The micro story

This commerical is the best thing I’ve seen on TV all week.

First off, let’s face it. It’s hysterical. We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all had those days when the narrative in our heads does not match the day we’re having. In fact, sometimes, it feels like that’s every day. (Particularly any day that involves vacuuming.)

But the other thing I love about this commericisl is it’s such a perfect micro-story. It’s reminder to me–as a writer–that stories are everywhere. That telling a story is not enjoyable, it’s a window into someone else’s life. It’s a way to instantly create a connection between two people.

That commericial is also a reminder for me about the power of vulernability. We see this woman on an off day. We see her at her most vulnerable. We love her for her human frailty, not her perfection. Sometimes I feel like social media forces us to perform ever more daring feats of perfection. We are constantly trying to present the best, most perfect version of ourselves for the world. We’re showing off the cutest pirate outfit we made for our child’s Talk Like a Pirate Day or the darlingest Penguin Cupcakes we made for the school bake sale. (As if it’s not enough that we made cupcakes, they have to be tiny works of art as well.) Sometimes, it starts to feel like everything is a competition and we forget that the easiest way to create a bond with someone is not through perfection, but through humanity.

And it’s also just a really funny commerical.

 

From Zero to Panicked in 60 seconds flat

Two years ago I had this conversation with the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates:

Her: We’re thinking about moving to another school district.

Me: Why? Did you or your husband get a new job?

Her:  No. We’re worried about Jennifer’s class rank.

Me: Um … okay.

Her: This school district is so competitive. It’s almost impossible to make into the top ten percent. And you, if you’re not in the top ten percent, you don’t automatically get into UT, A&M or Texas Tech. And if you can’t get in there…

Me: Um ….

Her: What do you think?

Me: Don’t colleges know how competitive our school district is? Shouldn’t that matter?

Her: <Looking at me like I’m a naive idiot> Um ….

 

At the time, our kids were in the second grade. I thought she was crazy. Like, bat-shit crazy. Why would you move (actually sell your house and move) so your kid could go to an inferior school district in the fear that ten years from now his or her GPA might not be competitive?

Flash forward to Monday morning. Someone forwarded The Geek an article from Money Magazine ranking colleges. He’s rattling off interesting facts:

Him: Did you know most of the really good colleges are upwards of $150,000?

Me: <choking on coffee>

Him: Did you know Stanford only accepts 8% of its applicants?

Me: Uh???

Him: Oh, look, Harvard only accepts 6%.

Me: <gasping for breath>

five minutes later

Me: How do we feel about moving to a shitty school district?

 

Okay. So we’re not moving. Yet. But I am officially freaked out. My daughter is in the forth grade. Middle school is right around the corner. Those days when I have to think about class ranking and dream colleges is right around the corner. Like so many times in my past as a mother, parts of me are at war. On one hand, I don’t want to be the crazy mom who moves the whole family to engineer a better class rank for my kid. On the other, I want her to have options. I want her to get into any school she wants to go to. I want her to enjoy her childhood. I worry that we’re not doing enough. I remind myself that I got into Texas A&M (and so did her father) and that was good enough for both of us. I don’t want to push too hard, but I’ve always felt my parents didn’t push enough.

What if she wants to go to Harvard and doesn’t get in. What if she does get in and we have to pay for it? What if pay for it and then … and then … my baby is going to live in Boston!!!!

What if she never moves back? I’m going to have to move there too! I’m going to have to learn to drive in the snow! 

Thank goodness for The Geek. While I was hyperventilating, he pointed out several wise things: we still have time, we have savings, our kids are bright, we didn’t go to Harvard and we’re okay. Remembering all of that helped. 

But here’s the bottom line: I’m going to panic. Every time I think I’ve got this parenting thing under wraps, there’s going to be something to freak me out. I can go from zero to panicked in sixty seconds flat. Okay, in this case it was more like fifteen minutes. Still, you see what I mean right?

Here’s one of those things I never knew about parenting: I would be afraid all the time. I would be afraid of crazy crap that I would totally make fun of under other circumstances. And I would always be trying to hide how afraid I am. Because here’s the deal: I’m okay telling The Geek when I’m afraid. I’m okay telling you guys. I’m not okay with the kids knowing it. They don’t need my crazy in their heads. My girl will have her own fears about college and they will come soon enough.

So, what about you? Are you thinking about college yet? What makes you panic?

 


 

Emily McKay lives in Central Texas with her family and her chickens where she writes YA horror and eats lots of cookies.

Writing beach retreat.

So for years now, Emily & I have gone on writing retreats to the beach. Usually 3 or 4 days where we sneak away from our regular daily lives and hole ourselves away to focus on nothing but writing. We’re here now with our 4 kids and we’ll play and chat and write and the kids will have a blast. But it hasn’t always been like this. Once upon a time there were 4 of us that would come, us and 2 other writers and that’s what I want to talk about today.

When we started these retreats, we were fortunate that one of us had a lovely beach house we could use and it made our twice yearly trips (usually February and September) even more of a treat. For the brief stint I lived in Tennessee, it made things more difficult as I would see family when I went to Texas and there simply wasn’t time to carve out for those writing retreats. But one  November we decided it was time for another one so I flew into Austin and together we piled into the minivan (this time with a very pregnant Emily and a rather chatty toddler) and we hit the road for the five plus hour drive down to Bolivar peninsula. We had these traditions with these trips, we’d usually stop at Chili’s in Houston and then make our way to Galveston where we’d load onto the ferry that would take us over to the smaller strip of land that housed the beautiful Crystal Beach.

I suspect that many of you might not have heard of Crystal Beach or Bolivar peninsula unless you remember Hurricane Ike, the one that hit shortly after Katrina. Ike’s damage didn’t get quite the media attention that Katrina did – Bolivar is obviously not as populated as New Orleans, but still many people lost their lives and even more lost their homes.

It wasn’t just writing retreats though that mark my memories of this blue house on stilts, it was a family vacation spot a few times, a place where I went with several friends for just a weekend away at the beach.

Before the storm, you could see rows and rows of houses, these are the pictures of the aftermath of Ike, you can see how nearly everything was leveled. Now I only lost a place where I have memories, I didn’t lose property or land or belongings or loved ones, and I can only imagine how those people will begin to put their lives back together.

I’m one of those beach people. You know, how some people prefer the mountains – The Professor is one of those, but me, I’m all about the beach. The waves, the sand in my toes and the sun warming my face. I can sit there and watch that water for hours. Or walk along the shore and pick up shimmering pieces of sea glass. It is a refuge for me, the one place on earth that fills my soul more than any other.

Changing beach locations is not the only way our retreats are different. As I mentioned before, now we have kids in tow, whereas when we started, we were both kid-free. Not only that but our dear friend, the one who owned the beach house that we lost now has late-stage Alzheimer’s. Our trips are different, but we still write and recharge and laugh and enjoy a few days away from our “normal” lives. But I miss those early retreats, I miss that blue house and I miss our dear friend.

Five tips for raising adventurous eaters

I know this is a hot button issue for some people–much like attachment parenting is for some people and cry-it-out method is for others. So let me start by saying I have no intention of food shaming anyone. I’m not going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. As long as your kids aren’t starving to death, you’re doing just fine.

However, having said that, I happen to have been blessed with very adventurous eaters. I use the term “blessed” because I’m well aware that some of it is pure luck. My husband and I are adventurous eaters, so you could make the argument that we must have genes for very forgiving taste buds and we passed those genes on to our kids and were therefore blessed with adventurous eaters. This is at least partly true. (Did you know there’s a specific gene for super bitter tasters? So some people don’t like broccoli because it actually tastes different to them.) But, baring any weird gene or sensory issues, your kid may have it in them to be an adventurous eater too and you just don’t know it yet. Because The Geek and I do work at getting our kids to eat well. Sometimes we work very hard at it. The reward is kids who can eat almost anything and almost anywhere, kids who eat lots of veggies and love them, kids who make good eating choices more often than not.  Personally, I think all the hard work is worth it. (Plus, I’m too damn lazy to cook multiple meals. I’m not a short order cook, people!)

So here are my five tips for raising adventurous eaters:

1. They have to try at least one bite of everything on their plate, even if they tried it two days ago and hated it then.  Kids taste buds change all the time. Ours do too! And if a kid doesn’t like something on Tuesday night, that doesn’t mean that they won’t grow to enjoy it by the following Monday.

2. They can’t complain about the food someone else has prepared for them. This one is huge for me, probably because I am almost always the “someone else.” I’ve told my kids over and over that they don’t get to complain about my cooking until they’re food critiques for the Times.

3. They don’t have to finish everything on their plate, but if they don’t, they don’t get to eat again until breakfast. Trust me, nothing puts food in a kid’s mouth faster than the threat of watching the whole family eat ice cream without them.

4. You can’t flinch. That’s right, if you want your kids to try everything, then you have to be willing to do it too! I don’t like sushi, but when my kids want to try, I paste on a smile and pretend it’s great. Just tonight we ate at a traditional ramen noodle place and there was this weird egg looking thing in my bowl. I dug right in, ignoring the weird texture. I had to eat it with a smile because my daughter was giving hers the stink eye. Just remember they will model your behavior!

5. And, finally, if all else fails, google the nutritional info about the food. Any time the kids do start looking sideways at a particular dish, I pop open the computer. Many a kale salad has been eaten in my house because I regaled my kids with assurances that Kale has oodles of vitamin K, which will make their bones strong, and tons of vitamin A, which will protect their eyes. Knowing why it’s a good idea to eat something is a big step to enjoying it. Plus, it’s important that kids know that food isn’t just about the pleasure of eating. It’s about feeding our bodies.

So those are my tips for getting kids to eat almost anything. Now what are yours?

 

 

Adjusting expectations

I’m not going to lie: today kicked my ass.

Okay, let me backtrack a bit. If you’re a regular follower of the blog, you may remember me blogging about having my girl tested for dyslexia. I have felt for a while now that there was something going on. My gut just told me she was not preforming in school at the level she capable of. Even though she was tested for and qualified for Gifted and Talented, her reading was well below average. Her spelling was much worse. In kinder, 1st and 2nd, I got some version of “It’s too soon to worry.” Over the summer, we decided to have her privately tested by a neuropsychologist. At the same time, I finally got the school to agree to test her. We got the school results back first. Yes, they agree she’s not performing where she could be and her spelling is horrible, but she’s not dyslexic. Today, we got the professional results. No, she’s dyslexic. She just has moderate Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

I’m not hugely surprised. I mean, I guess I’m still surprised it’s not dyslexia. I really thought that was it. But ADHD is … I don’t know. Maybe I should have seen it coming. Maybe I did see it coming. She’s always been a fidgety kid. She’s always been a mover. She’s high energy. She’s a quick and nimble. And she had impulse control issues–which I know from my years as a teacher is how ADHD presents in girls. It’s just … I was so sure about the dyslexia.

Here’s my parental gut-check moment: I was so sure about the dyslexia because I think I have it and was never diagnosed. So all these traits we share (bad spelling, lack of organization, slow to develop reading skills), I thought they were symptoms of the dyslexia. I was even prepared for dyslexia and ADHD. I just wasn’t prepared for only ADHD. I had no idea it could affect spelling (because this girl seriously can not spell!), but apparently, yeah, it does.

This blog is probably very disjointed and rambling. I’m apologize. This is just all my gut reaction stuff … in the middle of deadline … in the middle of Christmas … trying to balance my love and my hopes and my expectations for my wonderful daughter with this new knowledge of the challenges she’s going to experience.

In case you’re wonder (because this is the question that’s come up the most as I’ve talked to others today), no, we’re not planning on medicating her. The doctor said maybe, someday, it would be an option, but only if she’s doing hard core studying for something very academically rigorous, like studying for the MCAT, for now, she should be fine with an adjusted study schedule and some adjustments in school.

I walked away from the meeting with a renewed determination to nurture my daughter in a loving and positive way. To embrace all her unique and wonderful qualities. To be more gentle and kind with her.

Unfortunately, she got off the bus this afternoon in a pissy mood. She seemed determined to push every one of my buttons. She groused at me. She picked on her brother. She complained about everything. I tried the gentle and kind approach. I really, really did. After hours of gentle and kind, I finally had to lay down the law. She had to get her mood under control or else.

Remarkably, she got it under control.

After the day I’d had, I felt like a failure. But maybe, today, she didn’t need gentle and kind. Maybe today was just a day when she needed boundaries. Maybe she needed ordinary me (who doesn’t take that kind crap) and was trying not to be the ordinary me. We both failed and floundered. Maybe, ultimately, I don’t need to adjust my expectation for her. Maybe I just need to adjust my expectations for myself.

You decide…

Question_mark_(black_on_white)We’re casual here at the Peanut Butter moms. I hope y’all have felt that and kick off your shoes, snuggle in and enjoy our blogs. Us moms have talked (via email & in person) about how much we love having this venue where we can openly discuss all things parenting/writing/family related. We’ve covered so many topics, and I’m always amazed at what my sister moms (not the same as sister wives :-)) come up with in their blogs. I learn so much from their wisdom and humor and experiences and I know being apart of this group (and that includes you too, readers!) has made me a better mother.

As we’re closing in on the end of this year I’m wondering though, what would you like to see more of here? What topics do you wish we’d discuss, or rehash? Here’s your opportunity to speak your mind and have your voices heard. We WANT to know so give it to us straight.

And thanks, as always, for sharing part of your week with us.   

The Convergence of Crazy

13542868I think every writer (maybe even every person), as a fair dose of crazy in them. I don’t know if it’s just part of the business or if writers must be more in touch with their crazy in order to write emotional books.

Of course, it’s also true that mothers are all a little crazy too. We’re stressed out. We work hard. Our kids constantly push our buttons. Sometimes, despite our better judgment, the crazy leaks out.

So on one hand, I have the writer crazy to contend with. On the other, I have the mothering crazy. Often these to things are separate, but every once in a while, they meet in the middle for some sort of crazy super storm, like the moment the Ghostbuster cross the streams on their proton packs.

For me, the crazy converges when I let the bad stuff get in my head. This is true of my mothering and my writing. With mothering, it’s the “Am I doing enough?” “Am I doing too much?” “Are they happy?” “Am I happy?” “How does anyone know they are really happy?” “If I’m not happy, should I fake it or does that just create the false impression that life is like a Target ad?” You can see where this is going. It’s a dark and twisted rabbit hole to go down.

For a long time, when I wrote only for Harlequin Desire, the writing part of my crazy was fairly compact. It was stuff like, “Is what I’m doing making the world better?” “Am I any good any good at it, or should I give it up to spend more time with my kids. (And the answer to that is pretty easy. No. I’ve done the 24 hours a day with my kids thing, and my patience wears thin. We drive each other crazy.) “Does my life’s work matter in the universe?”

Then, I started writing post apocalyptic YA. All of sudden the proton pack of mothering-crazy and the proton pack of writer-crazy were both unleashed at the same time. When I wrote The Lair, the second book in the series, the opening action of the book takes place at Base Camp, where the teenagers who are part of the rebellion are living. It’s winter. They’re in the mountains. And all of civilization has collapsed around them. I spent a lot of time worrying about how to feed these two hundred plus imaginary people. It’s a world without grocery stores! A world without fast food! A world without Costco or Chick-fil-a! Where is the food coming from?

The question doesn’t even take up that much of the book. It’s just something I thought about a lot. It got in my head—partly because I was worried about the plotting of this book, but mostly because I was worried about feeding my own kids in the unlikely event of the apocalypse.

I found myself creeping out of bed in the middle of the night to research how to stockpile food. Did you know you can have a year’s worth of food drop shipped to your house? Did you know you can make a candle out of a can of Crisco? Did you know it’s still possible to get scurvy if you don’t get enough vitamin C? This is the kind of information that can really mess with your head.

Then one day, I went to the grocery store and they were completely out of zucchini. I freaked out, sure this was a sign of the coming apocalypse. So … um, yeah. I sort of started stock piling food.

But here’s the thing about book-related insanity: it comes and goes. Now that my Lair-related crazy has passed, my brief foray into prepping has allowed me to make a generous donation to my local food bank. That’s a good thing, right?

Those big parenting questions really stay with me. I will always worry about whether or not I’m setting a good example for my kids. I will always question my parenting and will always try to do better.

I’ve moved on to other forms of writer-crazy, now. Like wondering whether evil monsters will ever invade our world from a parallel universe. And if they do, will grocery stores still operate?

What are your great fears as a parent?

Emily McKayEmily McKay loves to read, shop, and geek out about movies. When she’s not writing, she reads on-line gossip and bakes luscious deserts. She pretends that her weekly yoga practice balances out both of those things. She lives in central Texas with her family and her crazy pets.

 

Introducing, the amazing LBD …. you’re welcome

pfi_24d1aff48a4473f479d4d98d96b9b537I’ve been missing from the blog lately … And, to be honest, from my life. I have a book due … Well, it was due yesterday, which was when I was writing this blog. So I there I was, frantically trying to finish the book when the alarm popped up that I was supposed to blog today. Yep. I panicked.

I have nothing to blog about. And, to be honest, deadline isn’t a great time to be blogging. Nothing makes you feel less successful as a wife and mother than when you’re working ten hour days and are completely distracted. Weeks like this, it’s all I can do not to collapse in a ball of panic and fear.

I suspect that Robyn could back me up on this, but she’s on deadline, too, so I’m guessing she doesn’t read this.

Since I’m lacking in all forms of parental wisdom, I will give you something else. Something better. I’m going to introduce you to the best web based show around, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. It’s a vlog retelling of Pride and Prejudice. If you watch TheLBD already, you know how great it is. It’s funny and sexy and emotionally complex. And it’s currently my favorite rendition of P&P. Yeah, you heard me. I like this more than both movie versions. (And I didn’t even get struck by lightening when I wrote that.)

In short, if you’re a fan of Austen at all, then you need to be watching this. It’s the most fun you’ll have without cracking open a book.

Do you watch The LBD already? If not, do you watch any other web shows?

I’ll give away a copy of The Farm–my new YA–to one person who comments.

Emily McKayEmily 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, two cat, two dogs and four chickens.

Complicit Companions

About a month ago, my baby boy turned five. I love my son. So much. (You guys are parents. You get it.) He is handsome and charming. So sweet and cuddly. Just a real love bug.

But, he’s getting older. They all get older, eventually. <sigh>

Generally, with my kids, older has always been a little better. But last night, something not good came along with “older.” For the first time ever (that I know of), my son lied to me. I mean, an open, bald-faced, doe-eyed lie. Here’s how it went down:

(To set the scene, Sunday we were a birthday party. The party favor was bags of candy and other sweets. I had told the kids they could eat a little each evening after dinner.) So last night, I’m making dinner. The kids are playing upstairs. I see my boy walking past with the scissors. He’s heading upstairs.

Me: Hey. Where you going with those scissors?

Him: Upstairs.

Me: To do what?

Him:  Cut paper.

Me: That’s all you’re doing? (he nods.) You’re going to clean up your mess? (he nods.) Okay.

Then today, I’m upstairs collecting dirty clothes and find the scissors and a whole stash of candy wrappers. I’m no fool. Clearly, he ate a lot of candy. And clearly, big sis was involved too. I know how her brain works. Hey, I’ll send baby brother down for the scissors. He always looks innocent. 

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t the first time they’ve gotten in trouble together. Far from it. But this is the first time (that I know of) that they’ve lied to cover for one another. That they’ve been complicit in an overt lie.

The overt lie part bugs me. The pairing up against me bugs me. And it also bugs me that there’s some tiny part of me that is happy about it. And sad too.  My inner mom is split in two on this one.

On one hand, lying is bad. (There was a much longer version of this post where I justified that comment. Then I decided that I probably didn’t need to sell you–fellow parents-on that idea. So let’s just agree. Lying=bad.) I don’t want to raise kids who sneak around. I want to be the mom who has such a great, open relationship with her kids that they would never lie. My friend Skyler is like that. Her daughter is a freshman in college and can tell her anything. That’s what I want with my kids.

But, just for a second, let’s pretend that whole lying is bad thing doesn’t exist. If I look at the lie in a different light, it’s kind of a good thing.

My sister and I are super close. I feel so lucky and blessed to have her in my life. Even when she’s driving me crazy. (She’s my sister. Sisters do that sometimes.) Whatever else happens, there are parts of me that only she will ever get. She will always be there for me. Bottom line, she has my back. No matter what. I’m lucky to have her.

And that’s where–maybe–this lie my son told me is a good thing. As much as it bugs me, it’s a sign of how close they are. Right or wrong, they were in it together. They were a pair. They were sneaky. But they were sneaky cooperatively. I’m kind of proud of them. And sad and worried too. Sad because this is a sign of days to come. I’m sure there will be many a time in the future when they team up against me. My sister and I did. Geez, we still do sometimes.

For now, they both got a stern talking to about the lying thing and I got a reminder that candy needs to be kept under lock and key. I also got a glimpse of the future that is both scary and wonderful. I hope they never lie to me again. I also hope that they are always this close.

What do you do when your kids lie to you? Any advice on creating one of those great tell-you-anything kind of bonds?

Awkward Self-Examination

Part I — My crazy-cheap grandma

My grandmother–bless her heart–is the cheapest woman in the world. She’s one of those grew-up-during-the-great-depression types. You know the kind, right? The kind with a jar of string labeled “String too short to use” and a drawer full of used, washed, flattened aluminum foil. That’s my grandma. Even among her generation, she’s crazy-cheap. I know this because I’ve compared war-stories with lots of other people. This is a woman who monitors the use of toilet paper in her house (one square per use) and who uses the same water to boil vegetables day after day. She was buying in bulk long before it was cool. Her basement used to be full of boxes of cereal labeled things like “Post Toasties — July ’94.”

My grandmother is 95 and I feel so blessed that she’s lived this long. However (there’s always a however, isn’t there?), throughout my life, her crazy-cheapness has been a source of amusement and embarrassment and chagrin. While I love her, I’m not gonna lie. On more than one occasion, I wished I had a normal grandmother. Someone who would just bake me cookies instead of lecturing me about the value of the stamp. (Not even joking on that one.)

Part II — Yeah, I know I’m crazy

So here’s the awkward part. I’m a little crazy. Not in a cute writer way either, but in an annoying OCD way. My particular branch of crazy is related to the environment. I’m super aware of ecological issues. We recycle. We hang our clothes out to dry. We compost. We have an organic garden. We have chickens. We … you get the point. Yes, all of that stuff is fun and most of it is easier than you’d think. And I enjoy it.

But I’m also aware that my total devotion to all things green borders on the obsessive. Sometimes it’s on the normal side of the border. Sometimes it’s on the obsessive side. Some moms worry about germs. I worry about our carbon footprint. I know I’m a little OCD about it. I try to keep it under wraps, but I am aware that my ecology isn’t a sign of my emotional stability. I know I can tip over. I try to keep the crazy under wraps. And somehow being OCD about green stuff, allows to let other things go. It gives a focus to the crazy. It makes me feel like I’m in control. I can’t stop global climate change, but I can hang my jeans out to dry. For me, it works.

Part III — My awkward Self-examination

This weekend as I was composting chicken poop — yes, I know. Obsessive, right? — I had a light bulb moment. Yes, I’m crazy-green. But I’m also crazy green. Maybe my Grandmother is the same way. Maybe she’s not just crazy-cheap. Maybe she’s also crazy cheap. Maybe her obsession with saving every penny is her way of managing

Me with my grandparents when baby girl was little.

Me with my grandparents when baby girl was little.

OCD.

In case you think I’m sounding judgmental here, I don’t mean to. Just the opposite, in fact. This realization has made me feel more … sympathetic, maybe. In the past, her cheapness has (sometimes) bugged the crap out me. Sometimes, it’s made it hard to even be with her. “Ugh. I need to mail XY&Z to Grandma, but I know she’s going to harass me later if I mail it Fedex. I just won’t mail it.” Which then leads to: “Ugh, I meant to mail her XY&Z. I don’t want to call her because she’ll harass me about that.”

Thanks to my new understanding, I can approach it differently. Now I can think, “Okay, doing it her way may be a pain in the ass, but I understand now. It’s not just cheapness. It’s something else. Something I can relate to.”

Now, will my new understanding lead to greater peace, contentment and acceptance in my relationship with my Grandmother? I don’t know. Maybe. I hope so, because I love her and enjoy her company when she’s not getting on my last ever-lovin’ nerve. How great would it be if my own form of crazy leads to a deeper relationship with my grandmother?

So how about you? Do you have a touch of OCD? Do you have family members who drive you crazy? How do you handle it?