Tag Archives: parents

Hiatus

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IMG_3792 Back in September, we got an awfully big surprise.

Around the third week in August, I had started having undeniable pregnancy symptoms. We did some math on our fingers and excitedly planned for a due date of May 6th, which seemed perfect: I’d be on break between teaching semesters (May is my biggest chunk of time off every year), Hubby would be through with an always-grueling tax season. We’d have plenty of time to rearrange our three boys into bunk beds and all that. And we had plenty of time to wait a month before spreading the news to family and friends, so we didn’t tell anyone yet.

IMG_3455Still, we both admitted that something felt off. There was something different about this pregnancy, but we couldn’t figure out what it was.

Three weeks later, in the middle of catching ourselves up on Downton Abbey, the baby kicked me.

I put my hands on my stomach and suddenly couldn’t pay attention to the captivating drama of Mary and Matthew anymore. I froze, waiting for it to happen again, my head spinning to catch up with what this meant.

It meant I wasn’t seven weeks along, that was for sure. It definitely meant we weren’t due in May.

When the episode ended, I timidly revealed the news to Hubby, and we spent the next hour laughing at the possibility. Could it really be true? Could we have been pregnant since last May and not known it?

Two days later, an ultrasound confirmed it: we were over eighteen weeks along! Due February 8th.

IMG_3905With a girl!

Everyone’s response to the news? “I didn’t even know you were pregnant!” Well, we said, neither did we!

Since that ultrasound September 14th my priorities have swung in a wildly different direction. I abandoned the blog and put all my spare energy into prepping our house and lives for a new baby in less than four months.

Today is the first day in those months that I feel suddenly open to blogging, ready to see if I can still write anything after so long out of practice. The older boys’ room is finally outfitted with a bunk bed (including a new handmade quilt for my five-year-old who was previously in a toddler bed), a mural to fill the wall space, and painted closet shelves. The other room now holds a toddler bed, a crib, a changing table, a rocking chair and a train table, with just a few things left to arrange on the walls before it will feel complete. I’ve crocheted a flower blanket, sewed a floral chair pad and girly owl pillow for the rocker, and continued nesting like that to my heart’s content. IMG_3929This past weekend her grandma bought us a bright pink car seat and a neighbor loaned us a bassinet. Her closet now has just enough size 0–3 months clothes for us to get by for a little while. I can finally feel ready.

Last night, sporting a basketball under my shirt, I walked into a room full of strangers facing me in their desks, probably wary as the first thing they learned about their new college English teacher is that she is nine months pregnant. But once we got going, and they opened right into discussion so easily, I felt the usual thrill of discovering I’ve got a good group of students — knowing we’ll be able to analyze and dig into complexities and have the room hum with enthusiasm because I can tell they’re interested and they care. It reminded me how much I love all that, including discussion here on my blog.

At the same time, this is my fourth time around having a newborn, and I know my limits. I cut down to just one class this semester so that those 75 minutes twice a week are my only commitment in these next few months besides my baby and three boys.

This post isn’t an announcement that I’m back to blogging, just an update to confirm that I’m not.

Since my last baby, I’ve learned a lot about shaking off stress and living a peaceful life. That’s the life I want to welcome my daughter into — in just three short weeks! Writing will resume when it feels right.

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The Etiquette of Better to Give than to Receive

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At the beginning of December, our seven-year-old wasted no time or words in making Santa aware of his desires. (“Dear Santa, I want . . .”)

He pestered me to help him mail it right away, but first we had a talk about “niceties” and a subsequent revision. The second letter, complete with falling snow, turned out a little better with the help of a ‘please’ and a ‘thanks’:

Then this week I discovered I had a bigger job in the Teaching Etiquette department than I’d originally thought.

Two neighbor girls who are good friends with our boys came to our door to bring them gifts. Afterward the seven-year-old started musing about who else might bring him unexpected gifts. He began listing the likely candidates: “Well, I know I’ll get presents from Grandma and Grandpa . . .”

I stopped him. “It’s not very good to focus on what you’re going to get.”

“Why not?”

“It’s just poor etiquette.”

“What’s ‘etiquette’?”

“Good manners. Niceties.”

“But I said ‘thank you’ when they brought the presents!”

A plan began hatching in my brain as I replied, “Yes, you’re really good at ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ now, so it’s time to bump it up to the next level. Now it’s time to think about what gifts to give to people. Who would you like to give presents to for Christmas?”

He listed his closest friends.

“Okay,” I said, my idea still only half-formed. “Get your shoes on. We’re going to the craft store so we can get stuff to make presents.”

Make presents?” he asked in disbelief. “But we can’t make toys!”

“Sure we can. I’ll show you.”

We came home armed with wooden blocks, Mod Podge and scrapbook paper. “It’ll be fun!” I declared.

Hour 1: Both the seven-year-old and the four-year-old had a great time selecting and cutting out pictures to glue onto the blocks. Soon we had plenty and they chose six pictures for each set. The fifteen-month-old made things difficult, but otherwise it was so-far-so-good.

Hour 2: The toddler went down for a nap and I got us into assembly line mode. We were slicing the pictures into twelve squares, gluing them, and testing the difficulty level. All was well, but the number of unfinished squares began to overwhelm us. Suddenly my idea didn’t seem so hot as our enthusiasm waned and the whining ensued.

Hour 3: I was left to soldier on alone, grumbling internally (okay, and a bit out loud) about how I was never going to do this again and it would have been so much better to just buy gifts they could wrap and hand to friends.

Hour 4: The four-year-old casually returned, saying, “Hey, I want to glue those on,” as if he’d just realized I was doing something cool without him. Soon the seven-year-old wanted back in on it too. “This is fun!” they declared as we completed some of the sets and they got to play Quality Control, testing the puzzles for age appropriateness and enjoyment level. “We’re like Santa’s elves, making the presents!”

And, as often happens with these parenting lessons, I found myself looking in the mirror and seeing my own hypocrisy.

I’d been doing the same as my seven-year-old, just with time rather than presents, greedily counting up the possible hours I could find to get stuff done this busy time of year. Those four hours crafting with my kids (well, minus the hour when they deserted me) were some of the first hours I’ve spent with them all month. I’m home with them all day, and yet how often do I give them my full attention and actually sit down to do something with them?

Today they’ve been playing with the puzzles again (we’ll have to create “kid-tested, mother-approved” labels for these gifts), which makes me hopeful they will be well appreciated by the recipients.At first I was afraid it would all be wasted effort if their friends don’t like the puzzles, but now I don’t think so, any more than it was a waste to revise a letter to Santa.

Both mom and kids received a good lesson and good feelings just from the giving.

Anybody else going homemade this year and have similar adventures with it? Do you think homemade gifts are worth the time and stress? What do you do to help your kids put giving ahead of receiving? (Bonus points to anyone who can name the picture book that alligator illustration is from!)

Leave a comment!

Safe Experience: A Parent’s Thoughts on Censorship

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“Only the foolish learn from experience — the wise learn from the experience of others.”

~Romanian Proverb

It was hard to decide where to begin once I committed myself to another Banned Books Week post. My other one served me well; I felt like it showed a good balance between both sides of the censorship issue.

Haha — the only trouble is that I’ll be the first to tell you there are hardly ever only two sides to anything. Issues are complex. There’s always more to explore.

Simpsons vs. Jetsons

Take, for example, an episode that aired several reruns at our house. Hubby grew up loving The Simpsons; I grew up with a dad who discouraged us from watching it, on the grounds that it showed inappropriate behavior. I’ve come to appreciate the show for its literary allusions, but I still felt our kids weren’t old enough to watch it (our oldest is six). Whenever I would catch Hubby turning on The Simpsons while the boys were in the room, I griped, “Please! Please change it to something else! Find Cartoon Network. Turn on The Jetsons or The Flitstones — something that’s meant for kids!”

After months of this, I finally confronted Hubby when the kids were in bed. I was angry that he ignored my requests and horrified that he wasn’t concerned about the kids’ exposure to mature content.

“Have you seen The Jetsons recently?” he asked.

The question stopped me. “What do you mean?”

“I tried what you suggested. We watched Jetsons for a while, and I was totally disgusted by the way they show women. I don’t want my boys growing up thinking that women are only good for shopping and cleaning. But with The Simpsons, at least I know every episode and I don’t show them the bad ones.”

Now, with Hubby it’s completely possible that he was just messing with me. The combination of him being good at lying and me being too gullible sometimes lets him get away with too much. But in this case, he’d given me a revelation.

There’s more to media than the obvious violence, swearing, crudity, etc, that impacts the rating. There’s the underlying issue of the worldview the media portrays. The Jetsons premiered in 1962; it sort of can’t help portraying mentalities from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s about gender roles and consumerism, etc. I think Hubby’s right: we don’t want to pass those on to our kids. And letting them watch those kind of shows might reinforce that antiquated worldview, dangerously setting it into their subconscious as “normal.”

On the other hand, history is full of sexism portrayed through the media of the time period, whether in Shakespeare or Dickens or sitcoms like I Love Lucy. So to label The Jetsons as bad simply because it reflects the culture of the time doesn’t seem right. However, I like the point that we need to consider more than just the obvious when it comes to the influences on our children.

(Whether or not this exonerates The Simpsons and sanctions it for young viewers . . . well, it’s one of those cases where I’m choosing to lay down my sword and give up on that battle for now.)

Cruella vs. Woody

What I’m trying to say so far is that it’s complicated. It’s not easy to label any media, even media specifically designed for children, as good or bad, harmful or benign.

Think about Disney.

I’m not talking about what shows up when you freeze-frame certain scenes. I’m talking about something much simpler: when my oldest kid started using the word “idiot” at age three or four.

“That’s not a very nice word,” I told him. “Where did you hear that?”

“Dalmatians,” he said.

“Oh. Well, Cruella isn’t a very nice person. She doesn’t say very nice things. We don’t want to be like her, do we?”

He shook his head, and I felt all proud of myself for handling a “teaching moment” so well.

Then he asked, “But what about Woody?”

“Huh?”

“Woody says ‘idiot’ too. He calls Buzz idiot.”

I had to stop and think how to explain.

“Sometimes even good people mess up and say things that aren’t nice. It’s just not a nice word. I don’t want you to call yourself an idiot or call anybody else an idiot, okay?”

“Okay.”

That teaching moment might have been more for me than for him. This was before our Simpsons vs Jetsons episodes, before I’d had really any experience at all with my kids encountering “bad” content. It taught me the simple lesson that I can’t shield them from everything, but I can discuss it with them and help them put it into context.

My oldest quit using the word “idiot” thanks to that quick chat. Now years later he still sometimes reports to me about what he’s seen in terms like, “Last night, on Simpsons, Bart hit Lisa, and that wasn’t very nice, so we don’t want to do that.” He can evaluate media and he can discuss it with us, and I think those habits/skills are far more valuable than protecting his innocence with an all-out ban.

Uncomfortable vs. Safe

What this finally brings me to is the idea that maybe it’s actually good for our kids (and us) to encounter certain harsh truths through media. I would much rather my six-year-old learn that it’s bad to hit your siblings by extrapolating that from TV than by hitting his four-year-old brother and learning from the resulting time-out.

In some ways, isn’t that the point of stories, whether told out loud or in books or as TV shows or movies? To make us wiser by helping us learn from others’ experience rather than having to learn everything “the hard way”?

Last summer I wrote about it in regards to experiencing death in a post called “Killing off Characters,” saying,

Maybe we need to contemplate death through fiction . . . because it helps us reconcile one of the most frightening parts of our existence. Fiction is a fantastic place to wrestle with questions about life, and so it’s probably also an appropriate place to wrestle with questions about death.

For example, in Shannon Hale’s Actor and the Housewife, there’s a death that made me cry for a solid hour. . . . Even though it was a wretched hour of heavy tears, I was grateful for the opportunity to go through it in fiction, to see the main character survive, and to think to myself that I could survive it, too, if I had to.

I think a lot of us can agree that we’d rather go through something horrible in fiction than in real life. I think we can probably even agree that fiction prepares us to better handle hard things in life. And maybe that even applies to the content we might at first be inclined to censor.

In the post that I republished on Monday, my friend Leisha and I conversed about this idea in the comments:

A couple of years ago I went to a school book fair and tried to buy a copy of the Hunger Games. The attendants ran over to me when I picked it up off the shelf and whispered, “Do you know what that book is about?” I stared back and told them yes. They then asked if I still wanted to buy it because there was nudity in it. And violence. And death. And kids killing kids. I just stared some more before grinning and saying, “Heck yeah! I love a good dystopian. Bring on the body count.”

It’s such a strange thing, isn’t it? Because when you list it out like that — nudity, violence, death, kids killing kids — it sounds horrifying. Well, it is horrifying, actually. But horrifying is THE POINT. I think of dystopian fiction as a warning of what-might-happen-IF… Plus I think fiction is the place for us to deal safely with horrific things, to experience death and decide how we might cope, even if we only think about it on a subconscious level. (Whoa, sorry to go all literary theory on you.)

I know! I spent a lot of time thinking about what led that society to that point, and through the safety of the story I was willing to ponder on what could happen to ours IF things went awry. Stories deal with uncomfortable issues in a safe environment, it’s an emotional workout that lets me measure and even strengthen my moral codes. They allow speculation and experiences in situations I’d never dare to seek out in real life because I’m not fond of dying or pain, but I will face it in a book and emerge a better person for facing it. And I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and can’t face. I reserve that right for myself. I will decide what is my limit.

On the one hand, you could argue that Leisha reading The Hunger Games as an adult is completely different than having that book be geared toward teens. But I argue that most teens can handle it and that they need to. They need books that allow them to encounter those gruesome experiences precisely because we don’t want them to have to experience any of that firsthand. The lessons of war, etc, are sobering lessons that I want my kids to understand without having to go to war.

And I’m hoping that by the time my kids are teenagers, they’ll be prepared to decide for themselves, like Leisha, whether or not a book such as The Hunger Games is a good idea for them.

Uncomfortable versus safe? Hubby’s not comfortable with Jetsons, I’m not comfortable with Simpsons; but at least in either case our kids are learning that it’s safe to talk to us about media, just like I feel it’s safe to encounter tough issues in a book or movie, to grapple with experience of all levels in a place where we have the distance to evaluate it and decide how to apply it to ourselves.

Rather than having anyone censor books for me or my kids, I’d rather make those decisions for ourselves. Sure, right now I’m trying to shelter our kids a little, questioning everything from Disney to Simpsons to whether or not they’re old enough for Harry Potter. But gradually I’m turning the decisions over to them as we discuss the issues and they become better at recognizing the “good” and “bad.” They’ll get to be the ones to decide what they’re ready for.

It is a strange thing, I know, to say that I hope my kids will someday choose to read books about horrifying things when they’re ready. I hope they’ll read about ideas that are uncomfortable, that challenge their worldviews. I want them to be evaluative readers who weigh consequences and consider applications to their own lives.

I want my children to be wise.

What do you think? How do you look at censorship from a parenting viewpoint?

Leave a comment!

Reprise: Homophones, Nazi Cows and Other Banned Books Dangers

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I wrote this post two years ago for Banned Books Week 2009, and I’m re-posting it this week to kick off Banned Books Week 2011. There are some really extreme ideas out there about what censorship means, so I share this post in the hope of illuminating a moderate view. Later this week I plan to write more on the subject. Enjoy!

~Nikki

speak your mind

It’s a little funny at first, the whole concept of reading banned books. I mean, it feels dangerous, right? It feels like you’re doing something you shouldn’t, peeking at something you have no business seeing.

Until somebody explains to you that Little House on the Prairie has been banned. Or The Giving Tree. Or Alice in Wonderland. Or The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

ACLU Freedom ConcertThen it just seems plain ridiculous.

I think my students recognized this yesterday when I introduced the concept of Banned Books Week to them.

Their first reaction was confusion, since they thought I was telling them Harry Potter is a “band” book (oh, the joy of homophones).

Their second reaction, after I showed them the PTA meeting clip from Field of Dreams (“Step outside, you Nazi cow!”), was laughter mixed with a tinge of uncertainty. After all, aren’t banned books banned for a reason?

Their third reaction, when I showed them the covers of the children’s books I mentioned above, was a collective gasp. 

“Wait a second,” that gasp clearly said. “Something’s not right.”

Read Banned BooksIt seems to me that this is exactly what Banned Books Week is all about: showing people what censorship really looks like.

The trouble is, of course, that it’s complicated.

Does my freedom to have books available at the library impinge on your right not to walk into something offensive? If I want my children to read the picture book And Tango Makes Three, does having it on the library shelves endanger your children by exposure to the idea of gay adoption?

I live in a conservative community. I can’t pretend that I don’t understand that side of it. We all want to protect our children. But a lot of people don’t see it the way I do: that there are books and ideas out there that can save our children–except that if those books are banned, the children and the books might never meet.

For example, Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Twisted was challenged in at least two school districts this past month. She shared with blog readers the letter she was sending to those superintendents, and it included excerpts from letters she’s received from teen readers who were thinking of committing suicide–one who had even attempted it twice–and decided against it after reading Twisted.

So, yeah–I meant it literally when I say that books can save.

One of the comments in class last night that I really appreciated was that the way things should work is that parents should be in tune enough to their kids that they can communicate about every issue openly, whether suicidal feelings or gay adoption or racist terms in To Kill a Mockingbird. But too often children and teens can’t turn to their parents about the things troubling them, and it falls to a perceptive librarian or teacher to choose a book off a shelf and hand it to that student and say, “Here. Try this. See if this helps.”I read banned books.

That’s what I’m fighting for this week. I’m fighting for the right to have the right book on the shelf when the right reader needs it.

At the same time, I believe that parents should still have a say–for their own children.

In high school I did many alternate assignments in the library while my history or English classes watched R-rated movies, because my parents and I decided that movie rating was inappropriate for our family. We didn’t try to dictate, however, that the other students shouldn’t watch Braveheart either.

After discussing it as a class last night, it was great to see how a little bit of information helped open minds about the topic of banning books. That’s my hope for this blog post and this week, too: that a little bit of information will help stop censorship from removing books that are on the shelves for a reason.

Freadom

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On a side note, I once heard from some librarians at our university library that there is a case of certain books they keep locked away.

“Whoa!” I thought. “Those must be the really dangerous books.”

Nope.

As it turned out, they were books that had been locked away for their own safety.

It was the readers who were dangerous to the books. Writing over offensive words with a permanent marker. Ripping out offensive pages. Shredding whole novels.

So the librarians locked the books away to keep them safe from the efforts of censors, and you had to get special permission to check them out.

Interesting, huh?

Honing in on Minor Characters

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It has finally happened. The baby is napping regularly — and I’m back to writing regularly! I was hesitant to declare victory at first, but it’s been a few weeks now, so I think it’s safe. Hooray! Imagine the cheers I’ve been doing. While continuing to teach with the baby has been great, writing is also a big part of who I am and I’ve missed it.

This week the major hurdle has been a particular scene with my main character’s mom. The scene as it currently reads is pretty blah: we get a slight feel for the mom’s character, but it doesn’t show us at all Wendy’s conflict with her mom.

So I decided to go back to the drawing board, sort of literally.

Last summer, when I created avatars of my characters, I only did the main ones. Like, the ones that show up on more than just two pages. When I started agonizing over the scene with the mom, I realized that I didn’t have a clear picture of her in my head.

As I mentioned in a post earlier this year about the movie Easy A, I believe how you portray the parents in young adult fiction is a crucial element to the story. I have been very turned off by flat parents in otherwise great books. And yet the parents in my own manuscript are incredibly flat! Oops. But I swear I’ve always meant to round them out; I never intended to leave them that way. This week I’ve finally started to get around to it.

While I was at it, I decided I better create every character that has a speaking line in my book. Suddenly my cast of eleven ballooned into eighteen portraits. The setup below shows the hierarchy: top tier = main characters, second row = secondary characters, third row = minor teenage characters, bottom = minor adult characters.

Some of them I tweaked from the original portrait, like Brianna and Abuelita, who needed just one or two different features. Some of them don’t even have names that are absolutely solidified. (Peter’s mom, currently labeled “Karen,” has been fluctuating the most, and the craggy-faced gnome doesn’t even get a name in the manuscript right now, so I threw “Vydin” on his picture just because those were the syllables that came to mind first.) And some of them, like “Mitch,” still don’t look right but are close enough for now.

It’s helping. There’s so much you can tell about a character by how they look. Once I can picture them, it’s easier to see how they might act and react in a given situation.

My next job is to try a tactic I heard on the radio last weekend, which is to come up with five adjectives for each character and have at least two of them be positive. Such a great way to make your characters complex. Wendy spends such a large chunk of the book upset with her dad that I want to be sure  he has redeeming qualities too. Hopefully between the portraits, the adjective exercise, and all the scene blocking I’ve been working on, I can round out these minor characters of mine.

That is if I can quit getting distracted making avatars . . .

What can I say? My attention is starting to stray to my next book. While for other writers this might happen any time, for me I get so fully immersed in each manuscript I work on that I don’t think about the next one until I’m ready to push the current one out the door. So this is a good sign! It’ll give me more motivation to wrap up Wendy and the Lost Boys, especially since seeing these two new main characters makes me so excited to start working on their story.

They are going to be cool, let me tell you. But I’ll keep my ideas for them super secret until I have a full draft, probably by early 2012. Consider these avatars a sneak peek and an assurance that soon WLB will be off to solicit an agent.

In the mean time, I’d love your thoughts about minor characters in general. What are some of your favorite minor characters — especially favorite parent characters — in books or movies? What makes them great?

Leave a comment!

How to Play Favorites

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I’ve often heard writers say that their books are like their children. Oh, how true that can be!

As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Your child and your work hold you hostage, suck you dry, ruin your sleep, mess with your head, treat you like dirt, and then you discover they’ve given you that gold nugget you were looking for all along.”

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to have a favorite child, but I’ve been thinking recently that playing favorites in a different way can actually be a good thing. After all, many professional writers will tell you that the secret to being a writer is to love writing. Similarly, I’d argue the secret to being a parent is to love your kids.

And the secret to loving either one might be picking out your favorite parts. 

1. Notice

First of all, remember that instead of having a favorite (singular), you’re looking for favorites (plural). The only catch is to pay attention and figure out what you love to love.

My kids and I often make an impromptu game of this when we go outside this time of year. “Ooh, Mom! Look! This flower is opening up!” or “The seeds are growing!” or “The vines are climbing so high!” I don’t remember how we started this tradition, but I’ve become so fond of it, and I hope that it’s teaching my kids to notice and appreciate nature.

For me as a parent, having the right attitude for this on a regular basis requires me to take deep breaths and stop and really look at my kids rather than impatiently rushing on to my next task (which I’m often guilty of).

This week, when I remembered to notice, I was treated with so many gold nuggets, like spying my six-year-old lying on his back, hands behind his head, elbows out, pondering the universe; catching the very first attempts at a clap our nine-month-old made before mastering the milestone; and seeing the three-year-old don every kind of amusing combination of spy glasses, pirate patch, pirate hat, crown, Home Depot apron-turned-cape, pirate hook, pirate sword, etc.

With writing, I try to find aspects I enjoy at every stage of the process. Right now I appreciate that the story is in place and that my characters are rounding out so nicely; I notice how fun it is to tweak sentences and add cool details. I watch to see what are my favorite aspects of each phase.

2. Enjoy

It’s one thing to say, “Oh, hey. Looks like the baby learned to clap,” and another to stop what you are doing and enjoy the moment.

One night as I was cooking dinner, Baby started doing a peculiar dance around the kitchen floor: crawl three feet, sit on bum, clap twice; crawl, sit, clap; crawl, sit, clap; over and over. It was hilarious, and the six-year-old and I were busting up laughing.

Making dinner can often be a stressful time, especially if I’ve got hunger-grumpy family members whining at me to hurry, but enjoying that moment with the kindergartener and the babe wiped out all the frustration of the dinner chore.

Enjoying favorites helps to keep me from feeling overwhelmed in writing, too. When I focus on how much better this one particular paragraph is getting and how much fun I’m having tweaking it, I’m not letting myself stress about the thousands of other paragraphs I still need to work on.

Maybe it’s the secret to living in the moment.

3. Remember

Earlier today, my three-year-old yelled at the six-year-old, “I DON’T APPROCERATE IT!”

This was in the middle of a heated argument between the two of them, but the strange word paused it all. The six-year-old and I looked at each other and then at the preschooler. “What?”

“I DON’T APPROCERATE IT!”

We couldn’t help laughing.

“You mean you don’t appreciate it?” I asked.

I happened to be working on this post at the time, and I typed “approcerate” onto the screen to help me remember. So often I’ll start to tell people, “Kids are hilarious! They’re always mixing up their words and doing the funniest things,” and then they’ll want an example, and most of the time I can’t think of one. How sad!

But more important than bragging rights is that remembering my favorite things cycles me back to noticing them more.

When I keep lists of my kids’ funny words, I listen for more words to add. When I remember how much I love the way my three-year-old dresses, I stop to look at him every time he comes up from the basement with another piece to his wardrobe ensemble. 

I remember that I love the eight-to-ten-months age with my babies, so now that I have a third one in that stage, I’m eating it up, enjoying those chubby thighs scoot scoot scooting his knees across the floor, those grabby hands reaching for everything so he can explore all five senses of his world (especially taste, whether dirt or Play Doh or toys or food), those wobbly legs that narrow to tiny feet struggling to balance as he pulls himself up on the nearest furniture.

And it’s the same when I get to certain stages of writing. I used to hate the first draft, but now that I’ve written two full manuscripts, I tell myself to remember the good things about a first draft, like the fun of piecing the story together as you go, not even knowing what the next scene will be until an idea for it lands in your head and you start typing.

By remembering that I enjoyed that process, I can look forward to doing it again and not feel so terrified by the blank page.

And then, there are the things that help you remember to remember, like writing. These lines from a poem I read years ago in The New Yorker remind me to watch for “the merry clap-clap” of my babies, enjoy it, and treasure the memory:

Two children astride me
in rumpled bed this A.M.,
and when she petted his
baby head, crooning a word
almost his name,
his eyes hooked her face,
his hands discovered applause
in halting pace:

clap (pause) clap clap!
Their mingled laughter,
the nickname again,
the merry clap-clap,
the jerking bright giggles

so free I dropped through time

(from “Dad, You Returned to Me This Morning” by Deborah Garrison)

I’m not perfect at this game of playing favorites, but when I do all three steps they make a huge difference for me. I love the things I notice, enjoy, and remember.

What have been your favorite parts of the past week/month/year/whatever? What are your favorite things about what you do? How do you notice, enjoy, and remember when you play favorites?

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