Monday, September 29, 2008

Rough Housing

I started out the school year dropping J.J. off at school in the morning and breaking down in tears. He was crying; I was crying.

Now, I have a new routine. When I pick up J.J. in the afternoon, I attempt to sneak out of the classroom before any of his teachers can talk to me. I mean, they see me, but the important thing is not letting them pull me aside. So, ideally, they're conversing with a dad about his kid's food allergy. Or trying to find somebody's blanket that needs washing. Or something.

This new routine is due to the fact that J.J. has become quite the tough hombre since he started preschool. Now that he's comfortable in his new school, he's partaking freely in his favorite passtime: roughhousing.

"J.J. knocked over four kids at one time today," his assistant teacher told me the other day.

Another day, she said, "Whenever somebody falls down or even bends down to tie their shoe, J.J. dives on top of them. Like a dogpile."

And, another day, "I've been telling J.J. he needs to be a leader, not a follower. He's been hanging out with some boys who've been acting wild, and he's copying them."

"Oh, don't kid yourself," I wanted to say. "If he was the leader of that pack, things would be a lot worse." But I'm not going to sell out my own kid like that, so instead I said, "Yes, I'll talk to him about that."

J.J.'s assistant teacher is so nice that she always tells me J.J. means no malice; he seems to be playing.

Which is why I told him, "J.J., when you want to play with your friends, say, 'Hi, how are you? Let's play.' Don't piledrive them!"

And: "When someone ties his shoe, that's not your invitation to dive on top of him."

You know, tips and pointers that, for grownups, totally go without saying. But since he's a three-year-old boy who loves to wrestle, I have to say it.

He looks at me and says, "Uh huh. Uh huh. Kay!" But for all I know he's agreeing that jelly beans should, indeed, be our next president. I mean, he seems to have no idea what I'm telling him.

I've tried everything to stop this rough housing. I've even banned wrestling and tackling in our home, which nearly killed me because where else are my sons going to learn the fundamentals of football prior to the fifth grade season?

So far, nothing has worked. Then, this morning, while J.J. put together a puzzle, I saw the assistant teacher pull another parent aside. Of course, I eavesdropped because this father's son is like the quietest, nicest boy ever. So I thought, "Oh, what'd he do, not participate in the classroom discussion?"

But she whispered, "He's been hitting. Not a lot, and he's certainly not the only one. There's about four others..."

So we're not alone...I thought with relief. Even Quiet McShy's been in on the game. It doesn't excuse J.J., but at least it puts things into perspective. He's a boy. Boy's tackle. I'll try and try to teach him that there's a time and a place. But until it clicks, I'll continue to count on other parents to run defense for me, having nice long conversations with the teachers, while I wave and walk J.J. out the door.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Break a leg, Bo and Susannah

I sent Bo and Susannah off to their big job interview today. They're the characters in my first romance novel. I stuck them in the mail without so much as a hug and a kiss. They can hug and kiss each other on the way to the publisher, I guess. I wish them well.

Or I thought I'd wish them well. As it turns out, the emotion is a little stronger than that.

Granted, the trip to the post office wasn't Sobfest '08 like J.J.'s first day of preschool was, but it wasn't a simple business transaction either.

See, as a writer, that is my mantra. It's not personal. It's just business. I think that's what the mafia says before they kill someone, but I don't mean it like that. I just mean that writing is how I make money, so if a book doesn't get bought by a publisher, it's not something to cry about. It just means I need to make more sales calls.

But that's not really how writing works. You do get attached to your characters and stories, and it's very hard to sell a book. So there is some emotion wrapped up in it.

Still, I convinced myself that sending off the manuscript was no big deal. After all, I don't even know if the editor will buy it. She liked the first three chapters, but there are 12 more where that came from and who knows if they'll make the grade.

I should have known mailing off the manuscript was a big deal, however, because this morning, my obsessive compulsiveness was in full force. As I printed the manuscript, I checked all the pages to make sure they were in order. I peered into the envelope several times to make sure it contained everything it needed. And, though I'm not proud to admit it, I even washed and rinsed the rubberband that holds the papers together.

I don't know what I was expecting. The editor to say, "Look at this rubberband! It's hideous. Into the trash with that manuscript!"

On the contrary, the editors I know are nice, reasonable people who have no bias whatsoever toward clean rubberbands.


At the post office, I got my favorite postal clerk, who walked me through the ordinarily simple process of mailing a letter. But keep in mind, since this is my first novel manuscript, it was more like mailing a baby. As I faltered with closing the envelope, she took over with the gluestick. (Note to self: put her on the Christmas calzone list.)

I choked back my tears and even resisted the urge to ask for a minute alone with the envelope. Like I said, she is my favorite clerk, and I don't want her to think I'm quirky.

But if I did have a minute alone with the package, I would have said:

Bo, Susannah, you know I love you. I'm sorry I created so many obstacles for you throughout the novel. The secret baby, for starters. I think you're better people for it, however. I, too, have changed in the course of writing this story. I always wanted to write a novel but didn't think I could do it. You taught me that I can. In fact, I'm starting a second one tonight. I will never forget the two of you, and in closing, I believe in you. So do me a favor and sell this book.

When I got home, I thought about what an agent said at a conference I went to. Don't make your goal to be selling the book. You can't control that. Make your goal to be finishing the book.

I thought, Gee that's a nice sentiment. Unfortunately, groceries and Catholic school don't pay for themselves. And nobody says, "We accept Visa, Mastercard and finished manuscripts." It just doesn't work that way.

But when I held the tall stack of paper in my hands today and slid it into the envelope. When I put the envelope on the scale at the post office. When I got back home, knowing the fate of my story was out of my own hands, I finally understood what that agent meant. I felt like I had accomplished a goal. I wrote the best story I know how to write.

And mailing it off wasn't "no big deal," as I expected. I mailed off something I care about. I guess it would be like a grandma mailing off her "something borrowed" to her grandaughter, and hoping that, not only will it get there safely but that the marriage will be a good one.

I hope that the editor likes the manuscript, and not only that, but that people will read it and feel good.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Family Meeting

Two weeks into the school year, things got hairy at home. I've been working a lot, so I wasn't exactly staying on top of the laundry and house work. And the boys didn't have their morning routines down pat.

The situation escalated throughout the week until, by Wednesday, nobody left the house happy. It was as if the front door wouldn't swing open until every last one of us was miserable.

Johnny never had the right shirt clean, for instance. For his uniform, he can wear a red golf shirt to school, but on Mass days, has to wear a white button down collar shirt. Apparently, wearing a button down collar shirt on any day but Mass day is the most mortifying experience a second grader can endure. As the week two wore on, we ran out of golf shirts and he left the house in tears and a button down collar shirt.

Another day, Richie was running late and threw a fit in the school hallway.

"I'm not sending you in that classroom throwing a fit," I said.

"I'm throwing a fit because of you!" he retorted.

Never one to bite my tongue in public, I said, "Don't talk to me that way. You are not the only person in this family. If you all helped me, we'd get out of the house on time."

Well, who should be standing there as I'm yelling at my crying child in the hallway than That Mom.

You know That Mom. She's like the opposite of a camcorder...always there to capture your worst moments. No parenting mistake goes unrecorded by her: The over or under-disciplining, the eyeroll behind your child's back, the cussword dropped on the school playground. The untied shoes. The unbrushed hair. The forgotten lunch. Etc. Etc.

It goes without saying that she was also there when Johnny walked to school crying. And I'm sure, since we live across the street from the school, that she hears the commotion inside as well. "Who spilled the milk!" "J.J. you need to go potty on the potty!" "Richie! Put on clean socks!"

I know what she must be thinking, "Wow, every time I see those Heos children, they're crying. I wonder if something is wrong with their mother."

Damn right something is wrong with their mother. Namely, she's doing all the work.

So I called a family meeting. I couldn't wait to lay into my kids--and possibly my husband, too--at this meeting.

I'd say, "First of all, no more crying on the way to school. You're making me look bad."

And, "I am sorry if you are unable to wear the shirt of your dreams each and every day. But your brother is still being potty trained and clothes with pee on them have priority in the laundry."

And, "If you want to be on time in the morning, start working toward that goal at 7 a.m., not 7:59."

Yes, it would be a great meeting, for me at least.

But I decided to clean the house first. Richie and Johnny offered to wash the floors in the entire downstairs. They seemed excited about it, so I said, what the hay? That gave me time to clean the rooms, at which point I found several uniform shirts cast behind beds and under couches and what not. I did the laundry, and more uniforms magically appeared. I reorganized the boys' dressers so there was room for uniforms. Basically, I got organized. Feeling much better, I was ready to have the meeting.

Wait a second, though. Did I really want to yell at my children? It had been an emotional week. Everybody was starting new things, from J.J. to me. Some waterworks and temper tantrums were to be expected. And: They'd just washed all our floors--something they actually wanted to do...more than I could say for myself.

Still, should I really be blamed for every little thing that goes wrong in the morning? I'm trying to work plus write four different books that have deadlines by the end of the year. Money for those books will go to our family. Couldn't somebody else wash the shirts, for a change? How about J.J.? He seems to have a lot of time on his hands.

Then, again, I thought of all the meetings I've been to through the years where everybody got scolded. From sports to newspaper meetings, they weren't very fun. It's fine if you're at work or school, I guess, but I didn't really want to hold a hostile meeting at home.

So I took a different tack.

At the meeting, I thanked the boys for helping me clean the house. I congratulated everybody for surviving the first week of school and work. Then I bribed the children.

If they clean up their toys and clothes every day and lay out their clothes at night without complaining, they get $1 at the end of the week. If they do it without being asked, they get $2.

The allowance was Justin's suggestion. It's definitely made our mornings more peaceful. I'll be honest, I felt pleased as punch with myself and Justin. But I bet you can guess who wasn't there to witness our brilliant parenting moment. That Mom.