Summer camp is not punishment

I want my kiddos to try new things, to eagerly embrace the unexpected, the unknown, the new. I want them to venture forth without fear because I spend so much of my life buried under it. Fear keeps me from all sort of things — new opportunities, relationships, adventures, and frankly it sucks. I will openly admit to having social anxiety and laugh off my misfires in public, but the reality is I miss out on things all the time because I’m afraid to leave my comfort zone. And I don’t want the same thing to be true for my boys.

Youngest fears nothing. He waltzes into new situations full of confidence and spunk. People think he’s charming and funny and he makes friends everywhere we go. With him, I’m more worried he’s going to be lured into a dangerous situation and have to constantly remind him that no, he should not help a stranger find his lost dog, and no, it’s not okay to take treats from someone you don’t know (or pick up candy off the ground and eat it. True story.) Oldest is a mixed bag. He’s friendly and outgoing some of the time, and other times he builds an invisible wall around himself and refuses to let anyone in.

This morning I dropped them off at a camp they’d never attended before. Held at a local college, I thought it would be a fun opportunity for them try something new. Youngest was apprehensive at first and asked a million questions (as per his MO), but quickly joined a group of kids his age and began passing around a beach ball. Oldest stood, hunch-shouldered, earbuds in place, and alternated his gaze from his watch to a scowl directed at yours truly.

Actual conversations from this morning:

Him: This is stupid.
Me: Keep an open mind. Isn’t that [boy from school]?
Him: (eye roll). Great. And [two other boys from school he apparently hates]. Just great.

Him: I’m bored. Why did you make me wake up at 8 am and come here?
Me: I want you to try new things. Because I love you.
Him: (scoffs) That’s doubtful.

I drove away, and as I passed the group of campers waiting to get started, there was my boy, standing alone on the edge of the sidewalk like he hoped it would swallow him whole. And I started to worry that I’d forced him into something in order to satisfy my own fears — the fear of my children not fitting in, or being liked, or finding success in life. I used to think he was an extrovert. He loved being around other kids when he was little and enjoyed the attention from my large, loud family. Naturally I assumed he’d be fine in new situations, but it often backfired. He’d clung to me during library story hour and screamed the first time I took him to soccer practice.

And now? He loves going to the library and soccer fills up a huge part of his daily life. So how far do we push our kids, or ourselves, into the unknown? If we don’t take that first step we may never stumble upon something we come to love. If we don’t say, yes, I am anxious about this new situation but I am going to try it anyway, we may never meet the person who becomes a lifelong friend. We may never discover who we truly are.

I don’t expect this camp to be a life changing event for my boys, but I hope they at least come home today not completely mad at me for making them go.

Fingers crossed.

Happy birthday, Caravan of Composition!

Today has been a full day. Youngest graduated from elementary school, and both boys enjoyed the bell-ringing satisfaction indicating the start of summer break. Following the graduation ceremony/last exam, we celebrated at their favorite restaurant, then came home and brainstormed a summer chore chart and screen time limits. I shifted my focus toward Camp NaNoWriMo, which starts on Monday, and checked off a handful of items on my to-do list. I nearly let the milestone pass me by.

Caravan of Composition is officially two years old today. My blogging habits seem to go in waves, but I am pleased to say I’ve kept up with this blog and my previous one for over eleven years. That’s like a million in procrastinator years. It’s challenging sometimes to come up with things to write about as life isn’t always “blog-worthy”, and I struggle with insecurities regarding the merit of what I have to say. A good friend sent me a recent copy of Josh Radnor’s Museletter in which he mentions nearly the exact feeling. We might not always feel that what we have to say is worth saying. Are my words of value to my readers? Does what I say matter?

Let’s get one thing straight: I like to listen to myself talk. My family can attest to this. I love to tell stories, often the same ones over and over (more vigorous nods from the van clan), and the level of exaggeration often increases with each retelling. For dramatic effect, of course. A small stretching of the truth makes things more interesting. There is always a fair amount of accompanying hand gestures, because my heritage demands it and they, too, add to the drama of a good story.

Blogging is different. First of all, I can’t use my hands or facial expressions to drive a point home. Second, the delete button allows me to rethink things that may sound stupid or cause a foot in mouth moment. (I have a lot of those in real life.) But it also sometimes restricts the flow of words. I have several unpublished blog posts that sit in the drafts folder because either I got distracted by life or decided what I had to say wasn’t of any value.

We are our own worst critics, aren’t we? Some of us don’t care and live an unfiltered life – taking the good and the bad as they come. Some of us let our inner critic keep us from pursuing our dreams. Some, like me, fall in the middle. Moments of feeling brilliant coupled with moments of crippling self-doubt. And I can’t write this post telling you how to quiet your inner critic, because if I did, mine would be muzzled in the corner. But I can say this: we rarely give ourselves the credit we deserve. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small they seem.

Today, I celebrate my eleventh year of shouting into the void, and the second birthday of my current blog. I celebrate getting my kiddos through another school year. I celebrate the sun, and summer, and the start of another month of Camp NaNo.

And I celebrate you, dear reader, for allowing me to keep doing what I love.

 

Launch party love

I feel incredibly blessed. Last night was the launch party for Second in Command. Friends, family, and coworkers came out to help celebrate and many others shared their well wishes throughout the day. I even met a few new people who heard about the event and wanted to check out my book.

I wanted to share my speech here for anyone who missed it because I think so much of writing is about the journeys we take and the people who help us along the way.

Thank you, Gina for that perfect introduction, and a huge thank you to Mary and the Burchfield Penney Art Center for hosting this event. Mary runs a book club here on the first Thursday of every month – it celebrates local Buffalo authors and it’s a wonderful way to learn about the history and culture of Buffalo and be exposed to some of our amazing talent. *(Note: the next book club is March 7)

At the risk of sounding like I’m at the Oscars (if I go too long feel free to cue the obnoxious music), there are a bunch of people I need to thank for getting me up here. My parents, for believing in me and traveling back from Florida into the icy grips of Buffalo to help celebrate and bake cookies. My mother in law, and my sister and her family for their support and encouragement, my kiddos for inspiration – this is the first thing I’ve written they could actually read (usually there’s a tiny bit of swearing in my books). And that handsome man in uniform who endures endless rounds of brainstorming, as well as my fits of jealously and self-doubt and all the other demons we writers face. He’s always there with practical advice like, “Just sit down and write.” As many of you know, he was active duty Navy for five years and now serves as a Reservist. We were apart for most of 2003 and I pulled on some of those memories when writing the book. But more about that in a bit.

I want to thank my friends and family – coworkers, both past and present, scout friends and writer friends – especially my Wednesday night and sometimes Sunday afternoon clan, members of our local children’s writers and illustrators (we’re known as BNCWI), Kristy my cheerleader, Jenn for our writing slash counseling sessions, Dee for introducing me to this crazy world of children’s books, my beta readers – CJ, Claudia, Carla, Gina, and Lilly. Sam, who designed this beautiful cover. Caitie, and everyone at West 44 who took a chance on my idea and helped make a lifelong dream come true. Everyone here today for coming out and supporting me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Okay, cue the music. Onto the juicy part. How did I get here? No wait, that’s a Talking Heads song. Here’s the condensed version. When I was 16, I wrote a lot of angsty poetry. Like Leo, the main character in Second in Command, I was trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in the world. That’s the great thing about young adult literature. We can all relate to those feelings of identity and fitting in – they’re universal. And writing, for me, as a far from 16-year-old who still carries a few wounds on her heart, is a form of therapy. You present readers with a character who has a goal, give him/her obstacles, and then here’s the fun part – you help them figure out how to solve their problems. And unlike real life, there are revisions – you can change the course of events and your characters’ reactions, you get to be in control of their fate.

I get the YA part, you say, but what is a verse novel? A verse novel is a story told entirely through poetry. Poetry is beautiful because it strips everything down to raw emotion – much like the teenage experience. When Caitie told our critique group about her new imprint that would feature verse novels for struggling readers I thought, YES! Brilliant! I used to teach high school students with learning disabilities, and I remember how some of them struggled to find accessible literature that spoke to their experiences in a way that didn’t feel dumbed down. Poetry can be intimidating to some, yes, but it can also be freeing in a way because there’s all this white space on the page and the sentences are bare, the emotion is right there for the reader to see and feel.

I was excited to be part of something like that – and to be able to write poetry again. While that might frighten some writers, I immediately started to think about the different types of poems I could use and how I’d be able to play with language and structure. The clincher? One of the possible topics was deployed parents. Poetry, young adult book for struggling readers, about a military family. Around our house we call that the Trifecta.

So I created Leo, and I gave him a goal – he wants to earn Eagle Scout and become a police officer, and I gave him conflicts – Mom, who he admires and depends on to a degree, gets deployed and younger brother Jack quickly takes advantage of the situation by getting into trouble. It’s clear the brothers are close, but they fight – in the way brothers do. Not that I have any experience with that or anything. And Leo feels this strong sense of responsibility, especially when it comes to his siblings, but he’s also freaking out a little. And when I sat down to write I had to dredge up some difficult memories of my husband’s deployment. I wanted the story to be real for my readers. I had to tap into those feelings and remember the other families from that time. It was 2003 and everyone in our little military town knew someone who was deployed. Leo’s family was inspired by our next door neighbors. Mom left with the hospital ship. Dad commuted over an hour to work each day. The kids looked out for each other. It was sweet and heartbreaking, and they stayed with me for a long time.

I pitched my idea, and they liked it. Then came drafting, deadlines, revisions – all that good stuff.

Writing isn’t easy. It’s lonely. Sometimes it feels like I cut up my heart and put it onto the page. And when you’ve got a world of other things on your plate – work, family, volunteering – you squeeze it in whenever and wherever you can. I wrote most of the book on a picnic table inside Epic Sports Center while my kids were at soccer practice. But then there was a book. With my name on it. And that was pretty awesome. The most rewarding thing for me is the opportunity to tell a story people connect to. When someone reads a poem and thinks, yes, this speaks to how I’m feeling. That is really powerful.

There are moments in my life when I felt so, so lonely and I would turn to my journal, or I’d turn to a book and get lost in the story. Words have a weird way of healing. My hope is that you pick up this book and whether you’re part of a military family or you had someone in your life that you depended on and now they’re gone and you’ve gotta figure it out on your own – of if you’ve ever had to decide where your loyalty lies, you’ll pick up this book and you’ll feel a connection to the characters, you’ll feel understood, you’ll feel a little less alone.

author

me, being authorly

Yeah, it was cold, and I’m a little crazy

Friday morning at work, the wind whistling angrily against our office windows, the following conversation took place:
Coworker: What are your weekend plans?
Me: Oh, I’m going camping.
Coworker: …
Me: Yup.
Coworker: It’s supposed to be really cold this weekend. Are you crazy?
Me: (briefly contemplates) Yup.

One fateful day, when oldest was in first grade, I walked past the cub scout recruitment table and asked for more information. I had been a girl scout through high school and thought scouts would be good for our boys. Oldest and I went to the information night, and he was immediately hooked.

Little did I know how that decision would affect my life these past six+ years. Both our boys are active in scouting and oldest hopes to earn the highest rank of Eagle. Many of our close friends are fellow scout parents, and scouting has seeped into my life in more ways than I could have imagined.

Writing, for example. Leo, the main character in SECOND IN COMMAND, is working toward Eagle and strives to live his life by the scout law. In my current WIP, the main character paved the way for girls in BSA (the new name for Boy Scouts of America as girls are now welcomed at all levels). Side note, I am all for an integrated scouting program – we are one of the only countries who segregate by gender. Personally I think we should merge the good things about girl scouts and boy scouts and create one unit, let’s call it something simple like, Scouts of America (why are they leaving the “B” in there I wonder?), and allow anyone to join.

Scouting has also pushed me out of my comfort zone on multiple occasions. Sometimes to an unpleasant end, like the time I rowed into the swimming dock. And sometimes to an uncomfortable end, like this past weekend when we camped in single digit temperatures (minus 20 with the wind chill). But I’ve learned in my wise old age that trying something you didn’t think you could do introduces you to some amazing experiences. A good friend tried Aerial fitness a few years back and is completely hooked — we tease her that she joined the circus, but the stuff she does is incredible.

When oldest started going on camp outs with scouts, hubby would take him. They would have fun and come back filthy, the clothes I packed still neatly folded in their bags. I’m pretty sure the kids stayed up until 2am and ate an obscene amount of cheese puffs on those trips. Then youngest joined the pack, and I decided to go on camp outs too, partly because I wanted to have an extra set of hands/eyes on our kiddos, and partly because I didn’t want to be left out. I love camping and nature. I don’t mind outdoor bathrooms (although I will say after this weekend that you haven’t truly lived until you’ve experienced sub zero winds under the doors of a latrine) or getting dirty and going without makeup, running water, etc.

Problem: I didn’t exactly want to be the only mom there. The party crasher who makes her kids brush their teeth, go to bed before midnight, and change their underwear. Thankfully one of the other moms joined me on my first camp out, and we’ve gone together to almost all of them since. And now there are lots of moms who come out, and they bring disinfecting wipes for the latrine and healthy snacks, and I love that we watch out for each other. Some of them have become my closest friends.

camp moms

Camp moms are hardcore*

Just as scouting has opened up new ideas and opportunities for my boys, it has given me the chance to connect to nature, to other people, and to my own strengths. I joined the committee and developed my leadership skills. I’ve learned how to deal with challenging situations. I’ve been able to perform for an audience (my rendition of “Have you ever seen a penguin drinking tea” is killer) which fuels the attention seeking side of my introverted personality.

I guess my point is this: you never know when an opportunity is going to change the course of your life. Stay open to new things. I volunteered to co-lead an activity at my son’s school and met my very first writer friend. She led me into a world of other writers which eventually led to the opportunity to write SECOND IN COMMAND. Sometimes when something new comes our way our first instinct is to say no, our plate is full enough already, thank you. But the thing you are eager to say no to might just be the thing that changes your life for the better.

*It was 4 degrees out when we took this picture.