Monday, June 30, 2014

Your Story Isn't Finished Yet

For me, because I deal in stories, it's easy for me to think that my life is like one.

And, in a way, it is. I have a beginning, I'm currently in the middle, and eventually, on this earth, there will be an end. 

See, the thing about studying writing (especially theatrical writing) is that you start to see things in the mindset of the three act structure: There's an inciting incident, the hero has to make a choice, that choice propels him to action and eventually brings about the resolution. There may be a set-back or two along the way for our hero, but not too many (after all, we have a time limit here). 

I think that this structure resonates with people because, in a sense, it's true. Life really is like this, situationally-speaking. Think about it... You meet someone. She is attractive. You have to make a choice - do you ask her out on a date or not? This choice on your end prompts her to have to make a choice. She accepts. This one situation and your subsequent choices about it propel you into eventual marital bliss! 


Isn't life exactly like that? 

Umm, not exactly. Perhaps the girl that you asked out on the date didn't want to go. What then? Do you find a new girl to date? What if that girl doesn't want to go out with you? If it were a movie, it would probably be a dark comedy, and you'd eventually find yourself in some sort of weird situation where (depending on the mood of the screenwriter), you'd either die in the end or meet the quirky girl of your dreams. 

But I digress.

You see, life is so much more complicated and boring and exciting than one story can encapsulate. In fact, I think our lives are many, many stories each. Some wrap up quickly, some last until you breathe your last breath. That's what's good to remember when you are feeling down about something in your life. It's possible that this is just one small story, one small subplot, after all. Or, it could be a big story that's just not resolved yet. 

That might seem depressing, but that means there's still hope to cling to. 

And think about the best movies you've ever seen. Isn't it when the hero is most down, when things seem the bleakest, when all hope is seemingly lost, that redemption comes? That's what we all long for, and I believe if you hold out as long as you can and you keep looking for it, and you keep fighting even when all things seem at a loss... redemption will come.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Boys and Girls and... Feelings.

I was talking to my sister yesterday, and she told me a story that really drove home how different girls and boys are (she has two boys, roughly the same ages as my two older girls).  Something happened and my 7 year old nephew was upset about something and she had to literally sit him down and ask him "How did that make you feel?" and then coax an answer out of him.

I don't think I've ever had to coax a description of a feeling out of any of our girls.  Not ever.  They are always ready and willing to extrapolate on any and every emotion that might possibly flow out of them.

This pic was taken right before a big melt-down. You can see the tears starting to form.

In fact, really, my wife and I have had to tell them several times to "Hold it in."  Now, that sounds bad, but let me tell you, there needs to be some restraint sometimes. As the rivers of emotion and feeling flow forth, they need to learn to bottle some of it up. It seems like sometimes the more they express their feelings and emotions, the more it seems to control them.

Sometimes when having a temper tantrum, they blat on and on (if you are not familiar with the "blat" it's kind of like a yell-cry and it's amazingly grating on the nerves), and sometimes they do little dances with their bodies or thrash around on the floor.

Who knew that a first haircut would elicit such dramatic crying?

They're kind of like a fairy, if you've read Peter Pan (or watched it, for that matter).  The anger/hurt/strong feeling overtakes them and they can't think or feel anything else. Most of the time, you just have to leave them alone for a bit and then they are fine.

We were at a parade, having fun. I know, I know. Hard to tell from this pic.

I think the crux of the matter is that kids need individualized parenting. There really is no generic "CHILD" that every parent gets. I have to say, it's easy to think, oh, I have four daughters, so I'm home-free by the fourth one!  Piece of cake, walk in the park, phone it in! But, it's not like that. The differences may not be as glaring as perhaps the ones between my girls and my nephews, but they are there all the same.

See, that's the tricky part of parenting. Figuring out what your kid needs. And then, just like everyone else, just when you think you've done it, they go and change on you! It's the nature of life, I guess.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bookstores & Book Sales

Bookstores. Our family loves to go to them. We used to have one in our small Northern New York town (for those of you non-NYers, that's even north-er than Upstate. Like, almost Canada north). It was a Borders, and even though ours was a profitable store (since they were the only one in the area), obviously, the chain went out of business. 

We do have a local used bookstore here, but its hours are so limited, it just doesn't work out most of the time. Although, I do love used book stores. It's sort of like a treasure hunt going in there, searching for things, and sometimes you find a real gem.

Now we have to travel a little over an hour to the nearest chain bookstore, a Barnes & Noble. We love this store too, it's just a little more difficult to get there. And, we don't have a lot of money, so by the time we pay for gas to get down there, it doesn't leave us much to spend on books. But that doesn't bring us down, these girls love that train table:

Fun in the B&N Kid's Section

So, in order to feed our book-reading and collecting addictions, we like to frequent library book sales, and in our area, they have some good ones! And typically, the young adult and children books are only 25 - 50 cents each, which means we can get quite a few for a small amount of money.

The best one in our area always happens one of the last Saturdays in October. We wake up early, get a travel mug of coffee, sometimes take the littlest kids to my parent's house, and go stand in line to wait for the doors to open at 9:00. It's usually cold and occasionally rainy, and the kids are asking every couple of minutes if it's time yet, and there we are with other bibliophiles, all bonding together in our mutual anticipation of getting some great deals.

One year, we got all the Harry Potter books in the series (most of them hardback) for $1.75. 

what a deal!

Then, the year my oldest was really into Magic Tree House books, she found about 10 of them for $2.50. And sometimes you can find hard-to-find or out-of-print books at used book sales... Take a look at these Tolkien books:


My wife found those a few years ago at a Regent University library book sale where she used to work (where we went to grad school). They bought another school's entire library collection (the college was closing), and then had book sales while they were figuring out which books they wanted and which they didn't. Those were some some amazing book sales... anyone from Regent remember those? 

 Ah, book sales. That reminds me, actually, there's one next month! Something to look forward to...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Childbirth... From MY Perspective

(See what I did there with the title? I specifically narrowed this down to JUST ME. That way, no one can accuse me of speaking for anyone else out there.)
So, we have four kids… And, my wife has given birth to each one. And, I was there too. Involved. Working. Doing my part. In my Father’s generation, I don’t think much was expected from the Husband during labor and delivery, if he was even invited in the room. 
Not so anymore. Just in case there are any non-Fathers out there right now reading this post, let me tell you, you will NOT be able to just sit back and relax while your child is being guided into this world. No, more than likely you will NOT be able to read a magazine, play Angry Birds on your phone, or watch Judge Judy re-runs while your wife and the Nurses are coaxing your progeny “to the light” as it were. Just a warning.
I have to say that just like every child is different, so is every birth, I would imagine. Our four certainly were. Two of those births were medicated, one was induced, one came right on her due date, one was turned the wrong way and almost had to have a C-section, one delivery required very little pushing, two of them required a whole lot, and one had some complications (the umbilical cord snapped off). For two of them I was able to cut the cord, and during last one, the midwife had to sort of yell at my wife “No biting!” because, well, it looked like she was going to bite my hand.
This statement by the midwife made my wife sort of mad. I, however, was grateful.
Anyway, I feel like I can kind of speak from experience about childbirth. Here are some thoughts that I have about it (and most of these will likely be the exact opposite of what you will read on childbirth blogs):
1. I personally would advocate all women to utilize whatever pain relief they can. In other words, I say “get the drugs!” My wife got epidurals for the first two and opted not to for the third child. (Personally, I thought she was nuts!) The reasons she decided this were to hopefully shorten labor and pushing (the first two were both really long) and to try to get her milk to come in sooner for breastfeeding (both times before it took 5 days, even with “doing all the right things”). Well, for this third child, she pushed for 2-3 hours (even longer than the first two – the baby was turned the wrong way) and her milk STILL took 5 days to come in. So, then she decided for the fourth child that she definitely wanted an epidural, but she got to the hospital too late and the baby came very quickly, fast and furious. 
Katie, #1
(this was before we had a digital camera)
This leads me to the next thought that I have:
2. Get to the hospital later than you think for the first babies and earlier than you think for the later-borns. For the first baby, we got to the hospital (after my wife had had contractions for hours) and she was only dilated 2 or 3 centimeters. It was a long stay. But for the LAST baby, she was trying to do too much (although, I certainly did appreciate that awesome brownie that I ate en route to the hospital!) and we were only there a short, short time (too short to get an epidural) before her water broke and she entered the pushing phase of labor.
Annabelle, #2
(NICU baby, because of her umbilical cord problem)
3. The brownie reminds me of another thought… Men, eat when you can. I know that you will feel bad when your wife is not allowed, but this “guilt” will only last for baby number one (although she can have popsicles, so if you want to be really awesome, go find her one), but seriously, if you happen to have a long labor, you will need energy. It is quite a workout, especially when you find yourself fighting with your wife’s body (that’s another story). Those Labor and Delivery nurses know from experience how much work it is, so take their advice and go get a sandwich or a granola bar or something when you can. Trust me, they’ll tell you if you can’t. I guess the only time you wouldn’t want to do this is if your wife needs you. It would be more loving to wait for an opportune moment. That’s why I grabbed the brownie on the way to the hospital (and, I’m glad I did, because delivery #4 was intense. That was the delivery my wife was instructed not to bite me.)
Caroline, #3
(born right before Christmas, hence the hat)
4. Women, you should eat when you can too. Once you start having contractions, you need to go to 5 Guys Burgers and get a triple burger with a large order of fries and a Sprite. Because once you get to the hospital, they CUT YOU OFF. No food (unless your husband finds you a popsicle), only ice chips. (BTW, my wife tried to get me to give her a pretzel once, but I said no for the sake of her and our baby.)
Emily, #4
(My wife looks so serene, you would never imagine that she was going to bite my hand off just moments earlier.)
5. And, speaking of intense labor, be ready to go through the ride of your life. Childbirth is one of those times where you feel completely out of control, sort of like you are on a roller coaster minus the fun. So many things can go wrong, and there are so many variables that you just have to be strong and stay in the moment for the task at hand. Pray, and do what you can to encourage her. And wives, know that although you may be going through the pain, there’s almost nothing worse than seeing the person you love most in the world enduring it and knowing that you can do very little about it (which is why I wrote #1).
Like I stated earlier, this is just childbirth from my perspective. I’m not a midwife, doctor, nurse, childbirth educator, or doula. Just a husband with the births of four girls under his belt and the urge to write about it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

No Man is an Island

I graduated with an MFA in Script & Screenwriting and thought that I wanted to be a screenwriter. But when I “discovered” plays, specifically Arthur Miller, I became more interested in writing for the stage, though I would still write screenplays on occasion. This was during the period when I had two plays produced.

One rainy day while my wife was working, I sat at my desk in my office (spare bedroom) staring out the window. It was before we had children, so the apartment was quiet. And while I was sitting there, a thought occurred to me, or maybe it was just an image. It was that of a rich man on large manor, and while he was staring out the window (much like I was), he was watching a young orphan that he just adopted. But no matter how hard he tried raising this kid as his own, the young orphan wanted to live in the streets. So with that image or idea in my head, I began writing a short story (a very short story).

 I then began turning this short story into a treatment for a stage play. But as many stories do, it began to morph into a grander story, one that wouldn’t fit on stage. This was the beginning of my book that is now called Scar of the Downers. But there, in my head and in short story and treatment form on my computer, the story stayed. After all, writing a book was too daunting. You know, with all those pages and all.

Well, a few years later, I was at a used book sale and found an interesting book, one that I never heard of before called The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr. When I bought it, I didn’t immediately read it; it stayed on my bookshelf for several weeks (more or less). But, when I did begin reading it, I loved it! For some reason after reading this book, I felt as if I could write one of my own. If a book ever inspired me to start writing novels, it was this one. Not only did it inspire me to begin writing, it made me believe that I could write.

For the next seven years I would write and write, trying fervently to get an agent or a publisher to read my stuff. The one thing I discovered over these past few years is this:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” - John Donne

To make it in this business (and life), you need people. You need people to give you a chance. No one has made it in this world without the help of someone else. A businessman needs customers for his business to survive, a politician needs voters, a worker needs an employer, an employer needs a worker, and even a king needs subjects.

So how does this relate to writing? Well, it reminds a writer to be humble. No matter how talented a writer is, he needs other people to help him: an agent, an editor, a publisher, and even more than that, readers.

Without other people, a writer is only a lonely person typing on a computer or writing in
a notebook.

Without other people, a writer’s work is destined for deletion, dust, or a wastebasket.

Without other people, a writer is a bitter person with nothing more than memories of a dream he or she once held.

Without other people, a writer is a confused person who mutters to him or herself a lot.

Without other people, a writer has many stories, but only one reader.

This thought doesn’t only apply to writers. It applies to every living being. We’ve never made it on our own without the help of someone else, and we never will. We’ve all had parents, friends, teachers, employers, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, and children. If men and women were meant to succeed alone, then they would’ve been made alone.

WiDo Publishing offered me a book contract for Scar of the Downers last week, and they've just issued a press release about it. I'm thankful to them because they've given an unknown writer a chance, and I hope that they are blessed for that good deed. I know I was blessed with a wife who has encouraged me through the ups and downs over the past (almost) eleven years. I wouldn't have gotten this far without her, and for that, I'm thankful that I am no island.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Baby Talk

My one year old is starting to communicate with us. In more ways than just crying, that is.  Last night I asked her if she was ready to go to bed, and she shook her head “no” and then ran away (she stuck her tongue out too, but I’d like to think that was coincidental).  She’s also giving us all the cute baby talk and saying words here and there.  She’s progressing, getting bigger, maturing.
The Baby, on her first birthday. That's my hand in the foreground.

You would think that I would be used to it by now, but no, I’m not. 

For one, the child before this one (Caroline) didn’t really talk at all until a couple of months after she turned two.  Oh, she made her wants and needs known, though.  No problems there. She would do this thing where she would basically make these “huh”-ing sounds in lieu of actual words.  Let me see, how can I explain it…

Have you ever played any of the Lego video games (not the recent Lord of the Rings ones, but the older ones, like Harry Potter or Star Wars)?  The characters would say things, not words, just sounds, but the inflections and expression made you understand everything.  Well, that’s kind of how it was.  It was also sort of like how the teacher on the Charlie Brown cartoons would speak.

It was so funny sometimes. Like when she would tattle on her sisters, it was so clear what she was trying to say. Or if she was passionate about something, she was as serious doing her little “Caroline talk” as if she were saying the actual words.

Caroline, two years ago, at the height of her non-talking stage.
We debated doing speech therapy, but it was obvious she understood everything that was going on and was communicating (in a way), so we just decided to wait until she turned two to see what would happen. 

Well, we waited, and sure enough, a few weeks after she turned two, the words started pouring out of her.  It was like they had always been there, but she couldn’t let them out.  But when she did… well, let’s just say that she hasn’t stopped progressing.

My wife has this theory (she read about it somewhere) that if a kid is developing in one aspect very rapidly, other skills may be delayed. In Caroline’s case, she grew physically very, very fast.  She started walking (and practically running) at 10 months, and her motor skills were amazing. She started putting duplo Legos together by 16 months (the other girls were older than two before they started doing that).  So, we kind of figured that eventually her speech would catch up, and it has.

Three years old now, talking like crazy!

So, back to the one-year old… She’s doing the normal thing now, and it’s so cool. It’s amazing how each of our kids is so different and yet they all come from the same gene pool.

Although, here they seem like they are of the same mind...

A friend once told me that each stage of a kid’s life is better than the last, and I agree.  And I think it’s because you are seeing a person emerge, and it’s fascinating. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Was In A College Band...Once.

I was in a band once, in college.

It was an alternative rock band. We did some covers, I wrote the songs, and played at various places. I miss it sometimes - the performing, yes, but also the practicing. Working on songs with other musicians, working out the arrangements, creative brainstorming with like-minded people - these were the most rewarding aspects of having a band, in my opinion. 

Our name was Trapping Daniel for a time before we changed to Godcent (or was it Godsent?) (or Godscent?) To be honest, I don't remember, but I do remember that we were mentioned (very briefly - the name of our band) in some U.S. News & World Reports article on how our college attracts high school students (even had some senior girls who wanted to meet me! I thought it was cool at the time.)  

I tried to pursue getting a record contract and all that, but it was difficult for band members to commit the time needed to do it. Most wanted to be, as I saw it, boring, and do boring things. Unfortunately, one or two committed band members isn't usually enough. Everyone's got to be all in.

So, just like with many things in life, that dream fizzled out. Which is okay. I love writing stories even more than writing songs, and if I had been even moderately successful in the music business, I may not have figured that out. And frankly, my whole life would have probably been on a different trajectory. (But would I have ended up in the same place anyway? Did anyone see that film Sliding Doors? I didn't love it... or see it, but I read the back cover. It's kind of interesting to think about.) 


I still like to write songs and play and sing, and occasionally I bring out the old guitar when the mood strikes, but it's not the same as back in the day. 

Unfortunately, this is where she spends most of her time - in a corner

Then, my wife's sometimes bugging me to try to start another band, or even learn to play old hymns so that we can teach them to the kids (okay, this one is more do-able and important and I should probably get on that). 

But there's just too many things to do, really. And she, of all people should know this. 

The first week we started dating, she missed me singing at a talent show while I was in law school because she had this little thing to go to at the theatre (okay, it was opening night and she was the stage manager. Whatever). 

So, life gets in the way of creative pursuits (heck, even other creative pursuits get in the way of creative pursuits). You have to choose what you do sometimes, especially if you have four kids

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Attachment Parenting (Reluctantly)

Before we had children, I had a sleep disorder of sorts... as in I actually took sleep medicine for it (not Ambien, although I did take that once, but I stopped it after I had a conversation with a Frenchman while I was in the shower while under its "spell"). But, if I didn't take my sleep medicine, it was very difficult for me to go to sleep (my mind just won't quit sometimes).

Well, since our foray into parenthood, I haven't had to take my sleep medicine at all to go to sleep. It's a blessing, but I think it shows you what true exhaustion is like. It also is a testament to our children's inability to sleep well.

Ever heard of attachment parenting? Well, my wife knows more about this than I do, but it's kind of this idea that your baby is always attached to you... like, you "wear" your baby in a sling, there's something called "breastfeeding on demand" involved, and, <insert huge groan here> "co-sleeping."

Back when our first baby was born, we had already decided to keep the baby in the room with us (in a pack-n-play, I think), but she was a horrible sleeper and even though she would begin her evening of sleeping in her space, somehow she always managed to end up in ours. She would not transfer to her back to her little crib either - it was an immediate wake-up. We would even put a heating pad in her bed before we tried to put her back in it so that it would sort of fake her out, but she didn't buy it! So, we reluctantly became co-sleeping parents (I would end up just moving to the couch most nights). And there was a time that I actually set up a blow up bed in the living room knowing I would be out there at some point. But you know how it is, you are so sleep-deprived, you do anything and everything to get the baby to sleep so that you can too.

There's two out of the four hogging the bed.

Fast-forward a few more children and with the exception of our second-born (who gets the prize for best sleeper!) it's sort of been the same with the other ones. The last two have been even more difficult than the first, and so my wife has become a pro at nursing them in bed and sort of half-sleeping (she's probably chronically sleep-deprived, I'm sure).

So, that's fine and all, I guess, but now we have a problem. All of them want to sleep in our bed all of the time. We put a limit on it, definitely, but inevitably, we wake up to kids in our bed almost every single night. Then, we just take them back to their beds, and go back to sleep ourselves. One time, and I kid you not, they were ALL in our bed one early morning. They had wedged themselves all around and my wife and I were just hovering on the very edge of each side. I’ve been forced on many occasions to sleep in my daughter’s bottom bunk because my bed is so full (this actually has turned into a luxury – a bed to myself.)

The middle has never left.

There really isn't much of a point to this post, except to shake my fist in the air and then start the Donation Bucket for us to get a queen-sized bed. Yes, that's right, folks, we currently have a full-sized one, and that is not going to be big enough, since these kids will probably still be crawling into bed with us when they are teenagers.