Monthly Archives: January 2012

Moving House with Children (Without the Trauma)

 

I have a confession to make: I was an Air Force Brat.

Big Brother in Grandad's Air Force Hat

Back when I was a kid, my Dad was posted every 2 years (on average), which meant that we packed up and moved house, suburb, city, state and occasionally country on a regular basis. By the time I was 10 years old, I’d moved six times. By the time my Dad retired from the Air Force when I was 16, I’d lived in a total of ten places — including 2 countries, 5 states, and 7 cities (we lived in some more than once).

You may think that, after all this relocating as a child, I would have been happy to settle down and put down roots at that point. Well. If that’s the case, you probably didn’t spend the first 16 years of your life moving around. It gets to be a habit. You get bored after a while. Your feet start itching. And then you start weighing up the pros and cons of moving, even if only to the next suburb. 

At the time of writing this, I am 35 years old. I have lived in 26 different houses. Twenty-six. That means that I’ve moved house, on average, every 16 months of my life.

Having children didn’t slow me down, either.

Big Brother is almost 5, and has lived in 4 different houses — albeit, all within the same city region. He’s moved house, on average, every 18 months of his life.

We haven’t moved since Baby was born, but then he’s only 11 months old at the moment. So I’m not promising that things will be different for him.

As you can see, I’ve had plenty of experience with moving house, both as a child and with a child. So when Tracy (@nystoopmama) tweeted asking for any advice on moving with kids — specifically on how to make the process less terrifying for her 3 1/2-year-old — I figured that I’d throw my advice into the ring. Because with all this experience, you’d think I’d have learned something.

 And if you’ve got any other ideas, tips, or suggestions, please leave them in the comments. 

1. Give plenty of notice — but not too much.

It’s important not to surprise a child at the last minute. This is a Big Scary Thing. Your child needs time to prepare. But, on the other hand, too much notice is a Bad Thing.

If you’ve got a three year-old and you tell him you’re moving in six months, that’s 1/6th of his life. That would be like telling a 30 year-old that you’re moving house in 5 years. Initially, it’s a bit exciting and a bit scary. But excitement fades much quicker than fear, and soon you’ve got a child crying himself to sleep every night because he’s terrified of what’s going to happen.

While different children will react differently (depending on personality, experience, etc), I go with the following rule of thumb:

  • Minimum notice: 1 week per year old
  • Maximum notice: 1 month per year old
 So for a 3-year-old, you’d want to tell them the news at least 3 weeks before the big day and no more than 3 months before the big day. Whereas for a 12-year-old, you’d give a minimum of 3 months notice and a maximum of a year’s notice. 

2. Explain the Reasons and the Process as well as the End Result.

Children like to know what things mean, how things work, and why things happen. (That’s why they ask “why” at least 700 million gazillion times a day.) If they’re not given the hows and the whys, they make them up all by themselves. Sometimes that’s great. Sometimes that’s funny. But in the case of a Big Scary Thing, that just makes your experience much harder.

If your entire explanation consists of: Isn’t it great, we’re going to be moving house! … Well, it doesn’t really explain what’s happening or why. You may as well have just told them that you’re going to live on Mars, or that you aren’t going to let them play with their friends anymore.

It’s important that your child understands both the why and the how, and that you tell them as honestly as possible — as appropriate for their age. For the “why”, an older child is more likely to figure it out for herself, but a younger child will need help.Whatever your reasons, try to break it down to something your child will understand. (Even if it’s just: Daddy’s work says we have to move.) 

For example:

  • Do you remember how we had to buy you new shoes when you grew out of your ones? Your old shoes weren’t very comfortable anymore, were they? How did they feel? This house is starting to feel a bit tight too, isn’t it? We hardly have any room for all of your toys, and there’s nowhere for you to run around and play. How did it feel to wear nice, new shoes that fit? How do you think that will feel to live in a new house where everything fits and there’s lots of room to run and play?

As for the “how”, spell out the process in simple steps so it’s not so overwhelming. The amount of detail you give will depend on your child, but I’ve found that a more sensitive child usually needs more information, whereas a “go with the flow” child just wants the major points. 

3. Where possible, show don’t tell.

If at all possible, take your child to the new house and show him where he’s going to be living. A picture is worth a thousand words, and an experience is worth a thousand pictures.

I'm Going to Live Here!

If you’re moving far away, or it’s not possible for other reasons, show him pictures of your new house online. Or of the local area. Or of his new school. If you’re moving across the country and don’t know where you’ll be living (like me as a kid), then at least get out some maps and look at those together.

All of this helps your child to feel that he has a bit more understanding and control of what’s happening around him.

4. Focus on the positives. 

My Very Own Tree!

Find two or three positives that you’re going to focus on, and talk about them a LOT. Any more than that and it’s going to sound like everything is changing, and that makes the move seem even more scary. Pick your key items and talk them up. Is it the big yard? Or living closer to Grandma? Or a room that she doesn’t have to share with her sister? Or a cubby house? Or enough room for a pet? Or the excitement of living in the city?

Try to pick the things that you are personally excited about, because that way you don’t have to fake it.

5. …but remember to validate the negatives.

I’ve moved house 25 times in my life, but each time is still fraught with stress. How much will it cost? Will we like the new place? Will I still see my old friends? Is this really a good idea? What if I hate it there? What if the removalists crash their truck into a petrol station and all our things go up in a huge Hollywood-esque explosion? What if I forget to organise electricity? Or to forward the mail? Or to order enough boxes? Or to pack something?

All those worries are normal. If you told someone your fears and they answered you with, “But you’ll be closer to work!” you’d want to hit them. Or drink another bottle of wine. 

Your child has her own fears, many of which may be different to yours. Where will my dolly sleep? Will I find good hiding places for hide and seek? What if the cat hates it there? Will I ever see my teacher again?

If you ignore those fears and concentrate solely on the positives, your child will probably not hit you. Or drink alcohol. But she may withdraw into herself, or refuse to talk about the move, or start crying herself to sleep.

Validate her fears. Talk about the things she’s worried about. Tell her it’s okay that she loves your current house, and it’s okay that she’s a bit scared — you’re a bit scared too. But if you’re both brave together, it will be okay. And then go back to talking about the positives.

Note: Some children (especially the really sensitive ones) find it difficult to talk about their fears. If you sense that your child is upset or worried but she isn’t telling you what’s on her mind, talk to her about how her toys are feeling.

For example:

  • Moving house is very exciting, but it can seem a bit scary sometimes, too. I wonder if Teddy’s feeling a bit scared. What do you think? What do you think Teddy’s scared about the most? 

6. Explain what comes and what stays

As adults, we know which parts of our world are “house” and which parts are “stuff”. We know that the “house” stays here, and the “stuff” goes with us. But children aren’t as aware of the distinction — especially if they’ve never moved house before (that they remember). So make sure to explain which bits are coming and which bits are staying.

The first time Big Brother was old enough to realise we were moving house, he was two years old. I talked to him about what was happening, and he understood but was quite worried and scared. When we started talking about fears, he said he didn’t have any. But then he blurted out, “But who am I going to live with?”

In his mind, Mummy and Daddy were part of “home”. So going to a new home meant leaving Mummy and Daddy behind. (You should have seen the number of tears I shed over that misunderstanding!)

Not Without My Toys!

At the time of the next move, he was 3 1/2 years old. This time he was pretty cool with the whole family was moving. (I was 6 months pregnant with Baby at the time.) But his concern this time was just as serious. “But I don’t want to leave my toys behind!” 

When you’re explaining the process, make sure to talk about exactly what comes and what doesn’t. Are you taking the curtains? The bookcases? The books? The toys? His favourite chair? Be specific, because what’s obvious to us isn’t always obvious to them.

7. Remember: It’s supposed to be fun!

As we all know, actions speak louder than words. If you keep talking about how great it’s going to be, and then your child finds you crying, or acting stressed, or arguing with your partner in hushed tones, or yelling more often, the gig will be up. If you’re upset and stressed, your child will be upset and stressed.

Share your worries with your child (at an age appropriate level). Tell her if you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed today. Or frustrated. Or scared. Then give her a hug and ask how she’s feeling. And then find a way to make the day’s work fun.

A Better Use for Moving Boxes

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Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

Flash Fiction: Song Shuffle Stories

This week’s terribleminds challenge was to do the following:

  1. Put the music player of your choice on shuffle.
  2. Press play.
  3. Take the title of the first track that comes up, and use that as the title for a 500 word story.

So, off I went, worried that my MP3 player would come up with either one of my son’s songs, or something insanely embarassing. As it is, I ended up with Adrian Alexis singing I Want to be a Vampire.

Hmmm.

I give you:

I Want to be a Vampire

Vlad Dracula II smiled as he surveyed the apartment. The burgundy drapes and black walls were a nice touch.

“Well, this looks lovely, Kevin,” said a friendly female voice behind him.

Vlad spun on his heel, his cape flaring dramatically around him. “I told you to call me Vlad,” he said coldly.

“Sorry Kev— I mean, Vlad,” the woman said with an indulgent laugh.

“What do you want, Mum?”

“I just wanted to see how you were settling in,” she said. “And I brought you a casserole.”

The young man scowled – it was an expression he’d spent hours perfecting in front of the mirror.

“It’s your favourite: macaroni and tuna.”

Vlad hesitated, running his tongue over the sharp edges of his new dental work. “Okay,” he said finally. “Put it in the fridge.”

She smiled and disappeared into the kitchen. “Oh,” she said a moment later. “Even the refrigerator’s black. That’s a…” she hesitated, “… a nice touch.”

“Is there anything else?”

She returned from the kitchen, a slightly hurt look on her face. “No, dear. I’m glad you’re settling in alright. Will you be home for dinner on Sunday? It’s just that your Dad… Well, it would be nice if you could leave some of your…” she trailed off, and waved her hand vaguely around the room. “Well, it would be nice to have a real family dinner. If you know what I mean.”

“It will have to be after dark,” Vlad said. “I sleep during the day.”

“Oh. Of course you do. Well, that would be fine.”

Vlad just nodded, and then looked expectantly at his mother.

“Right then,” she  said. “Well, have a good week. I’ll see you Sunday. I’ll show myself out.”

Once she was gone, Vlad locked the door and started stacking the books he’d purchased on eBay from Occult_Superstarz on to his new black bookcase.

 #

 It was eleven o’clock Saturday night. Vlad was sitting at the bar, pretending to drink a glass of Coke. They wouldn’t sell him the scotch to go with it.

“What’s your name?”

Vlad turned. A cute girl with bright red lips was smiling at him. “Vlad. Vlad Dracula II,” he said.

She laughed. “Really? That’s so…” she paused to look him up and down, taking in the black boots and jeans, skin-tight black shirt, cape, and designer fangs. “…delicious,” she finished.

“Come home with me,” Vlad said. He’d tried the line all week. This was the first time he didn’t get slapped.

“Sure,” she said. “Call me Lillith.”

 #

Pain. Blood. Darkness. Fear.

“It’s not like the movies,” Lillith said, gore dripping from her fangs. She grinned at him, her knees pinning him to the bed and her eyes glowing red. “But you’ll find that out.” She lowered her head.

Vlad gasped as he felt the seductive caress of her tongue on the open wound at his throat.

 #

Vlad Dracula II awoke alone, covered in blood, and hungry.

So hungry.

It was Sunday night.

Time for dinner with the family.

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Capturing Your Voice

Many years ago, when I was gainfully employed (and paid in money instead of love), I managed a large department store specialising in fabrics, craft goods and homewares. I had about fifty people working for me, each of them with their own unique personality and style. But, as time has gone on, many of them have blended together in my memory. It happens. But there’s one man who I still remember distinctly. Not because of anything he did, or his work performance, or because we socialised. No, I remember him because of his voice.

Paul* was a man in his early fifties. He was tall (slightly taller than my 6’2″), with great posture and distinguished grey hair. He grew up in London, but emigrated to Australia when he was a young man. Although he’d replaced his English accent with an Australian one, he still spoke in a slightly more… “plummy” way than most Aussies. And the way he expressed himself was priceless.

I remember one afternoon in particular.

I was due to finish work at 2:00pm, but got caught up with some admin work. At 4:30, I was just making my way through the store to the front door. That’s when Paul pounced.

“Ah, Jo,” he said as an opening line. I was running late, so I tried a quick smile and wave in order to escape. It didn’t work. Paul merely continued talking in his smooth, almost-English accent. “It’s quite a welcome coincidence that our paths should cross this afternoon. Does the day find you well?

“Yes,” I said. “I’m just heading home.”

“Ah…” he said, drawing out the vowel sound. “Well, it’s certainly a pleasant day to be leaving this establishment at such an early hour, and I would not like to come between you and a surely well-deserved afternoon off. However, since Fate has decreed that we should meet here amongst the aisle of our fair craft section, perhaps this would be a suitable time for me to consult you about a matter that has been weighing heavily upon my mind of late. If you would be kind enough to spare me a few moments of your oh-so-precious time, I would be most appreciative.”

He paused here and looked at me. Expectantly. I’m not going to lie, I had no idea what he was waiting for. It’s not that I was ignoring him — far from it. I’d listened to each and every word, and been lulled into a sense of peace by the smooth cadence of his speech. After a moment, I said, “Yes.” It seemed like the right thing to say.

“I’m ever-so grateful,” Paul went on. “I’m sure that a young lady like yourself has a great many plans, and a great many responsibilities resting upon your shoulders, and I am appreciative that you would be prepared to put them on hold for a few moments to hear what I have to say. And, in fact, it’s exactly the thought of plans and responsibilities that weighs upon my mind. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I have, in fact, been working for this company for quite some time. When I started, of course, things were quite different. There was a great deal less paperwork, for one thing. But it certainly isn’t my place to question the march of progress, and I have adapted to the changing environment around me as, of course, has everyone else.”

“Yes,” I said again. I had no idea where he was going with any of this, but all thoughts of actually leaving the store had vanished.

“Time changes us all, they say, and in my years I’ve come to think that they are right on that count. Perhaps my dislike of paperwork is merely a sign that it is I that needs to change. But I digress.”

He paused here. I don’t know why. Perhaps I was supposed to comment. I didn’t.

Paul went on, “As I said, it is the thoughts of plans and responsibilities that weigh most heavily upon my mind in these days. As you know, I take great care to ensure that my schedule is kept up to date. However, there is always the odd occasion where Fate or Chance steps in, and the best laid plans of mice and men, if you catch my drift.”

“Yes,” I said.

I didn’t.

“Ah, well then,” Paul said. “Perhaps then, it would be fitting to elaborate further upon the unexpected delight which occurred just last night. I received a phone call, you see, from my youngest daughter. I’m certain I’ve spoken of her before, either in conversation with you directly or with our colleagues as we ate lunch.”

He paused for an answer. “Yes,” I said again.

“Then it should come as no surprise to you that I was overjoyed to hear that she would be visiting us in the near future, venturing forth from her apartment in Sydney to journey here and spend some time with her parents. It’s always a pleasant thing when one’s children announce these things, especially where there is no great event to prompt said visit. However, the announcement has also left me feeling that I’m in quite a bind, as she has decided to arrive on our doorstep next month and I have, of course, taken no provisions for welcoming her home at this stage.”

I nodded. I still had no idea why he was telling me any of this.

“It would be quite a shame for her to come all this way, and to be forced by necessity to spend her days lonely and alone in our house, while–”

“Oh!” I interrupted. “Would you like to apply for leave?”

“Ah, yes, the inevitable application process that one must–”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Take as much as you like. Lorraine will give you the form. See you later, Paul!”

And I left.

Poor Lorraine probably had to listen to the entire story again.

I never asked.

My point here is not that Paul could string a simple query into a 30 minute exercise in frustration (although he could), it’s this: Years later, when I’ve forgotten everyone else I worked with, I remember Paul. I remember the way he spoke, the words he used, the sound of his voice.  I would recognise his speech patterns anywhere.

And that, my friends, is what people mean when they talk about an author’s voice.

It’s the combination of style and flow and rhythm and vocabulary and grammar and stuff that makes your writing yours. It’s the thing that people will remember about you.

You don’t need to find your voice. Or create your voice. You just need to capture it.

Because you’ve already got it. It’s right there, inside you. Release it on to the page, allow it to grow and mature (as you do the same), and then grab it with both hands.

Easy as a poke in the eye with a sharp pie.

 

* Paul may or may not be his real name. I’m not telling.

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Monday’s Top 5

My first link this week isn’t a new post. It’s been around for a while. (Since last June, actually.) I first came across it about a month ago, and have seen links to it in various places since then. But that doesn’t mean that (a) everyone’s seen it, and (b) I shouldn’t share it.

Right?

So, to all the writers out there: Ever wanted to find a way to write faster, while simultaneously increasing the quality of your writing? Then Rachel Aaron has the best info around. She shares the method that helped her go from Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. Note: This is not really about writing a set number of words per day. It’s more about how to use some self-knowledge and research to dramatically increase the quality and quantity of your writing.

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Anthony Lee Collins posted a very interesting article on writing, re-reading, and the importance of having both something important to say and the capacity to say it well. Check out his post about Ellery Queen’s novel The Door Between, Writing in Balance.

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Ever heard of the idea of having a Totem Animal? As Howlin’ Mad Heather explains,  “for those who believe in such things, the totem(s) can serve as a companion through life, a symbol for one’s personality, a reflective spirit for time of trouble.” If I was going to choose a totem animal for myself, it would possibly be a tiger. Or a raven. Or… actually, that may require some more thought. Nevertheless, Heather has a great post on Prawn and Quartered talking about her totem animals and her Life as a Honey Badger.

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It’s not long ago that I discovered Jennifer of Kvetch Mom, and she made my Top 5 lists almost immediately. She continues to amazes me every week (sometimes every day) with her insightful and beautifully written prose. This week alone, she had three posts that could have made it into my list of favourites. But in choosing one, I couldn’t go past this sweet, tear-inducing story about her son. Here’s a brief excerpt from Everything Possible:

I asked if he still played with any of the boys he used to mention on occasion. He said, Not really. I’m different from them. Twisting my thumb gently, he buried his head against my shoulder. That’s okay, I said. I pretend like I’m friends with the boys so they won’t notice, he said softy. And then, Sometimes I like girly things. His breath warmed my chest as he waited for my response.

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Finally, I’d like to welcome Bridget of Twinisms to my Top 5 list. (Seriously — if you’re not following her blog yet, you’ve got absolutely no excuse.) As you may be aware, her husband deployed to Afghanistan a couple of months ago. She’s now counting down the days until he returns, with only her two sets of twins, her battle buddies, and a house full of boxed wine for company. When her Army-wife friend asked for her advice for a spouse dealing with their partner’s first deployment, Bridget whipped up a little something titled Deployment Advice.  This is not just great reading for Army wives — it should be essential reading for everyone. She’s got advice on Communication, Helping your Kids, Keeping your Sanity, and more.

Remember Murphy’s Law of Deployment. As soon as your soldier leaves, everything will break. The car, the dryer, the toilet. It happens to all of us. It’s not just you. The Gods aren’t  plotting against you, I promise.

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And I realise that’s my 5 already done, but I’d also like to leave you with this great clip. It’s so inspiring I could watch it over and over and over again.

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The Choices Parents Make or Travelling with Children

Part of my brain registered the fact that cars really do go brooooooooooom when they’re speeding past you at 110km (70 miles) an hour, but the cars were the least of my concerns.I had to make a choice. Did I want to spend the next hour and a half sitting in an enclosed space and smelling like vomit?

###

Every year I go on my annual pilgrimage to visit my parents. They live about 640km (400 miles) north of me, along the coast road of Queensland. There are no major cities between us, just miles and miles and miles of bushland and a few small towns. It takes anywhere between 6 and 9 hours to drive there (depending on traffic, weather conditions and number of breaks), and the landscape is both boring and familiar. Boringly familiar, if you will. But every year (sometimes more than once), I do the drive.

And I love it.

Put me behind the steering wheel and tell me I’ve got to drive for hours, and I’m excited. Thrilled. Enthusiastic. As the ever-wise Captain Jack Sparrow said:

That’s what a [car] is, you know. It’s not just [an axle] and a [body] and [an engine] and [a steering wheel], that’s what a [car] needs but what a [car] is… what [my car] really is… is freedom.

Unfortunately, my husband’s job means that he’s rarely able to take time off during the holidays, so he has to stay home while I do the drive with the kids. This year, I decided to make it easier on myself by driving overnight. I left at midnight, and arrived at my parents’ house in time for breakfast. Since the boys were asleep, I didn’t have to listen to the ongoing adventures of whatever monsters my 4 year old was obsessed with at the time, nor stop every 2 hours to feed the baby. Easy, right?

Absolutely.

On the way there.

The way home wasn’t quite so easy.

Baby was a bit whingey when I put him in the car at midnight, and complained on and off for the next hour. He’d been a bit unsettled the previous day, which I’d put down to teething. (Isn’t that always the problem with babies?) But eventually he fell asleep, and all seemed fine. Both boys woke up at 4:30 when the sun started coming up, and I stopped at the next service station to have a break. I gave Baby his morning bottle of formula, and Big Brother snacked on a breakfast bar. And then we were off again.

It was about an hour later when it all went horribly wrong.

Both boys had gone back to sleep, and I was happily bopping away to music and drinking caffienated drinks like they were going out of style. I was feeling great. Less than two hours and I’d be home. My husband would be waiting for me — as would my nice, comfy bed. As much as I love the freedom of the open road, once the end is in (virtual) sight, I have another little celebration.

“Almost home now! ..in that home is less than 200 km away…”

I was alerted to a problem by a faint, pitiful gurgling sound from Baby. Concerned, I angled the rear-view mirror so I could see him. He met my eyes in the mirror, then opened his mouth. A milk-white fountain of bubbling liquid splurted between his lips and rained down on his shirt.

“Oh, Baby,” I said.

This wasn’t what we in the parenting business refer to as a “spit” — that bit of regurgitated milk that seems to reappear an hour or so after eating, and dribble down Baby’s chin thus ruining my candid photos forever. No, this was a world-class, technicolour yawn.

“Oh, Baby,” I repeated sympathetically.

He opened his mouth and a second fountain joined the first.

The reek of stomache acid and second-hand formula hit me, and I fought back the urge to gag. Big Brother woke up. He was immediately worried. “Muuuuuu-uummy! Baby’s being sick!”

“It’s okay,” I said, trying to calm both Big Brother and my own stomach.

There was nowhere to stop. I was travelling 110km (70 miles) an hour, on a stretch of highway bordered by metal fencing. Both lanes were packed with equally fast-moving cars and trucks.

“It’s okay,” I repeated.

There was bound to be an exit or a stopping lane soon. Right?

Baby opened his mouth again. And again. Another three fountains of vomit. His clothes were dripping wet. So was the car seat. Rivulets were running down the edges of the seat and dripping on to the floor. The smell was unbearable.

And then he started to cry with the plaintive tone of a pained and bewildered child.

“Oh, baby,” I said again and again, interspersed with the occasional, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Big Brother started to cry. “Mummy, he’s really upset.”

“I know, sweetheart. I just can’t stop–”

There! A break in the fence! A place I could stop the car! There wasn’t much room, but I could do it!

I pulled over, put on the hazard lights, and carefully climbed out of the car. When I opened the back door, Baby looked up at me with fear, confusion and tears in his eyes. He held his little hands out to me, begging me to pick him up; to comfort him.

The smell of vomit was overwhelming.

All the clean clothes were packed in the boot of the car, and I’d have to unload a mountain of stuff to find them. We had an hour and a half to drive to get home. The minute I picked up Baby, I’d be coated in his vomit and have no way to get rid of the smell.

Part of my brain registered the fact that cars really do go brooooooooooom when they’re speeding past you at 110km (70 miles) an hour, but the cars were the least of my concerns. I had to make a choice. Did I want to spend the next hour and a half sitting in an enclosed space and smelling like vomit?

###

So, did I pick Baby up?

Of course I did. It wasn’t really a question.

But it was a choice.

###

As parents, we make these choices every day. Every hour. Sometimes, every minute. We ask ourselves questions.

  • Will I buy new shoes for my child, or a new outfit for myself?
  • Will I sit and cuddle with my sick child, or leave him/her to cry while I watch TV?
  • Will I buy vegetables or another bottle of wine?
  • Will I read Green Eggs and Ham yet again, or will I tell him/her there’s no story tonight so I can get back to my own book?

For the most part, we’re not even aware that we’re asking the questions. The answers are self-evident. The moment we have children, our lives change; our priorities change.  We have these little people who depend on us for everything. Not just food and shelter and education; but love and comfort and understanding and empathy and compassion and discipline and the life lessons of right vs wrong and good vs bad and all the shades of gray that go with them.

Sometimes, we  put more thought and care into looking after our children than we do into looking after ourselves.

Oh, I don’t like to wear a sunhat. It messes up my hair. But there’s no way I’ll take my son outside if he’s not wearing a hat and sunglasses and 30+ SPF sunscreen.

Cooking dinner when my husband’s away is too much trouble. I’ll just have popcorn and wine. But my children are damn well going to eat the well-balanced meal I cooked for them, or there’s no dessert for anyone.

We make a choice to put the needs of our children first. We fret and fuss and nag and set rules and teach and lead by example and discipline and listen and empathise and worry and everything else that comes with being a parent.

We’ll even sit in a rapidly-heating car, covered in baby vomit, for an hour and a half with no way to escape the stench and not even anything to drink, because we used the last of our bottle of water to clean the baby (and his car seat).

We do all these things because we choose to do them.

And that’s something to be celebrated.

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Celebrate! It’s a new year!

Happy New Year!

I hope you all had safe and happy celebrations, and you’re excited about the new year. I know I am. I love beginnings — of books, movies, jobs, weeks, months, years, anything really. A beginning feels like it’s bursting with potential. The future could hold anything. So it is with great joy that I approach another new year.

This year will be a big one. My eldest son starts school (well, kindergarten, but whatever), my youngest turns 1 and steps further away from true babyhood, and I’ll graduate from my mid-thirties to being “closer to 40″. Plus, of course, there’s so much opportunity for personal growth and change.

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I think they’re silly. They tend to be ridiculous things like “lose weight” or “get fit” or “watch less TV”. They’re stock phrases that mean nothing.

I love goal setting, on the other hand. Real goals. SMART* goals. And although I reflect on, revise, and rewrite my goals regularly, the new year seems like a nice time to sit back and do it again.

Writing

Last year, I set out in April with the idea that 2011 would be the first year that I really sat down and turned writing from a sometime hobby and dream into a career. With that in mind, I set a number of goals for myself:

  • Finish the first draft of Novel A by October 31. Send our for beta reading.
  • Write the first draft of YA Novel B during NaNoWriMo, finishing by November 30.
  • Rewrite, revise and edit Novel A by December 30, readying for querying.
  • Start and maintain a blog, building to become part of an online blogging community.
  • Submit 8 short stories to competitions.

So, how did I go?

  • I realised early on that with the pressure/time constraint of raising two children and having a shift-working husband, I would never reach my self-imposed deadline for Novel A. I tried writing 100 Words a Day to some small success, but the system didn’t quite work for me long-term (despite the fact that I love the idea). I played around with a few other time-finding methods before I finally worked out how I could find the time. I then revised my goal to wanting to write a minimum of 5000 words per month (preferably 10,000). I did that in October, and reset my goal to wanting to complete the first draft of Novel A by April 30, 2012.
  • Since I was on a roll with Novel A, I chose not to participate in NaNoWriMo, and to further develop and plan my idea for YA Novel B. I still want to write it, and think it will be better now than if I had written it when I originally planned.
  • No revising was done. But I did find a great critique partner in real life, and a few great critique partners online whom I fully intend to utilise when I’m up to that point. I consider that a win.
  • My blog is great. If I say so myself. I wrote 168 posts in 2011, had just over 17,000 page views, have 102 subscribers, and feel like I’m actually part of multiple blogging communities — both in the writing blogosphere and the parenting blogosphere. And I’m thrilled and honoured to be part of it all.
  • I actually only submitted 5 short stories to competitions, but I was shortlisted for two of those (even if I didn’t win), and had one published in an anthology. I also realised that short story writing is not my forte — I’ll stick with novels and flash fiction (1000 words or less). I participated in a number of online blog-based flash fiction competitions, mostly the ones run by the ever-amazing Mr Chuck Wendig, and had 3 winning pieces: Wish You Were Here, Grudge Match, and Pest Control

So, how do my writing goals look for this year?

Novel A

  1. Complete the first draft of Novel A by April 30 and send to beta readers.
  2. Rewrite, revise and edit Novel A based on suggestions and feedback from beta readers by July 30. Send to second round of beta readers.
  3. Revise and edit Novel A based on suggestions and feedback from beta readers by October 31.
  4. Begin query process for Novel A by November 30.

YA Novel B

  1. Research and plan YA Novel B by May 30. This is something I don’t normally do, but the setting and subject matter of this novel is something that I can’t just “make up as I go along”, so I really need to put the hard yards in first.
  2. Begin work on the first draft of YA Novel B. (Due to be completed by February 28, 2013.)

Social Media

  1. Continue blogging. (As if I’d stop now, this stuff is addictive!)
  2. Buy a domain name, create a website/blog of my very own, transfer everything from here over to there, and then make it all better. Note: I have no idea how to do any of this. Complete the transition by 30 June.
  3. Join twitter and learn how to use it. I’ve done the first part (yay me!) but now need to work out the second. I’d like to have this all under control by June 30 as well. In the meantime, please follow me and I’ll follow you back and we can work it out together. Or, at the very least, my home page won’t be covered in zeros! You’ll find me @JoEberhardt.

Short Stories

  1. Continue participating in flash fiction contests — at least once every second week, for a total of 26 entries this year.
  2. Submit 6 flash fiction stories to short fiction markets.

Reading

I started 2011 with the intention of “reading more books”. That’s exactly the type of non-goal resolution I hate! Technically, I suppose I succeeded. I have no idea how many books I read in 2010. I have no idea how many books I wanted to read. And I only started recording the books I’d read after April, when I started blogging.

Since I started recording them, I read 22 books in 2011. On one hand, that’s quite good. But on the other, that’s way less than a book a fortnight. And only one of them was a particularly large book. Most were in the 250 – 350 page range.

So this year, my goal is to read 50 books. That works out to be one a week, with a couple of “reading breaks”. I have a feeling some of the books I read may well be research for YA Novel B, which will do double duty in the goal stakes. Just the way I like it.

Other

While I do have some more personal goals, I’m not going to tell you what they are. Sorry. They mostly revolve around my relationships with others, my finances, and my family. But the one “other” goal I will share is my weight/fitness goal.

This time last year, I was 8 months pregnant. I’d been overweight when I fell pregnant, and by the time I was 6 months along, I felt like I was the Goodyear Blimp. I barely had enough energy to get out of bed. I didn’t set any real goals based around my weight, because I was pregnant. Did I mention I was 8 months pregnant?

Anyway, after Baby was born in early February, it took my almost 3 months to recover from the caesarean. By then, I realised that I still felt like a blimp. And that, in turn, made me feel old, unattractive, and ungainly. (Please note: none of this is based on how I looked — just on how I felt.) So I took up jogging (which I hate), started watching what I ate, and hoped for the best.

Nothing happened. Except that I felt miserable when I was jogging.

Then we were given a Wii Fit and, despite it’s occasional sociopathic moments, I turned a corner. I found exercises I could enjoy in the comfort of my own home. I looked at how and when I was eating, rather than what I was eating, and I started to develop toned muscles and lose fat.

Bliss.

This time last year, I was 8 months pregnant. This year, I’m not. That alone accounts for a weight loss of a good 8 – 10 kg (17 – 22 lbs). But I actually weigh a grand total of 26 kg (57 lb) less. And, more importantly, I’m physically stronger, more active, have greater physical stamina, better balance, and I feel great in my body.

I’m officially within the healthy BMI range for my height, and I’m still about 8 kg (17 lb) above my “ideal” weight. 

My goal for this year is to lose that 8 kg, and continue working on my health and fitness through maintaining the exercise and eating routines I’ve developed over the last six months.

Looking Forward 

I’m excited about what this year brings. What about you? What are your goals? How are you going to achieve them? Do you regularly goal-set throughout the year, or are you a “New Year’s Resolution” kind of person?

*If you don’t know what a SMART goal is, you’re missing out on a great tool for finding success. There are plenty of resources in print and on the ‘net to explain them, so I won’t go into too much detail. Let it suffice to say that any goal you set should be Specific, Measurable, Action-based, Realistic, and Tangible/Time specific.

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Monday’s Top 5

Welcome to the first Top 5 of a brand new year. This week has obviously been a time for introspection and reflection for many people. I had so many great blog posts to read, that choosing my top 5 was quite difficult. I hope you enjoy the ones I finally decided upon.

In the writing blogosphere this week, most people were either (a) silent, or (b) looking at their goals for the upcoming year. (I’ll be doing that myself tomorrow!) But a post from one writer stood out from the crowd when he talked about the importance of having unique holidays in Sci Fi and Fantasy books. Dan Thompson blogs at Making It Up As I Go, and regularly has insightful and interesting posts related to spec fic genres. Martian Holidays really made me stop and think about my own writing, and how I could improve the authenticity of the worlds I create. In his words:

In SF and fantasy, we often talk about that sense of not here and not now. It both takes us to another realm as well as provides fuel for our willing suspension of disbelief. After all, anything is possible on St. Carter’s Day, right? But these holidays have to be more than Christmas in disguise, where sarcastic St. Mick brings broken toys to all the bratty kids on his gazelle-powered flying stagecoach. Otherwise, they’re, well… lame. Like a silver aluminum tree with too much tinsel and not enough candy canes.

Meanwhile, Julie of Freckles and Fickle Take Over the World was thinking about a completely different type of book. Starting with the sentence:

Around my junior year in college, I officially got my own “place” (read: crappy apartment), and my grandmother gave me my very first Betty Crocker Cookbook. 

Julie takes us on a beautiful journey of Wilma & Betty. Her grandmother, Wilma, may have been no Betty (” It wasn’t at all uncommon to look in her cupboards and see a can of pears right next to the teacups, or to check for toothpaste in a bathroom drawer and find an arbitrary supply of batteries.”), but she sounds like exactly the type of grandmother anyone would be lucky to have.

Speaking of beautiful journeys, the Worrywart takes us on a journey of another type. When she and her husband went for a walk through a ritzy neighbourhood to get some dinner, she didn’t expect to end up looking like a homeless, delusional lady sitting on a bench outside a fancy restaurant. So while her post may have been titled Is This Any Way to House A Soul, it’s really a series of ruminations of the importance of not wanting for the sake of wanting. After all,

The only home that matters is the one we are walking around in, the one that houses our soul, this shell we call our body. In that sense, I am wanting. Not for beauty or perfection (or even anything remotely close to perfection – not even unjiggliness – I can live with jiggly – I’d be perfectly happy with the ideal weight of a six foot tall big-boned woman . . . or man), but just a decent place for my soul to live. Something healthy, strong, that can get up when it falls down – preferably something that doesn’t fall down (and I’d also like this body housing my soul to live in Paris for awhile).

This post from Critters and Crayons isn’t new. It was written and posted in September. However, I wasn’t following this amazing blog back then, and so when it was chosen by the author as her best post of 2011, I went back and read it. And wow. Just wow. The Best Ballet Recital Ever is not just a story of a child’s love for ballet transformed from excitement to disdain and back to joy — it is all of that, but it’s also so much more. This is the story of every man, woman and child who has ever taken a wrong turn in life, and been brave enough to admit defeat and change course; of every person who has rediscovered a simple joy they thought was gone forever.

And finally, a post that’s aimed squarely at the ladies in the audience. Stephanie from Momma Be Thy Name Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man. If you feel the same about the man in your life, you may possibly recognise some of this behaviour:

Predictive Discussion:  Conversations based solely on the one word I said that he heard. Me: Are you going to rearrange the baby seats in the van today? Him: Yes, I know she’s up. I’ll go get her!

Selective Narcolepsy: Only takes effect while watching anything I like, when I’m driving, or at other people’s houses.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Because every domestic activity requires an hour of rest in between, right?

 

 

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