In the Forest

Note: I wrote this blog shortly after being traumatized a bit. I want to post it still because it was a really honest reaction to what I was/am going through, and I want people in similar situations to know, you aren’t alone. But I wanted to add a note to let you all know I’m feeling better now. 🙂

This wasn’t the blog post I was going to write. Not even close. In the past month we’ve been on vacation, moved, gotten a dog, I’ve signed with a second publisher been to RWA…it’s been a huge thirty days. I was going to talk about change.

Now I’m going to talk about things not changing enough.

It’s especially ironic considering my last post, but I think that’s parenting in a nutshell. The feelings are different every day.

Today I feel like I’m in the woods. I know they end somewhere. But I don’t know where. I thought I was closer than I am. I can’t go back, the option isn’t there. And I wouldn’t. Except I just want to sit down and give up today.

We moved into our new house a week ago. The first thing we did was put chains on the doors. Then we fenced the back yard. Why? Danger. Danger is an escape artist. He wanders. We thought we had it.

Tonight he unlocked his window and got out while I thought he was sleeping. We went to bring his dog to his room and he was gone. I’ve experienced this three times now. They have been the longest, most hellish moments of my life. I would go through unmedicated childbirth ten times over to never experience them again. To have avoided ever experiencing them. In those moments you realize how all those brilliant things that happened in the past thirty days mean nothing if that child isn’t coming home to you.

Thank God he was safe. Thank God.

I thought he’d progressed past this point. I thought he was progressing and I suppose he is, but it’s easy to let something like this steal that feeling. Like an alcoholic who loses their sobriety and has to start the count again. I’ve never seen him stim like he was tonight either. He was totally overdone.

Here’s the thing about parenting a special needs child: No one asks you if you’re up to the task. I’m not special. I’m not stronger than anyone else. But just like the mother of a typical child I love my son. More than myself. It’s the love that keeps me going. Without it, I would just be lost in the woods. As it is, I’m lost in the woods with that love pushing me forward.

Tonight I thought, I just don’t want to do this anymore. And then I thought WHY ME? And then I looked at him and thought, I love that kid. And so I keep going. Because I need to. Because I can’t do anything else. Because my son is precious to me beyond words. Because he’s brought me joy that surpasses the sorrow.

Maybe that sums up parenting for everyone. You will never know love so deep, joy so profound or sadness so intense as you do when you love a child. Adopted or biological, son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandson or granddaughter. Because they are in our care. Vulnerable to us.

And again, I wish I could see the edge of the forest so I’d know I was getting there. So I’d know I could make it through this okay. So I’d know I wouldn’t let him down. That I won’t let my other beautiful kids down either. But I don’t know. I can’t tell. So I keep walking. And I hope that love makes up for my missteps. I hope my kids’ guardian angels work extra vigilantly to cover where I fail. I pray that God is there to catch them when I don’t.

This isn’t the blog post I was going to write. But it’s the blog post I needed to write. Someday I’ll write a blog post about the shenanigans of our new golden retriever. Or about Diva picking grapes in the backyard. Or Drama and his impressive knowledge of geography. But today I had to write this. Right. *grabs walking stick* I’ve got to keep on hiking through now. I can’t see the end. But I hope love lights my way.

You Posted WHAT?!?

Last week I updated my Facebook status (as my alter-ego, Jenna Mills, not Ellie James—sometimes it’s confusing being more than one person!) with a whimsical anecdote about my four-year-old son’s attempt to give our placid, overweight, deaf cat an appendectomy. At least, I thought it was whimsical. I mean, I found him before anything bad happened. I took the pairing knife from his hand. I hid it again, this time really, really well…I think.  And heck, I’m not even convinced anything bad would have happened, had I not intervened. Surely the cat would have moved if he actually started to cut her. My son is only four. He has a vivid imagination (occupational hazard). He makes stuff up left and right. He tells stories about the spaceship in the clouds over our house, the one he came from and returns to at night, where there are zombies and aliens and storm troopers, and they always listen to him, even if they sometimes take his brain out and make adjustments. Yeah.  He’s four. Four and two months to be exact. But I digress. Kind of.

At the time of my post, I was sitting in a shadowy hospital room, watching my eight-year-old daughter sleep off anesthesia from an emergency appendectomy. (Went to a minor league baseball game Saturday evening, laughed in the rain for two hours before the game was postponed, woke up Sunday morning to a little girl not feeling well, discovered her pain was in her lower right abdomen, off to the ER, they sent her to the OR.) So, there I was, twenty-four hours after eating French fries in a downpour, sitting in the hospital alone, with the silence and way too many ‘what-ifs.’ So I posted the story about my son, who, while I was hurriedly packing for the hospital, attempted to re-enact what was happening to his sister with the cat.

The next evening my husband looked up from his laptop, gave me one of those guy frown/scowl things, and told me he thought maybe we needed to think about what we do and don’t post on Facebook. He used words like drama and TMI, but I don’t remember a ton of detail, because I immediately got defensive. I do remember telling him that my friends love my Jack-stories, to which he made some kind of comment about telling the world our family was out of control.


BUT this isn’t about what he said, whether he was wrong or I was wrong, but rather, about what we post—and why we post it.

Facebook is fascinating. I mean really, truly fascinating. I’ve always been a people watcher. I notice everything, especially minute details. For someone like me, Facebook is the ultimate playground—or psychology lab (my minor in college). I no longer have to leave my house to see the world dance around me. I’ve found friends I lost twenty years ago for no other reason than I moved. I learn all kinds of exciting news, see pictures of kids and pets and far-away places (right now I’m following the story of Poppy, a rescue dog in Australia!). I know when Friend A has diarrhea (yay, me!) or Friend B can’t sleep. I know when Friend C is furious with the electric company or her neighbor or whoever else might cross her path and Friend D is fighting with her boyfriend (because they do it all RIGHT THERE for the world to see. Oiy!) I laugh and I fume and sometimes I cry. Oh, and I get to ask tons of research questions!!

Being a thinking kind of person, sometimes I sit back and reflect on the bizarreness of it all, not just Facebook but the explosion of social media we never even conceptualized five years ago. It’s crazy how much it has changed my life, how, yes, I reach to update my status when hail pummels my house or run to Twitter when I hear there’s going to be a big announcement. And yet, I have many friends who don’t participate in any social media, and those who only lurk.

Why, I wonder. What drives us?  What prompts us to share life’s little moments, some quite personal and intimate, with hundreds of faceless people, to post RIP message when someone we never knew (a celebrity or sports figure) passes away, weather updates, sports scores, to tell 523 people when we have a headache….or when my four-year-old attempts to give our cat an appendectomy.

For me, as a writer, the answer is two-fold.

1)   I’m a story-teller. That’s what I do. I tell stories. Given that, something like Facebook is a natural extension of what I do for a living, with the exception of the fiction versus non-fiction thing.

2)   I spend most my time in my house and my story-worlds. I don’t get out much. I don’t have an office to go to, with other people to hang around with. I don’t have a cafeteria with a coffeepot to stand around and exchange hellos and anecdotes while adding cream and sugar. There’s no hall or cube chatter. There’s no communal TV to stare at with my co-workers when something big and huge happens in the world.

So, for me, social media is my cafeteria. It’s where I go when I want—or need—to talk. Sometimes I’m looking for advice or feedback. Sometimes I’m looking for people to share my excitement or incredulity. And yeah, sometimes I’m looking for a virtual hug. I try not to use social media as dumping ground. I try not to excessively vent or rant (try being the operative word). I steer clear of divisive topics like religion and politics. I try not to unleash negative energy on my unsuspecting friends. I try not to make the people who read my posts sad. I rarely mention when I don’t feel well (with the exception of comical things like when jumping and twirling off the arm of the sofa, after straightening the curtain pleats, resulted in blowing out my knee) But…I do tell stories about my kids, and sometimes those stories reveal flaws in my parenting or coping skills. But you know what? I’m okay with that, because I’ve always been all about being real. That’s how I make connections with others who are traveling the same road as I am. That’s how I survived my journey through infertility. I don’t need anyone to think I’m perfect, because I’m not. But I would like to think someone might find it interesting (informative? witty?) to sit down and talk with me for a little while (ahem…upon proofreading this post, I sorta gotta admit that sounds a little pathetic!).

What about you? Do you have personal  guidelines, protocols, or habits for what you post? Are there things you’d never post, or someone you blocked because you just couldn’t take anymore of their updates?

A Different Sort of Firsts

I’m so thrilled to welcome Marquita Valentine to Peanut Butter on the Keyboard today! A fellow romance author, I had the pleasure of meeting Marquita at the RWA conference in 2011 and the equal pleasure of reading parts of her work before it was published. Today, Marquita shares school insights–something which really resonated with me as SuperGirl just started pre-K yesterday. Welcome, Marquita!!

A Different Sort of Firsts

This summer has been a bittersweet one as a parent. My baby boy started Kindergarten and my daughter started third grade at the end of July (we have year round school). Two very definable moments, since Kindergarten is the start of a child’s school career and third grade is the beginning of the dreaded End of Grade tests.

Silly kids and mommy

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel with the house empty. I mean, I knew I’d be excited about all of the extra time I’d have to write, volunteer and basically get things done. And I’d already done the whole mai-babeh’s-in-the-Kindergarten routine with the first one.  Confession: It wasn’t pretty.  So, this time I’d be calm and collected and so cool. I wouldn’t be like the other moms, weeping at the door and pressing their noses against the windows as they tried to get one last look at their babeh. Nope, not me.

Ready to get to class! …And waiting on her brother.

Yeah right. My husband had barely gotten the picture of my babeh with his teacher (also my daughter’s former teacher, yay!) before I started tearing up. Then that sneaky little educator had to give me a flippin’ poem, and I, in all my over-confident experience, read it. Commence blubbering and sobs while I walked down the longest hall in existence.

I can’t stop picturing him like this.

Still, it wasn’t until I was in the truck with my husband that it hit both of us: This was the last time we would be doing this. Not only that, but this was the end of an era. Slowly but surely baby things were being given away. Things like cups, plates, clothes, toys and DVDs that my kids no longer wanted to use because they are GROWED UP. Sigh.

Maybe that’s why there’s a toddler (niece of the heroine) in my debut, Twice Tempted and a five month old in the sequel, Third Time’s a Charm. Apparently, I don’t want to give that time up!

Then the most wonderful thing evah happened. My barely 5 year old came home from school and read a book to me, all by himself.  I cried and laughed. I gave him a high five and asked him to read it again so I could video it with my phone all the while thinking: My son read a book with complete sentences to me!

Who cares about no more baby stuff, my boy can read just like his big sister!!!

So I want to know, Peanut Butter on the Keyboard readers, what firsts have you experienced lately?


Marquita Valentine writes small town romances that are anything but small. Lisa Kleypas, Carly Phillips and Rachel Gibson are among her favorite contemporary authors. Marquita met her husband aka Hot Builder at Sonic when they were in high school. She suggests this location to all of her single friends in search of a good man — and if that doesn’t work, they can console themselves with cheesy tatertots. She lives in North Carolina in a very, very small town with Hot Builder and their two children.

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Coming in September

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You can find Marquita all over the internet:






Happy Birthday, me!

Today is my birthday. It’s not a big round number or anything. I am <cough, cough>. Last year, which actually was a round number, passed without much reaction on my part. Last year was supposed to be a big deal, but just wasn’t.

But this year … well, at least, as of now, while I’m writing this post, I’m feeling a little melancholy. So far, I’ve had lots of wonderful celebrations (nice presents, dinner with friends, etc.) but still, when I sit and think about it, I’m a bit sad. Maybe it’s because today is the first day of school here in Texas and my daughter is starting the second grade. So I’m struck not just be how old I’m getting, but how old she’s getting. How did this happen? How is she in the second grade? It feels like she just started Kinder! Frankly, it makes me want to cry.

I know my blue feeling will pass. Soon we will get into a routine and I won’t have to think about it, much less mourn how quickly the years are passing. But for now, I’m very sad.

Wow … this post is turning into a real downer. Which isn’t at all what I intended. I know, in the end, that my sweet girl loves school and is so excited to be going back. That’s what’s important.

What about you? What’s your favorite part of going back to school?

Also, let’s celebrate my birthday with a fun present! I’ll give one person a goodie bag with some of the books I got in Anaheim.

Hi, I’m New Here

I’ve been intrigued with Peanut Butter on the Keyboard since earlier this summer, when Kieran first shared the site with a group of fellow authors. I’ve found the posts funny and sincere, warm and heartbreaking and courageously honest. When Kieran put out a call for “Guest Moms,” I jumped. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about, but I knew I wanted to write something. I watched the days tick by, “my day” drawing ever closer. I started to panic. I felt pressure. Day by day I read the posts, and smiled. Holy cow, WHAT was I going to write about?

Then, one day—one day REALLY close to “my day”—I sat down with a yellow tablet and a pencil (how I write my blogs) and words started to flow. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during my writing career. Even when the conscious mind is blank or fried or overwhelmed by back-to-school shopping and referring screaming matches and Lego wars, the subconscious is steadily and dutifully doing its thing. When the time is right, the words (or scene, or plot point) will be there. It. Just. Will.

So! I blogged with PBOTK earlier this month about something near and dear to my heart: Mom Guilt. I slanted the blog toward Writer Mom Guilt, since that’s the life I’m living. But then the most amazing thing happened. All sorts of women posted comments, not just writers. I had friends and neighbors come up to me. I had a few shoot me emails. One approached my husband and told him she cried. And I…I exhaled. Whew. I’d done it. I found something of note to blog about.

Wellllll, it seems I’m not done yet. Shortly after my guest post, PBOTK approached me about becoming a regular poster, and to say I was blown away excited is a severe understatement. I was thrilled. Motherhood and writing are my life. Quirky stories about the bizarre ins and outs, ups and downs, of raising children, creating story worlds, and trying to stay sane fill my Facebook page (my original writing name: Jenna Aucoin Mills). I’m SO excited to join this group of wonderfully warm, talented, courageous women, and I hope I can live up to the awesomeness that is PBOTK.

A few of the PBOTKers suggested I throw a few things out there about me, so I sat down to make a list (one of my FAVORITE things to do.) My goal was 10 Random Facts, but, um, well, apparently conciseness isn’t my thing.

So instead, here you go: 25 Random Things About Me

  1. I’ve lived in Texas 20 years, but will always consider Louisiana home.
  2. I never knew love could be so big or terrifying until I had children.
  3. I wrote Romantic Suspense (as Jenna Mills) for ten years before a bizarre dream detoured me into Young Adult.
  4. I gots Cajun blood in my veins, which sometimes boils over into a Cajun temper.
  5. I’m a conspiracy theory junkie.
  6. I’m so unromantic it’s not even funny. (Just ask my husband.)
  7. I will never grow tired of watching The Last of the Mohicans, Gladiator, or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  8. I’m obsessively into sports, in particular Texas Rangers baseball and football played by the LSU Tigers and New Orleans Saints.
  9. Snow is beautiful, but I’m not very nice when I’m cold. (Just ask my husband!)
. Give me heat any day.
  10. I get my feelings hurt too easily.
  11. I’m a worry wart.
  12. I REALLY hate disappointing people.
  13. I think Some People Who Shall Not Be Named sometimes wish I came with an edit button.
  14. I miss my grandparents terribly.
  15. I love cats, have 3 of them.
 And then there’s this big white dog…
  16. I tend to be a “just in time” kind of person; I’m never early.
  17. I have a serious thing for old castles, so much so that I once, kinda,  broke into one.
  18. I dreamed of airplanes flying into buildings for years before 9/11. Haven’t had that dream since.
  19. I always thought the Professor and MaryAnn totally needed to get together.
  20. I have this little problem with conformity….i.e. I don’t much like being told what to do….i.e., I totally wouldn’t be one of the sheep going over the edge.
  21. I don’t mix my foods. Ever.
  22. I believe in all that stuff that can’t be proved.
  23. I worship JJ Abrams and miss Lost soooo much!
  24. My kids are the greatest gift, the greatest joy, in my life.
  25. I love rain and wind and thunder and lightning, the first warm kiss of spring and the first cool whisper of fall, family, friends and animals, dreams, happy endings, red wine, dark chocolate and warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.

Grieving with children

A couple of months ago I had another miscarriage. It was an unexpected pregnancy to begin with as The Professor and I had been told years ago that conception without medical assistance would be nearly impossible. We’ve struggled with infertility our entire marriage and frankly over the last two years I’d pretty much come to terms with the fact that I would never actually carry any of our children. That kind of knowledge comes with it’s own kind of grief. There’s a lot to swallow in that one simple realization: I’ll never feel life move inside me, I’ll never look at my children and see my husband’s smile or my eyes, I’ll never breastfeed….the list goes on. Like I said, it is its own kind of grief and well I’d come to terms with it. And then that damn positive pregnancy test.

our kitty Sydney

The weeks that followed that consisted of weekly doctor’s appointments with too many blood tests to count and more vaginal ultrasounds than anyone should have to endure. My ObGyn and then the Perinatologist couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with the pregnancy and then ultimately it was determined that it wasn’t viable.

Ah…life can sure knock you on your ass sometimes, can’t it? In the midst of all of this emotional drama, I was still writing and well, still being a mom. Being sad about stuff that kids can’t see and especially little kids can’t understand, it’s hard to explain. There were lots of times my sweet girls would come up and ask, “Mommy, why are you crying?” or “Mommy, you okay?” <– my littlest is a great talker, but she uses less words than her sister. Daddy did a lot of explaining and Mommy did a lot of crying alone in the bathroom.

our kitty Baxter

The pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage opened up a lot of old anger and grief about the whole infertility issue, stuff I thought I was done with. And well, I realized something, grieving as a mother is both harder and easier than grieving without kids. There was something so wonderful about those moments when I was so sad that I could reach out and squeeze one of my girls. Or how Busybee would come over and put her sweet little hand on my cheek and say, "it's okay, Mommy, don't' be sad." But it was harder too because I knew I couldn't just be sad all the time, I had to swallow a lot of it and put on a happy face so I didn't distress my children. But in doing so, they kept me out of going down that rabbit hole, the one I fell down into with my first miscarriage where I spent the better part of six months in bed.

So there you go, my recent assessment on grieving with children. How about you? Have you ever had to explain something like that to a young child or did you just grieve in private and hope they didn’t notice? *and you know since I don’t show pictures of our actual kiddos, you’re stuck looking at shots of our cats*

I’m Robyn DeHart, AKA Basket-Case Mama, but not because I’m crazy (though really, what mom isn’t?) but because I have a slight obsession with baskets, well containers really. I’m a bit of an organization nut and I love to containerize stuff. And yes, I’m authorized to use words like that because I am also a writer. But back to the kids, so I’m mom to two ridiculously beautiful little girls and I can say that without bragging because I didn’t actually make them. Last year my husband, The Professor, and I adopted said little lovelies from the foster-care system here in Texas and now we’re a big happy forever family. Busybee is three and so full of joy it just oozes from her. Babybee is a walking-talking toddler who has a heck of a temper but is so cute, it almost keeps her out of trouble. Though neither of my girls are newborns, I’m fairly new to motherhood compared to the other peanut butter moms, but we’ve settled in as a family as if we’ve always been together. When I’m not trying to keep up with my two bundles of energy, you can usually find me on my laptop on Pinterest, no, that’s not right, um…you can find me writing, yes, that’s it, writing my latest historical romance.

Guest Mom Allison Brennan on Life Lessons

We are simply delighted to have New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan here with us at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard.  She’s a busy mom of five who also happens to write romantic thrillers with a suspenseful edge.  Somehow in her “spare time,” she manages to inspire other writers with her commitment to her craft and her broad-based knowledge of the publishing industry. Thank you, Allison, for sharing a bit of yourself and your world with us today…

This article is like my life – cluttered and a bit unfocused, but with a purpose. I hope!

When Kieran asked me to write an article for this mommy-writer blog, I was excited—I’m a mommy and a writer! (well, not so much a “mommy” anymore – my kids call me “mom.”)

Then I realized, I have so many things I could talk about where writing and motherhood intersect, that I stared at my blank computer page and could think of nothing to say.

I think the powers that be call this “the paradox of choice.” I call it a brain fart.

First, my kids: I have five. Yes, five. Yes, I know how kids are made. Yes, I’m Catholic. (And yes, those are the two questions I get the most – the wannabe jokesters, “You know how that happens, right? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” And the 2.1 families (families with 2 or 3 kids) who think having 5 kids is straight out of the 50s, and tell me—I kid you not—“You must be Catholic or Mormon.”)

Katie — This was when she was homecoming queen last fall
photo credit: Allison Brennan

I’ll be 43 next month. I might as well get used to it now. Once you hit 40, age just doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. After all, I have five kids and my oldest, Katie, leaves for college tomorrow. I’m flying with her to Phoenix and we’re having a mother-daughter night before I leave her on campus and fly home, alone. Bittersweet for me, but I couldn’t be happier for her.

The thing is, I’ve been thinking a lot about Katie and her graduating glass of seniors. She went to a small school—58 in her graduating class. I worried a bit that we sheltered her too much—the high schools in our area have over 2,000 students, and the graduating seniors go to the pro basketball stadium for their graduation because they have so many people. We made the decision early on that our kids would go to a small, private school. We made a lot of sacrifices to pay for it, but it’s been worth it for us.

But the sheltered thing sometimes bothered me until I realized that Katie is as self-sufficient and knowledgeable about the dangers in the world as any senior from the bigger schools.

I write romantic thrillers, heavy on the suspense. I think this simply stems from my interest in crime and criminal psychology. But because of my knowledge, I always wonder how much I should tell my kids. I don’t want to scare them or coddle them, but I can’t lie to them, either.

I’ve always been blunt and matter-of-fact when talking about violence. When Katie wanted a MySpace when she was in middle school, I initially said no. I did a lot of research on social media—this was before Facebook (or, when Facebook was very, very small.) I then explained to her all the ramifications of having a social media page, and what she would need to do to be safe—primarily making the page private and only friending people she actually, personally, knew. I told her about girls who’d met with boys they didn’t know and learning they were grown men who wanted to have sex with them, or worse. I told her about the boy who stalked his ex-girlfriend through MySpace and found out when she was going to be at a friend’s house, from where he kidnapped, raped and killed her. I wanted my daughter to understand that when she had a social media page, she needed to realize that everything she posted was there forever, even if she deleted it. That an innocent picture of her in a bikini could be taken completely out of context and embarrass her in front of her friends, or worse.

Eventually, Katie got a MySpace page, but dumped it when Facebook became popular. And she’s been responsible with it. But I still send her articles I come across about smart, responsible teenagers who got sucked into something bad because they weren’t being careful enough.

I’m obviously proud of her. Katie’s the kid her friends call when they’ve been drinking and need a ride home. She’s the one who’ll be the first to tell her friends if they’re being stupid. I don’t think I’ve sheltered her, even with our choice to send her to a small parochial school. Because I have never lied to her about the dangers of her world.

Now, my 11-year-old son wants a Facebook page and this conversation is starting again. I think he’s too young, he doesn’t, and so the discussion goes … time to pull out my research and explain to him that it’s not just girls who can be vulnerable on-line, it’s boys, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about safety as I prepare to let my oldest little birdie fly 800 miles out of the nest. I’m not going to be there to

Click cover for excerpt

tell Katie to be in her dorm by curfew, to walk with a friend across campus, to be careful what she drinks at parties because it may be spiked with alcohol or RHB, or not meet in person with someone she met on-line. One of the best things I did was watching VERONICA MARS with my girls, the summer before Katie started high school. Great show to open up discussion about anything from cheating to date rape to sexual harassment to online dangers.

In my 2007 thriller FEAR NO EVIL, my character Lucy Kincaid (who now stars in her own series) thought she was meeting a 19-year-old college sophomore … she didn’t realize he was a 38-year-old pervert. She met him—in public—but he drugged, kidnapped, and raped her. I got an email from a fan who was so upset that, as a mother, I could write something so awful. Maybe, because of my kids, I think about all the evil that could befall them—and that it’s my job, as a mom, to prepare them for the good, the bad and the ugly.

I don’t know what’s going to happen when Katie leaves home. I hope that I’ve prepared her to face the world and manage her newfound freedom. And really, isn’t all we can truly ask of ourselves as parents is to ensure that our kids have the life-skills necessary to get through good times and bad, to recognize dangers and how to avoid them? Because once they’re out of the nest, they have to be responsible for themselves, however much we want to protect them the rest of our lives.

I might have gone a bit overboard at times in teaching life-lessons.

For example, one late afternoon a couple years ago, I’d picked Katie up from volleyball or basketball practice. We were driving along a country highway and spotted a large dark green garbage bag in the gulley next to the vineyards. The way it was lying, with the shadows of the vines and trees that formed a windbreak, I thought, That looks like a body.

Just then, Katie said, “Mom, did you see that garbage bag? It looks like dead body.” Then she added, “Do you want to go check?”

Katie is majoring in Criminal Justice. She’s thinking of going into law enforcement. I’d be proud and honored if she did – and I’d have a resource on speed dial!

Now I turn my attention to my other four kids. Next out of the nest is my 16 year old junior. Kelly is an avid reader and a talented artist. In fact, she reviewed YA books for RT Book Reviews for a couple of years. She’s the type of kid who excels in English and struggles in Math. She wants to go to art school on the East Coast.

Oh, speaking of avid readers, you’ve all heard that theory that if you read to your kids and if your kids see you reading that you’ll raise readers?

That’s B.S.

Click cover for more info

I am an avid reader. Our house is filled with books, and always has been. I read to my kids every night until they were six, and sometimes when they were older. All but one was reading fluently by the end of kindergarten. They always see me reading, and I’ve never said no to books. (And yes, I let my kids stay up as late as they want if they’re in bed reading—as long as they get up on time for school. So, sue me.)

The thing is, I have two kids (my 16 and 9 year old daughters) who love, love, love reading. They read every day for fun. And I have two kids, my 18 and 11 year olds, who hate reading. They only read when they have to. (Well, my 11 year-old son will read science magazines and anything to do with video games, he just says that fiction is “stupid.” Yet, he has straight-As. Go figure.) My youngest, 8, goes back and forth. Sometimes he’ll read on his own, but it has to be because HE wants to. If I ask, he won’t do it.

I did say we were Irish Catholic, right? I have five very stubborn kids.

Seven years ago, I quit my day job to be a full-time writer. I’d sold my first book and took a huge leap of faith that the book would be successful enough that I wouldn’t have to beg for my old job back. It was a stressful year—I pulled my three youngest from day care because I could no longer afford it (they were 4, 2, and 1 at the time) and still wrote every night because there was no way they’d let me write during the day. I worried about the kids, the books, making ends meet because I’d always been the major breadwinner… but I was also living my dream. I was a full-time author.

I thought I was so stressed, the kids would notice, but it was my oldest Katie, 11 at the time, who told me, “Mom, I’ve never seen you happier.”

That alone made taking the leap of faith worth it.

I’m not an overly strict mom, or an overly lenient mom. I think it just depends on the situation. There are some things my kids know

Mark is one of the little guys in purple (the kid on the right) — he was 7 at the time!
photo credit: Allison Brennan

not to push on, and other things I say fine, and other mom’s look at me as if I’ve grown a third eye. One of my big no-no’s is that when my kids make a commitment, they can’t quit just because it’s hard or they decide they don’t like it. For example, my oldest son started tackle football four years ago. He hated it (well, he kept getting in trouble for talking, and that meant running laps) and wanted to quit. I told him he had to go to his coach and tell him he wanted to quit and why. Luke wouldn’t do it. He stuck with it, and now is starting offensive tight end for the Pee Wee team. My youngest son, wanting to do everything his big brother does, played on the Mighty-Mites last year (6-8 year olds.) Mark loved it – until he had to put on the equipment. My youngest is very small for his age, still one of the smallest 8 year olds on the team. But I wouldn’t let him quit. I thought for sure he would never play again (because he told me) but surprise on me: he asked to play again this year.

I think that is the best lesson we can teach our children, the type of lesson that lasts beyond the home. Dream big, work hard, don’t quit, make smart choices, and sometimes, take a leap of faith. Our happiness depends on it.

photo credit: Jessica Hills Photography

New York Times and USA Today bestseller Allison Brennan is the author of eighteen novels and several short stories. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, she lives in Northern California with her husband Dan and their five children.

Crime fiction, mysteries, and romantic suspense have always been Allison’s favorites, so it’s no surprise that her romantic thrillers have a dark suspense edge. Reviewers have called her books “terrifying,” “mesmerizing,” “fast-paced,” “pulse-pounding,” “wonderfully complex,” “layered,” and “a master of suspense – tops in the genre.” Lee Child called LOVE ME TO DEATH, “A world-class nail-biter” and Lisa Gardner says, “Brennan knows how to deliver.”

Writing three books a year is more than a full-time job, and so is raising five kids, but Allison believes life is too short to be bored. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, playing video games, watching old movies or new television shows, driving to or attending volleyball / basketball / football / soccer games, and on occasion even makes it to the gym where she enjoys people-watching more than exercise.

Allison is currently writing the Lucy Kincaid series about an FBI recruit. SILENCED is out now. STALKED will be out on 10.30.12 and STOLEN in spring 2013.

Allison can be reached through her website.

I don’t want my kids to be lazy

Inspired by Elise’s blog from the other day, I thought I’d share my latest “be healthy” goal: exercise!

Of course, I was being glib when I titled this blog. (I was riffing off Elise’s title.) But at the same time, when it comes to physical activity, I’m basically a very lazy person. You know all those people who want to push their bodies to the limit? To test the extremes of human endurance? Yeah. Me neither. I’m not one of those folks. I don’t really know any of those folks. Frankly, I think they’re crazy.

However, having said that, I will admit this: I want to live a long life and apparently a healthy heart and waist smaller than 35 inches will help with that. (That waist thing is apparently a new indicator of healthy–big surprise right?) So at the beginning of this month, I decided I was going to exercise every day. I committed to doing fifteen minutes of stretching every morning and another 25 minutes of exercise later in the day five days a week.

I know August is a strange time to start a fitness program. I mean, don’t most people start in January? Or March, right before swimsuit season? But the way I saw it was this: If I can do this everyday, then by Thanksgiving exercising will be a habit. That would be huge for me! Exercise? A habit? So bizarre, I can’t even tell you. I bet, right now, Robyn DeHart is laughing her butt off.

But that’s my goal. I knew if I shared it with you, I’d be more committed to following through and I really do want to follow through. I want to be that goal-acccomplishing, confident person that is in the habit of exercise. Moreover, I want to be a good role model for my children. I want them to have those habits I never had. I was that kid in school. You know the one that’s picked last in sports because because she threw a softball and accidentally hit someone with it. Yeah. That was me. I have a natural aversion to any sport that involves moving quickly and gracefully, because I’m far more likely to trip awkwardly and knock over the entire team like dominoes. (And yet even I thought Bella from Twilight was too clumsy.) This is why I practice yoga. And not just any yoga either, Iyengar Yoga, which is like yoga for the elderly and lame. I’m not even joking.

The point is, I don’t want my kids to know that about me. Not because I’m embarrassed by it. (Hey, I’m not that dorky girl in school with the crush on the out athlete, so it does matter.) I don’t want them to know because I don’t want to pass my crap on to them. I have this vivid memory of my parents telling me, “It’s okay. Beierles aren’t good at sports.” (Beierle is my maiden name if you didn’t know.) I remember that moment as clearly as I remember all those others. Did it happen before or after the softball incident? Before or after the dominoes? I don’t know. I don’t know if it was my reason or my consolation.

But my kids, they have a shot at doing better than I did. Yes, they’re half Beierle, but they’re also half the Geek. Despite being a Geek, he had perfect vision, played tennis and basketball and was a champion skeet and shooter (or whatever the noun is for that.) Does that mean they’ll be athletes? Who knows. I just don’t want them thinking they can’t be. And, I want to be around to see them do whatever it is they do, whether it’s volleyball or tennis or yoga for the elderly and lame.

How about you? Do you exercise? If so, what do you do? I still have one goodie bag to giveaway from RWA conference, so let’s talk about exercise!

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Is It a Mental Health Day? Or Is It Playing Hooky?

Monday at noon: why isn’t this child in school? Is he Kieran Kramer’s ?!?

Just as we all know there are two types of pickle eaters in the world—sweet versus dill, and ne’er the twain shall meet—there are two types of moms in the world: the ones who think it’s okay for their kids to take a day off school when they’re clearly not sick, and the ones who don’t.

At first glance, there appears to exist a vast, howling chasm of darkness between these mothers, down which all sorts of credible arguments for both sides fall splat upon the floor of expectations wrought by umpteen generations of mothers who came before and laid down that family’s particular “To Play Hooky or Not Play Hooky?” law.

When I was a kid, a couple times a year, I’d skip school with my parents’ blessing. In fact, they’re the ones who thought of the idea in the first place. My parents were hard-working, responsible people who also happened to enjoy flouting rules they found oppressive and unreasonable. Nothing bad ever happened to me as a result from skipping school except that I developed a mild scorn for strict rule followers. I was of the mindset that rules are to be followed usually, not always. I’m still this way–for good reason, as I hope this post will prove (but probably won’t for those moms on the other side of the giant crevasse).

I usually give my kids one freebie day a year to stay home from school, and it can’t be on a day they have a project due or a big test. Sometimes I give them two days a year, one before and one after Christmas. Note: not every child takes me up on this generous offer of two days—but they all say yes to the one day.

Whenever moms on the other side present to me all their great arguments about how kids need to take responsibility and show up, I watch with brazen indifference as the arguments they lob at me take a nose-dive in that abyss separating us. And then they do the same for me. They just don’t get how a mom can possibly let her child be irresponsible—not only that, encourage the child to be irresponsible!

Well, here’s the big irony: My end goal is actually the same as the no-hooky mothers: I want my kids to survive—and thrive–in the big, scary world.

Beneath my slothful exterior lies a shrewd—Darwinists might say cunning–mindset. Let me back up a minute to explain: I’m all about educating my children, but it’s got to be a whole education, beyond the paradoxically myopic world of academia.

Damn if those brilliant intellectuals can’t cross a street without getting hit!

Ever notice?

Which is one reason I think my parents tried to give us some street cred. We were a family of A-students. There’s nothing more annoying than being around a smartypants out of touch with the real world. And there’s nothing more dangerous than being a smartypants out of touch with the real world.

In other words, the classroom is not enough–and that goes for everyone, A-student or not. We’re all annoying and dangerous when we’re out of touch with the real world.

So not only do I want my kids to know why E=MC-squared and how to dissect a frog or a sonnet, I also want them to be able to survive the sturm und drang of life–you know, the times that Shakespeare or Einstein will fall short of preparing them for a crisis.

The main thing they’ll need is flexibility. I teach my children that no one can survive a storm without bending; that skill keeps you in the game.  Bending means you’re seeking out other options, and you have to be of the mindset that there are always options. Always. It’s up to us to sniff around and find them.

Sometimes, when school gets heavy or tedious, kids need a fresh outlook on life so they can go back to the old grindstone with a renewed spirit. But how do you get a fresh outlook on life when you’re in the pit of despair or boredom?

You have to find something within yourself to get yourself out—that’s the ticket. And it’s oh, so hard to do. It requires practice–

Which is why I let our kids have a day off!

Some people call it a mental health day. My goal is to get them flexing the “I can get outta here if I need to and still survive and thrive” muscle. Later, they’ll use this reflex in their own adult environments. They’ll recognize signs of stagnation. They’ll know they have to do something about it. And sometimes—sometimes—that will mean a temporary, or even permanent, turn in another direction.

My older kids have had brushes with serious issues, and I’m sorry—nothing they learned in the classroom was able to yank them by the proverbial collar out of their crises. The one with Asperger’s was very depressed at one point his freshman year in college after being cyber-bullied (he wound up transferring to another school). And the other, a perfectionist a year younger than my Asperger’s child, the girl who only wanted to cause no trouble because she witnessed so much pain and stress in the life of her older brother, developed anxiety her junior year in high school and succumbed to an eating disorder.

Let’s face a sad fact: some people don’t recover from depression or eating disorders. But when my children realized how severely they were becoming trapped, their old flexibility training came through. They remembered:

Options. You always have options. You never need to feel trapped. You can turn in another direction….renew. Recharge. Then go back and slay those dragons or go conquer new ones.

Both my kids remembered that rule and went to an adult they trusted and asked for help. They knew that the one-way ticket to doom that depression and eating disorders can be wasn’t their only option. I’m not saying that they could see clearly what the other options were.

They simply knew they existed.

They knew. Hallelujah. They knew to have hope. They knew there was an escape hatch. They knew—because we’d drilled it into them since they were babies—that nothing was written in stone. Nothing. Except the existence and power of love.

Everything else is negotiable, transient, do-able…but not of everlasting importance.

So okay, that may seem a little wild and wacky a reason to let my kids play hooky, but from the very beginning, I was planting a seed. I taught them that letting go—turning in a different direction—was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, recognizing that pivotal juncture in a crisis shows you understand that flexibility is as much a survival skill as having a sense of responsibility…in fact, more so.

Flexibility, my friends, is everything.

So I wish my sturdy oak mom friends well. They’re teaching valuable lessons in persistence and responsibility. And they are important. To survive and thrive in today’s world, our kids will need those traits. I like to think that I have been teaching my children those same things.

But our family is also a bunch of reeds. We bend in those hurricane-force winds that are sure to hit every life at one point or another. And we spring back up, ready to grow again. That was the point all along.

Kieran Kramer, Merry Mama

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. I try to teach my kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job.

My oldest guy, Dragon, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a junior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college sophomore; and my youngest, Nighthawk, is in ninth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy.