Christmas Crier

I am a pretty chill person. At the same time, my emotions are intense and pace restlessly just a scratch under the surface. I've been this dichotomous since birth. There's a not-at-all-embarrassing family legend about me going to see a long-anticipated show with my folks at a wee age and my dad looking over at me and seeing me in tears. When asked what was wrong, I reportedly said: "I'm just... so excited."

I still cry at the beginnings of things. I cry at the end and in the middle, too.

You'd think that age and experience and whatnot would teach me to either A) become more hardened and cynical or B) how to control myself.

I have tried A) and can assure you that being hardened and cynical does not make me less of a hair-trigger crier. Eventually I gave it up. And B) has met with only mild success in the last 36 years.

Which brings me to the holidays.

Christmas is a time of heightened sentimentality, so those of us who cry at absolutely everything already may find ourselves in tears more often than not from Thanksgiving straight through New Year's.

Christmas is also a super happy time of year, which is another crying trigger for me. All the family gathered together for the first time in 12 months? Cry. Hear my sister is pregnant? Cry. My dad loves the slippers I got him? Cry.

Crying at nothing and everything makes me feel like some kind of emotional loose cannon. I also fear that I might be slightly crazy.

At least, I did. Before I found Option C: Accept this is how I am and stop berating myself for it.

If I just shrug and say, "Yep, I'm a crier" and let fly, then there's a lot less internal conflict when I burst into tears at Target the second "O Holy Night" starts playing. In an awesomely circular way, I'm now actually less emotional overall, because all my energies aren't consumed in pretending that I'm not emotional, and my already-heightened emotions are no longer fueled by the frustration of feeling things so damn intensely all the time.

So, fellow criers of the world, embrace your inner tearyness. If crying is just below the surface, your other emotions probably are too. That means laughter is on deck. And love, and forgiveness. And your anger probably passes almost as quickly as it flares up, which is a good thing.

There are worse things in the world than being a crier.

PS, Here's an easy test to see if you're a crier or not:

Oh man. That one gets me every freakin' time.


Nom de Plume

I never realized how judgmental I am until I was scrolling through stock photos, trying to find one who looks like my romance-writing alter ego so I have something to use for my forthcoming fake author profile picture.

"Not pretty enough. Not edgy enough. Too pretty. Too edgy. Too boring. Too fakey-looking. Not enough tattoos. Too many tattoos. Too skinny. Not skinny enough."

In real life, I am not as pretty as any of the photos I looked at (hello, they are models) and am definitely skinnier. I have some tattoos but nothing outrageous; my ears aren't even pierced. (Also, I mostly wear jeans and the majority of these girls are wearing almost nothing.) But none of these things should matter, because Alter Ego doesn't exist. I'm making her up. She can look however I want her to look.

Okay. So what how do I want her to look?

Fun, spunky, and creative, but so much of any of these things that she alienates potential readers. She has to stay relatable. I want her to look older than 18, but not too old. Maybe mid-to-young thirties. Hip, but not hipster. And I don't want her to look too posed, because I want her to feel, you know, spontaneous. Free-spirited, yet committed. Not flaky. And she can't be blonde. Maybe a redhead. Probably a brunette.

It's funny that putting my best face forward is an instinct that kicks in even when it's someone I made up. And all the personality attributes I'm ascribing to imaginary-her pretty well describe the actual-me, which is also kind of funny.

You'd think, as a writer, I'd have more imagination, but it turns out that in spite of total carte blanche to create whatever personality I could possibly come up with, Alter Ego is, in fact, pretty much exactly like me.

Which is kind of cool. 


A Semi-Guilty Bullet List

Okay, it's absolutely terrible I have not posted in weeks. I apologize profusely.

In a lame effort to play catch-up, I've prepared this list of excuses/explanations/recent stories:

  • Painted my folks' porch a fabulous woodgrain. Much better than pink stucco.
  • Got a call to show the house!!
  • Found out I can, in fact, clean the entire house in ten minutes.
  • Signed up for Reddit's super-fun Secret Santa Gift Exchange. Flexed artistic muscles making cool stuff for it; good experimentation all around. Learned some new techniques.
  • Picked a sick kid up from school three days in a row because of rampant stomach problems.
  • Started said kid on an elimination diet to see if maybe it's allergies. No wheat, corn, oats, soy, dairy, etc. (In kid terms: no pancakes, no chips n salsa, no mac n cheese, and no ketchup.) So far, so good, and almost zero complaining.
  • Decided to start writing smutty romance novels and self-publish direct to Kindle. Because, well, why not.
  • No, I will not be sharing my pen name or any future titles here. Or with anyone. Ever. I'll let you know if it works out though.
  • Joined YogaGlo. Still on my free trial, and am completely in love.
  • Started a Cry Movie Marathon with the girls (and sometime-participant, Dan) because Miss L says she has never cried at a movie before. 
  • Growing concerned stepdaughter may be a sociopath, since the following movies failed to induce tears: The Seventh Sign, Pay it Forward, The Green Mile, Philadelphia, Romeo & Juliet, For the Boys, or Beaches. BEACHES, for god's sake!! 
  • Dead Poets' Society & Steel Magnolias are still in the wings though, so it might end up okay... I'll keep you posted on that too.
  • Found out that Miss G and Miss L are both getting terrible grades because all their parents believe them when they say they have no homework. Children everywhere are now under house arrest.
  • Although I've been Slacky McSlackerton about posting on a regular schedule this month, I'm actually stepping it up after the new year: TWO posts a week. Woo hoo!

All right, I think that about covers it. We're all square now, right guys?

See you next week.


Thankful for the Little Things

It's been kind of a weird week.

I'm down at my folks' in Tucson, where I'm working on faux-woodgraining their porch. Which is great, because then in the evenings, I can write, right?

Except, no. My dad's Internet provider apparently knows everyone in this retirement town of Green Valley goes to bed at 6:30pm. So by 9 pm, when my folks have retired and I have all the time in the world to write... suddenly pages take about 10 minutes to load-- if they load at all. Then in the morning, when I can't be on the computer because I need to be painting during daylight hours, everything is working just fiiiiine again.

It's as if they knew I needed to write about 20,000 words to catch up on my NaNo while I was down here, and are deliberately thwarting me.

I was feeling really crabby that I was so behind on word count, and frustrated at how much work I've gotten this month. When you have to write a dozen articles in one day, it really makes you less inclined to find an extra 1,667 words within you to contribute to a novel that will most likely never be published anyway.

This led to wondering just how much I have written this month. Outside of NaNo, I mean. So I added up all my assignments and my blog entries. (If I'd wanted to be super-accurate, I'd have included all my emails & reddit comments too. But I digress.)

Total? 33,105.


And this does not include any of the writing I do longhand. Which is also a fair amount.

So, you know... now I feel thankful.

I feel thankful I am writing every month. Even if it's boring stuff about how to buy a franchise or the process of getting a patent, and not the next bestselling YA novel.

Because it's a start.

It is so easy to be thankful for the huge things, the obvious things, but those little things, those teensy starts that hardly seem like starts at all... those are harder won. So here are a few more tiny things I'm thankful for this year.

  • That I will have written 50,000 original words by the end of this month, even if not all of it was for NaNo.
  • That I have a husband & daughter who both wake up cheerful. 
  • That my stepdaughter no longer leaves the room when I enter it.
  • Dogs and their snorty, snurfy, waggy happiness
  • That our house is painted. That the bathroom wall is finally finished. That there's a for-sale sign in the yard.
  • That by next Thanksgiving, Las Vegas will be permanently behind me. Finally. (Okay, this is not a little thing; it's a HUGE thing, but how could I leave it off the list?)
  • Yoga
  • That I can buy groceries sans panic attack this year.
  • That my car has a stereo which, while flaky, does allow me & the girls to sing along with the Glee soundtrack on long road trips. Which, by the way, is pure awesome.
  • Reddit
  • That I have finally found a deodorant I'm willing to commit to for life. 
  • That the new Zelda game is out! And that my family is willing to sit around and watch me play it this weekend.
  • Trader Joe's
  • Nature's Brew Outrageous Ginger Ale, which is the perfect ginger ale.
  • Burt's Bees chapstick, which is the perfect chapstick.
  • The way Sunwood smells. 
I like the little things in life, so this list could be quite a bit longer, but that's good for today. 

Be thankful, even for the little things. Maybe especially for those.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(PS, Now we're at 33,717)


Echoes (part 2)

Miss L is so much like her father, it hurts. Not because I don’t love him, but because I love him so much. He is unlike anyone I’ve ever met, and I’m thrilled that so many of his best qualities are being genetically continued in the world through her. If there’s one thing we could all use, it’s a little more Dannishness in the world. That’s why it’s so devastating to see those parts of her, at best, ignored and at worst-- actively weeded out.

Dan and Miss L share a love of the outdoors. They share a daydreamy distraction that’s equal parts endearing and exasperating. They share the same gentle spirit that loathes hurting other creatures, leaving them both confused and devastated if their cheerful oblivion inadvertently causes someone else pain. They both love working with their hands, whether repairing broken things or making something beautiful. Or maybe that’s the same skill, to them.

Miss L is an amazing writer. She lit up over the summer when she talked about the journalism class offered by her school. “We get to make our own newspaper!” But in August, when we saw her schedule, her elective was listed as Speech & Debate.

“Oh, bummer. Was Journalism full? That sucks,” I said.

“No... Mommy said Speech & Debate would be better for me.”

“But you were so excited about that other class!”

“Maybe I’ll take it next year.”

She rolls her eyes now when we plan to go climbing or hiking. She used to run out the door so fast we had to send her back inside for her forgotten shoes. Part of it is getting older, but part of it is that these are not Approved Activities. She’s been trained that these pastimes are beneath her. And, accordingly, so are we.

Outdoorsy and artsy things are only acceptable under certain conditions. Her new stepdad is really into mountain biking, so that’s on the Approved list. Her mom took piano, so piano lessons are in. Skiing is acceptable. Hiking? Nope. Writing? No way.

List of Approved Activities include getting her eyebrows professionally shaped, shopping for, and wearing, cleavage-baring shirts and skin-tight jeans, even though she’s not even 13 yet. Any future career that makes her lots of money is acceptable. Any future career that would land a lower, but still healthy, salary while also incorporating her creativity-- well, no one talks to her about that possible path. Creativity is not important. Her aesthetic side is just that-- a side dish. Not good enough for the main course.

It breaks my heart to see Miss L rejecting and denying such integral parts of herself. She says she wants to be a plastic surgeon, has herself all lined up for hard sciences and advanced math classes. Which would be fine, if that were her passion, but it’s so clearly not. I’m concerned for her future, not because I think she can’t handle that academic road-- she’s absolutely capable; she’s a brilliant student-- but because those aren’t the things that light her up inside. And ignoring those things has a way of exploding your life out later on.  

I don’t have the same concerns for my stepdaughter that I have for for my own daughter. I don’t worry she’ll self-destruct. Instead, I worry that her true self will drift away, dry and neglected, and she’ll be left wondering why she feels so lost. I worry she’ll want to drop out of college when she finds she hates life without all those things she shuns, those things she’s been taught are unnecessary or unacceptable. I worry that she’ll never be able to embrace that nature-loving, artistic, compassionate being that is her true nature, down under all the artificiality that’s slathered onto her these days. And as a result, she may never be whole.


Echoes (part 1)

Miss G is so much like her father, it hurts. Not because I miss him, or miss what we had together, or because I’m nostalgic for what could have been. It hurts because the similarity nauseates me. 

Her likeness to him, both physically and mentally, repels me. Even after over a decade apart from him, even though she is an entirely separate person, her inherent him-ness triggers my protective instincts into screaming get out, get out, GET OUT. The more him-like she gets, the more I feel myself withdraw.

It’s awful.

It’s even more awful because I am absolutely crazy about that kid. She is this amazing, bright spirit who I’m pretty sure will conquer the world. By some miracle, she seems to have gotten all of the good qualities from both her parents, and avoided the worst parts of us. 

In her, I see the gorgeous, untwisted potential of everything her father could have been and should have been and very nearly was staring out at me from my own brown eyes. In her, I also see the capacity for the self-destruction that haunts her father. It terrifies me. 

I see the total disregard for personal boundaries and insanely controlling personality that came close to swallowing me whole. I see his inability to commit mixed with his frightening capacity for single-minded obsession brewing within his daughter, the same elements that combined into the impossible, heady, terrible maelstrom that holds him captive still. I see his same brilliance and his same lack of focus snarling in her constantly. I see courage teetering dangerously close to foolhardiness, and pride edging toward alienating arrogance.

The whirlwind dichotomy isn’t tearing her apart like it did him. Not yet. On my good days I imagine that my hard-won understanding of her father’s true nature enabled me to parent her in ways that honor that legacy. Without knowing the worst possible outcome in advance, maybe I would have parented differently. Maybe I wouldn't have known how to avoid it. Maybe I would have inadvertently crammed all her amazingness into a self-cannibalizing pressure-cooker, doomed to explode someday, taking all of us down with it.

On my less-good days, I wonder if the monster will still get her in the end.


Happy Endings

Normally my thing is creative nonfiction, but for this year's NaNo I'm writing fiction. I don't know what compelled me. Literally the longest fiction piece I've ever written was a terrible sci-fi play called-- I am not making this up-- "A Slip of Tongue and Time." This was back in the fourth grade. My friends Brian Arnold and Andy Young and I recorded our LIVE premiere performance direct to cassette tape in my room one weekend afternoon. I'm pretty sure I still have the original script somewhere.

I can't blame that early effort for my fiction avoidance in the intervening couple dozen years. Meticulous journal-keeping led naturally into longer nonfiction pieces. My real life never lacked for interesting material (still not sure if this is a good or bad thing), so it never occurred to me to make stuff up.

With nonfiction, I strive for accuracy. I struggle to remember things as they happened, think hard about truthful dialog, attempt painting yesterday's story from today's perspective without giving away the ending. I comb my journals for reference, double-check photos and old emails for authenticity. It's a lot of freakin' work.

Fiction, though. There's no background check required. The characters can say whatever they want. Go where they please, kiss whomever they like, change their minds at the very last minute about-- well, everything, hijacking the entire plot in the process. And me? I'm just along for the ride.

In real life, we're stuck with the choices we make, good or bad. We spoke words that cannot be unsaid; heard others that we cannot unhear. We had complex childhoods, disastrous middle school fashion, amazing adventures, failed relationships, and incredible days that could not be described. We forget many of those; others haunt us. Our past tags along like little burrs on our socks-- mostly unnoticed, with occasional unexpected pain.

Real life cannot be un-lived. Done is done. But the future-- that's wide open. Instead of feeling trapped by the parts you've played in the past, set your plot on its ass. Write your own happy ending.


NaNoWriMo Eve

When I was a kid, we didn't celebrate Hallowe'en, because it was the devil's holiday. Instead, we went to church dressed up as saints and/or bible characters to celebrate All Saints' Eve. I am not making this up. I still don't know why it mattered to them; we're not even Catholic.

As a result, I have trouble getting on board with Hallowe'en. Nothing against the day itself; I just don't always remember that it's important to the rest of the world. Only moments ago-- when I walked out the door and saw the neighbors' yards all decorated-- did I realize I have zero candy for any kids who might come knocking on our door tonight. We didn't even carve pumpkins this year. I forgot all about the holiday.

My first college boyfriend was appalled to discover I'd never been trick-or-treating, and insisted not one more year should go by un-treated. He explained at every door about my childhood deprivation; I don't think many folk believed him, but we scored a decent amount of candy anyway. And I wore these awesome multi-colored checkerboard thigh-high stockings that I really wish I still owned even though I haven't owned thigh-highs in years. 

When Miss G was just a little thing, we got dolled up and I took her out to the college dorms for the evening. The last few years, we've gone out as a family. (Dan makes the perfect Abe Lincoln, by the way.) But now, with Miss L gone and Miss G old enough to get to and fro the haunted houses on her own, it's back to being just another regular night. 

But wait! It's not just another regular night!

October 31 is NaNoWriMo Eve! Tomorrow, I start writing my 50,000 word novel... in just 30 days. 

I've downloaded Scrivener, poring over it with the dedication others devote to their zombie make-up. I'm squirreling away post-it notes and plot bunnies like they're mini Snickers bars. And Dan, god love him, promised to keep me stocked in Outrageous Ginger Ale, in amounts to rival any Hallowe'en haul.

It's like a fabulous, nerdy, month-long trick-or-treat. And I plan to eat myself sick.


Hobo Code

I was reading the Wikipedia on hobos the other day (because I am a cross-referencing junkie, and had just finished a particular episode of Mad Men... you know the one). This led down a rabbit hole of intriguing information about hobos. Like: in spite of the common assumption that hobos are lazy bums, one of the articles in the Hobo Ethical Code is to always seek work, and work willingly. Also: there is an official Hobo Ethical Code.

The Mad Men episode touched briefly on a different hobo code-- not their morals, but their written signs, the guiding symbols left by transients traveling through the countryside.

Most of them are pretty straightforward and make good sense: “Food for working” or “Nice lady lives here” or “Can sleep in barn.”

Then there’s one that looks like an infinity sign, with the caption “Don’t give up.”

Of all the things to leave behind for fellow passers-through, this one touched me the most.

Hobos were around for decades prior to the Great Depression. They consciously chose that life, preferring flexibility over predictability. They were their own masters, not bound to any city or employer, but instead lived as citizens of nowhere and everywhere.

Then came 1929.

Men were forced by necessity away from families and homes into an isolated and isolating existence. They looked for hope where there was none, searched for solid foundations and met only shifting sands. The life they knew shut hard behind them, trapped them inescapably in a railcar corner.

You could travel to find work, but you risked ending up thousands of miles from home and still jobless. You couldn’t call home. If your family lost their house while you were gone, you had no way of finding each other again except through dumb luck.  

These were the new brand of hobos. Long, grey months lengthened into years, then into many years. It’s not hard to imagine hope as one of the first casualties of the Great Depression. For these new, reluctant hobos, there was nothing but unceasing, interminable struggle.

Unemployment in 1930 was 8.9%, slightly less than it is now. In just a single year, that number doubled. By 1932, it had nearly tripled. Not just no jobs but no hope of jobs. Unemployment stayed higher than 20%  for four years; higher than 15% for the next ten. Ten years. Imagine our current unemployment rates, right now, but doubled in potency, and quintupled in length.

But for those who still believed, those seeking more, those convinced a pocket of hope still existed somewhere.. for those, the true hobos left word:

Don’t Give Up.


Really, really cranky.

Remember how in my About Me page I give the disclaimer that I might not post if I'm really really cranky?

Playing that card this week.


Version 3.6

It was my birthday on Friday; I turned 36. Getting older never bothered me until this year, this number.

If I were having more kids, I wanted it to happen by 35. It hasn't. I thought I'd be settled in a home and a career by now. But we're moving twice in the next twelve months and I don't have a job, let alone a whole career. At the very least, I should know what I want to be when I grow up, but I don't. I don't even have a daily routine. The only consistent thing in my life is the inconsistency.

It's easy to feel like I'm falling short of whatever 36 was supposed to be. But then I remember, 36 was not a deadline for any of this. There's still plenty of time to do everything I want to do. I am not 36, concrete and finite. I'm in constant evolution, just like every other human. This year, I'm on Version 3.6 of myself.

Version 3.6 has impressive upgrades from Version 3.5. Not to say v3.6 is the best I can do; I've got some serious plans in mind for v3.7. And beyond.

Human beings, by nature, want measurable, definable results. Quantitative over qualitative. With that mindset, it's easy to get discouraged partway through, when goals still seem so far away. It's only when you look back at the beginning that you see how far you've actually come.


Before & After


New IMPROVED entry!


"Tropicana Cabana" kitchen!

Boring corner (the husband is not boring)

Fun corner!

Another boring corner

Another fun corner!

Sad closet

Happy closet!

Dull wall

Magical wall!

Yuck bedroom

Yay bedroom!


Farewell, Turtle.

We took the first step toward moving this week. We relocated Turtle.

We had to do, before he hibernated for the winter. We're straddling two houses at the moment, which really complicates Turtle's life. Only one house, our current house, has an acceptable turtle burrow. The Other House isn't ready for us to move into yet, but we can't leave Turtle hibernating at this house and move into the other house without knowing Current House's fate. New owners moving in while Turtle is asleep? That seems unfair for all humans and reptiles involved.

Alternatively, we could build a preemptive burrow at The Other House and move Turtle in before hibernation season. But this is troublesome, because we're not there full-time to keep an eye on him and make sure he eats enough before the long sleep and he's a kind of picky eater, which you wouldn't probably expect from a turtle but there it is.

And either way, he needs a new home before we move to Colorado, because there's no hibernation deep enough for him to make it up there.

Turns out Miss G's friend's grandma has a desert tortoise habitat in her back yard. We waited till Turtle came out for his morning walk, scooped him up, took him on an exciting car ride, and deposited him at his new home across town.

You wouldn't think a tortoise added so much presence around this place, but his absence is glaring. I didn't realize how often I checked the burrow when I walked through the backyard to see if Turtle's head was poking out, sniffing for greens. Every single day when I'm greeted instead by cold granite blocking what used to be his burrow entrance, I feel-- well, a little choked up.

Honestly, I'm not Turtle's biggest fan. I find him a little creepy, with his unsettling little human tongue. And I don't like how he zeros in on me when he hears my voice, aims right for me like a tank. And I don't like how much work it is to feed him, how he'll only eat if you sit there and talk to him during his meal, and how kale has to be smeared with tomato or cucumber pulp before he'll touch it and how you can't give him lettuce because it's got too much sugar and it's bad for him and then he won't eat anything else. 

But I guess, I kind of liked rubbing his scaly foot while he ate. He liked it, I could tell. And I liked that he'd come say hi; it was friendly, I guess, even if I did feel uncomfortable about it. It's not really fair to pin those emotions on Turtle; those are clearly my issues, not his. 

Oh, Turtle. I miss you. Sort of.

It's a heavy thing, the first real step. 


Step 2

Sometimes when I’m stressed, wondering how we’re going to get to Colorado, or if we’re ever going to function semi-normally as a family, or how we’re buying groceries this week, Dan comforts me by saying “It’s just Step 2. Step 2 is like this. But then-- Step 3, honey!” 

The thing about Step 2 is-- there IS no Step 2. Which is great for some people (and for gnomes), but not so hot for me.

My mind loves Step 2. It thrives on Step 2. It loves all the intricacies of passing from Step 1 to Step 3-- the planning, the details, the possibility. So to find my life in a place where ? sits in lieu of a legitimate course of action stretches the limits of my patience. Also, my sanity.

Then I found this quote from E.L Doctorow that changed my perspective. It’s actually about writing, but (like so many quotes about writing) it applies pretty well to life as a whole, especially if you’re a frustrated planner like me.

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Now when uncertainty sideswipes me, I take a deep breath and remember two things:

We’re in Step 2.
We can make the whole trip that way.


Keeping Your Center

Miss G’s Aikido teacher said this thing during class that resonated with me-- how no one can take your power if you keep your center. Then he showed her how to flip him upside down just using her thumb and pinky finger, saying “See? All the power lies in taking someone else’s center.”  

I watched that move, just two fingers, thinking about how one touch can throw you off course if it's planted right, thinking about balance and power.

I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt trips too, because all the nonsense rattling our windows lately reeks of it.

Guilt is one beefy slab of heavy artillery. In manipulative hands, hands which know exactly where to place those two fingers, you don’t realize you’ve lost until you’re upside down.

But if you know how to spin out of that hold, if you maintain balance even in motion, your opponent is forced off-center to reach after you. They no longer have leverage; you kept your center. An off-center person will never overcome a centered person.

In Aikido, you don’t learn to attack. It’s all defensive. You learn protection. You learn to escape. And you learn that this knowledge renders your opponent powerless just as surely as that Karate Kid crane kick.

Understand this, and you unlock a new world.

If guilt is the grasping thing dragging you back, and you can’t for the life of you figure out how to fight against it, remember that getting away counts as winning. And against guilt, you only need one move: refusal.

Refuse to feel guilty. Refuse to take it personally. Refuse to feel like a bad person for sticking to your guns. Guilt is something we impose on ourselves. No one can make you feel guilty without your consent.

Successful manipulators depend on your reluctance to be the bad guy. They’re counting on you to do the right thing, so they don’t have to. Your integrity is the spinny wheel that keeps the pieces moving around the board.

You can choose not to play their game. You don’t have to feel guilty. They can make you try-- whoever your “they” is (are?)-- but they only succeed with your permission.

Next time someone hurls that crap at you, remember your participation is necessary to their success. They don’t want what’s best. They want what’s best for them.

Keep your center, and no one can take your power.

More help defeating guilt:

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn RandEmotional Blackmail by Susan ForwardDivorce Poison by Dr Richard A WarshakJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach


Other parents suck

Your stepdaughter was thrilled a month ago about moving to Colorado next summer. This morning, she says it will be too hard on her. Too stressful. She's already overwhelmed by traveling so much. Your stepdaughter suggests moving to Reno instead “so we can be a real family again” which is funny, because she sure hated being 'a real family' when we all lived in the same city before. Hated it for 5 solid years. When you tell her the flight is only an hour longer, and drive time to the airport is the same, she ignores you. Repeats herself like she’s memorized a speech. Like she’s a robot.

And it's the funniest coincidence-- her mom wants you to move to Reno too, and she also thinks it's too much traveling for her daughter! It's almost as if they've been talking about it a lot in the past month, almost as if her mother has changed your stepdaughter's mind about the whole thing. But surely not. Surely she'd be supportive of you leaving the city she herself said was an inappropriate place to raise your stepdaughter.

But not if she doesn't like the new custody arrangement. Not if she misses her daughter too much in the long summers. Not if she's complaining that it's not fair you get all the holiday weekends-- forgetting that she has 9+ months with your stepdaughter while you don’t even have three. That’s not included in her definition of ‘fair.’

Apparently she would rather return both households to a life of constant conflict with her daughter smack in the middle. It’s only been a year, and she already wants out of the custody schedule she requested. Even though it was her idea to move in the first place. Even though her daughter’s present ‘really stressful’ traveling schedule is a result of her actions, her insistence that this would be best for everyone, her refusing to stop at anything, including the destruction of your family, to get her way.

No, no. These things don’t count. All that matters now is that you are the bad parents if you are the ones who move now, because it will suddenly be your fault that the daughter travels twice a month. It’s convenient in this case to forget she’s already been doing it for a year.

And then we have the other parent.

The other parent is also sabotaging your move to Colorado. He is taking his daughter aside and calling her repeatedly telling her she doesn’t have to move, she can stay with him, he’ll fix up her room, like you’re some kind of a monster who is tearing her from him against her will. Like he hasn't had six years living in the same city with her to fix up that room, to be active and involved. To meet her teachers or attend her conferences or pick her up from school. To even pretend to be a father, even a fake father like that fish that’s packaged as imitation crab.

The other parent owes over $14,000 in child support arrears. Which used to not matter, because you used to think money was less important than his presence in your daughter’s life, that you’d trade every penny of child support if only he’d start giving a shit about his kid. Only now that you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ve realized that she’d be better off with the cash, because being around him stresses her out so much that she has tummyaches for days and days leading up to her weekends with him.

Luckily he cancels a lot, so she only sees him maybe once a month. Except then you're kind of stuck, because if she's disappointed you say 'Oh honey, your dad loves you, he just has a crazy work schedule' to comfort her but you feel like it's a lie and you wonder if he really does love her and even if he does, is it a good idea to tell her that because you don't want her thinking this is love, this constant disappointment, this emotional unavailability and being let down as more predictable than coming through.  

So if he’s not going to maintain a supportive presence physically, it’d be nice if contribute financially. Or at least at least chip in for even a portion of the $400+ in medical bills she racked up due to those stomach problems last year. Except he never did. And yet your daughter came home today and announced that Daddy and his girlfriend just bought a new house! And it’s big! And Mama, oh my god, has the awesomest pool.

No, no. Again, these things don’t matter. Those child support payments are seriously crippling him financially. He’ll tell you all about it the next time he calls. And if he’s not active and involved-- well, that’s your fault too. You’re obstructing the relationship, poisoning your daughter against him. Not him, not the guy who cancels 3 out of every 4 weekends. It’s nothing to do with his actions. No, you are the bad parent who is taking his daughter away and preventing them from having a decent relationship.

Ridiculous? God, yes. But you cannot make this stuff up. For one thing, it’s totally unrealistic; no one would ever believe you. They especially wouldn’t believe that these things happened on the same day.

So here is the number one rule of blended families. Are you listening? Because this is the answer that will make your life bearable:

You. Are always. Wrong.

Your house is the bad house, and the other house is the good house. Whatever you do, it makes you a bad parent. Even if it is the exact same thing the other parent did a year or two ago, such as accepting an outstanding job offer in a city that will be much better for your child and your family. Even then, you will be a bad parent and, frankly, a bad person because you actually do not care about your child and you are not doing what is best for her. In fact, your actions are irreparably damaging to her. Because-- and this is key-- what is actually best for her is not what you think is best. It is whatever the other parent thinks is best.

Now. With that knowledge, and under these conditions, go forth and parent. Maintain integrity. Follow your gut. Do what you think is right for yourself, your children, the family you’re trying so hard to make together. Go ahead. Try it. Just try it. I dare you.


Fairy Places

I collected fairies once. Somewhere along the last couple years, I sort of got over it. Tucked them into boxes, possibly to save for my niece if she gets into such things when she’s older. At thirteen and nearly-thirteen, our girls have outgrown magic and packed away their own fairy collections; dull practicality is rushing into its place at a frightening pace.

Everything is becoming lame. School is lame. All their parents are lame. Hiking and camping are definitely lame. As far as I can figure, electronics are the only not-lame things left in existence.

Except we found this place in Oregon, out in the middle of nowhere. We were looking for campsites along this dirt road; a near-hidden muddy turnoff caught our eye almost too late. I reversed a bit to make the turn and we edged down a muddy path toward a stream.

The whole drive was gorgeous-- tall pines, clean air, dappled sunlight-- but this was a pocket of even more perfect. Every living branch and fallen trunk enveloped in quiet moss; water curling around smooth stone islands and wandering into tiny waterfalls; hazy green light and some delicious unidentifiable smell.

“This is such a fairy place,” I said before we even got out of the car. The phrase was reflexive; I haven’t used it in years. Maybe because I’ve been stuck in the desert, where fairies and their places are in mighty short supply.

I thought the girls’ apathy was impenetrable, but they lifted their heads like racehorses scenting a track. Within seconds, they were out of the car and across the river and calling to come look! come look! with the level of excitement usually reserved only for new Glee episodes.

We pitched tents and played barefoot in the water till dark. The girls kept saying “It is a fairy place; it is SUCH a fairy place” all heady with delight. They collected raspberries and flowers and little pretty things, arranging them just so near certain places they thought the fairies would like best.

In the morning, they woke us with delighted shouts that the berries were missing!! And nothing else had been touched at all, Mama! They found oddly dry rocks left in conspicuous places and were sure the fairies left them in gratitude. Giddy from success, they vanished into the brush to collect more berries, more flowers, more little pretty things to leave behind.

In spite of the dizzying speed at which they’re approaching adulthood-- too slowly and too quickly, all at once-- I feel freshly anchored. Even though they are careening away from childish things, becoming unrecognizable from the 'them' we've known for the length of their lifetimes, there's a kernel there that wants to believe in fairies, a smidgen of innocence left unaffected by cell phones and skinny jeans. 

I remembered why I started collecting fairies in the first place: so I could remember that too. The simple strength of childhood faith in magical things: Mom's kiss will make it better; other worlds await beyond wardrobe doors; fairies live near waterfalls. 

Maybe it's no accident that life got real dull and cranky right around the same time I felt irritated with fairies in my house. Maybe it's faith that threads magic through our lives instead of the other way around.