Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Saints' Day

I am throwing away the Halloween candy, feeling, to borrow a well-worn phrase, grim but determined. Grim because I realize, with each step I take toward the garbage can, that I have, once and for all, become my mother. Determined because I now know that she is, and has always been, right.

My children will wake up in the morning and hurry downstairs in anticipation, hoping against hope that some remnant has missed my vendetta against refined sugar, that I will not have discovered all their secret hiding places. But I have. I always do.

It was bad enough that Halloween fell on a Sunday this year. They will never believe that they ate just as much candy and may have had more fun handing it out to underaged beggars than if they had been with the scores of other ninjas, witches and princesses trolling for sugar among the neighbors. And it certainly wouldn't have helped if I had told them that my mother sometimes forbid trick-or-treating when Halloween didn't even fall on a Sunday! I doubt they'd believe me anyway.

Then again, maybe I am worse than my mother. On those years when she did allow us to carry a small pillowcase door to door down our street and around the corner, she always confiscated our loot at the end of the night. It was then combined with everyone else's candy and hidden in a "safe place," to reappear as Christmas approached and she needed something with which to decorate gingerbread houses.

This practice turned the month and a half between Halloween and Christmas into a daily treasure hunt, as her children banded together in search of the hidden candy. The moment she left the house unaccompanied (not often) or turned her back on a room, my older brother deployed teams to distract, stand watch, and search. We knew that if we took too much, she would notice. But even when we were careful and frugal, she always knew. Every day following a successful reconnaissance mission, the candy would disappear again, and the quest would begin anew.
The problem was that by the time Christmas arrived, the good stuff had been devoured, most of the remaining candy was stale (or would be once it had sat on a gingerbread house for a week), and none of it was the kind of candy that looks good on a gingerbread house in the first place. It stretched out the process, but the end result was always the same; the majority of the candy ended up in the trash.

I'm saving my kids the heartache of hoping, of searching all the desperate corners of the house when my back is turned and coming up, most of the time, hungry and empty-handed. I'm pulling off the band-aid in one quick motion rather than dragging it out so the agony lasts that much longer. It isn't fair, and it isn't nice, but I didn't make up Halloween, so it's not really my fault.

I will not say to them, however, when they turn their little, crestfallen faces toward me, that someday they will thank me for it. I know they won't. I have never thanked my mom for taking away my Halloween candy, and I never will. She may be right--I can acknowledge that much--and I am doing the same thing to my kids because it's the right thing to do. But the most I can ever expect from them, now or twenty years from now when they have their own children, is the admission that I was--that we have all been--right.

The Halloween candy has to go. Happy All Saints' Day!

Monday, October 25, 2010


I've been blogsurfing lately, and it's making my head hurt. By blogsurfing, I don't mean clicking the links on our family's blog to read our friends' updates and see the pictures of their kids. I mean, I start at QueryShark and read the latest query that has been (artfully and usually rightfully) ripped to shreds, then sort through the comments about it to see if I can glean something useful. After that, I usually make my way over to the blogs of a couple of literary agents (Janet Reid and Nathan Bransford are some of my favorites lately) to see what they've said recently. Their posts usually have hyperlinks to enough other blogs to keep me busy until the sun goes down, the baby goes to the sleep, and the house is dark enough that I can't see the mess I've left until morning. And then I think I ought to start writing.

You see, ever since I started writing my first novel, over a year and a half ago, I've become obsessed with getting published. It's not vanity, really. At least, I don't think so. It takes so much more time to write a novel than other stuff I've written; the only way I can justify this selfishness is to actually see it in print. A poem dashed off here or a short story there is no big deal. But a novel is page after page of husband and kids pulling the house apart in my absence, dishes piling up in the sink, laundry growing moldy in the baskets, and toilets growing a fungus that I never knew existed before I started writing novels because I used to clean them every week.

I've gained a whole new vocabulary, diving headfirst into this market of agents, publishers, queries, synopses, partials, fulls, and weblogs. I don't know how much of it I would have learned, had I opted for the MFA instead of the MA, but if that's what it takes, then bring it on, by gum.

But...I am also coming to realize, as I blogsurf on my iPad while I nurse the baby and the toddler watches Go Diego Go!, that I'm going to have to get into the conversation if I want to make a presence for myself as an author. And I'm not sure how that's supposed to happen the way things are now. WHEN I have a few minutes, I sit down at the computer and dash off a page or two. This blog consists mostly of posts written at very odd hours of the day or (usually) night, and certainly isn't one that would consistently jump to the top of people's lists of blogs ordered according to most recent posts. (Ack. That's a very awkward way to state it, but thereagain, it's so late, and I'm too tired to revise.)

It's just that I want to say something. I want to contribute to these discussions, to be out and about electronically, even while I am sitting at home, talking about body functions with a two-year-old, and listening to my seven-year-old read from the Monster Book of Jokes (who wrote that anyway and did they realize what it would do to me?). Because even though I spend my days with these sweet, little terrors whose collective knowledge base does not extend beyond animals found in Florida and singing the months of the year to the tune of "O My Darling Clementine," I still have my own thoughts. And they're good thoughts. Grown-up thoughts. Thoughts worth listening to. I think.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

2:30 a.m.

At 2:30 a.m.
waiting for the baby to sleep again
I discover
why the electric bill is so high.
The A/C has been running for an hour--
some contest to outscream him?
or try to get ahead of the Florida summer?
I wonder who will last the longest
in this battle of wills and lungs?

Surely I can outwit the air conditioner--
turn up the thermostat and
make it go to sleep.
But the baby?
He must struggle along as he can,
screaming his anger out alone
in the dark
to uncaring gods who will wean him
of bottle and breast
and make him learn.

Life is not fair, baby.
For you, whose body and soul
I cradled nine months inside me,
who has no complaint I do not feel,
must now find your own way
back to sleep.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Joe Pulling Weeds

Joe squats in the garden,
his clawed fingers scrabbling
at the dirt.
He mutters bracingly--
the vague mantra of a reluctant gardener--
and fistfuls of weeds,
their roots choked with potting soil,
go spinning overhead.

His sister, two years old and still cherubic,
toddles around him with a plastic bottle cap,
filling it up and dumping it out,
tilling the soil, in her little way.
She loves the dirt for its own sake,
quite apart from any politics.

They work quickly, he at his sporadic weeding
and she at her admiration,
but a storm is coming.
The smell of rain soaks the air and
the wind, free of its leash,
whips their hair into their faces.

He looks up, scanning for thunder
in the vacant-eyed clouds,
tasting the air,
for the shock of lightning upon it.
The first drops hit,
a languid avant garde,
and the sister pauses in her errand
to find the spots of skin
painted clean on her arm.

Not yet.
There is still time.
But a storm is coming.

He pulls more frantically at the stubborn weeds,
lashing against their roots,
his whole weight thrown into the business
of upending them.
The wind grows wilder and the rain
more pointed.

And then a distant peal of thunder,
like an angry dog,
rumbles overhead.
Lightning arcs across the sky and paints
the day’s end in bas relief.
The signal has come!

Joe and his sister leap from their perches,
scattering toward the house in terrified excitement,
dirt and weeds trailing behind them,
she, squealing, but he,

They reach the door,
dart inside,
and pull it closed behind them--
an unfailing talisman against
the perilous weather--
then huddle, silent, against the glass
as the sky turns black and the rain screams toward the earth.

The earth.

The earth...