Friday, May 30, 2008

Summer Greeting Card

Summer is upon us. Technically, it's still Spring. But when "tornado-producing super cells" are a weekly occurance and 4 p.m. is the hottest part of the day, let's face it, Spring is not happening this year. We got a long winter, and now, as the consolation prize, we get an even longer summer. I predict triple digits in June, based on my doppler radar vision.

Christmas greeting card are popular, but I thought I'd write a summer one, as things are much more exciting when we come out of hibernation.

Richie was stung by a swarm of bees, after stepping on a hive. My mom managed to swat most away (he was at her house that day) but he was still stung 10 times. "Am I going to die?" he asked.

He had a fever and sleepiness the next day, but the doctor said he would be fine. He's not allergic.

But he looked so sad when I got to my mom's house and he was sitting on the sink with his shirt off, my mom covering each sting with a baking soda paste.

There's a certain heroism attached to multiple bee stings, though, and this comforted Richie, at least. My baby niece was also outside at the time. Luckily, my mom's friend drove by and saw the commotion. She got out of her car while it was still running and pushed the baby stroller out of the fray.

Later, my brother thanked Richie for taking the bees on all by himself, thus saving the baby from being stung. Then he looked at J.J., and just to include him, said, "You, too, J.J."

Richie's eyes darted up from his lethargy. "J.J. didn't get stung," he said.

Johnny said, "I did."

"You got stung once. I got stung 10 times," Richie said.

Just to set the record straight.

At about the same time, J.J. went on Singulair, which has changed his life. No more asthma attacks as of yet. He doesn't even have a runny nose anymore. He seems to feel better all around. Except that with summer comes water, a liquid that J.J. thinks should only be used as a drink, not as entertainment.

Johnny finished out the school year with a field day that included a fire truck spraying all the kids. Children react to being sprayed by a fire truck like it's the beginning of the world. They run. They scream. They lie on their bellies and pretend to swim in the puddles. It's like a fun version of mass panic.

J.J. was horrified by the spectacle. He watched them and wept. "Why would anyone subject themselves to that?" he seemed to wonder. Thus begins another summer with J.J. sweating out our time at the swimming pool without getting so much as a toe wet.

He's going to school next year, and we had our meeting at his preschool. He had me carry him through the halls and he threw a fit when he tried to play with a puzzle and the teacher said, "We have a rule. You can play with whatever you'd like, but first you must learn how to do it properly."

I think J.J. stopped listening after "we." His favorite word still being "me." I just hope something magical happens when he turns three that makes him ready for school. Potty training, maybe.

And marking the true beginning of summer: the end of new T.V. episodes.

Lost aired a season finale that left a big question. Those who got off the island said that the others in the plane crash died. Why did they lie?

Here's Jack, the leader of the plane crash victims, "answering" this: "Do you have any idea what would happen if we told people about the other survivors?"

Me: "Uh...they'd get rescued?"

Too bad I wasn't on the lifeboat to tell him this, because the thought didn't cross anybody else's mind, apparently. They're all like: "Oh my gosh. You're right."

Right about what? He didn't even answer his own question.

With the distraction of T.V. out of the way, I can focus on finishing my second children's book and first romance novel. Will they ever get published? Probably not. But if I don't set aside time to work on them, they'll never get written, either.

I've never heard a story where somebody wrote 10 books and none of them ever got published. It's more like they wrote 10, and the 11th got published. Hmm...I need to start writing shorter books. A couple board books maybe. Bee. Allergy medication. Firetruck. School. T.V. Book. There it is, our summer, so far, in six words.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Boys' Books

I belong to a children's writer's group and they send a monthly magazine. In the most recent issue, it talked about how boys typically like different books than girls. Not just books with boy protagonists, but different types of books altogether.

I could see this growing up.

Teachers choose novels for their classes to read. My brothers used to hold up the book so that they could read the blurb on the back and basically reword it. That was their report.

At the same time, I picked up a biography of Jackie Robinson off their bookshelf, and one of them had written on the inside cover, "This is the greatest book ever written!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Wouldn't you know, the article said that boys like biographies. It said that, in general, they also prefer humor, horror, adventure/thriller, informational, science fiction, monster/ghost, sports, war and historical."

It's been interesting for me, as a mom and writer, to see what books my sons choose. For Johnny, it's all non-fiction, and J.J. seems to be leaning that way, too. Unless the story involves trains with faces and office politics. (Have you ever read a Thomas the Train book? Those choo choos are always sucking up to their boss Sir Topham Hat and trying to get each other fired.)

Richie likes make-believe stories, but when I let him choose one recently, he picked up a humorous story about monsters, then switched to a book about pirate school, and settled on two friends battling a T-Rex. Monsters. Adventure. Sci-Fi.

As a kid, I was a typical girl. I liked Cindarella and even more so Rapunzel (What the heck kind of hair did that girl have growing out of her head, I wondered. And where could I get some like it? I would have loved to have 50 foot long yellow rope hair.)

But my sons' taste must have rubbed off on me, because every children's book I've thought up would be more appealing to boys than girls. Disasters. Insects. Rats. (Did you know that rats have taken over the world's islands and, of the birds and reptiles that have become extinct, rats have been responsible for 40-60 percent? As a kid, I wouldn't have known, nor would I have cared. But I think boys would care about this a great deal. And the fact that many ships are rat infested. And that throwing rats overboard doesn't help matters because they are excellent swimmers.)

I'm grateful that I have boy readers. It means I get to see the other side of the story world. I've read about princesses, now I get to learn about frogs.

On Friday, I got a glimpse of how boys and girls discuss their difference in taste. I watch a little girl in Johnny's class for a couple hours each week. She's super girly. One day, she gave me an invitation she had drawn for a party at her house. And that's not girly. But then she started bringing me sketches of what I might see at the party.

One was of a little girl in a stylish dress with a rainbow behind her. She held it up. "I might wear a dress like this to the party," she said.

Well, the other day, she was making a grocery list: cat food, blueberries, etc., when Johnny and Richie started telling her about the movie Jurassic Park III.

After listening for a while, she sat up primly and said, "Hmm. That sounds inappropriate."

"It is!" they said enthusiastically. "Three people get eaten by dinosaurs!"

"Inappropriate," to a boy, is a good thing, I guess.

During the movie, I asked, "Why didn't they just recreate the nice dinosaurs for their Jurassic zoo? Why did they have to bring back the raptors and T-rex?"

Johnny looked at me like I had no business sense at all. "Because then no boys would come," he said.

There you have it. If you want boys to come to your zoo, make it dangerous. Likewise for if you want them to read your books.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Mother's Day Award

I was sitting in my dirty house, fantasizing about Mother's Day. (I asked for the opportunity to clean uninterupted for four hours, meaning no children. Justin's been working around the clock, and I've been busy with work, too, so it looks like the History Channel special about what happens 17 years after humans no longer inhabit the earth. Bears are eating out of our cupboards and weeds are growing out of the floor at this point.)

I was thinking, instead of the ads where people wake up to a car with a big bow around it, I'd like to wake up with a dumpster outside with a big bow around it. That would be the best Mother's ever because then I could clean the attic, too.

I was wondering whether these hopes and dreams were healthy for a woman my age when I got an e-mail from my mom.

She said that she had gone to a company dinner, where she thought she was going to be mentioned for having worked there for 25 years. But then she found out that they honor their 25-year anniversary workers the following year. So after working there for 26 years, they get honored for working there for 25 years.

She added that she also almost was honored by our local CVS pharmacy. She bought something there and the girl said, "Wow. No wonder you're one of our top 10 customers."

"I am? What does that mean?" my mom asked.

The girl said that it meant that the CVS employees almost sent my mom a Christmas card with their picture on it.

Seriously, what will it take for someone to give my mom an award?

So I decided, in honor of mother's day, to give out an award called Mom/Employee/Drugstore Customer of the Year. The qualifications for the award are that you have to spend x amount of dollars at your local drugstore, you have to have worked at your company for 25 years (not 26) and you have to be a great mom. I'm pretty sure my mom has this in the bag.

Often times writers only write about their mom if she was eccentric or just plain wierd. My mom is the opposite. She's very normal except for the fact that she is one of the funniest people I know. If you ever sit down next to my mom, I can guarantee you won't get stuck talking about the weather.

If I ever make it as a storyteller, it will be because of my mom.

In her job, she heard people's stories all day long. She wasn't in the traditional jobs in which that happens--being a reporter or a hairdresser. Rather, she was an occupational therapist who visited people in their homes.

My mom always had two stories for us when she came home. A tragedy or hardship that her patient was facing. And something funny that happened to her that day.

This made me wonder, when the whole world suffers so much, why do funny things always happen to my mom? Of course, she has had her share of hardship like everybody else, but I think the reason why she has a funny story at the end of every day is not because she is blessed with an inordinate amount of comic relief in her life but because she sees humor everywhere.

A good sense of humor is something that people take for granted--like having straight teeth. But it's a whole outlook on life that says, "I know that life can be hard and people can be difficult, and life is often easier for the difficult people, but I'm going to enjoy it anyway."

Now, my mom supports me in my own storytelling career. She leaves a comment every time I post, sometimes anonymously, so that it will look like I have fans outside my immediate family.

On the actual Mother's Day, I'm going to spend it with my mom. She is not only a great mom but also gave me a sense of humor. Whenever something annoying happens, such as a doctor who throws a temper tantrum alongside my toddler, I think, if I can just get home and tell somebody, the story will transform into something funny, just like my mom's stories did.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.