You’re Perfect! Enough Already!

Let me just say right now that I am not a perfectionist. I do notice details. I am a bit of a control freak. I am super organized. But I’m not a perfectionist. Sure, I feel bad when I get a review that’s not glowing, but it doesn’t devastate me (much) because it’s not possible for me or anyone to write a perfect book. I could try, but then I’d be working on it forever.

My sister was a perfectionist when she was younger. I used to watch her work on handwriting homework, and she would erase so much, she would make a hole in the paper. I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a “good enough” for her. You know, that letter D isn’t perfect but it’s “good enough.” This was handwriting homework, not the world championships. In which case, you’d want an excellent letter D, but no one is perfect.

So imagine my surprise and chagrin when my daughter started showing signs of perfectionism. I remember her being as young as 6 or 7 months, and me telling her, “It’s just for fun. It doesn’t have to be perfect.” After about the ten thousandth time saying that, I realized two things.

1) I could say it all I wanted, but that wasn’t going to change her view.

2) I wasn’t being helpful.

I don’t really know how to be helpful. I think I should acknowledge her feelings of frustration and be sympathetic, rather than dismiss her feelings. But I also can’t let her use her perfectionism as an excuse. Recently we were doing some activities to practice her skills with scissors. She’s always wanting to use scissors, so I thought this would be fun.

That was my first mistake. I always think things will be fun, but they often turn into exercises in frustration when she can’t get it perfect. Trust me, no one is more frustrated than me, when she won’t even make more than one attempt because she’s crying because her cut wasn’t perfectly on the line. No matter that she has never tried to cut on a line before. No matter that she is barely three and just learned how to open and close her fingers to manipulate scissors. No matter that this is supposed to be fun. Fun, I said! Fun, damn it!

She cannot do it perfectly, so she starts with the, “Mommy help you” (which means, help me do this). And now here’s the part that irritates me. I have to say no. if I do it for her, then she won’t do it herself and she’ll never learn. This is just for fun, but that’s a lesson that can’t go by the wayside even when we’re just having fun.

So I say no, and then we have a meltdown, and there goes my fun activity.

Anyone else with a perfectionist child? Any suggestions for coping?
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Shana Galen, Multitasker Mama
I’m Shana Galen, AKA Multitasker Mama (and aren’t we all?). I’m a wife, mom to a two-year-old daughter I call Baby Galen. My parenting motto is, “Keep moving. Don’t pass out. Don’t throw up.” Or maybe that’s my fitness motto? www.shanagalen.com

The Ties That Bind

Today I’m thinking of a friend.

I remember the first day of ninth grade. I made my way through the crowded hall to homeroom, uneasy because I didn’t know that many people. (Many of the kids I’d been going to school with fed into a different high school.) There were lots of new faces, and somehow they all seemed to know each other. I remember finding a seat and sitting down, and I remember seeing a girl sitting across the room. She was so pretty, with thick dark hair and beautiful eyes (blue, I would later discover). And her smile, that was what I really noticed. I was nervous and unsure, but she had one of those thousand watt smiles that spoke of warmth and inner confidence, that could light up a room and immediately put other people at ease.  I was drawn to her from the start. She sparkled. I think she’s always sparkled. I soon learned she’d been wildly popular at her junior high. A cheerleader. Her boyfriend had been the star of the football team. I, on the other hand, was basically a bookworm. A nerd. A straight A-student not exactly known for anything other than my grades. Not only had I never even had a boyfriend, I’d never been kissed. Never even held hands. People like her didn’t usually have much to do with people like me. And yet she did. We became friends with crazy ease.

I think back on all that now, those friendship that dominate the early years of our lives. When we’re little girls, long before we fall in love for the first time, it’s (usually) other girls who form the nucleus of our lives.  Sure we’re aware of boys, but for the most part, it’s the girls that we gravitate toward. We hang out at recess and pass notes in class, have slumber parties where we challenge ourselves to stay up as long as we can. In those early days it’s all about fun and games, laughter and being silly. I remember playing music and dancing, singing and braiding each other’s hair.

Somewhere along the line, maybe when hormones set in, things get more serious. We talk about guys, school, our parents—and other friends. We find ourselves sharing dreams and problems, frustrations and fears, and of course, all the intoxicating wonder and anticipation of dating.  We get emotional. We get gushy. We share poems.

That’s also when we start talking about kissing—sex. Who’s done what, and what it was like. We giggle about certain boys, and wonder how they kiss. We give nicknames (lizard tongue, anyone?) We talk about drinking, and drugs.  We talk about college. Our future. Sometimes we talk about out future weddings and speculate about who we’ll marry and the kids we’ll have, the lives we’ll lead, jobs, how it will all play out. But even with all that sharing, most of what we “see” follows the storybook script. We never talk about what will happen if the first guy we ever loved one day commits suicide, or if a parent walks out the door and never comes back. If our pregnancies don’t reach full term. And we sure never imagine that one day many, many years later we’ll be sitting in an exam room at a pediatrician’s office, waiting for the nurse, when suddenly a text comes in, and while our toddler babbles, we’ll be staring down at the words sick—very sick. We never quite see ourselves on the phone with our friend’s mother, the mother you once felt never approved of you as a friend, grasping for the right words to say as she falls apart. You never see yourself in a grocery store, frozen next to a rack of nail polish as you stare numbly at another text, this one with the words inoperable, no chance, so scared, and don’t know how to tell the kids. You never see yourself at a funeral.

That’s not part of the dream. That’s not the future we see when we’re sixteen and invincible, drunk on innocence and possibility. Maybe it happens to other people, but not us.

Sometimes I watch my daughter and her friends exploring the ropes of early friendship, and feel my heart ache. They’re third graders. Their lives are still blissfully simple. They’re silly. They laugh a lot. They make up cheers and chants. But the inevitable complications are starting to slip in: “Mom, I think Friend A is spending the night at Friend B’s house tonight–why didn’t she invite me?”  “Friend A and I were playing at recess, and we saw Friend B by herself and asked her if she wanted to play with us, but she just turned around and walked away.”  “Mom, Friend A got upset with me and I’m scared she won’t be my friend anymore.” “Mom, we’re changing tables next week, and since my table won the quiet award, we each get to pick one person we want to sit next to. But I don’t know what to do. If I pick Friend A, Friend B will feel bad, and if I pick Friend B, Friend A will feel bad. What do I do?

I remember those feelings, the uncertainty and insecurity, the fear that you’re not good enough, that a friend might one day decide they don’t want to be your friend anymore. Freshmen year, I wanted so badly to fit in with the new girls I was meeting, the ones who’d grown up together and shared countless memories and jokes, even fun nicknames, but despite how nice they were to me, I often felt like a third wheel, like I was hovering on the edge of a circle, but not quite part of it.  Of course, now I realize that was my own junk, that place inside of me that never felt good enough as a friend, a student, a daughter. In retrospect, it’s obvious why I threw myself into Cross Country running, but at the time, I didn’t see the connection. All I knew was that sometimes friendship was hard. Sometimes it hurt. Sometimes it made you feel every bit as vulnerable as romantic relationships. The highs were really high, but the lows could be really low. But somehow, when that connection is there, you get through it.

You love your friends. You grow together. You laugh. You cry. You learn. They touch your heart, and you theirs. You share secrets and dreams, hopes and fears. You learn how to give and understand, how to trust, and apologize. You learn not to walk away just because things get complicated. You learn you’re stronger together, than apart.  There are no vows, at least not the spoken kind. Not usually anyway. But the bonds are there, and they can be as strong as those to our spouses.

That’s why I know that no matter how badly I want to fix things for my daughter, I can’t. I can’t call her friend’s mother and try to smooth things over. I can’t wave some magic wand. All I can do is listen to her and let her know everything she’s feeling is okay. Normal. I can give her advice and coach her about the importance of being authentic and owning her actions/reactions, her emotions. I can give her a shoulder to cry on. But in the end, she is the one who has to walk this road with her friends. They’ve got to work through tough times and hard choices. They’ve got to feel the love, and the hurt. That’s the trick, the key. That’s how they learn, and that’s how they prepare themselves for what lies ahead. Those hard times, the ones that seem devastating and insurmountable at the time, they teach you how to be friends, and make us so much stronger. Planting seeds, laying a foundation, whatever cliché you want to use. I know that, because I know what the road looks like. I know things now that I never imagined when I was a freshman, smiling at the girl with the amazing blue eyes—and crying months later, because she invited someone else to spend the night at her house.

Now I realize we’re each a thread, beautiful and unique and strong, but more beautiful, more unique, and infinitely stronger when woven together.  The end result is a tapestry, a safety-net ready to catch us, hold us, support us, when life takes those unexpected curves.

In that small exam room, when I saw those words—sick, very sick—images flashed through my mind like a slide show stuck on fast forward. I saw my friend laughing, being silly. I saw her smiles, her tears. I saw her cheering on the sideline of football games, on the beach, graduating. I saw her in college, and later, five hundred miles from our hometown, as my roommate. I saw her gushing about the guy who lived in our apartment complex, the one she said if I didn’t date, she would. I saw her a year and half later, standing in our wedding. I saw her eyes dancing as she told me about a guy she’d met, and I saw her standing at the altar, taking vows to love and cherish, til death do they part. I saw her pregnant. I saw her holding her first child, and her second. I saw her at our high school reunion, and I saw her sitting across the table from me, sharing a beer as we talked about Days of our Lives. I saw all that in one blinding heartbeat, and everything inside of me hurt.

So much hit me at once, shock and fear, dread and sadness, anger–an intense, soul-searing anger. THIS was not part of the script, dammit. But along with all that, a fierce need filled me. I couldn’t fix what was wrong. I couldn’t stop the disease shattering her life, no matter how badly I wanted to. But I couldn’t shrink back, either. I couldn’t abandon her. I was her friend, and she mine. I wanted to be there for her, to stand beside her, love her. It wasn’t enough, it could never be enough. And yet sometimes life takes that choice from us. Soon I found myself in contact with all those girls from before, the ones with whom and from whom I learned so many valuable life lessons, and as one we came together three years ago today as our friend said goodbye to her amazing husband, the father of her children and the light of her heart. We stood together, the girls we’d been and the women we’d become, and wrapped our friend in the invisible, Teflon bonds of love and friendship, forged all those years before, through the fire of good times and bad. We held her and we held each other. We cried and we prayed. We stood together as our friend, the girl with the beautiful eyes, the woman with the broken heart, turned to face a new chapter of her life, one of grief and fear and uncertainty, but strength and courage, too, and with time, healing. It was a long way from the skinned knees of playgrounds and late night angst sessions, and yet it was those experiences that ultimately created the support system, the sisterhood, that carried us forward. It was friendship in action, the culmination of everything that had come before.

Today I’m thinking of my friend and seeing the girl she once was—with the wild dark hair and laughing blue eyes—and the strong, beautiful, courageous woman she has become.

Today, I’m thinking of my friend, and loving her with all my heart.

Today I’m cheering her on.

Today I’m grateful for the ties that bind.

The Tidbits of Our Lives, or A Glimpse Inside the Rome Household

You know, sometimes I just feel the need to share. I imagine you other moms know what I mean. I want to tell you how awesome my kids are! The things that make me burst with pride and amuse me and other wacky, fun things.

So pull up a chair and get ready for a glimpse inside the recent inner workings of the Rome household. =)

*cue adorable picture*

This is WonderGirl (almost 2!!) and SuperGirl coloring in Daddy’s office in the basement one morning when my husband let me sleep in (I know, right? Amazing husband award right there). Forget the coordinated pajamas! We just throw together whatever random shirts and bottoms we find each night.

Preschool

I guess the biggest change in our lives recently was the start of preschool for SuperGirl at the end of August. Although she’s only 3, because she’s had a speech delay (diagnosed at 18 months), her therapist recommended we put her into preschool a year early so she can continue receiving therapy there and try to get caught up with the other kids her age before next year. She loves it! Every night before we go to bed we ask the girls what their favorite part of the day was, and 99% of the time, even if SuperGirl hadn’t been to school that day, she still says “preschool”. I also ask her when I pick her up what she learned at preschool that day, and the only thing she ever tells me is “I learned my name.” So impressive that she can say an entire sentence! Last year this time she was putting only a couple of words together. However, this reply does make me wonder if they work on names every single day. =) Melt-your-heart moment? As soon as WonderGirl sees SuperGirl in her classroom when we pick her up, she waves and says “Hi, sister!” with the biggest grin, and then they give each other hugs and kisses.

Good-bye, summer!

I really hope you guys had a better summer than we did. I don’t know what was in the air but, as my husband says, it was the worst summer on record for us. There was my unexpected gallbladder surgery, in-law hospital stays, a concussion for SuperGirl, broken air conditioner and, on the very last day of August, a car wreck where someone rear-ended the girls and me. And those are just the highlights! (Lowlights? Er…) Fortunately, THANKFULLY, no one in the car accident was hurt and we have another car now (although we’re still waiting for new carseats *nudges insurance*). But even with all that, I’m a little sad to see summer go. Yes, even with the extraordinary heat. We’ve loved walking the girls pretty much everywhere in our small town–to the library, the post office, restaurants, preschool, parks, etc.–and I know this will become more difficult as the weather cools. I have to find new ways to get rid of all their energy! But the girls (at least SuperGirl) is at the age now where she is understanding most things, and now we talk about the changing of the seasons and how the leaves turning yellow/orange and falling from the trees mean that fall is here. One thing I’m really looking forward to this fall and winter? Attending an autumn festival with a hayride, making our own scarecrows, pumpkin catapults, and a corn maze. I’ve been wanting to do it the past couple of years, and this year I think the girls are finally at an age where they’d really enjoy it. For the winter weather, I can’t WAIT to create snowmen and snow angels with them. We didn’t really have enough snow last year to do it (even though we live in Colorado), so I’m hoping for a little–just an eensy teensy weensy more (native Texan here! *grin*)–for that to happen.

Superheroes rule!… As do kitty cats, and baby penguins, and awesome imaginations

My husband is a huge superhero fan, and so when I came up with the nicknames for SuperGirl and WonderGirl, it seemed a fun way to tie that together with my wish for them to be strong and independent women. Well, over the summer SuperGirl has also fallen in love with superheroes. It started when we went to the Denver Comic Con for Fathers’ Day and she picked out a little wooden figure of Captain America (only because he was blue and her favorite color is blue, mind you). Then my husband bought her a Captain America mask and shield (he’s in heaven with all this, let me tell you *grin*) so she could pretend to be the real Captain America. Now they love to play bad guys versus good guys, her favorite cartoon is The Superhero Squad Show, my husband took her to the comic book store to buy her first Captain America comics, she wants to be Captain America for Halloween, and even without her mask and shield she loves to pretend from time to time that she’s her beloved superhero…

That is, when she’s not a kitty cat or a baby penguin. I have NO IDEA why she suddenly decided at the beginning of August that she was a kitty cat. Maybe because of my in-laws’ cat while we were house-sitting? Who knows. Either way, from the beginning of August until just today, every day she’s pretended to be a kitty cat who only answers to “kitty cat” and who eats “cat food” and “scratches” the walls and your arm…and, yes, sometimes even licks her “paws”. But the best part? We’ve had to say “Good night, kitty cat” and “I love you, kitty cat” about a dozen times each night before she’s happy. I kid you not. =)

However, today I was watching Go Diego Go with the girls (WonderGirl’s current favorite show, although “Elmo” (aka Sesame Street) is close behind) and it was the episode about the baby macaroni penguin. I hugged WonderGirl and asked her if she was my baby macaroni penguin and I was her mommy penguin, and SuperGirl overheard. She LIT up. Her entire face just GLOWED, and she immediately came to see me. Since then, she’s been a baby penguin all night and I’ve been her mommy penguin, and we talk in these really high, sweet voices, and my husband is now “Papi”. Lol. He’s accustomed himself. So instead of telling kitty cat good night a dozen times tonight, we said good night to baby penguin a dozen times. Of course, she did say at one point that she was pulling kitty cat out from behind her ear, so who knows what she’ll be tomorrow. I might have to be careful lest she develop a multiple personality disorder. =)

Finally, the girls have fine-tuned their imagination play. They’ve played doll house for quite a while, and like to have their stuffed and plastic animals talk to one another, but just recently they’ve become waitresses who take our orders in the living room and then go to the fireplace to pick up our imaginary food and drinks so they can deliver them to us. And you know what? Asking for an imaginary slice of apple pie and “eating” it has actually helped me with a craving. THIS IS THE DIET CURE OF THE FUTURE!!! =D

Until next time…

This has been a glimpse inside the recent inner workings of the Rome household. As you can see, we’re a normal, crazy family composed of crazy, adorable kids…much like yours, I’m guessing. =) Stay tuned for the next episode, courtesy of…

BATMAN! (Captain America’s alter ego, apparently =)

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I’m Elise Rome, AKA Midnight Mama because I’m usually burning the midnight oil. If SuperGirl (3, with a speech delay) and WonderGirl (1, my very own hip attachment) aren’t getting up in the middle of the night, then I’m busy working on writing and writing-related business until morning…usually 5 am or so. Both my husband and I stay home with the girls (he’s a writer, too! www.lukasholmes.com), but usually I’m focused on them throughout the day and only get started working until after 8pm when they’re both in bed. I’m a former Texan now living in Colorado who desperately misses no-snow winters, and my parenting goal is to raise my daughters to be strong, intelligent, and independent women…much like the heroines I write, as a matter of fact. I’m a recovering perfectionist, recovering procrastinator, and perpetually aspire to keep the house clean (because it never actually is). When I’m not chasing around my daughters or adoring my cooking/cleaning/diaper-changing husband of 8 years, I write historical romances about women who fascinate me and men who somehow always remind me of Rhett Butler, the first literary hero who captured my heart. www.eliserome.com

I Love My Teenager (Giveaway!)

No, the giveaway isn’t of the teenager variety. (Thank goodness!) =) We’re thrilled to have fellow mom and author Catherine Kean at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard today! In addition to fabulous historical romance, Catherine also writes flirty and fun contemporary romances under the pseudonym of Cate Lord. Welcome, Catherine!

When my daughter was young, I dreaded her becoming a teenager.  Friends had told me that those years would be a nightmare, governed by emotional tantrums and lots of parent/child boundary-pushing.  Whether she’d been given parental permission or not, she’d get body piercings and tattoos.  Clucking their tongues with sympathy, those friends said, “You and your daughter will end up hating each other.”

Really?  My sweet, sensitive, smart girl would turn into a hellion who despised me?  I wanted to cry.

My daughter will be seventeen this fall.  I’m glad to say, we don’t hate each other.  In fact, just the opposite; we’re great friends.  Our relationship is different now than it was when she was little, but I’m okay with that.  I love the intelligent, artistically-talented young woman she’s become.

I know not every woman is able to be a stay at home mom or a mother who works from home, but I think these factors have helped me stay close to my daughter.  When I got pregnant, I made the decision to leave my full-time job—a choice my husband fully supported.  I was there when she crawled for the first time, walked for the first time, and when she drew her first animals with crayons.  I took her to swimming lessons, taught her how to write letters, and to read.  She loved books—still does—and we spent a lot of time in bookstores. J  Some of my favorite memories are of us sitting together at the kitchen table painting or making “food” out of Play-Doh.

Being home every day with a small child wasn’t easy, but it was worth every challenge I experienced.  It also helped me pursue one of my lifelong dreams: to become a published author.  When my daughter took her afternoon nap, I wrote.  My first historical romance, A Knight’s Vengeance, was penned during this time.  That book was published in mass market paperback in 2006, following my award-winning debut release Dance of Desire in 2005.  I can still remember the day that my daughter proudly told one of her elementary school teachers: “My mom’s a published romance author.”

Middle School was a big transition because it meant a larger campus and tougher classes.  My daughter had to learn to prioritize her time and deal with peer pressure.  Yes, we did have some emotional turmoil then, usually when she was having a busy week and felt overwhelmed with homework.  In talking with other parents with kids in their early teens, though, I learned that kind of stress is pretty normal—and to be expected.  Were those years hard?  Yes.  Did we have difficult discussions?  Yes.  Did she and I end up hating each other?  No.  What we did end up doing is learning to listen to one another, and at times, to respectfully disagree.  I also decided that some issues—like her wanting to cut her hair short and dye it red—were not worth disagreeing over; in the “grand scheme” of life, this is not a big deal.  I’m pleased to say I had the honor of speaking to her English class about my writing career, and was thrilled that she and the kids thought I was “cool.”

When my daughter started High School two years ago, that was another big change, and yes, again, we did see struggle with some emotional issues.  I also had major changes in my career.  After writing and having six paperbacks published, I learned my publisher had decided to stop printing romance novels.  I got out of my publishing contract, asked to have the rights to my books returned to me, sold a contemporary romance to a new house, left my agent, and self-published my backlist as eBooks.  With her artist’s eye, my daughter critiqued early versions of my eBook covers and gave great suggestions for improvements.  She also discovered her own love of writing, and she and I are currently working on a Young Adult novel, a wonderful way to spend time together.

While her homework keeps her pretty busy, my daughter and I make time for each other.  We both feel it’s important, and I love that we agree on this.  One of our favorite outings when she has a day off school is to head to our favorite mall to have lunch and then shop.  We did this the other day.  We talked the latest fashions, oohed and aahed over cute tops and dark-wash jeans, and splurged on cute lace-up boots for her as well as some new jewelry.  We come home with lots of new goodies, and we both had a wonderful time.

We also continue to share a love of crafts.  “Mom,” she said to me the other day, when we got into the car. “Did you know that Michaels is having a sale on beads?  Fifty-percent off.”  Her eyes were sparkling, and I had to laugh; she knows I have a weakness for sparkly beads.  Off we went to Michaels.  I now have spools of stretchy cord to make myself a bracelet, and she stocked up on jewelry supplies too.  Maybe this weekend, she and I can sit together at the kitchen table like old times and work on our bead projects.  If I ask her, I think she’ll happily agree.

Catherine is giving away a Kindle copy of her latest release, A KNIGHT’S PERSUASION, to one random commenter (winner announced Sunday).

insomnia, irrational threats, and rattlesnake tired

I’ve been saying this for years: I’m not a mean drunk, but I am a mean tired.

When I’m exhausted, I’m meaner than a rattlesnake. Like, seriously. I snap and snarl and growl. I curse. I say things I don’t mean. I threaten punishments that are irrational and impossible-to-enforce. “If you wake your brother up–no, scratch that, if he wakes up at all–you get no computer time for week. No, a month! You’ll never look at a never screen of any kind ever again!”

The good news is, I don’t get rattlesnake tired very often. Yes, I get normal tired. After all, I’m a mom. Aren’t we all, always tired? And sometimes, on deadline, I’ll short change myself in the sleep department over and over again. After a week or so of that, I’m tired, but I’m not rattlesnake tired. Rattlesnake tired is when I’m that tired, and it’s bedtime, but the kids aren’t sleepy. So I make myself stay up until they’re finally asleep. And then I do my writing for the night. And then four hours later, my daughter wakes up, fresh as a daisy and can’t go back to sleep. That’s rattlesnake tired.

That’s how tired I am this morning.

She was up at 3:00, wide awake and raring to go. After an hour and a half of trying to get her back to sleep, of making irrational threats and spitting like a rattlesnake, that’s when little brother woke up too. That’s when we finally gave up and everyone got up for the day. Naturally, an hour and half later, dear daughter curled up into a ball on the sofa and fell back asleep. Just in time for me to wake her up for school in another thirty minutes.

Insomnia sucks. It just does. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t suffer from it sometimes. I have suffered from insomnia on and off throughout my life. I remember being two and not being able to fall asleep. I have techniques that work. And yet, somehow, I have failed to teach them to my kids. Or maybe my techniques just don’t work for her. When she’s up, she’s up. She’s like my husband that way. Or, maybe, I haven’t taught her how to deal with insomnia because her insomnia usually hits when I’m rattlesnake tired, when I’m at my worst as a parent, when I have absolutely no reserves to draw on.

For now, I’m resigned to just being exhausted all day today. I will muddle through, trying to keep my inner snake caged, until tonight, when we will probably all fall into an exhausted, insomnia-less sleep.

Emily McKay loves to cook, bake and play with her kids. When she’s not on deadline, she also gardens, composts, follows celebrity gossip, and practices yoga. When she is on deadline, she … well, she panics, and does all of those things with more nervous energy. She lives in central Texas with her husband, two kids, zen cat, and two dogs.

 

Hurricanes in Our Lives

Post-Hugo…I’ll never forget seeing this sailboat on one of the most well-traveled roads in downtown Charleston.

How many of us have recurring nightmares when we’re stressed? Mine’s always about a tidal wave. Right before it hits me, I see the mighty wall of foam-tipped water curl over my small form and then swallow me whole.  I feel the dark weight of the wave, the surge as it carries me with it, and how close I’m coming to suffocating. I wake up trembling. That traumatic nighttime brush with death gets me every time. It’s a reminder that I need to fix something—or more accurately, face something head-on that I’m avoiding…some kind of hurricane.

Which is why every September 21st, I wake up remembering Hugo. Twenty-three years ago today, Category 5-level Hurricane Hugo came through town, shocking Charleston with its ferocity—heck, shocking Charlotte.  It plowed right through the Carolinas, maintaining its fierceness much further inland than anyone would have predicted.

As a precaution my brand-new husband and the entire local Navy had just been sent out to sea, specifically to save the Navy ships stationed in Charleston. A ship can ride out a hurricane at sea, but leave it at home at a dock, and it’ll be destroyed.  Yet even with the Navy on high alert, none of us left behind thought that the hurricane would amount to much. I spent all day cutting giant pieces of plywood with a hand-held circular saw with my sister. We’d pass them to my brother-in-law, who nailed them to the windows of their house on the Market in Charleston, a low-lying area prone to flooding next to the sea. When he was done with their house, he went to prepare his mother’s house on the Battery, which directly faced Charleston harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

We’d planned on weathering the storm in that mighty house on the Battery—old Southerners believe in protecting their property, especially those family heirlooms, and my brother-in-law was no exception. I felt we were in pretty good shape. That house had been there for generations. Plywood on those first-floor windows—all my sister’s husband could manage to put up before the hurricane hit–would hold back the winds. We’d be scared but okay.

And then my Yankee father called. He and mom lived in Charleston, too, but they were stuck out-of-town in Annapolis, Maryland, on their sailboat. He said to me, “Kieran, if the eye hits the harbor, that tidal wave dream of yours will really happen.  A wave as high as 30-feet will sweep over the Battery wall, take down that house, and suck you out to sea. I don’t care what anyone else says, you get your sister out of there and go inland.”

Gulp. Go inland.

I’d never really imagined the tidal wave could really happen! But in that moment, speaking with my dad, I realized my bad dream could actually come true. How did I feel? Well, I was obviously scared. But I also felt that I wasn’t going to just stand there and let a doomsday scenario occur.  I had no compunctions about telling my brother-in-law and his very proper mother that we’d be crazy to stay on the Battery and that I was basically going to kidnap my sister (against everyone’s will if I had to) and go inland.  I called some old family friends we hadn’t spent any real time with in fifteen years and without blinking an eye, they said come on over and stay.  We have pets, I told them. No problem, these hospitable folks said. We’ll have a hurricane party.

My school, The College of Charleston, founded in 1770 and the oldest municipal college in the US, after Hugo hit it.

Well, the good news is that my brother-in-law and his mother went with us, and we thought we’d be largely out of harm’s way.  But Hugo surprised us all. As the tornadoes raged overhead and we heard trees toppling around us, I was terrified. But I did take small comfort in knowing that no wall of water could travel that far inland.

Meanwhile, I later learned that only a few miles away from where I stayed, some Navy wives left behind when their husbands took those ships out to sea had to huddle under their dining room tables with their children—because their roofs had been ripped off their homes. And as for that storm surge, when the eye of Hugo hit the small shrimping village of McClellanville a few miles north of Charleston, a wall of water rushed through the town. Many of the poor people there had taken refuge in the local elementary school, but to avoid drowning, they had to scramble through the roof and climb trees.  Some didn’t make it.

So this is a day for reflection for me. I know from today’s paper and the computer models presented that the entire town of Charleston would have been under water if Hugo’s eye had hit ten miles south and come up the harbor and over the Battery wall. The truth is, it took us years to recover from the brush we had with Hugo. But those computer models remind us that it could have been far worse. We might have suffered the way New Orleans did after being nearly destroyed by Katrina. It’s humbling to recognize how precarious are the lives we all lead–not just as individuals but our community life. Our history, our keepsakes–they won’t last. Eventually, they will succumb to the inexorable forces that are time and nature.

The Battery on a pretty day long after Hugo’s visit.

So on this day, I always wonder if there are any hurricanes I’m not facing in my own life. Because whether or not I ignore them, they will come–sooner or later.  I’d much rather be ready—really ready.

Not fake ready. Fake ready is when you nail up boards on windows and think you can keep out Nature at its peak wrath. Real ready means you see what’s happening, and you put pride aside. You put possessiveness aside. You tell your wants and desires to take a hike. You’re going to protect what you need, no matter how stupid or powerless you look doing it.

I don’t have the tidal wave dream when I recognize—face the fact head-on—that I can only do so much and let the rest go. Nope, when I’m really ready, I see how little I am, I embrace the small power I have, and I let the rest of the universe do its thing.

When I face hard truths, the waters are often calm around me. But when they’re not, I surrender to the wave, just like I do in my recurring nightmare. And there’s something about that nightmare I didn’t mention at the top of this post:

I always, always, come up for air again.

Do you have tidal waves to face in your own life? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? And do you have a recurring nightmare that reminds you to get to work facing them?

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.

www.kierankramerbooks.com

Girls Night Out

Every other month or so, a group of the guys in our neighborhood get together for Poker Night. I’m not 100% sure how it goes down, but I think someone picks a date, designates someone as host (they take turns) and send out an email. Sometimes we girls find out about it ahead of time, such as when a bunch of us are talking and someone else mentions it; sometimes the discovery happens on the target day (or night!) itself, when our guy mentions they’ll be heading out after dinner, and sometimes it’s not until after the fact. Usually these are the times that our guy can’t make it. (To be fair, I’m sure there are also times, or at least was a time, when I learned about the night well in advance.)

And you know, I think it’s a great idea. I love it when the guys get together, and I’m always bursting with curiosity the next morning. I try not to blast my husband with questions the second he rolls out of bed, because Poker Night usually rolls into the early morning hours, and beer is involved.  So I wait awhile before I start my interrogation. Usually, it goes something like this:

Me:             “So who all was there?”

Him:          [Sips his coffee] “Pretty much all the regulars.”

Me:             “So how’s [Insert’s Guy Name] doing? I heard he had the flu.”

Him:          “The flu? I guess that’s why he wasn’t there.”

Me:             “Well, how did [Insert Guy’s Name] house look? I’m dying to see the new painting.”

Him:          “They painted?”

Me:            [Sigh]  “Well, what about [Insert Guy’s Name]…are they still trying to have a baby?”

Him:         [Insert Are You Crazy Look]  “We don’t talk about that.”

Me:            [Banging head] “Well, did [Insert Guy’s Name] seem okay? I feel so bad about his mom.”

Him:         “What about his mom?”

Me:             [Growl]  “So what did everyone think about the break-in down the street?”

Him:         [Frowns] “It never came up.”

Me:             [About to scream]: “WELL, WHAT DID COME UP? YOU WERE GONE SEVEN HOURS! YOU HAD TO HAVE TALKED ABOUT SOMETHING.”

Him:         [shrugs] “We played poker. I totally schooled [Insert Guy’s Name].”

So they don’t talk. They play cards, with real money. They throw back a few beers. They compete. Someone wins, and someone loses. They go home. I guess it’s a guy thing, right?

With time, the girls in my neighborhood have decided to get in on the action, except we go about things a little differently. For us, the biggest challenge seems to be selecting a date. Whereas the guys pick one and run with it, for us, we come up with a few dates and discuss them via email. Rarely can anyone commit via the first round of emails. We have to check family calendars. We have to see if our guy is going to be in town and come home on time, to check if one of the kids has a sporting event or a party, to make sure we’re not having out of town company or some other commitment. And you know what?  That in and of itself, the very fact that no one can commit without checking with everyone else in the family, is one of the biggest reasons why Girls Night Out is so important. As women, as mothers, our families typically revolve around us. We’re the glue. We’re the cruise director, the drill sergeant. When we step back, time either freezes or collapses. It’s really quite fascinating.

After a flurry of emails, sometimes spanning a few days, a night is selected…a night usually quite far into the future, and Girls Night Out is on.  And really, how great does that sound, Girls Night Out? Immediately images of laughter and Magic Mike come to mind. It’s pretty darn alluring J

Anyway. We finally get our night scheduled, and as we rip ourselves from our homes and our families, from dirty dity dishes and laundry, school projects and deadlines, the most amazing things happens. Time falls away, and we once again return to how it was in the beginning, before kids and husbands, back when it was just us and our girlfriends, gathering at someone’s house for a slumber party, when we’d stay up all night doing each other’s hair, watching scary movies, talking about boys, and the occasional Urban Legend detour involving Bloody Mary and Light as a Feather.

Okay, so we don’t do each other’s hair anymore, and we don’t watch scary movies, but we do talk. A lot. We talk about work and our families, about stuff going on with our kids and our parents, about problems and opportunities, about the neighborhood and our community. About something we heard on the news, on the playground. About what book we’re reading or what movie we just saw (or want to see.)  About an upcoming doctor appointment. About what stresses us, scares us. Terrifies us. The walls come down. We quit trying to be strong, invincible. We quit trying to be the glue that never cracks. We talk, and we laugh, and sometimes we cry. And when the tears come, so do the looks of understanding, and the hugs, and suddenly we’re not alone anymore. We’re not the fulcrum point of our families, but a friend among friends, a woman among other women. They get it. They know. They understand. They’re living parallel lives, and together like that, we all feel stronger somehow, because we know we’re not alone. We know the road we’re on is well traveled.

Consider these research-based facts:

  • Women with strong female-based networks live longer than those without them.
  • In fact, women without these social networks (support systems, safety nets) risk health issues equivalent to being overweight or a smoker.
  • As opposed to fight or flight, women undergoing stress actually seek out others for companionship and support.
  • The UCLA School of Medicine actually found that when in the company of girlfriends, a woman’s production of the oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, actually increases.

All this is significantly more sobering when you consider how increasingly isolated so many of us are. According to a sociologist at Duke University, Lynn Smith-Loving, friendships are actually the decline, a devastating consequence of the fast-paced lives more and more of us live.

If you’ve never seen the one-man show Defending the Caveman, you need to. It’s a classic, and it’s spot on. If you have, you know what I’m talking about.

 

It’s funny. There’s a bunko group in our neighborhood, and for years they’ve been inviting me, and I’ve politely turned them down. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I don’t really know what bunko is, much less how to play. But finally last month one of my super sweet neighbors grinned and said…”We don’t actually PLAY bunko. That’s just what it’s called.”  Oh?  Really? So I went. And she was right. We didn’t play bunko. We gathered first in the hostess’s kitchen, where we indulged in chips and guacamole and other yummy offerings. Then we gathered around the kitchen table, with wine and laughter and stories about kids, families, school, vacations, you name it. No bunko, just camaraderie, and a whole lot of awesome.

Apparently calling the evening Bunko Night draws a firmer parallel to Poker Night, even though nothing could be further from the truth J  But regardless of what you call it, Girls Night Out, Bunko Night, Mom’s Night On The Town, I’ve come to realize that time with friends is like one big group hug, like an endless warm bubble bath. Remember this commercial:

 

And yeah, while I was looking up that commercial, I ran across this one, too.

 

It’s kinda of the opposite end of the spectrum, but it counts, too. It matters. Because it conveys the same message, the woman who does it all.  You. Me. Us. And THAT woman deserves a break…she deserves a group hug and a bubble bath, she deserves a night without anyone spilling milk or asking her to wipe their butt. She deserves to laugh and cut up and be silly. She deserves a girls’ night out. It’s not selfish. It’s not silly. It’s VITAL…and fun 🙂  I think that’s why I’m so excited about my Silpada jewelry party coming up next week: girlfriends, jewelry, and wine. I can hardly wait!

Adventures of the Little People

My girls love Fischer-Price Little People. They’re brilliant toys for those tiny hands. And we have a slew of them at our house. I mean really, a whole bunch of them. I suspect that Busybee will be growing out of them soon, but for now they’re the go-to toy for both of them. But more than Busybee, it’s Babybee who really loves them. She’s been playing with them for a long time. Last year she had two that she’d play with at my mom’s house and she named them after her two playmates at her Mother’s Day Out program. Clever girls. I know I don’t get to share pics of my girls so today I thought I’d share some escapades from their Little People.

Behold the creativity of our sweet Babybee: We have a hard time loading and unloading the dishwasher while Babybee is around. She likes to help. And she likes to wash her people. Evidently they’re dirty. So far we’ve been able to catch these little guys before they’ve gone for a ride in the soapy hot water, but it’s been close a few times. I’m not sure what makes her decide against the basket and go directly to skewering some of her people, maybe these guys misbehaved earlier in the day. I don’t know. We certainly don’t punish by sticking our girls on sticks, but I’m guessing you just don’t want to mess with our Babybee.


Sometimes Little People like to look out the windows. They also enjoy going on car rides.

Now at Christmas the girls got the Little People amusement park which came with the cute little ferris wheel. They also got, before Christmas, the Nativity set, which is incidentally so adorable, it’s ridiculous. In any case one day I happened to notice that Mother Mary was enjoying a ride on said ferris wheel. And you know who could blame her. She’s in stable or cave (depending on which scholar you ask) with a bunch of livestock – you know it didn’t smell good in there – with a newborn and a bunch of people keep showing up. She deserved to have a little fun.
 
Sadly while Mary was off riding the ferris wheel Joseph hitched a ride in Santa’s sleigh with Mrs. Clause. Really I didn’t know what to say then, not sure I have anything to say about it now. I love watching my kiddos play, listening to their creativity and imagination, it’s fascinating. So how about you? What are your kids’ favorite toys? Any go-to toys you just can’t live without?


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. www.robyndehart.com

Guest Mom Kristan Higgins: Please. Not that.

In the field of embarrassing one’s children, I believe I am Picasso.

Let’s face it. When we’re pregnant or waiting for the adoption to come through, we imagine that beautiful, gold-hued bond that we’ll have with our little ones, our angels, those babies we so wanted and already loved beyond measure.

And we do love, and we are bonded. Everything is perfect and amazing…even when they throw up not just on you, but in your mouth. When they poop on your clean clothes 30 seconds before you have to leave for the first meeting you’ve had since their birth. Even when they scream for eight hours and thirty-seven minutes straight, your arms are shaking from holding them for so long, and tears are streaming down your own face at your inability to comfort them. Even then, they are our perfect angels.

And then, they learn to speak.

“You have a bald spot in your eyebrow,” my then three-year-old daughter announced in church one day, not using her inside voice. “Can I rub your bumpy mole?”

“My penis is fat,” a certain male toddler who shall not be identified once told a clerk in the grocery store. “Want to see?”

As they get older, the commentary changes in tenor. It’s not so innocent anymore. “I’m not sure that color looks good on you,” a certain daughter might say. “It’s meant for someone younger. Sorry.”

Or, “If you have to come to the meet, don’t cheer for me, hug me or look at me, okay?”

I think they’ve earned some embarrassment, don’t you? It’s the judgment. How dare they, after throwing up in my mouth? Right? I now gleefully and regularly embarrass my kids. It’s one of the great joys of my life.

One day, we were stopped at a light, and our radio was playing “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black-Eyed Peas. I was singing along. “How do you know these lyrics?” asked Princess Daughter. “This is one of my songs. Also, that man can hear you, so stop singing. Mommy. Stop it. I mean it! Stop!”

I turned to the man and started singing more loudly, thank you very much. “I’m so 3008, you so 2000 and late!” Not only that, I started car-bopping. That’s right. Dancin’ AND singin’, baby! In public!

Another surefire way to mortify the kids is to remind them of their origins. Our daughter came upon her father and me exchanging a fond kiss one day. “Oh, God. Senior citizen snogging,” she blurted. “Run!” She and her brother fled.

“Where do you think you two came from, anyway?” I yelled at their backs. Their screams of horror were my answer.

Each year, I go into the local school and talk to the 8th graders about being a writer. This year, my son is in 8th grade. “You won’t come in this year, will you?” he asked worriedly.

“Oh, I’m so coming in this year,” I said. “And I’m going to talk about writing love scenes unless you clean out that closet right now.” (The closet was immaculate 20 minutes later, I’ll have you know, and kudos for me. I don’t write love scenes, but my son has never read my books.)

In a way, I embarrass my kids because yes, it’s revenge. And because it’s fun. But I also want them to know that being oneself is a gift. No, I’m not a good dancer. But I love to dance, so I’m gonna. I want my daughter to know the joy of not caring what other people think, to be able to enjoy the moment. I acknowledge that 13-year-old boys don’t always relish maternal affection. But I love my son, and I want him to get that message every day. I know in my heart that hugs and kisses are good for the soul, and they mean much more than being cool.


I know the kids secretly love when I cheer for them at a meet, or whistle after their song, or cry when they do something really special. I know they’re happy that their parents love each other. They have a happy family, where it’s okay to tease each other, laugh together and kick back a little. Even if it’s embarrassing.
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Kristan Higgins is the mother of two teenagers and a New York Times bestselling author with no sense of rhythm whatsoever. She has been known to dance in the dressing room of many department stores, often makes up the lyrics to songs she doesn’t know and has been seen making out with her husband at the disgusting age of 47. Visit her website at http://www.kristanhiggins.com or swing by her Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/KristanHigginsBooks.