Category Archives: motherhood

The $327 Teachable Moment

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Cars are stupid.

This has been one of those weeks. This is a week that began with the kids finding tap shoes and whistles at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. This is a week wherein, if I handle an egg, it inevitably leaps to the floor. This is a week of Spring Break, which means no school, holidays I never ended up figuring out how to celebrate and, apparently, snow. So you will not be surprised to learn that on Monday afternoon, my car was towed.

Allow me to set the scene: it was a beautiful (pre-snowstorm) spring day, and we had a lovely plan to meet a school friend of Harper’s at the Botanic Gardens. Did I know the Botanic Gardens were closed on Mondays? No I did not, though by this point in my day I should have seen the writing on the wall.

Once we discovered the Gardens were closed, Harper did a celebratory dance. She had not wanted to leave her game at home after all, and thought this meant a return to the great-apartment-dweller’s-whistles-and-tap-shoes performance. But this other family — four children and all — had already mobilized and I felt terrible, imagining that their kids like mine probably took forever to get ready to get out the door, and thus guessing they had been getting ready to meet us since three weeks ago — so we decided on the Prospect Park Zoo nearby. Unfortunately, I have been abusing our zoo membership lately, and the kids were getting a little meerkat-weary, so Harper proceeded to cross her arms and plop down on the sidewalk next to the car, screaming that she refused to go anywhere, and there had been much SIMPLY TOO MUCH not-being-at-home-with-tap-shoes-and-whistles. I responded the way any good, tired, frustrated, premenstrual mother would, by yelling loud enough to scare her into the car. Ollie responded by sitting in his carseat and taking deep, exaggerated breaths and singing, “Grownups Come Back.” (If there is a more heartbreaking response to a parental lack of composure, well, I’m sure I’ll see it soon.)

We made it to the zoo and it was impossible to park but I found a spot on a block where I’d parked once before on a morning visit to the zoo. And by found I meant STOLE a spot from a car that was making a U-turn for. Instant Karma is going to get you indeed.

The only caveat with this parking spot (or so I thought then) was that it was near the entrance of the zoo that involves a carousel and obviously I didn’t have cash, so it also involved a walk to at ATM, carousel ride, etc etc. This cheered everyone up enough to provide for a nice afternoon playdate, and everyone ran around and got really tired out, and then it was 5 p.m., late for us to be out and about still, but the sun felt so nice and the kids’ begging for ice cream on the way out so very loud that we stopped again, and ran around the park some more. Then, sun-stained and bleary-eyed, we went to to spot where the car was parked. Had been parked. Was not any longer parked. I went through the stages of grief in an eyeblink and then took a deep breath like I’d learned from somewhere, oh right from Ollie, and said, “Oh! Oh dear. Our car has been towed. Well, my mistake, I guess we weren’t supposed to park there after 4. Golly! Let’s take the bus home, doesn’t that sound fun?”

The kids burst into tears.

Ollie: “The bus is STINKY! I HATE the bus!”

Harper: “What about our CDs in the car??”

Ollie: “Well I don’t actually hate the bus but I want our car!”

Harper: (through heaving sobs) “When I grow up I’m going to be a police officer – wait no the PRESIDENT – and I am going to send a special tow truck to all the police cars and SMASH THEM!”

We trotted over to the bus stop. I’d already performed my most-self-loathing-inducing parenting move that day when I lost my shit and yelled, so I felt extra motivated to do this one right.  “Hey guys!” I said. “When you think about it, we are actually kinda lucky! Look, the bus stop is right here, and there’s a bench. It’s a nice day — what if it were cold and rainy right now? And we’ve taken this bus before and it goes right to our building, and I have a metrocard with money on it, and hey here’s the bus! Isn’t this actually kinda fun?”

They shook their heads and continued to weep at the thought of their precious Magic Treehouse: The Musical CD cold and alone, belting out show tunes about Camelot somewhere without them, . We got on the bus, much to the delight of the tired commuters, and found some nice seats for scream-weeping in.

The thing is, the more I repeated this to the kids — “This could have been so much worse. It’s really okay. It wasn’t the tow truck’s fault, it was my fault for not seeing the sign! And the next steps are really quite easy. You eat dinner, Daddy comes home, I go get the car, no big deal. Weren’t we lucky we were right by the stop for the bus with the route we know that goes right home? Weren’t we lucky it was a nice warm night?” — the more it felt true. Even as I headed to the Navy Yards at dusk. Even as I paid the unspeakable towing fee. Even as I got in the car with the police escort — at least they try to help you not get murdered on your way through the lot — to go find my poor lonely car.

“Miss Amy,” said the elderly man, looking at my paperwork, “You’re doing really well. I see a lot of angry people on this job. You’re doing really well.”

“Thank you,” I said, the teacher’s pet in me absurdly pleased at this thought. “I have been doing deep breathing.”

“They are really cracking down on parking violations. I’m about to throw in the towel, to be honest. I’m too old for this. Nice young ladies like you out here because you were parked in the wrong place for a few minutes. It’s too much.”

Torn between loyalty to the new mayor I did after all vote for and have a weird friend-crush on, and indignance at the expense and inconvenience of the mishap (wasn’t there some sort of regulation that if they see two car seats in the car they let you go with a slap on the wrist? Maybe a $0 warning parking ticket like they had in sweet old Iowa City?) — I nodded.

“Now, Miss Amy, did they tell you there will also be a ticket on your car?”

I was so flattered by his complimenting my coping skills that I wanted to maintain my facade as someone good at dealing with stress, so I took another deep breath, hummed “Grownups Come Back” to myself, and said, “Oh? Well that figures! What a day, right?” I pictured the angry red chart my accounting app would show again this month. I took the parking ticket off the windshield, got in the car, and accidentally listened to a full song of the kids’ eardrum-bruising CD before I remembered I could turn it off.

The kids were very shaken up by this whole experience, and wanted to recap the next day. I repeated the importance of seeing the bright side, starting to actually believe myself. Ollie switched songs to Peg + Cat‘s “Problem solved! Problem solved! We solved the problem, now everything is awesome, problem solved!” (Don’t judge, that PBS app saves my life some days.) A few minutes later, he threw up his still-chunky cheerios all over the floor. Harper stared, a hand over her mouth. Then she shrugged and said, “Oh well! This is good practice for me for when I’m a doctor some day! I bet I’ll have to get used to seeing throw-up!”

Everything is awesome, indeed.

I Read the News Today. Oh Boy.

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(illustration from the Mo Willems book I’m a Frog)

I read that “civilization is ending” article much the same way I take most of my news – half-skimmed on my phone from someone else’s Facebook post, while on the toilet, as the kids were riding brooms like horses in the hallway. I couldn’t stop thinking about the dire predictions but of course, the next thing I needed to do was to put the kids to bed. So as we got into jammies, brushed teeth, and read mind-numbing Little Critter books, here was, essentially, my thought process. I share it here because in retrospect it seems kind of funny, but I assure you this all felt/feels VERY REAL. 

  1. Man, if it’s true that industrial civilization is going to collapse in like 15 years, I’ve got to think of something I can do to help the world!… … … hmm… … … nope, I got nothing. Okay well maybe I should just try to really enjoy every moment. Just really mindful of these good, still-civilized times, really live in every instant. I mean, not right now exactly because I’m not crazy about tooth-brushing-time, but like tomorrow. We are supposed to go grocery shopping tomorrow but maybe we should do something more seize-the-day-ish like…the Botanic Gardens! Then grocery shopping. When it seems like civilization is really starting to decline I should definitely go to Costco and stock up on… something. Matches. Crackers. Firearms? No, that’s very not me. Maybe like, tuna fish. That seems right. I should probably reread Little House on the Prairie.
  2. How sad. I really like civilization, too. Mostly the art museums. And the antibiotics. And book stores. Especially the ones with cats.
  3. Pets-wise, at least Quimby won’t still be alive in 15 years. I don’t think she’d make a good post-apocalyptic dog. We’ll probably find some highly intelligent, intuitive stray who helps us find squirrel meat and stuff. <picturing my family living in Prospect Park, in a sod house.>
  4. Wait. Really? But not really? That wouldn’t really happen. People are always saying crazy things about the world ending. Remember those Waco people? It wouldn’t really happen. Or at least not to me. That can’t happen to me! I’m the POV character!
  5. Wait, what? That’s a crazy thought. And I don’t even do drugs. But I do do books. I’ve been doing too many books lately, clearly. I need to do something real. The world is about to get all The Road. And I couldn’t even finish that book because it was too depressing, and also I have to admit, the prose style didn’t thrill me. I wonder what happened in the end? Maybe it was, like, a really happy ending! But still. It would help to have some skills. Real skills. We should go camping. We should teach the kids to start a fire. Or something. The only skills any of us have are civilization skills. Reading, writing, taking photographs. Singing lullabies. I’m pretty good at that. But I guess we’d be relatively okay.
  6. Oh my god, my glasses! When civilization starts noticeably declining, someone remind me to get like 100 pairs of glasses. It will seem crazy, but I will totally really need them if, say, a future-mutant-wolf-squirrel eats mine. I can’t see a thing without them!
  7. Maybe I should tweet that link to President Obama. Wait, he probably read it. He’s probably going to take action and make it all okay. No he’s not, he’s going to get his family on a jet to the super secret satellite for all the government officials, like in that movie Elysium! I wish I was going to that super secret satellite place. But no, I’ll be here in the polluted shantytown of Brooklyn working in a robot factory with no health insurance like Matt Damon. That will be miserable. But there could be a good memoir it, I suppose.
  8. I hope I finish my next book in the next 15 years. Oh WAIT it totally won’t matter. Or maybe aliens who land on the barren wasteland of Earth in 400 years will find our books? Or they’d probably be all dissolved. How long would a Kindle last in the wild, I wonder?

I mean, in all seriousness, what are we supposed to do? Just, you know, go on writing listicles and telling the kids to turn off the tap when they are brushing to save water? I guess so. And reading books, I think. I’m not sure why but really, why not.

The Only Thing to Discourage is Discouragement Itself

Image(via NYPL)

Is it because of writing so many of these things for the people who pay me money to write that I seem to only be able to think in lists lately?

Or is that just life in the internet age? Or life as a mother of young children who is constantly being interrupted and hasn’t had a cohesive thought in a half a decade?

Where was I?

Oh right lists. I have been thinking and talking a lot about discouragement lately.   I feel like I am often having this conversation with other writers I know:

Writer Who Is Not Me: What kind of book should one write? What is the best kind of Writer to be?

Me: Ummmm I dunno. Those are Important and Big Thoughts to Think. But I don’t have time for thoughts like that anymore. I think I remember having thoughts like that. Now I’m just happy when I have a minute to write.

WWINM: But what’s the point of it all? You work and work and work on a piece of writing and for what? Why do we try so hard? To what end? Writing something no one will publish, or that someone will publish but no one will read, or that will be read but get lousy reviews, or be really well-received and then called overrated, or that will do well now but never enter the literary canon? Or else to get a job teaching writing that still barely supports us or offers only crud health insurance so that one day we sit joylessly among our dusty books while the teeth fall out of our heads one by one?

Me: Ummmm I dunno. I just, like, get crabby when I don’t write?

But of course I get discouraged, everyone does. Here are three ways I try to dig out:

1) Do the thing. Talking about writing and thinking about writing are both somewhat crazy-making. What I actually like doing is writing. I had a rather abstract conversation about What Writing Is the other day, and felt a little muddled, and then sat down to write, and changed the phrase “walked down” to “descended” and felt a clean jolt of joy, and then became miraculously unmuddled. These are rare moments but such good ones.

2) Don’t do the thing. Then again, sometimes trying to write makes me just as crazy as not writing, because in my life right now finding time to write means missing out on family time on the weekend when my husband can watch the kids, or paying a nice lady many dollars I don’t have to watch the children, or not sleeping enough which then makes me not a nice mommy, and all of these things are stressful, and sometimes I have to remind myself that, in the grand scheme of things, there is no real rush, and if creative work happens slowly for a few years when the kids are small, it’s really okay. It’s just a few years, in the end. So if I don’t write 150 pages and finish my novel draft this weekend, and if I want to read a book tonight instead of doing novel research, it’s okay not to beat myself up about it.

3) Make it easy to enjoy other peoples’ successes. This is a tricky one I know, and not a nice one to talk about because who wants to admit that they greet other people’s triumphs with a petty, self-pitying inward grumble? I mean, I can imagine some people feel that way. Other, much smaller-souled people than moi, of course!

Something that has been really nice for me the past 6 months or so is hosting my reading series, Lit at Lark.   Reaching out to writers, getting to enjoy great writing in that pure-reader way that first made me want to write, connecting with other people who do this crazy thing I do too – it’s been somewhat nourishing. And it helps me to remember that when something good happens for another writer, it’s really just something good for everyone who likes books and wants them to keep existing.

4) Then of course there’s also just, like, this:

Image (via Kateoplis)

Recipe for a Good Day

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The funny thing about parenting is that just when you think you have it all figured out, a kid stops napping or starts biting, or schedules change, or you change, and it’s almost like you have to start all over, figuring out how to have a good day. That’s my goal lately, a good day. It’s hard to think bigger than that, and when I start considering Childhood or Theories of Brain Development or What Kind of Parent One Ought to Be I get really tired and need a nap. But my kids don’t nap. So I can’t. Instead I spend a lot of energy trying to make each day good. Not perfect, but good. Each day with little kids is a marathon and a lifetime and a work of art and a mess. Inevitably.

Because I seem to have to relearn this every day, I am writing this to remind myself what helps, at this moment in time — as the kids are almost-3 and almost-5 and still home for most of the day and at the end of a long long winter — for a day to be a good one.

1) Stay busy but flexible. This is a real SAHM thing, to be sure. Maybe it’s because my kids are so, how you say, batshit crazy, it always helps us to have a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan Z. In this matter give them pretend choices. “Do you want to do X or Other X, both of which I have pre-approved?”

2) Remember to take breaks. Book time in bed. Juice breaks at playdates. Bench-sits at museums and parks. You actually have to make it happen and it actually makes a huge difference. There is no nap anymore. Get over it. Remember that some minutes playing math games on Starfall will not suck their imaginations out of their heads. Chillax, Mama. Break time = important.

3) Invest in healthyish convenience food. Because I am sorry, but few things are as enraging as involving the kids in menu planning and grocery shopping just like the thingy you read said to, spending an hour cooking with “helpers” wobbling on chairs in the galley kitchen, all Montesourri-like, only to end up with a huge mess and food that the kids just look at and cry. Try again with the real food in a year. Until then, fuck it, how bad can Annie’s Mac and Cheese every night be? (Do not read the story about the girl who ate only chicken nuggets for 17 years. Do not hang out with the mom whose kid eats bell peppers at the playground like they are apples. Do not click on any BuzzFeed thingies about any kind of food.)

4) Get out everyday. If nothing else, walk to the mailbox or invent something you need to buy at the store that can be scooted to. Even in the winter. Even when they’re sick. Even when the bundling up takes longer than the outside time.

5) See other grownups/text your friends/look at twitter just enough so you stay sane or at least remember that all the parents are feeling crazy.

6) Keep the ratio of art project setup/cleanup to actual kid-entertainment potential in mind. No wants to clean up fucking cloud dough all night.

7) Remember Pinterest is a liar. Most of the internet is a liar. And nothing entertains kids for hours. Nothing.

8) When possible, don’t react. To hitting, to whining, to acting out. Remember Amy Fusselman, who writes in her memoir 8 that when you are parenting small children, you are a robot. When not reacting is impossible, don’t beat yourself up about it. Tell yourself some shit about how it’s good for kids to see you get mad and calm down or something . That has to be constructive somehow, right? Because you’re not actually a robot, are you? And just imagine how entertaining it must be for your neighbors down the hall to hear you yelling “I SAID STOP BITING YOUR SISTER’S BUTT!!” and how pleasant for them to get to feel kind of superior to you. That’s a great gift, really, that you are offering them. You’re welcome, them!

9) Leave the kids alone. I mean not alone alone but they can play together, and they can be screaming one second and resolve it the next, and you will surely be alerted if the skirmish is unresolvable. You didn’t have 2 kids to have 2 people to have to entertain constantly. You had 2 kids so they would play “kid/grownup” long enough for you to tap out a blog post on your phone!

10) Don’t clean up after they are in bed. Make them help even though it sucks and they do a crap-ass job of sorting the toys into the appropriately-labelled bins so that their room looks nothing like the ones on your really excellent Kids’ Rooms Pinterest page, which remember, is a liar anyway. Or at least let the kids see you do it. After they are in bed, that is your time. A coworker once told me, “I don’t have a clean house. That’s the new feminism.” Take out the trash and load the dishwasher and then read that New York Times article about how a clean house is a sign of a wasted life or just skim it and then read an amazing book instead, or make some art, or call someone, or do something crazy like talk to your husband. Fuck cleaning. Seriously. Unless you like it. In which case you’re crazy.

11) When all else fails, look at the kids’ baby pictures together. They love it, you love it, it helps put everything into perspective.

12) Don’t forget the 3:00 pm coffee. That’s the one that makes it all work.

13) Inevitably, on a crappy day, an old lady will stop you on the street and tell you to enjoy every moment. This is crazy of course and only possible to even consider if you’ve completely forgotten what little kids are like. But you can enjoy one moment. There is one magical moment in every shitstorm of a day, and you’ve got to enjoy the hell out of that moment. Remember, if you can, if for only that one moment of the day about all the wonder. All the goddamned crazy this-is-your-life wonder.

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(top image from Emily Winfield Martin’s DREAM ANIMALS.)

What’s Missing, What’s Here: On The Eve of My Book’s Birth Day

I seem to be living in a spiral-shaped sea shell these days. Harper turned four on Monday. Ollie will be two in a few weeks. And this Tuesday, April 2nd, a few days after the kids’ birthday party with all its balloons and frosting, my book officially comes out. The Mermaid of Brooklyn is about a mother with two kids, two years apart, like mine, but I started writing it when Harper was just a few months old, one day after a visit to the swingset, with her asleep in the carrier on my chest. I was thinking about my great-grandmother and rusalkis and the weird culture of Brooklyn parenting more than my actual parenting experiences, although of course it all gets mixed in together. And on Tuesday, my book launch will be at Powerhouse on 8th, the new bookstore in the building I lived in when I wrote the book. 2 kids, 4 years, and a move later: the book.

Of course I’m so excited and thankful. But also: confused.

Thanks to Jenna Blum for my very own milk carton!

Thanks to Jenna Blum for my very own milk carton!

Due to ongoing contract disputes between my publishers and Barnes & Noble, it’s very unlikely anyone will be able to find my book at a B&N store. In many parts of the country, that’s the only place to go and stroll about and discover a new book. I know my suburban Chicago B&N outlet was where I went on weeknights as a teenager to drink cinnamon-plum tea and read philosophy texts and women’s magazines (yes, at the same time) with my best friend and browse around in the quiet store at 8 pm and happen upon some book on a table I never would have heard of otherwise — and I feel like B&N should remember this, and care. I guess what I’m saying is, I really love B&N. I love my indies, and always support them, but when I was growing up in the suburbs, B&N was a sanctuary of sorts for me. And I have been so happy with Simon & Schuster and everyone at my division, Touchstone, and all their support of my book, and I get that both sides have their reasons. I know. It’s not personal.

What replaced my neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

What replaced my neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

But then, also, an unexpectedly nice thing has happened, because of all this B&N business: S&S authors, all (coincidence?) female novelists, have banded together to try to get our books on the radar.  M.J. Rose, Jenna Blum, Randy Susan Meyers — these are authors I have only known from afar, who are doing what I aspire to — writing smart books about women’s lives that readers obsessively love — and yet suddenly we’re all tweeting each other all the time. I feel this solidarity with other writers whose books are coming out into this mess, like we are all book-sisters (and not just competing for the seven spots for reviews left in the country). And there’s something really, really nice about that. I would post all their book covers here but I still have a lot of laundry to fold. So go here, and check out these wonderful books!

I once read an interview with an author whose debut novel had been largely ignored. When asked how he felt about the book’s reception he said something like, “You know, my wife and I just had our first baby, and that is a very good distraction, and puts everything else into perspective.” I loved this. I’ve found balancing writerhood and mothership to be challenging. It’s hard to find the time and focus and energy to write, even if, maybe especially if, you’re writing ABOUT motherhood. But I’ve also the combination to be a nourishing one.

Take today: I could have spent the day obsessing about my book and what will or won’t happen with it, but I was too busy having an adventure on the subway and a raucous playdate and making Charlie & Lola decorations for the birthday party. Ollie played in an afternoon sunbeam, swiping his hand at the glowing dust motes, laughing hysterically. Harper told me she was having a hard time deciding whether to be a doctor or a teacher. At bedtime, the kids cuddled up and Harper read Ollie his favorite books, and he propped his fat little cheek in his fat little hand to listen intently, and I almost cried, and that was all that really mattered about today. I’m lucky, lucky, lucky and I know it. I would of course like to be a lucky, lucky, lucky author with books in B&N but whatever, I’ll take what I can get.

And so:

If you live in New York City, please join me at one of my readings! Wine and bunny crackers, obviously, will be served.

If you don’t, please go into your local Barnes & Noble and with a very puzzled look on your face, ask where oh where is that great Mermaid of Brooklyn book you’ve been hearing so much about could be.

And finally, if you can identify the provenance of the bookstore pictured above, feel a moment of in-on-the-joke pride. Go on, really enjoy it. Then, tell me in the comments (but don’t Google it, you dirty cheater)and if you’re the first one to do so (and you are not my husband) I’ll send you a book!

The Black Apple, always awesome.

The Black Apple, always awesome.

The Next Big Thing Book Blog Meme!

Write like a motherfucker.

Write like a motherfucker.

I have dropped so many balls lately, that with every step I take I’m essentially wading through one of those ball pits that children like to contract smallpox in at overachieving birthday parties. But here was a fun thing I was supposed to do that got lost in the wild week of kids, more work than usual, a freelance article, book business, playschool drama, and even a co-op building meeting: THE NEXT BIG THING MEME, yay! Thanks to the lovely Kate Hopper for tagging me!

What is the title of your book?

The Mermaid of Brooklyn

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A stressed-out Park Slope mother recovers her sense of purpose in life with the help of a mermaid.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fiction. (I almost wrote Women’s Fiction, but then I was like, nah, fuck that.)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The inspiration was threefold: 1) a bit of family lore about how a pair of shoes saved my great-grandmother’s life, which I heard at a time when 2) I was reading about the powerful, seductive, mysterious rusalkas (aka mermaids)of Slavic folklore. The connection between these aspects marinated for a bit and then 3) I found myself becoming a stay-at-home mother to a baby, in the ever-fascinating parenting culture of Park Slope, Brooklyn. And voila: The Mermaid of Brooklyn was born.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About two years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

A mother at the playground had read some books pitched toward young urban mothers that she found annoying, and she said, “I just want someone to write a book for moms like me.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have a literary agent who did the businessy magic of selling the book to Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK).

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

It’s possible that comparisons with Amy Sohn, the grand mistress of Park Slope parent fiction, are forthcoming, but I’ve actually never read her books so I’m not sure how alike we really are. Our names sure are similar though! But I’d say readers who liked Peter Hedges’ Brooklyn-y The Heights, Lorrie Moore’s funny-sad mediation on motherhood The Gate at the Top of the Stairs, Maria Semple’s funny-sad mediation on motherhood Where’d You Go, Bernadette?  and/or stories with a hint of the surreal in them, like The Time-Traveler’s Wife, or Alice Hoffman’s novels, will, I’d hope, like my book too.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh man. I hate to boss around my readers, who should cast their own MofB movie however they like. But since you asked, my main character, Jenny, I see as a 2010 Zooey Deschanel. (She’s gotten a little too glamorous lately, but you get what I mean.) And my husband will definitely give me shit for this, but I always thought of Cute Dad as being played by Paul Schneider, on whom I have an undignified crush.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Reading it will make you instantly happier, richer, ambidextrous, and able to do 20 sit-ups.

Just in case it doesn’t, an acquaintance of mine read the book and wrote me, unbidden: “Basically: your book made me forget my own troubles while simultaneously soothing them; it made me feel better about life.” Isn’t that so nice?

AND The next thing I was supposed to do was to tag five authors who have exciting projects coming out now or soon or eventually. But I just wrote them today. (Doing!) (That was a ball dropping.) (And then bouncing again.) (Like how I carried that image through? Professional writer here!) So I will repost if they are able to participate. But just know that you should be very excited about new works forthcoming from Siobhan Adcock, Julia Fierro, Leigh Newman, Shana Youngdahl, and Sara Barron!

Happy Sibling Propaganda

The Adventures of Harper and Ollie in Prospect Park

The Adventures of Harper and Ollie in Prospect Park

A dear friend of mine just had her second child, and, as is already family lore, her older son gazed upon his new brother and welcomed him with a “No. No. No. No.” The mysteries of sibling relationships have been of particular interest to me, obviously, for the past, ohhhh almost 2 years I’d say. I recently met a grown brother and sister who were hanging out together, as they do every weekend, and I asked them their secret. They shrugged and said that their parents always told them it was important for them to be friends. Could it be that simple? Can you make your kids get along with each other?

Now, my children could not be more different in temperament. Every morning Ollie grabs his shoes and stands by the door and points and pleads, “Down!” The great loves of his life are going places, running, yelling, smashing things, kicking things, and trains and also trains. Harper’s favorite thing is to stay in her nightgown all day and to cry, when anyone goes near the door “I’m not going outside!” Left to her own devices, she prefers: sitting quietly and looking at books, sitting quietly and playing with paper dolls, sitting quietly and doing art projects. They do have some common ground in their shared love of jumping up and down, which I’m sure our downstairs neighbors find incredibly charming.

Just in case we have some say in the matter, ever since Ollie was born nary a fortnight after Harper’s second birthday, we have been waging a full-on assault of sibling-relationship information warfare. The thought is, if kids become what they are told, or even if any of it rubs off a tiny bit, might as well tell them over and over: “You are best friends. Brothers and sisters stick together. You are a team. Not only that, you are psyched to share a room. GO FAMILY!”

In this vein, we bombard them with the ruthlessness of communist USSR propogandists. I’m not talking about “there’s a new baby in the house” type books, most of which take a “and that’s a bummer” tack. I mean just nice models of nice siblings.

Books:

Harper still loves everything Charlie and Lola. (Saw the cartoon once, wasn’t terribly interested. But the books! Oh the books!) Siblings who share a room and are nice to each other. Check.  Big sibling looks after little sibling. Check check. So we assign Charlie and Lola studies at least once a day.

The Magic Treehouse books, which I mentioned in my roundup of chapter books, features a non-squabbling brother/sister pair who goes on great adventures together. Perfect. I like to throw a little notebook in a backpack and tell Harper she and Ollie are Jack and Annie and goodbye, have fun with the dinosaurs.

Runners-up: Max and Ruby, though Ruby is a bit bossy if you ask me. But Max, with his non-verbal, grinning mischeviousness, is a pretty good stand in for our own baby brother character.

Multi-media:

We’ve just discovered the Olive Us video series and are all pretty obsessed. These lovely, under-5-minute videos show an adorable family of 6 (!) siblings having sweet, wholesome fun together while wearing really cute clothes. Mountain picnics. Making cookies. Washing the car. The best.

Learning by Rote:

Adam brilliantly instituted a program called “The Adventures of Harper and Ollie on Earth.” This started off as a simple homemade binder to hold drawings we collaborate on, of adventures Harper and Ollie had, have, or may someday have, and has really taken off. Harper always wants to draw Harper and Ollie stories (sample quote: “Ollie! Get away! I want to draw a Harper and Ollie story!”), about, say, when they are grownups and live together in Manhattan, where it is fancy, and ride their scooters together to the café. Or else, when they go skydiving together, holding on to a rope that is taped to the sky. Now that she is starting to draw figures and faces herself this is even less work for us, and the result is a cuter-than-cute scrapbook of hypothetical sibling adventures dreamed up while one sibling was napping.

Any other happy sibling propaganda we should check out? We’re committed to making this life-long psychological experiment work. I’m pretty excited to meet them in Manhattan for lunch circa 2033.