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First, a definition: Fantasmagory: a dream-like state where real life and imagination are blurred together.
From chapter one: My name is Dory, but everyone calls me Rascal. This is my family. I am the little kid. My sister's name is Violet and my brother's name is Luke. Violet is the oldest. Violet and Luke never want to play with me. They say I'm a baby. "Mom! Rascal is bothering us!" "What is she doing?" calls my mother. "She's looking at us!" "She's breathing." (1-2)
I loved, loved, LOVED Abby Hanlon's Dory Fantasmagory. I guess I'm not the only one. This one received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. I've just read it, and already I can't wait for the next book in the series: Dory and the Real True Friend. (July).
Dory is six. But. She still likes to stay in her nightgown instead of getting dressed. Even winter nightgowns, inside out and backwards in the summer. She has an imaginary friend, Mary, that is her best, best friend. Would Dory play with Luke and Violet if they let her? Sure!!! She'd love to play with either one or both. But. Since they don't want her near them, well, Mary is good and reliable to have around.
There are a few things you should know about Dory. One, Dory has a BIG imagination. She tends to live in a world all her own, a blurred reality, of sorts. Two, Dory's nickname I admit is a good one. Throughout the book she does indeed act like a Rascal. I could see how Dory's behavior could prove problematic for her parents. (Readers do see them getting upset with her, acting frustrated, etc.)
So. One day Luke and Violet decide to "scare" Dory. They tell her about Mrs. Gobble Gracker.... It doesn't take either one long to regret their brief venture into fantasy. They can't win against the force that is their younger sister. Soon Mrs. Gobble Gracker is ALL Dory is talking about. All of her play centers on this imaginary villain.
How far will she take it? You may or may not be surprised! This is one you're going to want to read for yourself.
I tend not to blog much these days but am trying to get back to it and write more than what I would put on Facebook. If you’ve read by blog for a while, you know how much I love family history and keeping connected with memories. This is one of those posts.
Yesterday my Great Aunt Trudy passed away and she was the last one of my “Greats.” I always loved this Dorthea Lange-ish photo of her. Taken around 1940 would be my guess.
She was my grandmother’s sister and it was fun to listen to what sisters in their 80′s would talk about. She was such a sweet lady and for whatever reason, when I think of her, I think of pastel colors, pinks and peaches. I don’t really associate colors with people, but I always have with her. Maybe I only saw her in the spring and summertime and those were the colors she would wear. Not sure.
She was 95 years old and had a small and crackly voice that complimented her shrinking stature as she got older. I was actually just telling my kids about her little voice a few days ago. She retired from Walgreens years ago, and today I always prefer to shop there over any other drug store just because of the kindness and generosity the company showed her, especially when her husband passed away. She was a real sweet lady and by her passing, today she gave me the gift of looking through old family pictures and remembering the sweet and kind legacy I have.
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When I am writing everywhere I go, everyone I meet and everything I hear someone say has the potential to feed into my story, particularly when it is a place removed from my everyday life and experiences. When I travel I find images, scents, stray bits of conversation take seed and create stories of their own. I've just returned from a week in the south of Italy where I visited family many times as a child, and over the years since but I'd not been there for a few years. I have returned, my head full of all the different characters and situations I encountered, conversations, tastes and sounds.
I was staying with family and that meant I was not a tourist, just skimming the surface and seeing the tourist sights. I chatted to two different couples at the airport one the way there and the other on the way back. Both couples were on holiday to Rome to enjoy the Italy of the holiday brochures and I was aware of how different their experiences and perceptions of Italy, and the Italians, are to mine. I, too, enjoyed the beautiful blue skies and scenery and of course the wonderful food - a very important part of life there. I also fed my creative brain on the differences in culture, the language and particularly the use of language - the ways that expressions change from one language to another and where direct translations can be quite humorous. But for me there were also the discussions that happen in families and amongst friends and acquaintances about everything from Italian politics, the economy, the corruption and their perceptions of world affairs, to the moans about day to day life and memories of family who have now sadly passed away. I often find it frustrating as a wordsmith whenI do not have quite the facility with words that I am used to in English - my Italian is conversational and my vocabulary is not really as extensive as I would wish. But thankfully, it was adequate to join in conversations and to understand most of what was being discussed, except at times when the speaker's language was thick with dialect!
I was able to spend time writing beside a cosy log fire - it is January after all - although to me it was like a Scottish spring, bright and sunny most days with a bit of a chill in the air, but most people there thought it was very cold! I met some people who will make colourful characters, some so 'colourful' that they and their view of life may seem hardly credible to most people. Those are the most interesting to store away for future use.
I had a horse riding lesson and I learned even more when I acted as translator for someone who only spoke English and came for a riding lesson. I found out a lot about looking after horses, too. As far as I am concerned nothing is wasted because basically everything is research! This is Michela. A delightful character who was hand-reared when her mother died giving birth to her. She appeared to have an opinion about almost everything, if only I could speak Donkey! I am sure she deserves a story of her own. When chatting to an old aunt, I was told forcefully several times not to forget that she expected me to write the story of her and her siblings and parents, so that the future generations would not forget them all. I suppose that is the wish of many older people who see their own time and family becoming part of a forgotten past as the new generations appear. By the time the younger ones are old enough to ask questions so much is often lost and forgotten. It will be interesting to write something about the family members like my aunt and her parents, just for the family, to record these people and their lives.
Back home now I am distilling my thoughts and memories, images and ideas. I managed to get quite a bit of writing done while I was away and now I am keen to get back to the book again. My head is full of memories of crisp blue skies, lovely food and strong coffee, as well as stray thoughts in Italian, as my brain tries to switch gear back to English!
Travel, as has been often said, broadens the mind and it creates great images and ideas to feed the soul and the creative mind. So now it is time to get back to my desk and use all that inspiration!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children
She has written 10 Hamish McHaggis books illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me Linda isPatron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh
Kevin has a special-needs uncle – let’s call him Roy. His grandmother adopted him out of foster care when he was a toddler.
I guess, technically, he’s not really special needs. He’s not retarded but rather, just slow. His birth mother drank and probably did drugs when she was pregnant with him which caused brain damage. He’s only a few years younger than myself.
Kevin’s grandmother passed away and he’s been living with Kevin’s parents all of these years.
However – Kevin’s parents are getting older and it’s harder for them to get around and quite honestly, they just want to live their remaining years peacefully. The situation has become tense and Kevin became his co-guardian – he’s now fully (or will be when his mother passes away) responsible for him.
We knew, at some point, he would need to get out on his own, learn to be independent. The challenge? He can’t really be by himself. He has no concept of money. He will never drive. And he doesn’t always have common sense when it comes to some things. So he will need frequent supervision. Our plan was to get him moved into an apartment and the family would take turns dropping by to check on him – take him meals once in a while, etc.
I came up with the plan of moving him into our rental house across the street. He would pay us rent and we could keep a close eye on him. (He gets money from the government every month due to his disability and might I just add – THIS IS WHAT GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS WERE MEANT TO DO: to help those that can’t fully help themselves. NOT SUPPORT PEOPLE WHO ARE MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY CAPABLE OF WORKING. *ahem* Focus Karen, focus). No one is currently living in the house now and we need to get someone in there so we can start paying down our loan.
Kevin originally bought the house with his parents in mind and they are still welcome to move in, as soon as they sell their house. The problem? Who knows when that will be. It could be months. It could be years. In the meantime, Roy can live there and we’ll come up with another solution if/when his parents sell their house and/if they still want to move in when that happens. We talked about this plan and he was going to present this plan to his parents after bowling with Roy.
Things sort of reached a breaking point on Sunday night. Kevin left to go bowling with Roy and was gone for several hours. He was gone so long, I started to become worried about him. When he finally came home, he had Roy with him. He felt like the situation was getting worse and why wait?
Our plan is happening now.
The problem is – Kevin didn’t do this gradually so Roy doesn’t have any of his stuff moved into the house yet. So, he’s living with us until we can move him into the house. I’m sure we’re still going to have to “introduce” him slowly to being in the house and living on his own. I’m going to try and talk the boys into spending a few nights with him at the rental house so he doesn’t get scared being on his own. Plus – it’s always a little spooky spending the night in a new place.
But it’s time. Kevin’s parents won’t live forever and no one in the family really wants him to live with them. And to be perfectly honest, Roy is mentally capable of living on his own, he just hasn’t up to this point. There has always been someone to baby him and look after him.
And he won’t be “alone” per se, the family will still be available and did I mention we’ll be across the street if he needs anything?
I think it’s a win-win for everyone, quite frankly.
This is going to be quite an adjustment on everyone’s parts. I think this will actually be good for Blake. He has always had a special connection to Roy – Kevin’s grandma watched Blake when he was a baby so I could continue to work and Blake and Roy have sort of grown up together. They are pretty close. For example, right now, Blake is watching TV with Roy and I can’t tell you the last time Blake came out of his room to watch TV. I think he feels like he needs to take care of Roy and that might be a good thing in the long run for Blake. Roy gives him purpose. He feels comfortable around him and he’s the most animated whenever he’s around him.
Again, a win-win situation. Stay tuned … we’re turning the page to another chapter in our lives.
I originally posted this back on July 10, 2008 — before I knew how to insert photos.
Fathers and sons and baseball. You can almost hear the violins, the sap rising from the roots. It’s a tired cliche, of course, but that doesn’t render the dynamic meaningless.
My father, ten years before I came along, with Neal or Billy.
My father wasn’t a sports guy; I can’t remember him ever turning on the television to watch a game of any sort. Hey, I can’t remember having catch with him. But I had four older brothers, and my baseball-loving mom, and a dozen kids on the block for that. Dad was Old School. I think of him as more CEO/CFO in Charge of Household as opposed to today’s helicopter-style parent, forever hovering, eager to bond and share and become best buddies. That wasn’t my father’s way.
So, basically, I played Little League and my father did other things. And I want to make this clear: It was perfectly okay. But one year, when I was ten years old and playing for the Cardinals — astonishingly vivid memories of those games — somehow my father got roped in as a coach. He didn’t know a blessed thing about baseball. Didn’t care to know. The manager, hard-nosed Larry Bassett, taught my father how to keep the scorebook and I’m fairly certain that was the full extent of his usefulness.
I found it embarrassing. Not horribly so, but it felt odd to see my father on the ballfield, clueless and unathletic. What did the other boys think? It was 1971 and my dad was painfully uncool. I loved baseball deeply, passionately. In that sense, we lived on separate planets. Of course now, years later, I see it from a different perspective. And it boils down to this: He was there. As a parent, isn’t that 98% of the job? Just showing up, day after day. Being there. My father is gone now, died almost two years ago, fell on the front lawn and never got back up. Maybe that makes you (me) appreciate those times, those presences, all the more. For he will never “be there” again.
He never read Six Innings, either. If he did, I would have told my father that I loosely modeled a character after him, Mr. Lionni, Alex’s dad, right down to the thick-framed glasses and questionable attire, the black socks, brown loafers and shorts. There’s a scene when Mr. Lionni takes his baseball-loving son, Alex, for extra batting practice. That scene sprang directly from my childhood; I remember the one and only time my father pitched batting practice to me — awkwardly, poorly, like he was hurling foreign objects. But I was struggling with the bat, the same as Alex in my book, and that man, the father, tried to help the best he could.
In Six Innings, it’s a minor scene (pp. 56-58), just a little backstory about one of the boys on the team. But for me, it resonates across the years, like an echo across a vast canyon. My dad and baseball. Our moments together on the diamond, a burnished memory, glowing like hot coals almost forty years hence. He was there. I didn’t appreciate it then, though I certainly recognized the uniqueness of the event; I was just a boy. But that’s what writing gives us, the opportunity to revisit, revalue, remember in the root meaning of the word — to re-member, to make whole again, to bring those disparate things together. Me and Dad and baseball.
Postscript: Oh, yeah, about the name Lionni. That’s another tribute to a great children’s book author by the name of Leo. Someday I should put together a full roster. I see James Marshall manning the Hot Corner, nimble and loose; Maurice Sendak on the hill, strong-armed and determined; maybe sure-handed Bernard Waber over at second base . . .
Addendum II: Today is 1/16/2015, and I came across this post while hunting for other prey. It’s been a week consumed with writing — I’m trying to finish a book today that I started four years ago — and I’ve neglected the blog. Not that anybody cares. Anyway, here’s something. Also: a curiosity. My father was named Alan J. Preller, and grew up on Long Island. The new GM of the San Diego Padres, A.J. Preller, also grew up on Long Island. It’s not a common name. I’ve talked it over with my brother, Al, and we’ve decided he’s probably a second-cousin or something, connected to my late Grandfather, Fred Preller, 22-year assemblyman from Queens, NY. Ah, baseball.
The Paper Cowboy. Kristin Levine. 2014. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
"Hands up!" My best friend, Eddie Sullivan, had a newspaper rolled and pointed at me like a gun. He was only twelve, but over the summer he'd grown so much, he looked big enough to be in high school.
I've yet to be disappointed by Kristin Levine's fiction. I loved, loved, loved The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. I loved, loved, loved The Lions of Little Rock. I still would love to find time to reread both books. Her newest book is The Paper Cowboy. The author's note reveals much: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is loosely based on her maternal grandfather's memoirs; The Lions of Little Rock was inspired by her mother's childhood in Arkansas. This newest book? Well, it is based on/influenced by her father's childhood. It is set during the McCarthy era, when the threat of communist spies was very strong no matter how big or small the community.
I'm tempted to keep it brief: READ THIS. But would that do it justice? Probably not. But I don't want to give away too much either.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its humanity. It almost aches with its humanity. There's not one perfect, flawless character within. Tommy, the protagonist, is far from perfect. In fact, he's a bit of a bully. But it's almost impossible to keep standing in judgment of Tommy once you get a glimpse of his home life. Time and time again, readers see a powerless Tommy in heartbreaking situations.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at family life. Every member of the family is fully developed. (Well, perhaps with the exception of the baby. Tommy's youngest sister is just three months old when the novel opens!!!) But one really gets relationships in this book. Tommy in relationship with his dad, with his mom, with his older sister, with his younger sisters. And the relationships--no matter if they're "good" or "healthy" or not-so-much, the relationships feel completely authentic. The sibling Tommy is closest to is his sister, Mary Lou, who is badly burned--an accident--near the start of the novel.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its sense of community. I loved getting to know folks in his community. Particularly, I loved his developing relationships with several adults within the community: Mr. McKenzie and Mrs Glazov, Mrs. Scully and Pa and Ma Konecky. I just came to CARE for all the characters, no matter how 'minor.' For example, Mrs. Glazov never felt 'minor' to me at all! I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at friendship and school life and even bullying. I didn't "love" the book because of its examination or treatment on bullying. I wasn't seeking out a book on bullying. I certainly wasn't expecting a book on the subject of bullying told primarily from the bully's point of view. But sometimes a book just finds you, you don't have to seek it out. I do think it's interesting to consider Tommy as a whole person. Yes, at recess at his school, he can pick on his classmates and get away with it because he has a way with his teachers. But the reader sees deeper and sees beneath the surface. Yes, absolutely Tommy's actions are just WRONG. But when a character is fleshed out so completely, so thoroughly that compassion may just come easier than judgment. One friendship comes about so slowly that it deserves attention. I loved the character of Sam McKenzie.
I love The Paper Cowboy because its one that makes you feel--sometimes so much it leaves you aching. It's an emotionally intense read. There are just some TOUGH moments to witness in this coming-of-age novel.
For his 11th birthday, Billy Wilson's dad surprised him a German Shepherd puppy. A lot of people were anti-German Sheherds because it was considered a Nazi dog, but Billy loved his, naming her Sheeba. By Billy's 12th birthday, England is at war with Germany, his dad is away in the Army, and his friends have been evacuated to the country, along with most of London's other schoolchildren. But his mum decides to keep Billy and sister Rose, 6, home with her. Still, his dad manages to get leave and find a shiny almost new bike for Billy's birthday.
But soon dad returns to the army, and mum, Billy and Rose spend uncomfortable nights in the Anderson shelter in the backyard in Balham, South London, but no bombs are falling in London yet. But that all changes on September 7, 1940. Now, bombs are falling and the three Wilson's decide go to the nearest Underground station when the air raid sirens go off. That way, they don't hear the sirens, the planes, and the bombs as much.
Night after night they carry blankets to the station, thinking they will be safe. And they are, until Balham Station takes a direct hit. Billy and Rose are separated from their mum, but thanks to the help of a new friend, they make it out of the station. But where is mum? It's hard to see anything in all the chaos, dust and debris, but Billy and Rose insist on waiting for her to come out of the station, until a WVS lady, Mrs. Bartley, makes them leave. After all, bombs are still falling.
Once in a shelter, it is decided by the authorities that Billy and Rose will be sent to Wales for safety - against their will, and with the Major in charge insisting, rather coldly, that they are now orphans. Luckily, at breakfast, they meet a boy about Billy's age called All-Off (because he cut all his hair off), who advises them not to go to Wales. But, although, All-Off gets out of the shelter in time, Billy and Rose are put on a transport truck to Paddington Station and Wales.
Determined to find his mum and to get back home to finally let Sheeba out of the Anderson shelter where she was put for safety, Billy waits for the right opportunity for escape the transport truck. By the time that happens, they are far from home and Billy has no idea how to get back to Balham.
As Billy and Rose make their way home, they meet with even more adventures, setbacks, and disappointments, but Billy finds a best mate in All-Off. Billy also discovers a courage within himself he probably never thought he possessed, as well as a strong sense of responsibility for Rose and Sheeba and it doesn't hurt that his new best mate has some pretty good street smarts.
I loved Barbara Mitchelhill's first WWII novel, Run Rabbit Run, based on real events, it's about a sister and younger brother who must deal with some harsh fallout because their dad is a conscientious objector. Billy's Blitz is also based on a real event. On October 14, 1940, Balham Station was being used as a bomb shelter and really did take a direct bomb hit, killing 64 people. Mitchelhill imagines the aftermath of a terrible disaster for two kids who don't know if their mum made it out alive or not. Her realistic description of the station, in fact of bombed London generally, are really spot on.
What Billy saw when he came out of Balham Station
So is her characterization. Billy is at times afraid, brave, wanting everything back to normal, or wishing someone else could deal with their problems. Rose can be a whiny brat, not realizing the seriousness of their situation, yet she can also be brave and helpful when asked to be. All-Off is a real favorite - definitely his own boy, yet faithful to Billy and Rose. The authorities, concerned only with evacuating orphans, made my toes curl with anger at their lack of empathy. Luckily, there is the WVS (Women's Volunteer Service) lady to counterbalance that.
Billy's Blitz is a compelling realistic novel that gives the reader a true to life picture of London during the Second World War. We tend to think that all of London's children were safely evacuated but many remained in London with their family and often, family members became separated or worse and kids were left to survive by themselves even while dealing with loss and grief. Mitchelhill's novel demonstrates how easy it is for this to happen in the midst of chaos, and how easily the best laid plans can go awry, yet she manages to do this without scaring her young readers.
This is a novel that is sure to please young readers, especially those interested in WWII and/or historical fiction.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received from the author
I was lucky enough to receive this ARC a long time ago. It was irresistible. I mean, look at that cover! Read that title! I am a person who has never even had a twinkie, but I knew I needed to read this one. Sometimes a book just gives you a feeling, and this one was calling to me.
Twelve year old Gigi (short for Galileo Galilei) and big sister Didi (short for Delta Dawn) have moved from their trailer park digs in South Carolina to an apartment in Long Island. One of the only things they have brought with them is their late mother's recipe book which helped the girls win big money in a cooking contest, and Didi is set on giving Gigi a better life that she had. Gigi is all registered to go to Hill on the Harbor Preparatory School and as long as she keeps following Didi's recipe for success by studying hard and getting top grades, everything will be great.
But here's the thing...Gigi is ready for some changes. She has even come up with her own recipe for success that doesn't include studying in the library every extra moment of the day. Instead she wants to find friends her own age, try on a new version of her name, and find ways to have the qualities she knows her late mother would see in her shine. Gigi (now Leia) is feeling confident about memorizing her locker combination and her schedule and is ready for her first class on her first day when she crashes into Trip who just happens to be the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, and is also in her English class. All of a sudden this front row girl was sitting in the back row next to Trip.
But change isn't alway smooth or easy, and even though Trip and most of his friends are super nice, mean girl Mace notices Leia's dollar store shoes and less-than-healthy E-Z Cheeze sandwich and makes sure that Leia knows that she is the square peg at school. Leia can handle the insult about the shoes, but nobody makes fun of Didi's cooking!
Readers will be rooting for Leia as she navigates through all sorts of changes in her life. From the tony world of private school to freshly unearthed family secrets, Leia's life is not following any recipe! Kat Yeh has written a treat of a middle grade story that will tug on your heart strings and make you smile in equal measure. The multifaceted characters and rich turns of phrase that had me reading with a twang are only a couple of the reasons I read this book in one big gulp. The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a book with honesty and heart and I cannot wait to share it with the tweens in my life!
I’m going to blog every day this year!
Well, obviously I didn’t mean weekends.
::mutter mutter:: Look, that Downton episode was over 90 minutes long. These things take time! A LOT of time. Like, I’d have had to start writing in 1924 to have a recap ready to publish by Monday morning.
It’s ready to go live! Now I can get back to regularly scheduled blogging.
::small boy appears, wants to cuddle::
Hmm, maybe not quite yet.
(Photo taken by Rilla on New Year’s morning. Thanks again for the excellent gift choice, Godmother.)
I’ll be running the Downton posts at GeekMom this year. Episode 1 should go live today; I’ll post the link here when it’s up.
This is an incredible exploration of grief, family and identity and the pressures of expectations that come from each. The book opens with a death, one that nobody else knows about yet, the death of Lydia Lee; middle child of Marilyn and James and sister to older brother Nathan and younger sister Hannah. Lydia’s death […]
It’s been an exciting end to 2014 for 4eyesbooks. We found more readers for our ebooks and paperbacks than ever before. Our Christmas Owl was featured on Bookbub which gained us some valuable exposure and over the winter holiday break we started writing our next children’s picture book to be released sometime this spring.
We are so grateful for all of the support we have received and feel really lucky to be able to create imaginative, colorful stories for kids and parents to enjoy. There’s nothing quite like that quality time of sitting down with a little one and a good book. That time is precious and important. The curiosity of a child is a wondrous gift and so often that quality gets buried as we grow older. Adults become so busy with school, work, errands, raising a family, etc. that we often forget how to be curious. We start to ask How? and Why? less and less.
I’m not sure what 2015 will bring to us, but we hope to create more precious moments of curiosity, of silly laughter and of quiet quality reading time with lots of new little readers.
Apologies for the long silence (and for not visiting all your blogs) but my father's illness took up a lot of my time toward the end of 2014.
My facebook friends already know this, but my father passed away on December 11, 2014, exactly two weeks before Christmas. Those two weeks are mostly a blur at this point, but we did manage to celebrate Christmas, although of course the tears flowed freely.
Looking through my myriad photo albums, I realized I have many wonderful pictures of my father to help me remember him. This one is from my wedding, nearly 30 years ago.
June 22, 1985
One of my favorite memories of Dad is when he read to me or told me stories. He was terrific at all the voices. Years later, he continued the tradition by reading to my sons. So you can see that books have always been an important part of our family.
This is Dad reading to his grandson in 1988
For a book blogger, of course, the end of the year means looking back to see how many books I read. What about you? Did you reach your reading goals? Do you have any favorite books from 2014?
In 2014, I read 108 books, eleven fewer than the year before, but five more than in 2012. And although I do read adult books from time to time (I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and cried through the entire book), mostly what I read is MG. Here are a few MG titles that gave me comfort these last few weeks (and which I highly recommend). Source for all was my local library and all synopses are from Indiebound.
What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren (Putnam, February 2014) Synopsis: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can't keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther's family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin. Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but Esther makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck? My take: You may remember that I adore books about the Great Depression and this is no exception. A lovely story. Simply lovely.
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer (Putnam, May 2014) Synopsis: After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home. My take: Since I read this the week after my father died, I found it extremely comforting. But I also loved Grace. She seemed so flawed and vulnerable and real and she really grew as a character.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, August 2014)
Synopsis: A rambling old smuggler's inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books. My take: The synopsis doesn't begin to do justice to this entertaining, many-layered, deftly-woven tale that takes place just before Christmas (I read it just before and after Christmas so it was perfect!). Milo is an orphan, raised by loving adoptive parents who just happen to run a smuggler's inn. I totally guessed the "secret" of this book less than halfway through, but highly doubt an 11-year-old would. I also think it would make a terrific graphic novel.
Next week: A giveaway and guest post from author Dianne K. Salerni, whose book, The Inquisitor's Mark (a sequel to The Eighth Day) comes out on January 27, 2015. Add a Comment
The last time I wrote/posted anything of substance was back in June.
Six whole months I’ve neglected this blog.
To be fair, there really hasn’t been a whole lot to write about. I get up, go to work, come home, get through dinner (I’m finding that I hate to cook ANYTHING more and more), then collapse into bed, physically and mentally exhausted.
And the things that do happen, I can’t really talk about, or am cautious about writing about, because it’s work related and though no one I work with knows about this blog, I have crossed that fine line and accepted people I work with on Facebook so it might be a matter of time before they find this blog so I have to be careful what I write about because I’ve already offended someone in my family with my hot-headed blabber mouth, and/or fingers in this case and I really don’t want to offend anyone I work with because I see the people I work with more than my own family.
But life. She’s passing me by. She’s not waiting around for me. She’s trudging ahead and I’m left stumbling after her. Events, thoughts, milestones (we’ve had milestones? Yeah, I guess we have) are whizzing past me so that my life is fast becoming a blur of fleeting thoughts and impressions – it’s time I put the brakes on and slow Mother Time waaay down by attempting to capture snippets and pin them on this blog.
Should I start where I left off in June? I haven’t even told you about our Cruise to Alaska ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO.
Though the boys are still living with us, they have also gone through some changes.
And there’s the rental house, which still hasn’t been rented out yet.
Did you even know I’m using a new blog template? I actually bought this one so it will be sticking around for quite some time – though I can switch up the color schemes once in a while so I don’t got completely out of my head with boredom.
Did I mention my dominant arm, (I’m left handed), has been hurting like a Mother Effer ever since I got the damn flu shot in November?? I’m beginning to think I have damaged my ulnar nerve, or maybe carpal tunnel? (*shudder* Say it ain’t so!)
Have I mentioned that I’m nearly a half a century old?! And how that both annoys and terrifies me?
Have I mentioned that I’m finally, FINALLY, comfortable in my own skin and though I’m “technially” overweight and need to lose 30 lbs, I’m sort of okay with that? (Though I AM going to start back on the treadmill soonish – okay – like tomorrow – for reals).
Did you know that our 25th wedding anniversary is THIS MAY (what?? How did that happen??) and we won’t be going on our Hawaiian Cruise because money is tight and we’re being responsible people by putting it off another year, or two? (*sigh*)
I bet you didn’t know that Brandon is 19 and on his THIRD job, did you??
Christmas was one of the low lights of our year this year. Not because it wasn’t great, it was just .. meh. Every day is Christmas in our house. Truly. (Does that sound pretentious?) Since money is a bit on the tight side right now (rental houses don’t improve themselves, don’t cha know), Kevin and I bought each other one gift each (I bought him a fancy-smancy power strip/box thing for his band – did I mention the drummer and bass player quit and they’ve been working on replacing band members) and Kevin bought me a laptop cooling tray … thing … so I don’t scorch my fleshy thighs and … yep, that was our Christmas. We bought the boys all practicable things – such as pots and pans (and may I just say, NICE pots and pans from the Food Network – I got a deal on a set, two saucepans, two skillets, both regular and deep-dish style, a big pot to boil pasta and two cookie sheets), a toaster, a fancy-smancy one cup coffee maker (because Blake drinks more coffee than I drink now), bathroom towels, kitchen gadgets and silverware. And yes, the boys were as excited to receive all of these things like you were excited to read about them.
BUT – they will appreciate said gifts when it’s time to move out BECAUSE that’s our goal, well, that’s me and Kevin’s goal, to move the boys out into their own apartment THIS YEAR.
IF Brandon can keep this job after the holidays. He was hired on as holiday help. (There’s another story for another time).
Now that’s one thing I DID do right this year – I read my butt off. In fact, I have three gift cards to Barnes and Noble that I’m going to use on ebooks. Because I can’t even tell you the last time I’ve read an actual book – my Kindle is becoming a permanent body part. I’m trying to figure out how to convert a Nook ebook to a format that Kindle will recognize and I think I have it figured out. (Pst … I found this website that will convert it to a MOBI, which is what the Kindle recognizes. But don’t quote me on that yet. I’m buying a book tonight to see if I can make this work. If it doesn’t work, shoot the messenger, k?)
And I don’t buy books very often, either. I usually “borrow” them from the library, though I end up downloading them and transferring them to my Kindle because trying to read a library book in the two weeks the library sets up puts too much pressure on me and I don’t need anymore stress in my life, thank you very much.
Kevin is great. He still has his office and he’s still looking for “that perfect client, or five.” He’s been SUPER busy on the rental house and honestly, I couldn’t be more impressed with him. Is there nothing the man can not do?!? The house doesn’t even look the like the same house. (Note to self – brag more about the hubby).
I’m on a mission to give my professional life a kick in the butt. Either sweet talk my boss into allowing me to take the certified medical assistant certification early (will need to jump through some hoops to make that happen) and/or work on an alternative plan that quite honestly, scares the shit out of me but I think I could make it happen providing I can find the courage to actually take that first step.
And my nurse at work just text me (I left early today) to tell me that the CT machine is down and she had to cancel some appointments. AARGH.
It’s always something.
And that brings us up to date, sort of. Those are the highlights; I’ll see if I can’t do a better job of putting flesh on those bare bones.
Oh. I got to see a carpal tunnel suture removal today. I’ve never done the sutures, though I’ve taken quite a few staples out. It was cool. You just snip and then pull the sucker out. I’m rather spoiled on removing staples/sutures. My doctor has it set up where his post-op patients come in for their first visit two weeks after surgery, which is when they need to have their staples/sutures removed and the PA takes care of removing them so I rarely have an opportunity to remove them myself. I think that part of the job scared me the most when I first started doing this job – I would feel sick to my stomach when I had to do it. It still sort of weirds me out whenever it comes up, but I’m feeling more confident about it now.
I can admit, with all honestly, there is NEVER a dull moment in health care. NEVER.
When life throws you down a crooked track, hold close your family, latch onto new friends, throw up your hands and find something to smile about.
While 2014 was definitely a crooked track for us, I want to close it with a look to the good. Shortly after our diagnosis, I had a friend reach out to me amidst his own health crisis. My advice to him was, “Hear the negative, focus on the positive and know that God has both covered.”
Good advice? I think so – but much easier said than done. This world screams negative. We are bombarded with the bad. The nightly news covers everything wrong with our world first and longest before they throw in one human interest story just before saying good night. (If you missed Kylie on the news, you can watch it HERE)
While sifting through the ruins of this broken world, how do we see what is good? I have seen a lot of things in my 47 years. To borrow the movie title, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have driven a man out of the slum of Port ‘au Prince, Haiti and watched as he was given the keys to his new home. I have been fortunate enough to help put a roof on a hut in Swaziland for a family decimated by HIV. Beauty plucked from ugly, good snatched from bad. Both started with a choice to engage.
Despite my experiences, never in my life have I seen the good side of humanity than from the day Kylie was diagnosed with cancer. The flood of well-wishes, prayers, and support for our family has been as overwhelming as the diagnosis itself. When you hear the words, “Your child has cancer,” the temptation is to curl up in the fetal position, shut out the world and cry. When I was at my weakest, I found an abundance of arms to hold me.
Friends, family, our school and church rallied to our side.
The nurses, doctors, childlife specialists, and staff of the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta became dear partners in this journey. We also found great care at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
Organizations came alongside to help navigate and let us know we aren’t alone: 1 Million for Anna, Make-A-Wish, Cure Childhood Cancer, The Truth 365, Rally Foundation, Melodic Caring Project, The Jesse Rees Foundation, Along Comes Hope, 3/32 Foundation, Blessed Beauty, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, Kingdom Kids, Lily’s Run.
We have seen built a network of people who pray faithfully for Kylie. To be totally honest, I admit there are times when I cannot lift a word to heaven. Maybe a grunt, maybe an angry shake of the fist. Without a doubt, I know there are many people praying for my little girl when I can’t. That is incredibly humbling.
Then there is encouragement and love. Kylie gets cards and letters daily. At least a dozen young ladies have donated their hair in Kylie’s honor. People all across the country and literally around the world have been #SmileyForKylie. As of today, 87 countries have done it. Grown men have written it on their bald heads.
Between Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we have received over 10,000 smiling selfies for Kylie. Unreal. We have gotten them from celebrities, athletes, and Kylie’s beloved Broadway performers. Idina Menzel made a video. Kristin Chenoweth made two pics and talked about her on a radio show. Laura Osnes posted a word of encouragement to her. She got a box of Broadway treats from Hunter Foster. She had pics from 9 out of 12 musicals nominated for Tony Awards, and the cast of her favorite show, Aladdin have reached out to her over and over again. Sometimes we can trace the web that led to the picture, but most of the time we have no idea how they happen – we have no line to these people. It’s just good. And it is out there – making a choice to engage with our little girl in a time when she so desperately needs it. A thank you will never be enough, but all I can offer.
Regardless of your view of the Bible, Philippians 4:8 gives us sage advice:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
I’ll not be able to change everyone’s mind. You can remain a cynic if you choose to. But the things I have experienced in 2014 prove to me that there is good in this world. I choose to think about such things – it is what has kept me going.
In 2015, we look forward to hearing the words: No Evidence of Disease and watching Kylie resume a normal life. That will be something worth throwing up our hands and smiling about.
Happy New Year from Portsong, your humble mayor & Kylie
Wrapping up 2014, the EU year of Workplace Reinvention, once again brings worklife balance (WLB) policies into focus. These policies, including parental leave, rights to reduced hours, and flexible work hours, are now part of European law and national laws inside and outside of Europe. For example, Japan has similar WLB policies in place.
The existence of these rights does not always, however, reflect the capabilities of individuals to claim them without risk to their careers, and even job loss, particularly when so many companies are downsizing. There is a gap between policies and practices, and, more broadly, a widening gap between aspirations for worklife balance—for more time for family, friends, and leisure activities—and the pressures for greater productivity and increased work intensity, alongside the growing numbers of insecure and precarious jobs. For men, this gap has become more tangible due to changing norms and expectations for them to be more involved fathers and the persistence of gendered norms around caring and earning in the workplace. Research, including the European Social Survey 2010, reveals that when looking for a job the overwhelming majority of men (as well as women), place a high priority on reconciling employment with family. They also show that majority of working fathers would choose to work less hours even if it meant a corresponding loss in hourly pay. Still, between 40-60% of them in European countries are working more than 40 hours a week (European Social Survey in 2010).
Firm and work organizational culture has become the central focus in worklife balance research, with a particular focus on increasing flexibility (flexi-times and flex workplaces) and telecommuting. Flexible working times, once a perk for the valuable worker, have been embraced by many firms as the hallmark of new management and work organization. It is a cornerstone in EU policy and discourse on WLB. In June, the UK granted all employees the right to request flex time. Flexibility is presented as the win-win situation for achieving WLB, allowing for changes over the life course as well as individual preferences.
But does flexibility actually increase one’s scope of alternatives and choice in worklife balance? This depends on the job/sector, the skill and education of the worker; gender matters, as do national statutory provisions and the practices at firms. Consider the following example. Flexibility in working times and especially the possibility to reduce hours has enabled many mothers to combine employment with family, but there are career penalties since part-time jobs tend to be considered “dead end jobs”. Can one adjust working times over the life course? The European Survey on Working Times (firm level data) show that only 18% of firms offer full reversibility (the possibility to move from part-time to full-time and from full-time to part-time).
Within the current debates on worklife balance and flexibility we see two cross-currents. On the one side, there are switch-off policy initiatives in France, which seek to set limits on the number of hours that an employee can be “linked-in” (accessing work systems and emails). In Germany, the Westphalia region is considering banning office communications in the evenings and during vacations, a practice that has already been established by VW, BMW, and Deutsche Telekom, which banned after-hours calls and emails to workers. On the other side, the solution to WLB is cast in terms of total flexibility with employees setting the pace of work and schedules and telecommuting rather than traveling to work. Work becomes an activity, not a place; rewards are based on performance and results, not on the hours you put in at the workplace. In this vision of future work, the workplace would become superfluous and employment conditional on evaluated performance. Is this a workers’ utopia that would enhance the capabilities of individuals for a better WLB and quality of life? Or is this a scenario with high levels of uncertainty, longer working days, the removal of boundaries between working life and other spheres of life, and lastly, the loss of community among workers who interact at the workplace?
Headline image: Seconds Out by dogwelder. CC BY-NC 2.0 via flickr
Eek…so I’m very excited to say I can now share with you all the new children’s book I’ve written and illustrated: ‘Shay and the Caterpillar’!! Now before I lose the interest of everyone above ‘child’ age and don’t have children I feel it’s important to say that 1) hello, one should never outgrow a love for picture books and art and 2)…
This isn’t just a children’s book, this is a book for anyone who’s ever struggled with the feeling that they weren’t enough. Because you ARE.
All Shay wished she could be was colorful. But it seemed no matter how hard she wished or how hard she looked for color, it wasn’t to be.
That was until the day the Caterpillar showed her just how bright she made the world.
Follow along with Shay in her journey to finding color, with a message and uniquely whimsical illustrations children and adults alike will delight in.
So even if you don’t have children yourself, I encourage you to take a read. Plus, I’ll bet you DO know a little girl or boy who does love a good story with kick-butt graphics. And parents, I doubly encourage you to make this one your NEXT bedtime, snuggle-time, anytime read.
When John Bloom, 10, woke up on Monday, December 8, 1941, he woke up to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor the day before. America was now at war and John feels he needs to do something to support his country.
John thinks that forming a club with his friends Chewie and Joe so that they can do good-works projects is a good idea. His frineds agree and they name it The American Boys Club, or the ABC, for short. They decide their first project should be chopping firewood for a neighbor, 98 year old Mr. Hutchins who has been ill and unable to do it himself. But when Mr. Hutchins greets them at his front door with a pitchfork, they decide to prank him instead, by filling up his outhouse with snow.
John knows it is wrong to do but goes along with Chewie and Joe to save face. The next day, looking for something to do after their club meeting, the boys decide to go back to Mr. Hutchins's place to see if the outhouse was still full of snow. But when they get there, there is no sign of Mr. Hutchins anywhere, until John notices a hand on the floor. Breaking into the house, he discovers Mr. Hutchins unconscious on the floor. Chewie runs for the doctor while John and Joe stay at the house.
It turns out that Mr. Hutchins had fallen and is now required to stay in bed until he recovers, first in the hospital and then at home. But when John goes over to see how the old man is doing, he discovers that there is no food in the house and Mr. Hutchins hasn't eaten for a while. Perhaps John has not only found the perfect good-works project for The American Boys Club, but has also made a new friend who can help him do something else good for the war effort as well.
John Bloom and the Victory Garden is a real home front novel. Not only does it address the fears that most Americans felt at the outbreak of World War II, but it shows how quickly people responded to being at war. For example, John's father immediately goes to the Army recruiting office to try to join up; John deals with concerns that his friend Joe, who is Italian, will be sent to an internment camp with his parents and grandmother; America's first demoralizing defeats are acutely felt by the residents of John's town, Appleside, NJ.
There are other nice touches like how people really depended on their radios for entertainment and news; and that boys still wanted shiny new bikes for Christmas despite the war; and of course, there is talk about rationing, and expectations of food, rubber and metal shortages.
The characters are well realized, even the secondary characters have a feeling of depth to them. The community that John lives in is easy to picture and there is a helpful map at the front of the book to situate the reader in Appleside and the boys adventures all over the town.
There is a lot of talk about food in the novel, dishes made by John's mother and Joe's grandmother, so to satisfy the cravings that will no doubt result from the food descriptions, there are some recipes at the back of the book, including Nonna's Buttered Noodles, which I am going to make this week.
This is a book that any middle grade reader will enjoy, whether or not they are history buffs, mainly because the themes of friendship, loyalty and helpfulness are timeless.
As of this moment, my 2014 Cybils work is done. Well, except for hauling a metric ton of books back to the library. Whew!
Since October 15th, I have read 79 young adult novels. Seventy. Nine. So now you know why this blog has been so quiet. But ahhhh, here I am, ready to settle back in and, you know, put the B in CYBILs. (Children’s and Young Adult Blogger Literary Awards.) Consider yourselves warned.
For now, though, today, the day after Christmas, I’ll content myself with a few thousand words’ worth of pictures.
I don’t care about the pageantry or the spectacle. I just get bored. A.D.D.? Maybe. Every time I’m stuck watching them, I can’t find an ounce of enjoyment – I just think about two dozen other things I could be doing. This couldn’t be truer than when I’m at Disneyworld.
My kids, on the other hand, love parades. So when people start lining the streets, they want to stop riding roller coasters and wait. UGH…
Wait for what? Floats. No thank you! If a float doesn’t contain root beer and ice cream, I don’t want it.
I figure with half of the eligible riders standing along the parade route, the lines to the cool things are shorter. Not my family. We wait – and not for the good stuff.
A funny thing happened on our trip last week. We were headed to a ride at the back of the park while people were lining up for the parade. No one with me suggested we stop to watch (miracle), so I powered into the street. We must have been the last ones let out before they closed the rope because we found ourselves about 20 paces in front of the parade with all of its flags and music.
Maybe it was the fact that I was pushing my daughter’s wheelchair, or possibly because I looked so stately and official, but it became apparent that the spectators thought we were supposed to be the ones leading the parade. We all realized it at the same time as they clapped and waved at us.
My kids became confused.
They grouped together.
“Should we pull off and get out of the way?” they wondered.
The oldest asked, “What do we do?”
Of course they looked to me, the leader, the head honcho, the alpha male for direction and what did they find me doing?
With a dopey grin on my face, I waved back at all of my adoring fans.
When life puts you at the front of the parade, smile and wave!
The kids laughed at me, but it caught on. All of us began waving to the crowd.
You know what? Everyone waved back. The people didn’t think we looked out of place – they just waved at us. I wonder what they thought when the real parade came and they realized we didn’t belong. Oh well, we were gone by then. We walked over half of the parade route unencumbered by the bustling crowd until we got near the ride we wanted. Then we simply ducked into the masses and became one of them – anonymous once more.
I still hate parades… But for a moment, I was the grand marshal.
I know, I know, I go dark for almost two weeks and then suddenly, what, four posts in one day. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in (ye gods) nine years and eleven months of blogging, it’s: if you have something to write, write it, and if you don’t, don’t sweat it. And following a related-links rabbit trail on the Huck post this morning led me through manymoments I’m glad I chronicled. So here’s an entry for the memory vault.
Of course the main reason for my silence has been my pile of Cybils reading, as we’re rapidly approaching The Big Discussion right after Christmas. I gave up maintaining my sidebar and Goodreads reading logs weeks ago, but after the madness is over I’ll use my Cybils log to catch up. If you are stuck for book choices I can make suggestions, boy howdy.
(I love this committee. It’s so good for mah brain to consume a megadose of YA fiction every couple of years. And my fellow panelists are so darn smart. It’s the book club of my dreams—fierce but fleeting.)
The other occupier of my time has been a glorious stream of company. ’Tis the season for visits from college friends. We had Kristen and her family for Thanksgiving (Krissy, did you get any good pix? Mine, not so much) and then a long-awaited, unremittingly delightful week with my friends Ron and Larry from Portland. I got to show them Balboa Park (the best part of San Diego) not once but twice: two long lovely afternoons there roaming through gardens and museums. One day with kids and one day without. Beanie and Rilla came with us to the SD Museum of Art, where the “Gauguin to Warhol” exhibit wowed us. I wasn’t surprised to be choked up by seeing a Frida Kahlo up close (Self Portrait with Monkey), but I didn’t expect the Jackson Pollock to move me the way it did. The scope of the thing, a whole massive wall of paint crammed with small stories.
Soon we’ll have my parents here, and Jane finished finals yesterday (with a paper on Prufrock, color me proud) and will be headed home in a few days. Fortunately she wasn’t planning on taking the train home today! Amtrak had to cancel the coastal train due to this crazy storm. Water, finally! More than this parched land can handle. Much worse in LA than here. We’re cozying up at home for now.
The other notable thing about our December is, of course, that it’s our biggest birthday month. So before I pour in a bunch of photos from Instagram and elsewhere these past few weeks, I’ll just leave you with this: Wonderboy is eleven now. Eleven!
before the rain
genius at work: the making of the annual grasshopper pie
Rilla’s Stampy Longnose paper dolls
shockingly, this did not end in a trip to the emergency room
The holiday season can be an insanely stressful time. Looking for presents, wrapping them, cooking, getting the house ready for visitors, cleaning before and after. Nothing like a normal Saturday night on the couch in front of the TV or with a couple of close friends. The holidays demand perfection. You see it all around you, friends are talking about how stressed out they are, how much they still have to do in just a couple of days. Hyper-decorated stores are talking in their own way. As you approach the 25th of December you still haven’t bought half the gifts you need to rack up for family members, the house looks like a bomb crater and you occasionally wish yourself back in the office with piles of work on your desk waiting to be completed. There are even times when you would exchange a chilly Monday morning and an 8 o’clock meeting for this nerve-racking time that’s supposed to be happy, fun and merry.
What many rattled folks forget in the midst of buying last-minute bequests for loved ones or checking on the unhappy-looking beast in the oven minutes before guests arrive, wishing themselves far away, is that as many as half of the population face a holiday season without their dearest family members. There are people who have lost their loved ones in gruesome ways. I can’t even begin to imagine how they must feel, as they approach every new upcoming holiday season. There are people who have lost their parents to old age, people who have gone through heartbreaking divorces, separations and breakups and people who are overseas defending their country because they have no other choice. The holidays will not be what they once were for any of them. And then there are the single parents, parents many of which have decent custody agreements that are “in the best interest of the children.” According to the US Census Bureau, there are more than 10 million single parents in the United States today. Each year millions among them can look forward to days of loneliness because the little ones they really want to spend time with are with the other parent.
When sane parents separate, many judges, thankfully, divide custody equally. Each parent gets his or her fair share of custody, if at all possible. Even when it’s not possible to share the time with the children equally, judges will usually attempt to divide up the holidays evenly. The kids spend every other holiday with mom and every other holiday with dad. It certainly is in the children’s best interest to get to spend some time with each parent. Most kids, with decent moms and dads, would prefer to spend every holiday with both parents. The precious little ones secretly hope for the impossible: That their divorced or separated parents will get back together. But despite their wishes, they adjust to the situation. They have no other choice.
Nor do the parents. As we face the holidays many single parents face a very lonely time. They may be with dear family members: parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Yet they may nonetheless feel a profound pain in their hearts, even as they watch close relatives savor the pecan pie or scream in delight when they rip open their Christmas presents. Their own children are far away. In most cases the youngsters are in a safe place elsewhere, stuffing their faces with goodies or breaking out laughing when the other grandpa makes a funny face. In most cases single parents know that their children are enjoying themselves in the company of the other caregiver and his or her extended family.
Yet the children are missing from the scenery. Their absence is felt. “It hurts. It hurts every other Christmas when my kids are with their dad during the holidays,” says Wendy Thomas, a St. Louis, Missouri single mother of two girls ages 8 and 5. Thomas shares custody with the girls’ father, who lives in Illinois. “The first year was the hardest but I don’t think I will ever get used to it. Shopping malls and Silent Night make me shiver,” says the 38-year-old entrepreneur. This is her third Christmas and New Year’s without her children.
Each holiday a single parent truly misses his or her children on that one day that is supposed to bring delight to everyone. “It’s going to be a lonely, lonely Christmas without you” may just be tedious background music for the families that didn’t break apart. Each year, however, the oldie is causing a tiny tear to run quietly down the cheek of some single caregiver.
But could some of the reported agony over absent children during the holidays be the result of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a psychological mechanism we use to justify our choices and conflicting belief sets? For example, you choose to volunteer three hours a week at the local children’s hospital. It’s killing you. You can barely fit in everything else you have to do. But you tell everyone, including yourself, that volunteer work is truly rewarding and every (wo)man’s duty. Making irrational decisions seem rational is a way to preserve your sense of self worth.
Studies show that the hardship involved in raising children makes us idealize parenthood and consider it an enormously rewarding enterprise. In a study published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Psychological Science researchers primed 80 parents with at least one child in two different ways. One group was asked to read a document reporting the costs of raising a child. The other parents read the same document as well as a script reporting on the benefits of having raised children when you reach old age. The participants were then given a psychological test assessing their beliefs about parenting. The team found what they expected. Parents who had only read about the financial costs of parenthood initially felt more discomfort than the other group. But they went onto idealize parenthood much more than the other participants and when interviewed later their negative feelings were gone.
“How do single parents get through Christmas as painlessly as possible?”
Could cognitive dissonance explain why single parents feel empty-handed and depressed during holiday seasons without their children? St. Charles, MO, family counselor Deborah Miller doesn’t think that’s what’s going on. “This year it’s my turn to be one of those parents. I’ll be the first to admit that raising a child is not always a blessing. There are countless times when I feel more like a chauffeur or a waitress or a slave than a free agent with some real me-time.” She thinks the lonely-parent phenomenon evidently is not a manifestation of cognitive dissonance, as we don’t idealize away the pain of being without our children on Christmas or New Year’s. The heartache often doesn’t go away until we see our kids again in January and abruptly remember just how draining it is to raise a child. “I’ll finally get some time to myself, and I know my son will have a blast. But I’ll miss him immensely,” says Miller.
How do single parents get through Christmas as painlessly as possible? The solution is not necessarily to have a huge family gathering with your side of the family to ease the sorrow. A gala dinner on Christmas Day may have its advantages. You can hug your little nieces and nephews and maybe feel a bit of comfort as they open their presents in a way only children can approach surprises. You may feel a teensy bit of wonder (or is it jealousy) as you view your siblings and their spouses exchange loving smiles and their young ones take delight in the simplest of things. “It may work for some but there is a sense in which you will only be a spectator,” says Miller. She recalls her Christmas two years ago. “I felt gratified to be part of a functional family, and it was good to see my siblings interact with their children. I also remember being thankful that my parents were still alive and healthy and that they got one more holiday season with some of their grandchildren. But I also felt great sadness, because the dearest thing in my life wasn’t with me. I really missed my son that day.” This Christmas, Miller is getting together with a few friends. “Sure, we will still have Christmas dinner but there won’t be any children or presents or sacred family traditions. So hopefully I won’t be reminded of what I’m missing out on.”
Featured image credit: Christmas Decorations, by Ian Wilson. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
My wife sat at her laptop furiously compiling the lists for our four girls. She checked it once, then again while travelling to website after website scouring the internet for the best price and delivery. Items were added to baskets and carts checked out at such a frantic pace that I literally felt a warmth emanate from the credit card in my back pocket. Shopping at a fever pitch – Christmas delivered in two days or less. Not like most years, where she disappears for hours on end to find the perfect gift at the mall. She doesn’t have time for that this year because we got cancer for Christmas.
We didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t circled in the wishbook or written in red crayon. No one sat on Santa’s lap and begged for it. No, cancer just showed up unannounced and took our year away.
So rather than spending quality time with each of the girls to weigh their enormous wants against our limited budget as in years past, she spent Saturday morning hunting and pecking under great duress. Do they have the right size? Will it be delivered on time? Is that really something she will use or should we just give her cash?
At some point during the madness, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She paused to consider. Her eyes got red and her mouth failed her. She didn’t answer, but I knew. I knew what she wanted the second I asked the question and Amazon.com can’t deliver it, even though we are Prime members. It is the only thing either of us want.
We want our baby to stop hurting.
We want her to stop having to face treatments that make her sick and waste away.
We want her legs to work.
We want her to be able to go to school… to run, skip and play like every normal 12 year-old girl should.
We want her to stop coughing.
We want her hair to grow back so people don’t stare at her.
We want normal family time – not garbled, anxiety-laden, jumbled hodge-podge comings and goings where one is sick or two are missing for yet another appointment.
We want to relax and not worry.
We want to give cancer back.
I’ll take one of those please, Santa. Any size will do. No need to wrap it up because if you deliver it, the paper won’t last long. Oh, and you can ditch the receipt, I won’t be returning that gift.
I know many people are dealing with heartbreak and struggles. While Christmas is a season of love and giving, it also seems to magnify pain and loss. We don’t have the market cornered on hurt. I realize that.
It’s just that my wife loves Christmas so much. She loves everything about it, from finding the perfect, fattest tree to decorating every square inch of the house in some form of red and green. She loves the sound of the carols (save Feliz Navidad) and the smell of the baking, even though she is the one wearing an apron. She loves that, for the briefest of moments, the world focuses on the birth of our Savior. She loves taking a drive to see lights on houses and staying home with hot chocolate around a fire. She loves spending time with family, watching It’s a Wonderful Life, reading the nativity story, and candlelight Christmas Eve services. She loves the mad dash on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought… the joy and wonder on our children’s faces. She loves it all.
How do we do it this year?
Should we skip it?
Or should we cherish every moment together as the babe in the manger intended us to? Maybe, instead of focusing on what we’ve lost, we should hold on to the fragile remains of what we have – love, family, friends, and a newfound respect for the precious thing that is life. We should cling to our little girl, who, though frail, is fighting hard and encouraging others to do the same.
We aren’t alone. During the year, we’ve been welcomed into the country club no one wants to join – the childhood cancer community. While we are bound together by common tragedy, it is the warmest, most caring and wonderfully supportive group imaginable. It is the fraternity I wish I’d never pledged. Many of our new brothers and sisters are dealing with such incredible loss, and this time of year must certainly be crippling.
When referring to the promised coming of the child in the manger, Isaiah said, “…and a little child shall lead them.”
What if we took a cue from our little child?
Although she is the one feeling the pain, nausea, and side effects of cancer, she is also the one most excited about Christmas. Even though she only had the strength to stand long enough to put a single ornament on the tree, she admires the finished product and loves to be in the den where she can see it. She is the one who insisted on taking decorations out of town with her while she has to be gone for treatment. She is the one snuggling her elves, dreaming about Christmas morning, and soaking up every minute of the nearness of family and Christ at this time of year. She holds a compress on an aching jaw with one hand and draws up surprises for those most dear with the other. In a year of typically rapid growth for a child her age, she weighs 75% of what she did last Christmas, yet she samples whatever treats her nervous stomach will allow. While we fret over diagnosis and treatment, she savors joy, plucks smiles from pain, and builds a resume of contentment that few on this earth have ever seen. Perhaps she has it right and we have it all wrong.
Kylie hanging her favorite ornament
Instead of looking to health and prosperity for our happiness, what if, just for a moment, we set aside our problems – however overwhelming, and looked to the manger, toward a child – with gratitude for his coming and a longing for his return? What if we laughed in the face of the enemy, knowing that we are wonderfully cared for and uniquely loved? What if we hoped, even when victory was uncertain? What if we dreamed of a better tomorrow regardless of what it may hold?
What if we smiled more…
This joyous Christmas, our family holds on to hope. Together, we look to the manger, to Jesus Christ our Lord for strength and healing. We dream of the day when there is a cure – for our child & every child. We pray that next year, not a single family will have to unwrap cancer for Christmas.