I’m a writer and a mom. Here’s the best advice I can give you.

Use grocery delivery.

Seriously.

I have never done this before, but I saw an ad that you get free delivery from Peapod (by Giant) for the first 60 days, and I figured, what the hell.

Every Saturday, Michael and I used to load Nick into the car and go to Giant. We have a pretty standard list of things to buy. All total, it takes us about two hours (including driving) to go to the store, shop, pay, load the car…why am I explaining this? You all know how to shop for groceries. So two hours, every Saturday.

TWO HOURS, people. I can write 2,000 words in two hours.

So I tried Peapod. After one experience, I was hooked. I know not everyone has Giant in their area, but most larger chains are offering grocery delivery, so check it out.

Aside from the time premium, we’ve discovered that we’re saving money. I load the virtual “cart” and place the order on Wednesday, scheduling delivery for Saturday morning. Since you can update the cart up until 6pm the night before delivery, as I notice things in the house, I can update the cart. (Oh! We’re out of detergent, better add that! Or, hey, we don’t need another box of macaroni and cheese, Nick is boycotting yellow foods this week.) So by Saturday morning, I get exactly what I need to get through the week.

Delivery here is $7.95 if you order more than $100. Personally, I haven’t spent less than $100 at the grocery store since 1995, so it’s not a hard target to hit. It’s free for the first sixty days, so there’s no risk in giving it a try. If you choose a wider time window, you get $2 off delivery.

Seriously, considering gas prices, you probably blow through $8 just driving to the store and back.

Last week was our first glitch, and it was the 4th week we’ve done this. We ordered plain Coffee-mate creamer, and they sent French Vanilla. I sent them an email, and they gave us the money back.

I do not work for Giant. I don’t care if you use this or not.

But we love it. It’s like getting a morning of writing back.

Give it a try.

Motherhood

When I was sixteen, my mother taught me to drive by taking me to the winding country roads of Westminster, Maryland, after an ice storm. She told me if I could drive on icy roads in January, I could drive anywhere.

I tell this story to people sometimes, and they ask if my mother was nuts.

No. She was right. I’m a confident driver pretty much anywhere, and I have no hesitation driving in snow. I know what’s possible in icy situations, and what’s not. I’m an assertive, defensive driver, and I have my mother to thank for that.

My mom is one of those people who will give you the shirt off her back. Really. I remember once, years and years ago, when she knew a friend of hers from the hospital (my mom is a nurse) didn’t have money to buy her kids Christmas presents. My mom gave her three hundred dollars.

And we weren’t rich.

(Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t poor. But it’s not like my parents were lining the litter box with ten dollar bills or anything.)

Once we walked out of our house, in a decent neighborhood, and a young girl walked out of a house two doors down and asked us if we knew the way to a nearby bus stop. This was in northern Baltimore County, in a good neighborhood. We were a long way from any bus stop, and this girl was, even to my naive young eyes, a prostitute. Totally out of place, and if she’d asked anyone else for help, they probably would have called the cops.

My mom drove her home.

When we were teenagers, my brother had a friend who was essentially homeless. I don’t remember what was going on with his parents or why he didn’t have anywhere to live, but my mother took him in, under her own roof, and treated him like her own son.

(He eventually stole money and ran off to live with someone else, but that didn’t stop my mother.)

Mom is the kind of mother who will stand back and let you make your own mistakes — but she’s always there with good advice if you need it. God only knows how she keeps her mouth shut when she sees me parent my son, but she does.  Sometimes she sounds too opinionated, but she’s not. She only gives her opinion once you’ve asked for it, and by god, she’s strong in her conviction. That’s a strength.

I tell my mother everything.

Some of my best memories revolve around being in the car with mom. We’d drive to Cleveland, Ohio every year to visit her mother, a solid six hour drive that should have been miserably boring, but we played loud music and joked and laughed and pointed out the landscape. We always stopped in Breezewood, PA, her favorite rest stop.

When I hit my twenties, I finally told her she didn’t need to make the moo sound when we passed cows.

When her mother started failing in health, my mom sold her house in Baltimore and moved to Cleveland to take care of her. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, but that’s the kind of thing my mother does.

While she was gone, I missed her terribly.

My grandmother passed away in 2006, not long before I got married. I flew to Cleveland to be with my mother. That summer, she moved back to Maryland, and found a house a mile down the road from me.

I love having her nearby.

Since becoming a mother myself, it’s amazing how much closer I’ve grown to mom. I suddenly have a greater appreciation for her strengths and sacrifices, for the amazing job she’s done in raising me.

She’s a wonderful person, and my best friend.

I’m so lucky to have her.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. I love you. Thanks for everything, always. 

Clique Clack Boo

So, yeah, I’m going to talk about the YA Mafia.

I don’t usually jump into the middle of these things, because I’m busy, I’m pregnant, and I’m generally late to the party and my hair’s a mess. And most of the time, I don’t have a lot to say that someone else has said better already.

First off, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll sum up. There’s a bunch of talk rolling around the blogosphere and Twitter that cover a few different things. First, that there are killer cliques of YA authors who band together to smite aspiring authors. There’s also some talk about book reviewers getting blacklisted by YA authors and agents for things they’ve posted on the internet.

Here are some links, if you want to read what other people have said (or just to get a feel for the story).

Holly Black: YA Mafia and the Ruination of Careers

Justine Larbalestier: YA Mafias & Other Things You Don’t Need to Worry About

YA Highway: Field Trip Friday Special Edition: The YA Mafia

Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier are great writers, and both those blogs are worth reading, for more than just the YA Mafia stuff. I also enjoy the YA Highway blog, so check it out, too, if you’ve got time.

Here’s some irony for you: when I first heard the term “YA Mafia,” I thought it was a new blog or something. Seriously, I thought, that sounds like a cool group name.

A lot of these posts and blogs talk about whether there is such a thing, whether there are YA cliques, whether powerful authors have the ability to blacklist authors, whether YA writers really do band together and talk smack about the little people. A lot of talk. Really.

Here’s my talk: who cares?

Ten years ago, I learned a fantastic piece of advice that has become my mantra. Sure, I learned it from a woman who was addicted to prescription painkillers who later accused me of sleeping with her husband in a stall in a horse barn, but don’t let that take away from the absolute power of her statement:

You can’t change others. You can only change yourself. 

Let me tell you, this is my go-to mantra. If I have a problem with people, I say it to myself. I might actually mutter it through clenched teeth while my fingernails are digging into my palms, but I say it. And it helps.

First off, I learned really early that there will always be cliques. Always. What can you do about it? Nothing. When you’re outside the clique (especially a clique you want to be in), it’s really easy to feel hurt and disgusted and imagine that the people in that group are all mean and hateful and devoting their time toward your personal ruination.

Guess what? They’re probably not.

You know what else? When people fail at something, a lot of times, we want to look for excuses. It’s a hell of a lot easier to say we were blacklisted by a big agent than to think, “Hey, maybe I should take a look at my writing.”

Or to think, “Hey, maybe I failed.”

Here’s the thing: you can’t stop YA writers (or anyone else) from making friends. Sure, I see authors sharing private cover art on Twitter, or talking sorta secretly about inside information, and I immediately get that little gut clench that says, “I wanna know! I wanna be in your circle!”

But then I realize that I have conversations on Twitter all the time with Sarah Maas, and people are probably thinking the same thing about us.

Actually, considering our last Twitter conversation involved Sarah taking my eyeballs and keeping them in a jar on her desk, people are likely thinking we’re disgusting.

ANYWAY. I digress.

There’s also some talk about a book blogger who was forced to take down her blog, because she’d heard that it was going to hurt her potential for finding an agent or selling a novel. I feel badly that she felt the need to do that, but she made the choice to do it. No one forced her to. She couldn’t change the way other people were treating her, so she changed her blog and stopped reviewing books.

Look, people, from a mother, here’s another mantra: Life is full of choices, and sometimes they’re hard.

Sometimes I want to blog about something that happened at work. I’m deathly terrified that I’ll lose my job, so I don’t. (Buy lots of copies of ELEMENTAL in 2012, and maybe I can quit my job. Then I’ll share all the stories you want.) Sometimes I want to blog about my family, but I don’t want to put my husband in a compromising position, so I don’t. (My mother, however, is fair game.)

Sometimes I read a book that sucks, and I don’t talk about it.

The only person who can make or break you is you.

Here’s a little story. I once saw this guy on the news, crying about the fact that he was losing his home and his business. The government was seizing everything he had, and he didn’t know how he was going to provide for his family. A family who was used to high-end cars, a personal maid and butler, a huge mansion of a house. The poor, persecuted man. The big, bad government was after him.

Because he didn’t pay his taxes.

I didn’t feel any pity for that guy. He didn’t pay his taxes! I mean, come on! You can’t complain about someone coming after you, if you do something wrong in the first place.

I hope I’m drawing a parallel here, but just in case: if you openly trash people online, and they turn around and refuse to support you (or even actively bash you in return), well, you can’t really point any fingers, can you? I’m not saying it’s mature, I’m just saying you can’t be surprised when it happens.

Remember: you can’t change others, you can only change yourself.

You can’t stop the YA Mafia (seriously, I love the name. I want to join.) if it even exists. You can’t stop cliques. You can’t stop people from being friends. As my husband likes to say, you make your own stress. If you don’t like seeing authors interact on Twitter, stop following them. No, even better, go make your own friends and talk to them.

I have a three-year-old son, and I’m constantly telling him, “Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Worry about what you are doing.” I used to teach riding lessons, and I would say it all the time to those teenagers, too. “But, Miss Brigid!” they would cry. “So-and-so is jumping three feet! Why can’t I jump three feet??” Then they’d make snarky remarks about the other girl. She’s nasty. She abuses her horse. Her parents buy her everything. She thinks she’s so much better than everyone.

Yeah, because being a bitch is going to get you to jump three feet.

Wrong. Riding better is going to get you to jump three feet.

When I sold my book to K Teen, I immediately went to see what other authors had been acquired by my editor for the same line. Did I look at their badass cover art and squish up my mouth and talk smack about them? Hell, no. I sent Erica O’Rourke an email and said, “We need to be friends.”

(And people, you need to put her book on your to-read list ASAP. It sounds insanely hot. One of the love interests is the main character’s bodyguard. I actually might need to break into Erica’s house and steal the page proofs.)

(Don’t tell her I said that. Just in case someone actually, you know, breaks into her house and steals page proofs.)

I know I’m dissolving into rambles. I just hate when people get fired up and get their feelings hurt online. Take a step back. Repeat that first mantra to yourself.

I can’t change others. I can only change myself.

It’s powerful. It helps.

Now go out there and make some friends of your own.

~

P.S. – I’m on twitter and Facebook. I’d love to be your friend. We can talk about extricating eyeballs all day.

So here’s how the book auction went down

I love a good story. So stick with me.

I had my son back in May of 2007. It was a brutal, terrifying delivery. When my due date was originally set for June 18, I remember telling everyone that I was disappointed I wouldn’t be delivering in the winter, because I’d love to be one of those women giving birth in a snowdrift or something, just because I love having a good story.

Well, I got one. 

Now, I also have a stepson, who’s a badass awesome 13-year-old, so I’ve been fairly content with the children in my life. After the drama of the first delivery, Mike and I weren’t sure we wanted to go through that again. I’ve had a history of other gynecological problems, and last September, I finally said to the doctor, “I’m done. Whatever you need to do to get rid of the pain, let’s do it.”

He said, “Here’s your option: a hysterectomy. You’re 33. Talk to your husband, make sure you want to do this.”

So Mike and I talked. We decided to give it one more shot. We weren’t really going to try to have another baby, but we weren’t exactly not trying either. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with the book, I wasn’t sure how we were going to deal with day care for another child (I mean, I already have a full time job and a toddler, in addition to the writing), but Mike astutely said, “Hon, it’s never the right time.”

So in December, I went off birth control, saw the doctor for one more checkup, and listened to him explain that it could take a year, that it might not happen, that my one remaining ovary might have already checked out or be choked by cysts. I was okay with all that. I’ve had a baby. This wasn’t a last shot deal for me. I saw that doctor on December 21.

While all this was going on, my book was on submission.

Now, if you’re querying a novel, you’re getting slapped with a lot of rejection, right? That’s pretty much the name of the game. If you’re realistic, you know that not everyone is going to love your book. And they don’t just have to love it, they have to think they can sell it. That’s key. KEY, people.

Let me just shatter any illusions right here: once you have an agent, the rejection doesn’t stop.

Now, I’m kind of a control freak. When you’re querying, if you get a rejection, you can say, “F it,” and send out another query.

If you have an agent and your novel is on submission, when you get a rejection, you can’t do anything.

I mean, you can go get a bottle of wine and cry, but that’s not something productive.

I had some early interest in my book: real, solid interest from real, solid publishers. But it was December, and you know what happens in December: everyone has something else to do. No matter what you celebrate, most people aren’t thinking about book deals, most people are thinking about cooking or buying or wrapping or sleeping. Not to mention, most of the publishing industry shuts down for the last two weeks of the year. Don’t whine about it, it’s a fact of life.

Everyone needs a break.

So late in January, I got a rejection that just hit me the wrong way. Usually I let those things roll right off my back, but that one just sent me into a tailspin. I was depressed. I went into the bathroom at work and cried. Then I cried all the way home.

Then I called my husband and said, “I’m going to stop at the liquor store and get a bottle of wine, and I’m going to drink the whole thing tonight.”

He laughed and said, “Go ahead.” (He laughed because I am SO not a drinker.)

But when I hit the turn signal for the liquor store, I thought to myself, “I should stop and get a pregnancy test first. Just in case.” I figured it was a day for disappointments, right? I mean, the doctor said it could take a year, and here we were three weeks after my appointment with him. But I wanted to be on the safe side.

So I picked up my son, went to CVS for a pregnancy test (and jelly beans, hello!), and went home.

Positive!

I owe that editor, whoever she is, a bottle of wine.

So I was thrilled! I have an active imagination. (Hi. I’m a writer.) I started having all these bizarre thoughts. “Maybe this is the universe’s plan for me. My book won’t sell because I’m destined to become a mommy.”

I love being a mother. I couldn’t have been happier. 

That was Thursday.

Sunday night, my son was up all night puking. The whole time, I’m thinking, “Why the HELL did I want to go through this again?”

Tuesday afternoon, right before an important conference call at work, I get a call from Tamar. She had an offer on my book.

I almost screamed in the middle of my office. Then she tells me there are two more houses who have expressed interest, so she’s going to call them to see if they want to make an offer.

[Side note: THIS, people, this is why you need an agent. (In addition to the other amazing things Tamar does.) I would have just said yes to the first offer.]

I. Was. Over. The. Moon.

Since this was late Tuesday, she said we probably wouldn’t have firm numbers until Thursday, so I knew I had a little bit of waiting ahead of me.

Tuesday night, after eating steak with my husband, I caught my son’s stomach virus. All night, I was puking.

And when you’re pregnant, you can’t take anything.

The only thing that perked me up was a phone call from Tamar, in the middle of the day, with a new offer, from a second house. (The third house pulled out.) Tamar said she was going to go back to the first house to see if they wanted to up their offer.

Keep in mind, while these calls are going on, I’m throwing up like every 30 minutes.

Tamar called back an hour later with an offer that almost knocked me off my chair. I actually asked her to repeat it. I thought I might be hallucinating.

Then I got another offer.

Thursday, the bidding continued.

This stretched over the weekend.

Finally, on Monday, final offers were in. (No, I’m not going to give you numbers. I’m not shy about that kind of thing, but there are a lot of people involved in this deal, and I’m not going to reveal information they might prefer be kept secret.)The offers were comparable, with different aspects to them.

I picked Kensington, because it felt like the right fit for me and my book. And when I spoke with the amazing Alicia Condon on the phone, I immediately knew it was the right choice. They’re an amazing house, and I’m so lucky to be working with them.

Since I got the positive pregnancy test and the book deal within the same week, it made for some interesting times. People kept saying, “Congratulations!”

I’d smile and say, “Thank you!” Then I’d pause and say, “Wait. For which?”

A book deal and a baby, all in the same month.

I should go play a lottery ticket.

~

That good ol’ Christmas spirit

There’s a funny video going around the interwebs right now, about a little boy reacting to his parents’ audacity to give him BOOKS for Christmas. “Those aren’t toys!” he screams. It’s kind of funny, and kind of sad.

I have a three year old, though, one who walked into the living room a few weeks ago, put his hands on his hips, and said, “Mommy. This kitchen is a mess. You better clean it up. Right. Now.”

So, yeah, I know you can’t control what comes out of their mouths.

Here’s the video, in case you haven’t seen it:

Commenting has been disabled from the video, probably because of ignorant people bashing the parents.

But you know what? I feel for them. Two years ago, when Nick was about 18 months old, we bought him Kota the Dinosaur. Do you remember seeing this thing? It’s huge, about three feet tall at the shoulder. It doesn’t walk, but he roars like a dinosaur, and he has sensors all over, so when you pet him, he preens, and you can feed him his leaves, and when you bounce on his back, he plays songs. Yes, it cost a frigging fortune. Michael and I were so excited that it was the first year we could get Nick something like that for Christmas. He’s a little boy! He loved the Jane Yolen How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You books! How could he not like Kota??

Well, here’s his reaction:

And still, two years later, he won’t approach that thing.

Anyone want a dinosaur for Christmas? Never used…

Here’s my tale of thanks…

I found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2006.

I was married, of course. Michael and I had tied the knot in May, and we knew we wanted to get pregnant right away. Actually, we’d been planning to wait until the following spring, but at dinner a few nights before the wedding, Mike said, “Let’s not wait until spring. Let’s just do it.”

So we just did it.

I’m not a hypochondriac, and I’m not one of these women who obsesses over everything she eats during her pregnancy. I just don’t have that kind of temperament. But by February, I started thinking there might be something wrong. I was having terrible headaches, and I couldn’t sleep. I went to my doctor, and he told me everything was fine, I just needed to relax.

At the end of February, Michael and I went to Orlando for a week with some friends. We saw the Daytona 500 (a miserable experience for me, since the weather was 40 degrees and windy, and I only had Capri pants and a sweatshirt) and went to Disney World. I’m a good traveler — I went around to all the rides and got express passes so the others could ride the big roller coasters. Then I would sit on warm benches and read books while they were riding the rides. We had a really nice time.

I was also working full time during that period, and because my team had changed firms, I was extremely busy, and under a tremendous amount of stress. I was pulling 60 hour weeks, and I’d come home and crash.

I still knew something was wrong with my pregnancy. I kept having headaches, and I kept going to the doctor, and he kept telling me I was fine. It was in my head. He said my mother, who is a nurse, was telling me things to make me nervous. My due date was placed at June 18, 2007.

My headaches got worse. I was so swollen, people at work were starting to comment on how bad I looked. I had a baby shower in mid-April, and no one could believe how swollen my feet and hands were. Speculations were made whether I’d need to cut my rings off.

When we left that baby shower, I asked my mom to drive us home, because my headaches were tremendous. She drove — straight to her house, where she went in to get her blood pressure cuff.

My blood pressure was 175/100, very, very high for a pregnant woman.

My mom and my husband rushed me to the ER. This was mid-April, so I was only about 32 weeks pregnant. At the ER, they diagnosed preeclampsia, and they decided they would induce labor, but they were calling my doctor to have him come in.

He did come in. He came in and yelled at me, ordered them to stop inducing labor, and sent me home. I’d been in the hospital all night, with numerous professionals telling me I had preeclampsia, and then he comes in and says it’s all in my head, and my mom was just making me nervous. He told me to come see him in the office the next day.

So I did. Mom went with me. We watched the girl take my blood pressure. The girl said, “Absolutely fine. 120 over 80.” As soon as the girl left, mom said, “She lied.”

I knew she’d lied, too. Growing up with a nurse for a mother, I also knew how to read the dial on a blood pressure cuff.

The doctor still insisted everything was fine. We smiled and nodded and went home. I started researching preeclampsia, and found an incredible support network on www.preeclampsia.org. With everyone there telling me my doctor might be nuts, I went with my gut instinct and called a high-risk OB in Annapolis and asked for an appointment. The girl said, “Well, for pregnancy, we’re scheduled out for 12 weeks.”

I said, “Well, I’m due in 7 weeks, here’s the situation, I really need a second opinion.”

She could have brushed me off. But she put me on hold, spoke to a doctor, and fit me in for an appointment the next day. I didn’t tell anyone I made this appointment.

That night, I went to dinner with my husband, and we talked about everything that was going on. My husband, who is a wonderful man, said, very gently, “Hon, do you think maybe everything is in your head?”

I said no, that I knew something was going on. I couldn’t keep anything from him, so I broke down and told him that I’d made an appointment with another doctor for the next day. I said I wasn’t going to give the doctor my history, that I was just going to have him look at hard data (blood pressure, urine, etc) and see what he thought.

When I went to the office, I found out that I’d been scheduled with one of the head OB’s in the practice, and he’d actually postponed leaving for vacation so he could fit me in. When I sat down with his nurse, she took my blood pressure. It was 180/105, and I’ll never forget her frowning and saying, “I think I need to get another cuff. This is reading really high.”

The other cuff got the same reading, of course.

They tested my urine, which immediately came up as 3+, which means there’s a lot of protein, one of the key indicators of preeclampsia. The doctor did an ultrasound, and said that the baby’s head measured as 34 weeks, right on target, but the body only measured as 30 weeks. He said that was also indicative of preeclampsia, because the body starts sending all the nutrients to form the baby’s brain, because the placenta is starting to fail.

The doctor said his opinion was to admit me immediately, run some more tests, and induce labor the next day.

It was a new hospital, a new doctor, and a new labor unit. But I agreed. What was I going to do, go back to the doctor who said it was all in my head?

I’ll never forget calling my husband from the hallway outside the doctor’s office, telling him they were admitting me. It took the admissions nurse six tries to start an IV because I was so swollen. I weighed 236 pounds at admission, and a huge percentage of that was fluid. After they induced labor and they wanted to start an epidural (which is a needle that goes beside your spine), the anesthesiologist said, “I have to warn you, because you’re so swollen, there’s a possibility the needle could cause paralysis.”

Because I was 6 weeks early, they wanted to try for a normal delivery, to force the fluid from the baby’s lungs. I agreed to the risk, because he said it was better than injecting me with Ketamine, because that could cause more difficulties for the baby. Unfortunately, once they induced labor, the fetal heartbeat started to plummet. Fetal distress, I think they called it. So they rushed me in for a C-Section. The epidural hadn’t had time to take effect. They injected Ketamine anyway, and they pulled the baby out.

Nicholas Parker Kemmerer was born at 12:14am, May 4, 2007.

I didn’t learn until later that his APGAR score at birth was a 1. I didn’t get to hold him. He was immediately rushed to the NICU, and I was stitched up and sent to recovery. I was told I couldn’t see my son until I calmed down and my blood pressure went down. So I held back on my tears and sent my husband to the NICU just about every five minutes.

I finally got to hold Nicholas that night, almost 24 hours after he’d been born. He weighed five pounds, and he had wires everywhere, including a feeding tube that went down his nose.

I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything strenuous, what with the 20 staples across my abdomen, but the NICU was on a separate floor from Labor & Delivery, so I made numerous trips up and down the stairs. I brought books to read, and I’d sit in the rocking chair next to his incubator and read. It was right before Mothers Day, so there were dozens of commercials on television, and every single one would make me sob.

They told me Nick might be in the NICU for six weeks.

He’s a strong kid. They released him after 8 days.

Nick is three-and-a-half now, and I love him to pieces.

But I owe my thanks to all the the people on those message boards, and all the doctors and nurses at Annapolis OB/GYN and Annapolis Medical Center, most especially, Dr. Fred Guckes, the amazing doctor who saw me and made the initial decision to admit me, and Dr. Pablo Argeles, the amazing physician who ultimately delivered Nicholas. Both these doctors saved Nick’s life and mine.

I will never forget them, and I owe them more thanks than I could ever express.

Thanks, guys. You are all amazing.

Sheltered

I had a pretty sheltered childhood.

You’ve probably figured that out by now if you’ve read some of my previous posts on internet dating or teen stupidity, but I’ve got some new followers, so maybe not. (Welcome, all!) When I was a kid, I was never allowed to watch the “cool” TV shows. All my friends were watching Beverly Hills 90210, and I wasn’t allowed. All my friends were listening to rock music and watching MTV, and I wasn’t allowed. All my friends…well, you get the point. I was a good kid. I didn’t even rebel! Those were the rules, and I followed them. But it came with a price.

I remember being in fifth grade, and some boy named Ryan asked me, “Do you know what a condom is?”

And I said, “Isn’t it kind of like an apartment building?”

Oh, yes, I was a riot.

I still am somewhat sheltered, though I try to hide it. I’ll read references to something on a blog or hear something in a TV show, and I’ll look up and say to my husband, “Hon, what does ___________ mean?”

Then he’ll pause the DVR, roll his eyes (always the eye roll), and say, “Why don’t you Google it?”

Har de har har.

Some of this is my mother’s fault. She’s an awesome mom, but she did spend seven years in a convent, so she’s pretty sheltered herself. I was repeating a story the other day with a funny punch line, something about a happy ending, and she totally didn’t get it.

You try defining “happy ending” to your 67-year-old mother.

Don’t Google it.

But sometimes I wonder if the sheltered upbringing was to my benefit. If I’d been more world-savvy then, would all the Internet dating stories even exist? Or did all those experiences combine to make me the people-savvy person I am now? (I’m a pretty good judge of character, and I can smell BS a mile away.)

I know it’s impossible to turn back the clock. But now that I’m a mother, I often find myself wondering how much exposure is too much, and how much is too little. Kids are frighteningly world-savvy nowadays. Is that to their benefit? Or to their detriment?

Perspective, redux

When Jonathan, my stepson, started middle school, my husband and I decided to throw a Halloween party. (Actually, I think I decided to do it after reading an article in Parents magazine. Like many events I plan, my husband just latches the safety belt and hangs on for the ride.)

I had all kinds of high hopes about this party. I made tons of food: kid friendly appetizers like popcorn chicken and mozzarella sticks, plus lots of candy, platters of cheese and crackers, cookies, brownies, the whole show. I think I was more excited than Jonathan was. I expected the parents would want to stay, so I got a few bottles of wine and a case of beer — not because we’re drinkers, but so we could offer them to other parents, with that whole hushed, “Would you like a glass of wine while the kids are quiet?” My husband even got into it, and we set up three rooms for the kids: one room had a strobe light, and we set up Rock Band on the television. The next room had the Wii set up on the big screen TV. We set up stereo speakers hooked up to my iPod, which had a trendy music selection (if I say so myself). No one wore costumes, because that’s just not cool in middle school.

So here’s what I expected: The parents would be charmed by my social skills, the kids would get along fantastically, and I could make all kinds of new friends.

What really happened? The parents couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I think there might still be tire tracks in the road. Apparently when your kids hit 12, you’re ready for a free night.

But I’m a good sport, and I threw myself into making sure the kids had a great time. They did. I caught two kids (a boy and a girl) sneaking out of the house because they needed to take an *ahem* walk, but that was easily stopped. At the end of the party, one little girl, all bright eyed, came up to me and said, “Thank you so much. Ohmigod. This was my first real party.”

Since the party was such a hit, we had another one last year, when Jonathan was starting seventh grade. I had more realistic expectations, so I went easy on the hot apps, but we were decked out and prepared to have a good time.

Except that Saturday, I woke up with a fever. A high one. 103. I choked down Advil like it was candy, and that let me get the house set up. I was ready to go. The kids would play video games and listen to music, and I could suffer in the corner of the kitchen and make sure no one snuck out or tried to kill each other. I could do it. I could survive.

The party was set to start at 6:30.

At 6:25, the power went out.

No, I’m not kidding. So I had a house full of screaming, hormone ridden 13 year olds, and we had no power. Think about that: we had no lights. No games. No music. No microwave to warm food. We had pizza scheduled for 7:30, but that was an hour away. We figured the power wouldn’t be out too long, so we started telling ghost stories. Mike went in the back yard and rapped on the side of the house and put a spooky Halloween decoration up against the windows. They played hide-and-seek in the dark. We broke out my toddler’s box of Play-Doh, and built clay creatures. I opened my laptop and played songs on iTunes and they sung along at the top of their lungs.

Through it all, I wanted to die. My fever was raging. I was pretty sure I had swine flu, too, so every 30 seconds, I was scrubbing my hands with Purell, sure I was infecting all these children.

The party was slated to end at 10pm. You want to know when the power came back on? 9:30.

This year, Jonathan is in eighth grade, and we just told him he could have another Halloween party. He’s extremely excited. This morning, while I was driving him to get his hair cut, he said, “I’m already getting texts from people asking if I’m going to have another Halloween party this year.”

I gave him a high five and said, “Yeah, Jonathan! You’re the awesome kid.”

He said, “Remember last year, when the power went out?”

I said, “How could I forget?”

He said, “That was like the best party ever.”

~

Momma’s Girl

When Nick was born, I remember reading in one of those baby instruction manuals that kids grow more quickly than we’re ready for, leading to mothers who tend to “baby” their children far longer than necessary. For instance, we might still hold the spoon when the baby is ready to hold it himself. Or we might be feeding jarred food when she’s ready for cut up chicken nuggets.

This isn’t all about fine motor skills, though. It’s hard for a parent to accept their “baby” is growing up — for good or for bad.

When I was sixteen, carrying a newly printed license, I had my own car. It was a sweet 1989 Honda Accord. With a sun roof! Air conditioning! Four wheels and an accelerator!

I was a good driver. Mom taught me. But being a good driver meant I got sent on errands. Once mom asked me to mail a bill for her while I was on my way somewhere.

I stuck that bill in the visor of the car, and forgot about it. Then, a few weeks later, I opened the sun roof on I-83, and the bill went flying out of the car.

I didn’t tell my mother until she asked me whatever happened to that bill, since she was getting late notices.

I was sixteen. I’m 32 now. She still brings up this incident. A few months ago, she had her hip replaced, and I was spending a lot of time taking care of her. She wrote out her bills, and I offered to take them in to work with me and mail them for her.

She said, “Are you sure? I don’t want you to lose them again.”

I work a full time job managing the practice of four financial advisors, along with having a federal and state license to sell securities. I have a son of my own. A husband. A house, with the accompanying mortgage. The days of blasting music and letting bills fly out the sun roof are gone.

But mom doesn’t forget. Sixteen years later, and I’ll never get over that one.

This past weekend, I was really sick. Down for the count. My husband got sick of listening to me whine*, and said, “Why don’t you have your mom take you to one of those urgent care centers.”

I personally think he didn’t want to have to take me to the ER later in the week, when my sickness finally caught up to me. Killjoy.

So mom took me to Righttime Medical Care, and while we were waiting for the doctor, mom said, “I’m going to go fill up the car with gas, and I’ll be right back. Are you going to be okay?”

Of course I was going to be okay. I’m an adult. I was just feeling crappy enough that I didn’t want to be driving myself all over town, and Mike had to stay home with our toddler.

While Mom was gone, the doctor came in and ordered a strep test. If you haven’t had one of these, it’s really a simple test. They take a big Q-tip and swab the back of your throat. When I was a child, I had strep throat all the time, so I had strep tests regularly. Because I was a child, I hated them. Mom had to hold me down, until one kind pediatrician taught me to pant like a puppy while he was doing it.

So Mom came back to the doctor’s office while the doctor was still writing notes. I said, “She did a strep test. We’re waiting for results.”

Mom looked at me and said in this hushed voice, “And…how did you do with the strep test?”

I could tell she was imagining six-year-old Brigid, crying and refusing to open her mouth. I could tell she was aghast that she’d left me alone during my moment of need. Despite the fact that my adult self was sitting in front of her, she couldn’t reconcile that with the fact that I’m not a little girl anymore. Not her little girl anymore.

She was probably imagining orderlies pinning me down while the doctor swabbed my throat.

I assure you that wasn’t the case.

But in mommy’s world? Totally happened.

* I should emphasize that Mike was a huge help while I was sick. He’s a great husband and an incredible father, and I’m lucky to have him.

Being “that mom”

There’s this Harlan Coban book, The Woods, that I picked up once in a doctor’s office. Here’s a quote from the first chapter, written from the point of view of a young, widowed father:

My wife died five years ago, and I raise my daughter alone. There are other single parents in town, mostly divorced mothers, but I get a ton of slack. If I forget to write a note or pick up my daughter late or leave her lunch on the counter, the other mothers or the staff in the school office chip in and help. They think my male helplessness is cute. When a single mother does any of those things, she is neglectful and on the receiving end of the superior moms’ scorn.

I read that chapter two years ago, and I’ve never forgotten that passage. I think what resonates with me is how absolutely true-to-form it is.

Yesterday morning, when I dropped off my son at camp, there was a loud note left in all the parents’ mailboxes. You know how the loud notes go. All the words are in caps: YOU MUST APPLY SUNBLOCK TO YOUR CHILD EVERY MORNING. IT IS VERY HOT OUTSIDE AND ALL CHILDREN MUST HAVE A FULL WATER BOTTLE.

I do that. Nick has sunblock applied every morning and a Toy Story thermos full of ice water.

I said to the teacher, “I got the note. Let me know if he needs a bigger thermos.”

Because I’m a good mom.

She said she would. Then she started to gossip about the other moms. The bad moms. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was 97 degrees out yesterday, and half these kids didn’t have a water bottle. It was bike day! And no water bottle! And I know they didn’t have sunscreen on.”

I smiled, pleased that I’d had the required items. Pleased that I was the good mom.

Last week, on our way out the front door to our house, Nick insisted on carrying his full lunch box down the front steps. We have a brick front porch, and five brick steps. There’s a railing, but he likes to reinforce that he’s a big boy — only mere mortals use railings. Nick holds nothing as he stomps up and down steps. I don’t know what happened. Maybe the lunch box was too heavy for him, maybe he was looking at a butterfly and singing his ABCs and he couldn’t coordinate that with maneuvering down the steps.

Regardless, he fell.

Hard.

It’s the first time he’s ever fallen down a flight of stairs, and of course there were five of them, and of course he fell from the top step. Of course he landed upside down, with his head on the concrete walkway and his legs going up the steps.

He’s a big boy. He got right up. Dusted off his knees.

Then he cried on my shoulder for a few minutes until he decided he was done and asked if we could sit in the car so he could eat his goldfish crackers.

When I dropped him off in the classroom, I explained to the teacher what had just happened. He seemed all right, but I asked her to call me if he wasn’t feeling well. I told her he fell down the steps because I let him carry his lunch box, and I was just out of reach so I couldn’t catch him.

She gave me a look. You know. The look. The look that said I’d failed as a mother, and she was bearing witness.

It’s a tough thing, being a mom. You have to be everything to everyone. Your child grunts and points at the counter and your husband doesn’t have a clue, but you don’t even have to be in the room to call out, “Hon! He wants the Cheez-its! No, the mozzarella ones!”

There’s no manual for this job. You just kind of do it on instinct. And you get really good at looking like you know what’s going on all the time. Your kid has blood gushing from his nose? In your head you’re freaking out, but in front of your kid, you’re saying, “Oh, sweetheart, it’s nothing. Here, mommy will kiss it and make it better. ‘Kay?”

But none of us mothers have a clue what the hell is really going on. We’re all completely insecure at our core. You know that mom who gets everything done right all the time? The one who brings beautiful cakes to the bake sale and stays up until 1am sewing costumes for her daughter’s ballet class, but also is the team mother for her son’s little league team, and manages to have a PhD and runs her own company and makes a six figure salary?

Yeah, she’s insecure, too.

And you know what happens when you’re insecure? You look for those weaker than you are. You look for those who are failing. It’s human nature. That’s why we look down on the “failing” mom. We’re so desperate to be the “good” mom. As long as we’re not doing what the bad mom does, we’re doing okay.

But that kind of sucks.

We should help the flailing moms. My sister-in-law was recently in the grocery store, and her daughter started falling out of the cart. My sister-in-law tried to catch her, which she did, but it was an awkward catch, and the cart was falling on its side while the poor kid was halfway tangled in it.

According to my sister-in-law, no one tried to help. Other moms were around. No one tried to help.

And that’s just wrong.

We all flail. We all have bad days. Yeah, we can take a second to feel good that it’s not us this time.

But then we should take another second to reach out and lend a hand.