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The power of being chosen

For weeks, my kiddo had been searching for a place to take karate lessons. I schlepped him to trial classes in pretty much every studio within a 15-mile radius.  No joy.

“Too noisy. Find another one, Mom.”

“Too many kids.”

“Not enough kids my age.”

“Too drill sergeant-y.”

“Too crazy. No rules.”

Goldilocks had it easy. “Find another one, mom” was the rally cry.  I wasn’t sure we were going to find any place he felt good about, and I really didn’t think there were any options left.

“But there aren’t other ones nearby, kiddo,” said me.  “There has to be another one,” he insisted. He’s persistent like this. He had expectations that I wasn’t sure any class or teacher would be able to live up to. But I had to look. He just knew there was another studio out there.

There was. It was 45 minutes away.

So we trekked south. To another town. To start a free two-week trial that I was convinced wouldn’t last two days.

The second we walked in the door, I knew there was no way this would be a permanent situation.  It was everything I knew my child hated: crowded, noisy, and chaotic. There wasn’t a clear surface in the room – every wall was either a floor to ceiling mirror or it was plastered with motivational posters, instructions, weapons, belts or commemorative plaques. Too many distractions.  Too many people.  It was too much.

I was mulling over whether or not to make a hasty U-turn when I heard our names over the din.  “McKinneys?” The voice was bigger than the woman wielding it.  A petite, smiling woman extended her hand, and my kiddo grasped it, and grinned at her. She nodded a greeting at me and led him to the gym floor. My doubts and I sat in the viewing area with the mish mash of parents, grandparents and siblings.

I watched them go through drill after drill in a corner of the room, ticking through the checklist, filling myself with dread.

The music is too loud, he won’t like it.  How many mirrors can one room have?  It’s too bright in here. The teacher has to yell instructions over the music – he hates yelling.  Wait. Are they doing calisthenics? How is that karate? Do they really need the music so loud? He’s going to get a headache. I’m getting a headache.  Oh, no. There are younger kids in here.  And much older kids too. He won’t feel like he fits in. He’s going to hate this.

At the end of class, the young woman returned my child to me and we stood awkwardly in an aisle as streams of families flowed in and out of the room. After weeks of trying out different classes, I knew what was coming, and I steeled myself for the sales pitch.

Here it comes.  She’ll tell me how much classes cost, and ask if we want to join. He’ll look at me and shrug, and I’ll tell her we’ll talk about it at home. When we get in the car, I’ll ask him and he’ll say ‘not this one.’ Then I’ll probably forget to call her back and she’ll call me every day for the next three weeks and … my stomach hurt just thinking about it. 

But she didn’t speak to me. She didn’t even look at me. She kneeled, and spoke to her sweaty pupil.

“Mr. McKinney, you listened very well and followed instructions the first time. That’s really important in this class.”

He nodded, and stood up straighter.

“I liked that you said yes ma’am and no ma’am, too, without being reminded. That showed me that you’re respectful, which is also very important.” She smiled.

He smiled back.

“I think you would be a good student to have in class.”

He stood even a little taller, and one corner of his mouth turned up in a modest smile.

She continued. “I hope you’ll want to come back. Would you like to come back next week?”

I held my breath, expecting to hear the same answer I’d heard week after week.

But he didn’t hesitate. “Yes.  Mom, can we?”

 

After I got over the initial shock, I felt foolish for letting my doubts and negativity blind me to what he had been looking for all along. I had been looking at my child through the wrong lens, thinking him picky and distractible rather than discerning. I suddenly recalled watching him each morning as he walked into elementary school – every day, he held the door open for teachers and classmates. And nearly every day, nobody said a word to him. He was looking for a place where he felt like his hard work would be noticed. He wanted to be seen and chosen (by someone other than his parents).

I will never forget that first trial class. His teacher noticed him, respected him, blessed him immensely, and made him feel cared about and important.  He studied with them for another year and a half, until we moved away.

I want to leave behind the doubts and impatience that lead me to frustration. Instead, I want to be like his karate teacher. I want to choose to treat people with respect and kindness.  I want to be like my persistent, positive kid, who knew in his heart if we kept trying we’d find a place he belonged.

 

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, blessings and curses.” – Deuteronomy 30:19

 

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My Summer ‘To Read’ List

This year I was lucky enough to go to the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference and hear the fantastic Nancy Lohr speak about writing for children. One of the first things she asked the group was “who here has read a children’s book recently?” More than half of us raised our hands.

She was happy with our response, and told us that she’d spoken to a number of groups – writers’ groups – in which no one had read a children’s book in the past year, five years, ten years. How can you write in a genre you don’t read?

If you’re a children’s writer, you have to read children’s books. And there’s plenty of incredible ones out there to soak up. Here’s a list of a few that are on my list for the summer months.

Anne Ursu’s Cronus Chronicles  Breadcrumbs 

I adored “Breadcrumbs” and “The Real Boy,” for their wit, the dialogue that’s grounded in reality while playing in a fantasy world, and simple, beautiful characterizations.  I’ve been itching to read the Cronus series for a while.

 

Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff

Story of a ten-year-old boy with learning challenges who changes schools and becomes the target of a bully.

 

Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed, by Matthew David Brough

Full disclosure – I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Brough at Blue Ridge, and was intrigued by how he described the heroine of this series. Del Ryder sounds like a character I could cheer for.

 

For Animal Lovers, by Kim Cano

Three short stories about animals (including a special needs swordfish obsessed with aliens), with a portion of the proceeds going toward the ASPCA.

 

What’s on your list? Tell me in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

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Please enjoy

it's been a rough couple of weeks.
it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

 

Struggling a bit this week – everyone in my house is sick and there’s some kind of thick fog in my head that makes me think I’m next.

I’ve written some new stuff. Yay. And I’m on track to get my MS out to a new beta reader in a week or so.

That’s pretty much it.  So please enjoy this picture of an orange.  Because after typing all this I need to go take a nap.

 

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Progress, not perfection

Cocoa. Marshmallows. Choco-whip.
Cocoa. Marshmallows. Choco-whip.

Early in our marriage, my sweet hubs pointed out what I like to think of as humanity, but he calls a “charming quirk.” We’d eaten out, which we didn’t do often in those days (or these), and he noticed that as I talked, I cut my food into bite sized pieces, then selected a few pieces to eat. I did it without thinking about it. He said it reminded him of the “When Harry Met Sally” movie – Sally always had to create the perfect bite.

There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you like and the way you like it. But writing, for me anyway, doesn’t take well to that kind of process. When I write, sometimes I get stuck in that “perfect bite” mode. I self-edit to the point of paralysis.  Some days I spend more time thinking of the word choice and possible implications of said choice than I do just letting the ideas pile onto the page.  I don’t know why it happens, and it’s agonizing.

This week has been one of those weeks where I’ve been beating myself up over my staggering lack of perfection. And what do you know, the ol’ creativity faucet has clogged.  Nothing but ick. Quelle surprise. Today I finally FINALLY eked out a few dribbling words on a new MS and it. felt. amazing. The words flowed just enough to remind me that they’re still in there, if only I’d dial down the self-criticism long enough to let them out.

So tomorrow I’ll sit down to write again and I will tell myself that it’s okay. That the page I’m staring at is a welcoming page, an inclusive place where all syllables, consonants and vowels are treated kindly as we build this little world together. Yes, later we will slice everything into pieces and select a few choice morsels to save. But today what’s more important is to keep moving, imagining, slinging ideas out and sprinkling them with whatever comes to mind.

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The Getting Started Post

Everybody says you have to have a platform if you want to be a writer. All these agents, publishers, writers’ blogs – they all say you have to put yourself out there. Not just yourself. Your best, nicest self. This will help people like you, want to work with you, and even buy what you write.

This presents a bit of a pickle. Even my nicest, bestest self contains some fairly questionable material. A few ill-advised phrasings. And horrible timing, no matter how genuine or generous my intentions may be.

The good news is that if we’re ever at a dinner party together, you and me, you will never be the most awkward person in the room. But the bad news is that it’s hard as all get-out to build a platform on a dicey proposition such as me.

I’m up for it if you are, though. So let’s try this: How about first I tell you all the things I’m not. Then we can move on to the fun writing stuff, which is why I’m here in the first place.

I’m not:

  1. Graceful – but I love to dance.
  2. Mean-spirited (on purpose).
  3. Into reality tv, in spite of having a masters’ in documentary film.
  4. Comfortable with heights or water.
  5. Ashamed of loving cheese.
So there we have it. I feel tons better, don’t you?