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.

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.”

~

Wild and crazy

When I was in high school, I was best friends for a while with this girl named Chrissy. We were opposites in a lot of ways. Her parents were divorced, mine were not. She and her mom lived with her grandfather and didn’t have two nickels to rub together. (That might be a bit of an exaggeration since we both went to a private girls’ school, but I do recall the lack of money being a theme of conversation in that house.) I lived in a massive house on an acre of land and was given my own car when I was sixteen.

She was hot.

I was not.

She was into music and television and boys. She knew about makeup and hair and how to look gorgeous. I remember going to Ocean City with her one summer. I wore an old one piece bathing suit that I’d grabbed off the rack because it fit comfortably. I didn’t plan to meet boys — I planned to read a book on the beach. She wore a tiny bikini, daisy duke shorts, and a plaid button down shirt knotted under her breasts. I was with her when she bought those shorts on the boardwalk, and I’ll never forget her wearing them as we walked along the wood planks, and she kept asking me, “Are you sure these aren’t too short? Are you sure they look okay?” Over and over again.

A college guy walking a few feet in front of us turned around, gave her a pretty clear up-and-down, and then gave her a thumbs up. She giggled and blushed.

I was so jealous.

But we were best friends. I wasn’t really jealous of her. I was jealous of what I didn’t have.

That sounds ridiculous now, especially after you read that first paragraph. I had so much. But she had the looks, the body, the boys drooling after her. Not only didn’t I have it, I didn’t know how to get it.

When I was sixteen, my parents took in a foster kid. His name was Randy, and I don’t know his full story. I don’t even remember his last name. I do know he was a friend of my brothers, and a year younger than me. My parents took him in because he told them he was being abused in his first foster home or something like that. He was good looking, in that dangerous, devil-may-care kind of way. Hair a little too long, a piercing or two, eyes that had seen way too much.

Wait. Don’t get excited. I just realized where this sounds like it’s going. Nothing ever happened between Randy and me.

Though once he had a girl over, and they were supposedly playing video games in the basement. Dad sent me down to fetch them for dinner, so I went down there. All the lights were off, and they were under a blanket. You want some real proof of my teenage naivete? I just thought they were cold. I didn’t figure out what they were doing down there until years later.

My dad knew. Randy didn’t live with us long after that.

But once I had Chrissy over, and we were goofing off, getting dressed up in slutty clothes, doing makeup, going through my closet. Randy came up to talk to us. I know now he was probably hitting on Chrissy, but I don’t think that’s relevant to this story. Since Chrissy and I were all tarted up, we decided to play a joke on my brother. Randy was in on it. We told Patrick (my brother) that we were secretly going to downtown Baltimore to meet some guys who could get us into this dance club.

Really, we were going a mile down the road to McDonald’s.

Patrick believed us. Apparently we were a little too convincing, because my little brother got worried.

He told my mother.

Now, this was in the day before everyone over the age of ten had a cell phone. Mom couldn’t just ring us up and say, “Get your butts back to the house.”

For some reason, she didn’t have a car. My dad was out of town, and I think her car was in the shop. So when we left, she had no means of transportation.

Now, in retrospect, if my mom had been thinking clearly, she would have realized there was no possible way I could have been going to downtown Baltimore. I didn’t have the first clue how to get there. I can barely get past the Inner Harbor NOW, and I’m 32 years old. When I was sixteen? You might as well have said we were driving to New York City.

But my mom tends to worry about her one and only daughter, and she had a full blown panic attack. Randy swore he told her that we were only going the McDonald’s, and some part of her brain must have registered a thread of truth, because that’s where she found us. She got a neighbor to drive her.

I will never forget her walking into that McDonald’s, tears streaming down her face. She was sobbing so hard she was barely coherent.

God, I’m going to start crying now thinking about it.

It took hours of apologizing and explaining for her to forgive me.

As a parent, now, I understand her reaction. When I was a teenager, I thought she was a few degrees shy of crazy. Sometimes I wonder if it didn’t happen that way because I secretly wanted it to. If I was just playing a trick on my brother, why wouldn’t I incorporate my mom into the joke?

I heard a study on the radio the other day. It revealed that teenagers are still using tobacco products as much as they were ten years ago. When they interviewed teens, it was revealed that tobacco was viewed as a safe way to rebel.

You won’t go to jail for smoking. It doesn’t impair your judgment. It doesn’t immediately harm you. You can smoke and do just about anything else at the same time, without consequence. (I mean, you can’t flick your ashes into a gas can, but you know what I mean.) Cigarettes are relatively cheap and easy to come by.

It’s a vice, and it’s frowned upon. It’s a “safe” way to rebel.

Kind of like dressing in slutty clothes, ready to party in the city–then just going to McDonald’s to share a milkshake and a large order of fries.

~

Back to school

I haven’t gone to school in ages, but I still love fall. I love the promise in the air. Last year, I went to my stepson’s back-to-school night. I got so excited during his English teacher’s presentation that my husband yanked my hand down when I went to answer a question directed at the kids.

Yeah, that really happened.

When I look back, there are a lot of things I wish I knew when I was younger. So here’s a list. If you have any thoughts you’d like to add, please do so in comments, and I’ll do a new post to include all your suggestions.

1) Most girls don’t keep secrets.

We don’t. We’re selective with who we tell, but we don’t keep secrets. We tell our moms. Or our husbands. Or our sisters. We tell someone. Truth is too heavy to bear alone. We tell.

2) Most guys do.

3) Pizza cutters are badass.

Really. I use a pizza cutter to slice pancakes for Nick. Or to cut sandwiches in half. To slice quesadillas. Brownies in a pan. If you reach for a knife to cut something, there’s a good chance a pizza cutter will do it better.

4) If someone wants to go faster than you on the highway, let them.

It’s okay. Really.

5) Carry wipes.

Even if you don’t have kids.

6) Flirt.

With everyone. (Wait. Except people with conditions.) Flirting is all about acting interested in someone and doing something to elicit a smile. Even if you’re not looking for a relationship, flirting with people will get you miles ahead of anyone else. You should have seen the lightning quick service I got out of the surly deli worker at Wegman’s last week. I joked that people working alone should get paid double, since they’re doing the work of two people. That got a small smile. Then I smiled back and said I wanted to make my order as easy as possible, because I wasn’t one of those freaks who asks for perfectly round tomatoes or exactly six leaves of lettuce. That got a bigger smile, and an offer of extra cheese.

And that was a woman.

7) Don’t take flirting too far.

I used to know this guy I called “The Talking Puppy.” I flirted mercilessly, knowing he actually had intentions towards me. I had none towards him. But he worked two floors above me, and he had access to all kinds of free candy and sodas. If I didn’t have money for lunch, I’d ask if he wanted to join me, knowing he’d offer to buy. I was perfectly nice to him, and we always had a nice time. But really, I was being inordinately cruel by stringing him along. A little innocent flirting is fine. It makes people smile. Too much flirting strings people along and makes them bitter. Don’t do it.

8) Say please, thank you, and always wish someone a nice day.

Basically, don’t forget that other people matter.

9) You can never have too many nail files.

10) Don’t hold the door for a toddler, unless there’s a parent attached.

Fight the urge. Fight it.

11) Slow down and think.

No matter what you’re doing. A few extra seconds never killed anybody.

12) Don’t email while drunk, tired, or angry.

Probably best not to call either.

13) Never miss a chance to tell people you love them.

14) If you’re feeling jealous, stop wasting time resenting the other person.

What good is that going to do? Look at what you can do to make yourself better. One of my favorite gym instructors has a great saying: “Don’t wish it was easier. Wish you were better.”

15) Take care of yourself.

A bar of soap and a hairbrush work wonders.

16) Listen to your gut.

Right after I turned 18, I went to see a movie by myself. On the way home, I drove past the turn for my street, thinking I’d just go for a drive and listen to some music. (This was before gas cost more than $1 a gallon.) As soon as I missed the turnoff for my house, I had this terrible, nagging feeling that I needed to go home. I couldn’t shake it. I decided I’d go until that song was done and turn around.

I didn’t get the chance. My car was totaled at the next intersection. The firemen had to cut me out of the car.

17) Listen to your mom.

She’s right. You may not know it now, but she is.

18) Procrastinate wisely.

Learn where you can fake it — and learn where you can’t.

19) Don’t let one teacher’s poorly timed comment throw you off track.

I was a college freshman, on a free ride to University of Maryland. I had a double major of Math and Psychology. I loved Psych. I went to the professor’s office after the first week and said, “I love psychology, and I’d love to do as much as I can to get ahead in this field. Do you have any recommendations for extra work I could be doing?”

She said, “Yeah. You should be happy with what you get in my class, and stop wasting my time.”

I dropped her class. I dropped my major. Now I work in finance.

And I regret dropping psych at least once a week. (Sarah J. Maas has a great post about this.)

20) Always make sure someone knows where you are.

It doesn’t have to be your parents. (Hey, I was a kid once, too.) But someone.

Here are some great additions from the comments:

21) Never break two laws at once. (From Max)
“Teenagers are going to break laws, and I don’t believe ‘Just Say No’ works. But I stayed out of a lot of trouble in high school because of this wisdom from my dad.”

Thanks, Max! I love that!

22) My mother always said to never date a guy who was prettier than me. (From Lisa B)
I thought it was stupid at the time but both times I fell for the pretty boy I ended up with a broken heart.

That’s absolutely true! (And that kind of goes along with #17: Listen to your mom!!) Thanks for sharing!

23) As for advice, I like that old song, “The Gambler.” (from A Paperback Writer)
Seriously, that line about “you never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table” is a winner. You also should never count your money in the open when leaving a bank or an ATM. And you should never brag in school about how much money you’ve got with you.
One I like to tell kids is “If you go looking for trouble, you’ll probably find it.”

Very good advice.

24) Also don’t drive fast when it’s raining (duh I know but they do) (From Nicole MacDonald)
You are sheltered and safe in your car and in the event you do get wet, trust me – you won’t melt.

Good call!

25) I wish men wouldn’t assume that cause I’m smiling I want to do the dirty – it AIN’T HAPPENING!! (Also from Nicole)

I hear you there, sister!

26) Offer your seat on the metro to someone else who may need it more than you. (From Kathy Fusto)
Pregnant, older, sick or just flippin tired. Don’t ask, just get up and tell that person there is a seat available. As long as you are not handicapped and can stand, remember there are so many people who definitely need to sit down for a few stops.

Absolutely!!

Okay, I know there are more out there. Whattaya got?

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.

Just ask.

I stopped at the pediatrician’s office on Thursday to pick up some routine medical forms for Nicholas. While I was waiting for the highly efficient receptionist to find the forms that were right in front of her face (I’m hoping the sarcasm is coming through), a middle aged mother with her ten year old daughter were on their way out from their appointment.

The daughter looked up to the harried-looking mother and said, “Mom, since I’m not really sick, can Melissa and Jasmine spend the night?”

The mother did that my-day-has-been-so-long-and-your-question-just-made-it-longer sigh that we all know, and said, “No. She cannot spend the night. We’ve had a very long day.” Then she paused, that mom pause that means a lesson is coming. “You know better than to ask tonight. Did you know the answer was going to be no?”

“Yes,” the daughter sheepishly replied.

“Well,” said the mother, “if you think the answer is going to be no, it’s probably better not to ask at all.”

Do you hear the movie sound track of screeching tires? Because I did.

Now, I know that mother was at the end of her rope. Hell, I’m pretty much there myself, right now. I know she didn’t mean it quite the way it sounded.

But is that really what we want to teach our kids? Don’t ask me for something if you don’t think you’ll get it?

Kids have to ask. Kids have to learn to ask. I did a post a while back about fear, and I meant every word. Teaching our children to be afraid of the word no — to avoid pursuing what they want — means kids will constantly doubt themselves. They will never persevere.

They will never face rejection, sure. But they’ll never face victory either.

Because they will never try.

There are plenty of things we should be teaching our children. Things that seem to be falling by the wayside. Like teaching girls to never, ever berate their husband or boyfriend in public. Like teaching boys to hold a door and offer to carry bags. Like teaching young women to respect themselves enough to say no, and teaching young men to defend themselves with more than just physical aggression.

There are plenty of things that need to be taught.

But teaching fear of the word no? That comes pretty instinctively.

Better to teach how to push through it.

Call to Arms

When Mike and I were dating, I would send him lengthy emails filled with nonsense I hardly remember. He hardly does either, because I just said, “Hey, hon, do you remember those long emails I used to write you when we first started dating?”

He gave me this odd look and said, “You mean, like the ones you send me now when you’re mad at me?”

Ahem.

What I do remember was that my subject line would never have anything to do with the body of the email — on the surface. But there was always another layer. I do specifically remember Mike telling me he loved trying to figure out the connection.

I was much more crafty in my twenties.

I read an agent blog once where the agent said she would be loathe to sign a teenaged writer. She said that your first book is generally what you’re judged by: for future sales, for reviews, for pretty much everything. It does seem this would be the case. If your first novel never rises above midlist, it’s unlikely you’re going to hit the New York Times Bestseller list with your next one. If your first novel tanks, it’s unlikely you’re going to have a next one.

But the agent’s point was that teenagers rarely have enough maturity to pull off a compelling novel. Sure, you’ll see teenage writers make it. Look at Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Her first book was published when she was 14. It was also written for the 12-14 age set, and her literary agent happened to also be her high school teacher. The book is decent, but the romance, the “adult” decisions in the narrative make the book read like it was written by a kid. She’s a good writer — I have several of her books on my bookcase, and I do enjoy them — but even though she’s in her 20’s now, I’ll always see her as a “kid” writer. It’s going to take something truly stellar to break that mold.

I wrote my first novel in high school. I even landed an agent with it, almost without trying. Now, of course, I realize what a significant thing that was. I wish I could go back to that 18 year old Brigid and take her by the shoulders and shake her fiercely and say, “Do not fuck this up.” But I did. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t start writing something new with substance. I didn’t look at writing as a potential career. I let the rejection letters roll in while I kept riding horses and starting nonsensical urban fantasy novels that no one would ever see. My relationship with that agent finally died when I was 19, because he was retiring.

During the last trimester of my pregnancy, I couldn’t write a word. I told Mike it felt like all my creativity was being used up. It probably had more to do with the fact that I couldn’t put the laptop in my lap without surfing sites about what my baby looked like at 30 weeks, or checking to see what people had bought on my baby registry, but I was convinced that all my creativity was heading right to my belly. (Nickel, I hope you’re grateful.)

The vampire novel I was writing during that pregnancy eventually got put on a shelf. It was crap.

Because being a parent changes you. You stop trying to be what other people want you to be, and start being what your child needs you to be. That affects you in all aspects of life. Work, your relationship with your spouse. How could it not bleed into my writing?

I stopped worrying so much about what other people would think. I stopped playing it safe in my scenes. In the vampire novel, I remember stressing so much over whether I could use the F word. Now, Jack says it on just about every other page. I finally realized that I just had to write what I wanted to write, and to hell with everyone else’s opinions. Putting your heart on the page means just that: hold nothing back.

Some teenagers can pull that off. I sure couldn’t.

Thank god I messed it up the first time around.