into the mud pit. After they throw a fit, kids are like new people. But for grownups, it's exhausting and you feel sorry. Parents should wear stickers afterwards that say, "I joined into my five year old's temper tantrum today."

That would explain our haggard appearance.

It could be a whole line of stickers to explain why we look like Revenge of the Zombies: "I talked politics with my teenager today." "I took away my toddler's pacifier today." "I attempted to reason with my 13-year-old today."

Or it could just be a sticker to fit any of these situations: "I mud wrestled a pig today. And nobody won."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

His Morning. Her Morning

Her morning.

4 a.m. Alarm sounds, signaling it is time to write a story, after pressing snooze a few times.

6 a.m. Looks at clock, oops--turns out she hit snooze 12 times.

6:20 a.m. Climbs out of bed and over laundry to get to the kitchen. Goes to the basement and throws in another load of laundry. Makes coffee.

6:30 a.m. Shuffles through school papers, writing checks for lunch, yearbook, school pictures, trashbags...all payable to the Bleed the Parents Dry Association.

7 a.m. Oldest son stumbles out of bed with a laundry list of ailments. "Maybe I should stay home from school and watch T.V.," he says.

7:05 a.m. Middle son comes out of his room declaring that he's already dressed for school. He is wearing a chocolate stained leprochan shirt and football pants.

7:10 a.m. Baby somehow gets out of bed and sees a tin of Pringles left on the kitchen counter. Damn. This conversation is not going to go well.

7:11 a.m. "Mine. Mine. Mine," he says, grabbing at air. "Mama, see? See? Mine. Mine."

"No chips for breakfast," she says. "I'm fixing oatmeal."

Suddenly, an opera is taking place in the kitchen. Baby covers his face, "Nooooo, nooooo, nooooo." The oatmeal bowls shatter--and they were plastic.

7:15 a.m. Oldest son remembers his big Friday assignment is actually due to today. He yells questions to mom as she stirs the oatmeal.

7:16 a.m. "Mooooom, I don't have any clean shorts," middle son yells.

Opera continues for toddler.

7:17 a.m. Minutes before homework is due, oldest son is still procrastinating (wonder where he gets that from.)

7:18 Alarm clock goes off in bedroom, aparently still in snooze mode.

7:19 Oatmeal boils over.

7:20 Homework help needed.

7:21 Youngest son spots leftover popcorn in a brown paper bag. Who the bloody hell cleaned the kitchen last night?! Oh, it was her.

7:22 Oldest takes a break from homework to stare at the laundry basket--

"Mom, I can't find any socks!"

"Move things around in the basket."

7:23 Middle son comes out wearing toddler's clothing.

7:24 Toddler hides under the table eating popcorn.

7:25 Oatmeal is on the table.

"More sugar please."

"More sugar please."

"Moooom, more sugar pleeeeaaaase!"

His Morning

7:26 A gentle internal alarm clock awakens husband out of a sweet dream. It doesn't buzz shrilly, as if he got the wrong answer just by waking up.

Rather it tells him, "Good morning sunshine. In four minutes, you need to leave for work. Relax, you have plenty of time. Find your jeans, your keys, your wallet and a clean shirt (If you can't locate them, yell your wife's name really loud--she's good at finding stuff...something about "moving things around"). Take cover on your way to the door; it's a battle zone out there.

7:30 Husband hustles to the door, holding the sports page. "I gotta go to work. You boys be good for mom." He closes the door...just missing the glob of oatmeal hurling through the air. Damn.