The Challenge of Turning 30

The clock is ticking and I’ve got six months left of my twenties. I want to do them right.

The thing is, I feel like a kid most of the time. There’re all kinds of things I don’t know how to do or even handle, and so like the bibliophile I am I turned to a book. I (rather smugly) gave this one to Husband when he turned 30:

30 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do Before Turning 30, by Siobhan Adcock.

Here they are (lifted from the back of the book) (with slight commentary as embellishment where necessary):

  1. wrap a present
  2. start a successful fire in a fireplace, at a campsite, and in a barbecue
  3. finish a piece of furniture
  4. get a raise (whahahaha!)
  5. order wine at a restaurant without getting stiffed
  6. parallel park in three breathtakingly beautiful movements
  7. dance a “slow dance” without looking like an idiot
  8. use a full place setting properly, including chopsticks and Asian soup spoons
  9. clean your place in under 45 minutes, when friends, relatives, or prospective lovers (hahahaha) are coming by unexpectedly, and soon
  10. hold your liquor
  11. cure a hangover
  12. do the Heimlich maneuver
  13. use a compass
  14. change a flat
  15. jump-start a car
  16. open a champagne bottle
  17. send a drink to someone’s table
  18. cook one “signature meal” (I’m shuddering in fear at this one)
  19. whistle with your fingers
  20. take good pictures
  21. fold a fitted sheet (those damn things are so annoying!)
  22. remove common stains
  23. sew a button
  24. carve turkey, lasagna, and birthday cake
  25. hold a baby (hahaha!)
  26. change a diaper (if only I didn’t know how to do this)
  27. keep a plant alive for more than a year
  28. make dogs and cats love you
  29. help someone out of a car
  30. write superior thank-you notes

The rules for my challenge are simple. I have until my thirtieth birthday. I’ll write here about my successes and failures. I’ll try not to burn down any cities (#1–whoops, Dana pointed out this should be #2, not #1), bite off my fingers (#19), or make everyone else’s pets move to my house (#28). As much as possible, I’ll stick to my regular blog posting schedule, but if I have Breaking News, things might get switched up a bit. Breaking News will not include items I feel I already have proficiency in (such as keep a plant alive for more than a year, hold a baby, change a diaper, and a couple of others).

Wanna join me? No age requirements. You can be 30, close to 30, or nowhere near 30 (on either side of the number).

In totally unrelated self-promotion, come by on Friday for an interview with Vintage Veronica author Erica S. Perl, and my first ever Giveaway Awesomeness.

How Teaching High School Prepared Me for Parenthood…

…and how it didn’t.

Now that Z has hit the magical age of TWO, my life has moved from the Fast Lane to the Super Fast Lane…with nightly visits to the Family Bed (Of Pain) [more on the Family Bed (Of Pain) in a future post]. Yet occasionally in the Super Fast Lane, we take a naptime break from mach speeds and I am able to reflect.

Recent reflection: Parenting a toddler is a lot like managing a classroom. No, I am not saying ninth graders are just like toddlers. Okay, maybe a little. But since all of my ninth graders have graduated or are now seniors, this list shouldn’t compromise any egos.

1. Routines! Kids of all ages thrive on routines. My ninth graders had a Daily Starter, something other teachers call “bell work”…it’s a short activity to keep students occupied while you take role, take a breath, and buckle up your seatbelt for the hour ahead. Z’s daily starter is a snack prepared by Daddy while Mommy lies in bed and growls at the cruel cruel world. (No, I am not a morning person.)

People like to know what’s coming next. Leave surprises for birthday parties, and keep your kids clued in by doing daily things in the same order every time. I cannot stress how important this has been for bedtime. Cannot. Stress. How important. For bedtime. The simpler the better, and we’re working on that.

2. Transitions. This is something I never quite “got” as a teacher. I guess some people like more warning than, “Hey! Put those papers away, it’s time to move on! Move it move it move it!” As a mom, though, it makes more sense. “Z, you have two more minutes of swimming time, and then we’re going inside to do something really fun, like wash the dishes!” And my daughter, bless her, cheers wildly because she LOVES doing the dishes. By the time I pause to wonder where she got this particular freaky genetic aberration, I’m sure it will have faded away.

3. Short Breaks. Those five-minute passing period breaks we got? Old students of mine, count yourselves lucky. Maybe it’s fine when you’re young to have an entourage every time you step into the bathroom. Me, I like the door firmly closed between myself and any other persons, yet most days Z and her “friends” walk right in. Sometimes she makes comments, which I will not share here.

4. Rewards and Praise. Every single person appreciates rewards and praise. Praise is inexpensive, but don’t give it away for free, or it will seem cheap. Stickers got me a long way on the Great Potty Training Experiment of 2010, but after awhile they lost their luster. And their stick.

5. Workload. I could write pages about how underpaid public school teachers are. They work so hard, earn so little…We all know this. Why isn’t it changing?

6. Kids can tell when you don’t know what the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks you’re doing. Now, the younger they are, the easier it is for you to pretend. But if they’re older, and they sense doubt, weakness? They go for the kill. I think substitute teachers have one of the worst jobs on the planet. I’m shuddering as I type this.

7. Inexplicable Temporary Deafness.

Teacher: Okay, class, your paper is due on Friday. When’s the paper due?
Class: Friday!
Teacher: Say it again.
Class: Friday!
Friday comes. Sixteen kids “forgot” the paper was due Friday.

Compare to:

Ever-Suffering Mother: Z. Z? Z! Stop playing with that. Bring it to mama. Do it now. What did I just say?
Z: Stop playing with that.
ESM: Yet what are you doing?
Z: Playing.
ESM: Yes, with that. Now stop.
Z: [does not stop playing with that.]

8. You are an example. Ah, how I hate this one. Wouldn’t it be grand if I could just let loose with a string of swear words every time some…poo-poo brain cuts me off on the road? But the truth is, as soon as I signed that teaching contract, and as soon as that baby was born – boom. I am now a person that another little person watches. All the time. And in the classroom it might be worse. Watched by many. If I had the good fortune of their attention.

There are differences between teaching and parenting as well. As a high school teacher, I got to go home at the end of the day. Maybe not always as early as I would have liked. Maybe I never felt like I was leaving my work behind me (often I was indeed carrying it along in the form of essays to grade).

Looking back from where I’m standing now (which is next to the potty while my child sits and sits and sits and sits), the most important difference was that my high schoolers did not ask me to wipe their bottoms. They went through Very Important Do-Not-Ever-Lose-These Handouts as if they were toilet paper, though.

Prologue Problems

A Friday Free-for-All [in which our heroine obsesses about writerly things]

I’ve been reading literary agent Mary Kole’s blog, Right now she’s doing a series of critiques on story beginnings and her first critique post caught me by surprise. The author wrote one word: Preface, and Kole stopped immediately to comment “Ah, our first problem! Just kidding. Sort of. I think, in a lot of instances, a preface or a prologue is a crutch. It’s the author’s way of showing the reader something gripping in the hopes that the reader will then read through some less exciting backstory…” To me, this is very bad news. I love prologues, and I especially love writing them.

A brief history of my prologues:

House Red: The prologue is a total crutch, but c’mon, it’s my first novel. In this case, Mary Kole is right.

Savage Autumn: The prologue is not so much a crutch per se…but I’ll admit Chapter One starts off more slowly than what is currently popular in contemporary fantasy YA fiction. The prologue’s there because someone had to die before the story begins, so the reader can believe the antagonist is capable of killing.

The Black City: Brand new prologue, I fell in love with it immediately (which is a sure sign that something is very wrong). Buoyed by my success with the prologue, I started the first chapter. And it’s terrible. It’s really, absolutely terrible. It starts off slowly, with too much explanation and even more backstory, as well as very dull description of the world. So in this case, my prologue didn’t start off as a crutch, but I used that beginning as an excuse to let everything fall to poo-ness.

Granted, this is my very first draft for The Black City, and there will be plenty of time to fix those issues later on. Thank heavens.

Prologues aren’t always terrible, right? I mean, I’ve read plenty of  novels where they work beautifully. I find them all the time in my favorite mysteries and contemporary fantasies. A couple of fantasy examples I can come up with off the top of my head are: Fallen by Lauren Kate, Frostbitten, and Stolen, both by Kelley Armstrong. Hmm, looking at this short list, I realize that in order for a prologue to be successful, the novel’s title must end in “en.”

That’s easily remedied. Savage Autumnen. The Black Cityen.

All better!

Seriously, though, I will go back to my Chapter Ones and pretend the prologues don’t exist. Tighten up the chapters, bring in tension and whatever else is needed. Fireworks. Amorous alligators. Really angry toddlers with kicky feet.

Why Mr. Penguin Can’t Ride a Bike

Mr. Penguin can do many things. He can wear your cloth diapers and your t-shirts and onesies. He can sit on your potty. He can lie down in the cradle while you rock him. He can say grace. He can sit in your high chair and eat the pretend food you spoon in the general direction of his beak. He can hold your hands and dance the Five o’clock Disco Dance Breakdown.

But Mr. Penguin cannot ride your bike. Try again and again, stomp your feet, ask Mama to “peas hep” (please help), throw Mr. Penguin to the floor. He will not do it. Not ever. Mr. Penguin cannot ride your bike for the same reason he cannot wear your pants.

Why not? Because Mr. Penguin has no legs. And short of a very risky and time-consuming surgery, there is nothing Mama can do to peas hep.

While we’re on the subject, Mr. Penguin will never take a bath with you. Why not? Because Mama says so.

Two Rules of Storytelling

I posted a version of this elsewhere long ago, but the topic warrants more attention. I am the Public, and this is my Outcry.

1) Do not leave the story open-ended. I didn’t sign up to read this book or watch this show so that I can figure out my own ending. It is not a “choose your own adventure” book. Issues must be resolved, and if you leave something out, unfinished, I will notice. Now, if the heroine walks out into the ocean to kill herself & you stop there (The Awakening?), that’s fine; I can piece that together. But if sharks start circling just as she spots a sailboat with her lover on it…not cool. Some writers think this is an artistic option to ending a story, but I usually feel cheated. I have too much imagination for open-ended endings–I come up with too many ideas and then can’t choose. I want to know What Really Happens. I find that far too many YA novels leave off an ending in the hopes that a cliffhanger will make eager readers line up outside of bookstores the night before the sequel’s release. I will not be in those lines, and I will definitely not purchase another book in the series.

2) Never kill the dog. Examples: Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, Benji, and I Am Legend. All stories or movies that I never want to think about again. I watched a really terrible Sylvester Stallone movie from the mid-nineties (no, I don’t know why I watched this). All these people die in this tunnel disaster, and it looks for awhile as if the dog dies too. Then the dog shows up, alive! So even though the acting and plot left much to be desired, the dog lived and I would re-watch this movie any day over seeing I Am Legend again. If there’s a dog, and it lives, sign me up. If the dog dies, I want my money back. Now. And a memory erase procedure, a la Eternal Sunshine Etc., so I don’t have to think about it. This rule also applies to cats, but thankfully I can only think of one piece of literature to support it–some Poe story about midway through a collection I own. I stopped reading through the collection at that point. (Although I must point out on a tangent that “The Cask of Amontillado” is one of my favorite stories.)