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Saturday, January 14, 2017

In the Driver's Seat: Kids on the Road

FIRST - if you are participating in my Ripley's giveaway, you can view the trailer for The Beat on Ruby's Street here:

The THIRD person to comment here at the end of this blog about the trailer will receive a free e-book!

In the Driver's Seat: Kids on the Road

I’m driving on a moderately busy road, but today hardly anyone is on it. The day before a huge snowstorm happened, and I am out today for a trial run before I go to a job interview. 

I do this because I don’t like driving and like getting lost even less. So it seems reasonable to go out in the middle of the morning the day after a monster snowstorm to minimize my stress on the following day.

Unfortunately for me I live in a city where snow is commonplace and most people are less afraid than I am to drive around in it. I grew up on the East Coast and had little occasion to drive because I was mostly in Boston and New York. 

Today I am going about 20 miles an hour and can tell the driver behind me is impatient. He is tailgating  and honking, so I speed up to get him to stop. Of course, he passes me anyway. And right then, my car hits a patch of snow that didn’t get plowed and goes into a spinout. 

The word sounds far prettier than it actually feels. What I do feel is my little Nissan Sentra spinning out of control and swerving all over the road like a mad bull in a rodeo. Luckily, no other cars are around, but it’s still a completely terrifying moment, soon made even more terrifying by the car swerving toward a steel pole on the side of the street.

I am airborne, and have no idea of where I will land.

I think this will probably end badly but cannot manage to do anything other than sit there, my heart pounding frantically. The next thing I know the car shoots up off the curb, but instead of hitting the pole it goes between that pole and another one and spins around once more until it lands, finally, in a nearly empty parking lot.

I have no idea if it missed the poles because I was able to steer it correctly, but that seems unlikely. Instead, it seems as though I survived this horrible adventure through nothing but dumb luck.

I stayed in that car for at least 20 minutes, waiting for my heart and spirit to calm down before driving on again. And I was way too scared to laugh.

I’m telling you this because incidents like this (and I had at least one other, plus a couple of highway accidents) have left me pretty much only able to drive the city streets, unless I’m on a very short stretch of highway for a few minutes.

Then, last year, my son and his friend were in a terrible car accident on an icy highway, with some careless truck drivers. Fortunately my son escaped with little injury while his friend broke her ankle in two places and spent months enduring a slow, arduous recovery.

None of this helps me feel better when either my son or his friends are on the road.

I am wondering how other people feel about their kids’ driving. Do they ever worry when their kids are late coming home from a party or do they just shrug and go to bed? Do you? What happens when you have more than one kid and they’re both learning to drive?

And HOW do you teach kids to drive safely in a snowstorm?

I don't have many answers, but one thing occurs to me as I think about this: kids are not the problem. The problem is people like the impatient driver who was tailgating me so persistently I thought I had to speed up--and ended by endangering my life (and possibly someone else's).

I think it's worth pointing out the tailgating driver was NOT a teen. He was an adult (or was supposed to be). And I don't see how we can teach our teens to drive well until people like him start taking responsibility for how they're driving.

In other words, it's the grownups who need watching. Always is.


If you still want driving tips for teens, though, check out these articles:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

When Grandparents Need Help: What Your Kids Should Know

When my son was nine, his grandparents started needing more help, and our family started thinking about what it would look like if the grandparents moved out here and lived nearby. I remember telling Josh he might have to watch over them sometimes and was promptly greeted by a blank stare and the words, "What do you MEAN?"

"Well, Grandma might forget something and you could remind her," I said. "Or Grandpa might need you to walk with him if he wants to take a walk."

My son seemed to be OK with that, but I was having a harder time. Watching my parents grow older and frailer was painful, because no matter what our ages were, they were always my parents and somehow "in charge." My mother's difficulties with memory kept increasing, the older she got. I had become used to that, but when my father started having memory issues around age 85, I wished I could have put all of us into a time machine and flown us backwards.

As it turned out, my mother died before my parents could move anywhere, and my father moved to Fort Lee, NJ to be closer to my sister. When she left town a few years later, my dad was having even more memory problems and moved to a small, intimate assisted living-memory care house about 30 miles from our place.

Josh was in college by then, and visited his grandfather whenever he was home. But he had seen both grandparents struggling as they grew older. At first I worried about how this was affecting him, and then I figured something out: the journey my parents were on was relevant for all of us.

We might experience physical deterioration or we might deteriorate mentally, but we're bound to experience one or the other, the older we get. (Some, who are lucky, will barely deteriorate at all, but that's rare enough so I wouldn't want to count on it.) In other decades, we became familiar with illness and death at an early age. Why do we want to over-protect our kids from what life has in store for us?

Years before my father's difficulties became apparent, when Josh was ten, I brought him with me on what would become his last visit to his grandmother, who was close to the end of her life. Instead of being scared or upset, he surprised me by staying with my mother all day, talking to her and listening to her talk. They laughed and enjoyed each other's company in ways I couldn't possibly anticipate. And I couldn't have been prouder of my kid.

So if your parents are experiencing health problems or even crises, I would encourage you not to keep your kids away from them. Involving your kids in caring for grandparents can give them experiences they will always cherish - and never be able to get any other way.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year Wishes (for Me & You)

Wishing you courage...

... love...

...the ability to forgive & move on & try new things...

...especially the things you've been scared to try as an artist and just personally...

Wishing you find the will to change when you need to. 

Hoping hope reaches you, even when it's dark out there...

...hoping that you let go of whatever's destroying you and find the confidence to begin again... 

...that you give yourself credit when you deserve it and trust yourself...

Maybe what I really mean is believe in yourself.

And finally, finally...that you find the people you are meant to meet, because, I think, that makes all the difference.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Point of View: Eye of the Artist

Does your child like to draw and paint? I don't mean fingerpainting, though yes, we all start there. I'm talking about putting thought into drawings or paintings that show an artistic talent.

I'm asking because of a discussion about photography versus paintings that I won't go into here (not the point!) I'm really thinking about how we respond to paintings, how we talk to kids about art and how they and we decide when something IS art.

It's subjective (and maybe that IS the point) but you don't have to be art critic, I think, to know when there's real thought behind the painting you're looking at. How do museum curators decide such things? How do critics, for that matter?

When I look at a painting, I want to see more than skill. I'm looking for a particular point of view that the artist is trying to show me. (If they don't have a point of view, then it won't come through and I don't think I'd care about the painting). 

For example, the work of  Alberto Giacometti. (Check out his painting Caroline.) I discovered him in college and then decided he was exactly what an artist should be. His work made you stop, think, look again. It carried his emotional response to what he was seeing and then elicited an emotional response from the viewer (or at least, this viewer).

I guess painting starts with learning it as a craft - but if someone really wants to be artist, they will then need to add their own personal and passionately felt emotional overlay - like Salvador Dali. In fact, Dali felt you needed to train classically as a painter and then add your own point of view.

That's what I would tell my son if he was interested in painting. It's what I tried to tell him about singing, and what I look for in any artist - whether they are a singer, writer, composer or painter.

Point of view isn't everything. But I believe it makes or breaks what you create. That's why I've tried to give a point of view to Ruby's artist mother Nell in The Beat on Ruby's Street.

And though I usually include some articles from experts here, I'm not going to with this one. Because art is too precious to trust to experts. It needs, in the end, to be ours.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Holiday Cheap-Sheet

I was driving after work this week, trying to warm my hands in the Land of Polar Vortex (and yes, I wear gloves). Halfway home, I fell into a traffic jam that I'm pretty sure had nothing to do with rush hour--and realized it was here. 

Christmas shopping season with all it's traffic, crowds and thousands of money-spending temptations, has descended, and there's precious little we can do about it. What I most want to know is, how do people navigate this with their kids?

I have a friend who teases me because he says Hanukkah hasn't been taken over nearly as much by merchants as Christmas has, and I know he's right. Not that I have anything against merchants - my dad was one - but overspending for two weeks a year can be a pretty scary enterprise, and I think it's reasonable to do a little less of it when we can.

My eight-day gift giving days for Hanukkah are over, but my husband and I had pretty much agreed THOSE presents would be small - puzzles, books, music - little things that didn't cost too much. Getting his parents to tone things down for Christmas was easier than I thought it would be too.

But I also remember my first year of marriage when I went crazy and bought and bought not only for my husband, but all his siblings. (Not having celebrated Christmas before, it took me a while to discover half-price books and blank CDs so I could copy music onto them).

Years ago I started a tradition of writing poems about and for friends at holiday time, but haven't done anything like that for a while. My husband told me he made about 99% of his Christmas presents (including copying music onto CDs and making compilation CDs) and I absolutely love that idea for children. Except now we all use MP3 players and need to send each other music via mobile or computer.

Other (cheap) gift ideas I like include Kindle books (though of course the recipient needs a Kindle), $10 gift cards to your favorite coffee bar and a gift of chores or foot massage for certain family members (who will remain nameless here). If you like baking cookies, I don't think anyone would mind, either. If you pair them with a card and/or a letter, your gift can look just as festive as a $400 whatever. And your kid, friend, spouse and brother in law STILL knows you're thinking of them.

I know people who take a $100 pledge with family members so they don't spend more than $100 and I like that too. I guess for me it comes down to realizing that when I budget for my bills, I don't generally want to budget $300 for Christmas shopping, because I don't have $300 to do that. And I don't want to feel bad in January when the bills come and I start to get overwhelmed.

Having made this mistake more than once, I'm determined not to go there again. But I'd love to hear your ideas on how you cut spending - or if you don't, how that works for you? (I guess if you save $30 a month just for Christmas, you can make that $300 expense account). But who does that?

If you do, let me know. Some ideas about how to keep the holidays from overwhelming you (and your kids) can be found here:

Teen opening present: Mark Taylor Cunningham

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Saying Goodbye: Talking to Kids when there's a Death in the Family

This week, we said goodbye to my husband’s father John, who died mid-November unexpectedly due to heart failure. My son told me that he was particularly sad because John was his last living grandparent.

Walking into the church where the funeral was held, I was surprised by the wave of emotion that hit me. Many of John’s friends were there, singing “Amazing Grace” as we walked to the front of the church, and I couldn’t help but remember that only two years before we were in the same spot, mourning my husband’s mother.

But what also struck me was that the people who were singing seemed as though they were trying to let us know they were with us, and the song was meant, somehow, to hold us up. It felt to me as if I could hear the love in their voices, saying, yes, this is a bad blow, but John is in our hearts right now and we are with you. 

My son and I are Jewish and our mourning rituals are very different than the traditions in my husband’s family, but the feeling of community is the same; because, of course, people are people, no matter what their traditions may be. In the Jewish tradition, we say the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer for a year, and the first week mourners traditionally sit on low benches, close to the ground, without wearing shoes. It occurred to me that I like this tradition because unexpected death always feels like I'm falling off a cliff--like the cartoon characters whose legs go round and round after they drop off the edge of a precipice.

My son’s first experience with the death of a loved one involved his stepmother, who died tragically early because of cancer. He was twelve at the time and his father asked me to pick him up from school and tell him about the death. I was loathe to do it, but felt I had to go through with it because his father had asked.

I believe Josh had been expecting his stepmother’s death, but telling him still felt like a blow and years later, I can still remember him punching the seat of our car, because I told him right after I’d picked him up from school. I tried to talk about love being eternal and the possibility of meeting again in the World to Come, but it didn’t feel very comforting to me, even while I was saying it.

I think no matter what we tell our children about death, it will always be sad, and maybe it should be. When someone dies in the Jewish community, we say “May God comfort you and all the mourners of Zion,” to let the mourner know he or she is not alone. I want very badly to believe in an afterlife, but I struggle to manage it—perhaps because it was not emphasized in my synagogue or Jewish community.

At the same time, there is a beautiful Biblical saying that does bring some measure of comfort, that I remembered on waking this morning. “Teach us how to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom.”

Last summer, my husband and I met up with the family at their summer cabin, and I remember watching his dad enjoy the impromptu bluegrass concert his friends offer regularly in their home. He looked so happy and more than that, he looked as though he was drinking in every moment of the music, which lit up his face and eased the pain that seemed always to plague his back in the past few months.

Because moments are what life is made of, in the end, I think, they are what mortality teaches us--to hold onto and to treasure. So if you have trouble talking to your kids about immortality, maybe it’s fine just to start with the idea of being mortal. And even if reaching out your hands in love and kindness isn't everything... it can be a start.

For more on this subject, you might try reading these articles:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dragon's Posterity

When I first opened Kandi Wyatt's book Dragon's Future a few years back, I thought I'd start the first chapter and continue on my way. Ten chapters later, I looked up and literally had to force myself to put it down. Today I'm pleased and excited to share the cover of Kandi's new book Dragon's Posterity, which will go on sale December 6 and is the final book in the Dragon Courage series.

Win a free giveaway here.

The Story

Is there really a right way to braid leather? Ruskya doesn’t know anymore. Is it worth fighting over? Twenty-one winters ago, he was ready to take on the turquoise dragon rider, but now he fears facing his oldest son.

            Kyn, Ruskya’s youngling, wonders if he’s going crazy when an image begins haunting his dreams. Soon, he realizes it may be the key to helping not only Ruskya and his son Ardyn, but all younglings and their trainers as they adjust to growing up.

            Will Kyn be able to help Ruskya, Ardyn, and the other young riders? Follow your favorite characters from the exciting Dragon Courage series as they empower the next generation and give dragons to their posterity. 

About Kandi Wyatt:

Even as a young girl, Kandi J Wyatt, had a knack for words. She loved to read them, even if it was on a shampoo bottle! By high school Kandi had learned to put words together on paper to create stories for those she loved. Nowadays, she writes for her kids, whether that's her own five or the hundreds of students she's been lucky to teach. When Kandi's not spinning words to create stories, she's using them to teach students about Spanish, life, and leadership.