Living in the Moment

I’m feeling reflective today after learning that a local child’s parent died. If it happened to my family, what would my children remember? Would they remember how much I love them? The feel of my hugs, the sounds of our laughter, the little details that I try to add to things? Would they remember how many times I said no, when I was cranky?

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain the family is going through—wife without her husband, children without their father, best friend without the best friend. And because I can’t imagine the pain, I think about how lucky my family and I are not to have to go through this experience. Because our lives are so busy and we’re constantly rushing from one thing to another, we don’t often take the time to appreciate what we have. We let the little things, the things we think matter but really don’t, get in the way and don’t stop to think about what would happen if everything I know now, right now, changed?

And then something like this happens, and we hug a little tighter, add in an extra “I love you,” put down our work or turn off the TV and spend a few more minutes together. All of that is great, until we move on. Our lives continue and we forget to add in the extra “I love you.” We snap at one another because we’re over-worked or over-tired and don’t bother to apologize because we know we can do it later.

I start out with the best of intentions—I’m going to be patient, smile more, yell less. I’m going to be silly and goofy and treasure every moment. Those intentions soon give way to reality and my guilt sets in. I should have done this, I shouldn’t have said that. Occasions such as the death of someone make me take a step back and I realize something important. What will I<strongremember? As my children get older and busier, will I remember the fun times we had, the kisses and hugs, the smell of them sleeping? Or will I remember all the times I felt guilty for not living up to my expectations?

I think I’d rather enjoy the moment, while doing the best I can to make moments last a lifetime. And if I’m not perfect, oh well. No one is. And maybe my children will learn that perfection isn’t necessary. That we try as hard as we can, we fail often, but we always keep trying. That “no” is not the end of the world. And we have as much fun along the way as we can.

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Food and Car Salespeople

If there’s one thing I can count on, it’s that my two girls will not like the same food. No matter what I make, if one likes it, the other hates it, and for the exact opposite reason. Especially regarding spices. One likes things spicy hot, the other likes it so bland as to be tasteless. Now, I’ve been on a “cook new food” kick lately, and their opposing tastes just add a new level of complication to the mix. Since I’m not a short-order cook, what I make is what everyone eats. I do try to accommodate their tastes, as well as my husband’s, but what I’ve begun to find is that the key to getting everyone to like the same meal is in the positioning. For example, when my husband calls at the end of the day to tell me he’s on his way home and to ask what’s for dinner, I tell him the basic ingredients—meat, tomato sauce, noodles, etc. I see no reason to tell him specific ingredients that I suspect will just raise his suspicions (did I mention that he’s picky too?). As I’m cooking, my youngest will walk in and take a look at the stove or ask what she smells. Again, I’ll give her the basics—meat, noodles and spice—and leave out the ingredients I know she doesn’t like. That’s the key with her—highlight the spice and her face lights up. Unfortunately, that’s precisely the word that my oldest keys into, resulting in faces, whining and groans. So, then, trying not to miss a beat, I’ll inform her that spice does not necessarily mean spicy, and look, there’s noodles. By the time everyone sits down at the table, they all have their own ideas about what’s for dinner and feel pretty sure that I cooked especially for them. I feel slightly like a car salesperson—this car is PERFECT for you, no matter what your needs are—but everyone sits, tantrums are kept at a minimum, and if I’m lucky, everyone eats at least half of what’s on their plate. I’ll deal with wasted food issues another day!

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Falling for Fall

I ran into a friend in the grocery store the other day. This is not extraordinary. I can’t NOT run into someone I know at the grocery store. In fact, the number of people I run into there is inversely proportional to how well I’m dressed. I didn’t look too bad, except for the lack of makeup, which explains why I only saw one person I knew. She, of course, was wearing a skirt.

We started talking and we both commented on how gorgeous the leaves are this fall. I don’t know if it’s the Crayola blue sky (after so many days of rain) as a backdrop or if the leaves are just extra colorful this year, but I can’t stop staring at them. This may explain my current lack of productivity. It certainly contributes to my inability to get anywhere lately without almost missing at least one turn. My directional skills are abysmal. Some mornings, it’s all I can do to get from the bedroom to the kitchen without going the wrong way (due to my morning crankiness, I’m sure some members of my family wish I’d get lost along the way). However, with proper amounts of concentration, I can usually manage to get from here to there on a daily basis. Now, instead of focusing on the best route to take to get from point A to point B, I’m distracted by leaves of vibrant yellow, burnt orange and bright red.

The crisp air, the crackle of leaves underfoot, the welcoming warmth of the house after being outside—this just might be my favorite time of year. So, friends and family, please forgive my current lack of productivity and the extra five minutes it may take me to get somewhere. A few days from now, the leaves will have faded and I’ll be back to my old self. I make no promises that it will be an improvement, though!

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The Teacher Is Always Right…Usually

Last night, as I was flipping through channels before going to bed, I saw a local news story about a teenaged girl and her English homework assignment. The passage she was asked to read and write about contained sexually explicit material, some of it bordering on violent. The parents were outraged, the girl was disturbed and I was horrified. However, my horror was not over the reading assignment; my horror was due to the parents’ response. The homework assignment was given on Monday. The news broadcast occurred Monday evening. What happened to contacting the teacher, principal, school board or superintendent and giving them a chance to investigate and respond? What happened to finding out why the assignment was given? What happened to respect for the teacher and the chain of command? The news media is not the first line of defense.

Growing up, my parents taught me that the teacher was always right. ALWAYS. When I was in second grade, we were learning about the solar system. My teacher asked the class what planet we lived on. The boy behind me raised his hand and responded, “Mars.” To this little Goody Two Shoes girl, the answer was wrong. Completely wrong. Not necessarily surprising coming from the child who answered, because he was never known as particularly smart (and certainly not as smart as I thought I was), but still completely unacceptable. I smiled as my hand shot up with the correct answer and was stopped in my tracks. My teacher did not shoot down his answer as the moronic response I knew it to be. She said some encouraging blather and left open, in my mind, the possibility that his answer could be correct. Hello! Mars? Are you kidding me? By the time I got home, I was filled with all the righteous indignation an eight-year-old could muster and immediately told my mom everything Mrs. So-and-So said (Goody Two Shoes, remember?). And got the second shock of the day. My parents, who I’d always considered the smartest people I knew on Earth (not Mars!)—I hadn’t yet entered the teenaged, “my parents are dumber than dirt” phase—said, “She must have had a good reason for what she did.” Are you kidding me? From that moment on, I knew that no matter what happened in school, my parents would always support my teacher.

As an adult—having successfully passed through the “dumber than dirt” phase and recognizing again that my parents actually are intelligent—I have come to realize that their party line was public. What they did and thought in private, away from me, were probably quite different. But I was never privy to their personal thoughts about my teachers. They found a way to support me without disrespecting my teachers. As a parent myself, I have tried to instill respect for teachers into my own children. I don’t go as far as my own parents did. Depending on the needs of my children, I may commiserate with them, or even say that I don’t particularly agree with a choice the teacher made. But I always follow that up with the idea that people can make mistakes, and in spite of that, teachers deserve our respect. You don’t have to like them or agree with them, but you have to show them the respect their position deserves.

By going to the news media before the school system had a chance to sufficiently investigate and respond to their concerns, those parents are teaching their daughter disrespect for the very teachers responsible for her education. They are backing the school up against a wall and making any positive outcome impossible. They are squandering a perfect opportunity to show their daughter the proper way to voice a concern and lodge a complaint. Instead of demonstrating patience, they are taking advantage of their fifteen minutes of fame. And in the long run, they are making things more difficult for her—how many future teachers are going to judge her because of her parents’ actions and not treat her fairly?

I don’t always do the right thing. My infrequent moments of “brilliance” are surrounded by many moments of idiocy. But I do know the importance of respect. Just like I know the difference between Earth and Mars.

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Happy Endings

I like them. They’re rejuvenating. They’re why I escape from day-to-day life and create stories in my head, or on paper. They’re what I think about before I go to sleep and what I try to get in real life. Some people call it “Jennifer-world” and I’m fine with that. In “Jennifer-world” I’m always right and everything works out perfectly. People listen to me and do what I ask, without whining and without endless questions. I have patience, I always say the right thing and I’m remarkably funny. I am never afraid. The four food groups all have chocolate ingredients, there’s a different pair of shoes (with a matching purse) for every day of the week and there is ALWAYS a happy ending.

Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work like that. Mines collapse and trap miners for months; oil spills destroy the environment and the local economy; politicians do stupid things because they’re greedy or just plain stupid. Schedules are crazy and make me cranky; my children don’t understand why they can’t have what they want when they want it; the car makes noises that no mechanic can hear or fix. My “Calgon, take me away” pleas are made too often and go unheard.

Those are the catalysts that send me to my computer, to rewrite life the way I want to live it. In my head, the girl is always brilliant, funny and strong. The guy is always understanding, challenging and not afraid to show a little vulnerability. They work together and save each other. And always, always, ALWAYS find their way to a happy ending. That is why I love romance and that is why I write it.

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The Call

Every writer has heard stories about “THE CALL.” Whether it’s a phone call or an email, it’s the contact from the publisher that they like your work and they want to publish it. The ultimate acceptance of the writer’s worth, the validation of their craft, the justification for all the hours put into writing. It’s kind of like getting to hold your baby after long hours of labor. Recipients of “THE CALL” can tell you exactly where they were, what they were doing, and yes, even what they were wearing, when they received the good news.

I am no exception. Yup, I got “THE CALL” on Saturday. Only, I didn’t believe it. For some reason, I thought they only happened during the week—who works on weekends? Okay, well, as a writer, I do, but nobody else does. Apparently, I’m wrong (shh, don’t tell my husband). And even though I knew it could come in an email, I’d gotten so many emailed rejections, when the name and subject line popped into my mailbox, I just assumed it was another one to add to my list—believe me, four years of sending queries and partials and synopses and getting them all rejected makes a very long list. Even the cute little paperclip symbol for an attachment didn’t clue me in that this email was different. So, I opened all my other emails first. Postponed the disappointment for as long as I could. Until…I opened it.

Congratulations!

I stared at it. Read the letter, stared some more. Thought it was a joke. Read the letter again. Took a phone call from my friend and talked to her while I reread the letter. Hung up the phone and stared at the computer screen again. I’d always imagined screaming into the phone at my husband. Unfortunately, I’d never imagined him at a bachelor party at the time I got “THE CALL.” And no matter how excited he’d be at my news, it’s tough to compete with Hooters.

Well, the good news is that I was able to reach my husband while he was still in the car. He was thrilled, my kids were thrilled, my family was thrilled. When the numbness wore off, I was thrilled.

It wasn’t anything like I’d imagined it. But it was perfect.

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Back to School

Ahh, the house is quiet. Finally! Kids are off to school; husband to work. We’re back into the routine. As much as I like the freedom of summer, there’s something reassuring about knowing what’s coming next—where I have to be, what I have to do. Time moves in set increments, rather than stretching ahead aimlessly. I can manage those small pieces of time. I know what to expect and I know how to get from point A to point B. So, while I may not like the pressure that a schedule gives me, I do like the order. I like knowing that for a set amount of time, what I do is determined by me. There will be time to be the mother, the wife, later. For a certain number of hours almost every day, I’m me.

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