Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friendships Among Women Writers. Why are they so hard?

One of the things I rarely talk about with writer friends is ... writing. We'll veer close to it sometimes. One will congratulate the other if something big happened recently -- a nomination, a prize. If a tour just wound down, we'll ask about survival. A two-three word answer will suffice here. We might -- occasionally -- mention an editor or agent issue.

But we almost never (ever) talk about our relationship with the page -- in good times or in bad, that intensely personal, life-long, often consuming relationship with language, story, our obsessions... and our disappointments, failures, longings, ambitions. (Our ambitions? Never our ambitions.)

Of course, these are only my impressions, but, to be honest, I've talked to a lot of other writers about the difficulties of having writer friends. In particular, I've found one of the main things that comes up is the ADDED strain on friendships between women writers.

This might sound contradictory. I must have women writer friends if I'm talking to them about the difficulty of having women writer friends. Well, I do have some women-writer friends.

First of all, some of my old friendships with women writers -- those relationships that wind back to grad school or the early years -- are solid. We loved each other before we'd accomplished anything and that love was pure. You lose some of the candor in those relationships sometimes -- as years roll on and careers take their turns. But, overall, there's a deep down commitment there, a sisterhood forged in youth. (Hold onto these with all your might!)

And then, second of all, I've found some women writer friends along the way. Generous souls. We've met at a conference here or there. We've asked for a blurb here or there. We've circled back -- because of some feeling of trust that's developed -- and asked for advice. There are some really honest and wonderful, smart and funny, self-deprecating, open-hearted women writers out there. We go all-out for each other. (Fight to keep these friendships thriving.)

Now, wait a minute, you might be saying ... are the men writer friends really that much better?

No. This is all a gross over-arching generalization!

Here's the thing. I've found that it's easier to be professional writerly friends with people as different from me as possible. The more I think a potential writer friend and I seem to have in common -- same gender, same genre, same age... -- the harder it might be to forge that friendship. But if it's a male writer, from a different genre, who's a different age ... the easier things are. There's less outright competition. (One of my most lasting writerly friendships is with a male poet -- forged in early career days and then kept going by strange coincidence... )

So it might be equally hard for male writers to maintain friendships with male writer friends. I can't speak to that.

I can say that the most unprofessional and deeply personal attacks I've had to rebound from were from women -- not men. Now, I'm not letting men off the hook. They still hold most of the reigns, world-wide, and, well, let's not start to tally crimes against humanity.... All the more reason that it seems logical that women would stand together.

But I do know that I've discussed the issues of things like women mentoring other women with those in other fields. And those women have noticed a similar lack of support among women. Some women are taking the lead, getting women together and talking about the issues -- in some cases, calling attention to the problem alone is a great start. This is one reason that I was so thrilled that VIDA -- a group for women writers, poets ... -- came into existence. There is real potential there. Another great resource to help women essayists and op-ed writers: http://www.theopedproject.org/.

So, back to writers. Maybe we're just difficult to be friends with in general. Or maybe this is a Baggott thing -- an old friend recently described me as being "edgy," but she clarified, "as in having edges." I actually liked this description because it felt honest and I'm aware of my edges...

Writers are pains in the ass. We're quick with our tongues, sharply observant critics of the human condition, and yet usually also deeply sensitive.

I write about the irony of the writer's nature here. Things like:

"To show the real world – in its honest beautiful grotesquerie — you’ve got to be vulnerable, sensitive. To take the criticism and rejection that you need to endure to get better, you have to be tough, hardened."

and

"It helps if you wallow and brood – the more you can wring out of an experience the better – but professionally, it’s better to be resilient, to bounce."

and

"It helps if you’re fascinated by your fellow human beings and equally helpful if you crave solitude."


Is it a delight to be friends with someone who's vulnerable and toughened, who wallows and broods, who craves solitude? Maybe not.

Put two of them together and, well, that friendship might be a genuine rarity. What I've found is that when these friendships appear and go deep, there is something truly worth cherishing.





Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You're Showing Your Age If ...


Okay. I was a teenager in the 80s to early 90s era. And I've figured out that certain things are tip-offs that I'm showing my age.

Here's the abridged list.

1. You confess you used to sign off your letters to your first boyfriend "I'll stop the world and melt with you..."

2. You reference Civil Defense Drills in school instead of being on Lock Down for a School Shooter.

3. When playing a video game, you get yelled at for constantly saying, "Which one am I?"

4. You still kind of believe that love is best expressed by a mixed tape.

5. You want to tell people in low-rise flare-legged jeans that they look like Fred from Scoobie Doo.

6. You're kind of happy that one of your pregnancies coincided with the rise (and, later, tragic fall) of overalls.

7. Your kids beg you not to use the phrase "all up in my grill" because it's "so wrong."

8. You can't quite feel honest with yourself if you deny the fact that John Hughes films had a great impact on your development of self.

9. You remember a world before the word "geek" had been reframed to mean cool.

10. You consistently say Steve McQueen when you mean Alexander McQueen.

11. You're secretly kind of cocky because you're on fewer daily meds than a lot of your friends.

12. You tell your kids about Blythe Danner whenever Gweneth is on screen; Goldie Hawn whenever Kate Hudson is on screen; Rosemary Cloony when George Cloony is on screen; and are more likely to mention Eric Roberts than Emma when Julia is on screen.

13. You confuse PS2 and P90X.

14. You mention that once upon a time the fact that Sally (from When Harry Met Sally) usually drank bottled water was a sign of her hyper-neurotic nature.

15. You mention that you grew up pre-Purell, raised by an OCD germaphobe prototype and now that everyone is an OCD germaphobe (and the Purell flows as freely as post-prohibition gin) you feel like you've been robbed of something.

16. You're kind of proud that you were raised before BABY ON BOARD stickers, back when no one gave a shit.

17. You hear the song Le Freak and feel a deep desire to reverse roller skate.

18. You say things like, "Back in the old days, being a celebrity meant you'd accomplished something!"

19. You reference Jason Bateman's "early work" in The Hogan Family series.

20. Your best stories now rely on the parenthetical (This was back before cell phones.)

(And, most of all, you make lists like this.)

Calling the Family Meeting.


I call family meetings. I never thought I'd be the type, but I am. And, worse, the family meetings are sometimes intense and include assignments -- watching something, reading something, to be discussed at the next family meeting as well as follow up assignments about goals or solutions to problems... They're intense and honest and we lay our stuff out there.

(Right now, you might think: why the Will Smith picture? I'll get to it.... Have a little patience.)

I didn't grow up with family meetings probably because we had family dinners. Look, I got an incredible education at my dinner table growing up. My father was a lawyer and loved to argue. He'd argue a point and if he changed your mind, he'd switch and argue the other side. My mother's OCD kicks in around food and she sometimes threw things. My grandparents laid bets on which kid would first spill their milk and/or storm off first. We were arguers and stormers, but we covered some intense ground -- a lot of current politics, pop culture, familial history.

Every once in a while my father would say, "How about we only speak French tonight?" And this was kind of golden because my father refused to believe that none of us really spoke French much beyond pass the butter so it was quiet.

I believe (for better or worse) in the family dinner. We just can't seem to pull it off -- with soccer and art ... But sometimes I need all six of us in one place to talk it out, whatever it is. So I call a family meeting.

Mainly the meetings are about some transition coming up that we all have to be ready -- like a touring season for me or to mark a lot of personal changes for the kids. We like to look back on a school year or take time to gear up for one. Summer's sprawling out before us, how do we get some goals so it's not squandered? We sometimes call family meetings specifically for big world events -- ones that have rocked us.

We talk about our lousy attitudes. We talk about money. We talk about everyone helping out. We talk about how we're all working hard, about accomplishments, about new challenges. We talk about how to take in the long view. We tell stories about things we've learned (that we wish we'd learned earlier). We talk about the future.

This past week, I sent everyone (even the French kid living with us) a link to a video of clips from different Will Smith interviews over the years. I told everyone to watch it. A few days later, we had a family meeting. Dave and I always huddle first, get a list of what we want to talk about, more or less, and then we wing it.

I found the link at a new site called GLAD LAB: LIFE IS SHORT. DO WHAT MATTERS. Here's the Will Smith link. They all got different things out of it. Good stuff.

One of the things we hit was Will Smith talking about building a wall one brick at a time. I like the idea of building a house, metaphorically, more than a wall. So the kids take-away assignment was that I wanted each of them to tell us -- in the coming days -- what their house is for this year and how they intend to build it one brick at a time. We told them that we can support them, but they've got to tell us what that house is first.

(We've also recently started talking about what the kids want in a lifelong partner. This brings me to Family Quizzes, which we do on long car rides and the stranded waiting parts of family trips... I can get to that. It was a friend of ours who told us that they talked a lot about future relationships with their kids... It's good.)

Do the kids love family meetings? No. But they don't hate them either. The meetings are messy and there are always distractions, antsiness, and sometimes they get heated. But, all in all, I need them as a parent. I need to have that focus. I need to express what I see going on that's not working and what I think we could do -- if we could start to imagine it ...


Saturday, August 27, 2011

An Apology from California & Florida to the Northeast

Dear Northeast,

We realize that there has been a major breech of contract here, and we feel really awful about it. First of all, as you know, many of us left the northeast for sunnier climates, and we knew the deal -- we accept the possibilities of hurricanes in Florida and earthquakes in California as a trade off for not having to scrape our windows with the edges of coffee mugs because we can't find our ice scraper, for not having to bundle our offspring in puffy paralyzing outerwear, for not having to have a close relationship with fleece.

But, um, this month there seems to be some kind of regrettable clerical error, a bureaucratic snafu -- and one that makes us very, very nervous. At first glance it might seem like we're getting away with something. I mean, is it likely we'll get snow this winter? No. But to know weather is to know it's unpredictable nature. I'm pretty sure we'll get our comeuppance. In fact, here on Gulf Coast of Florida, we can feel it in the thick hot sunny air -- a cicada-screaming doom.

And so, brothers and sisters, hang in there with your battery-operated flashlights and bathtubs filled with water and your cash.

We're thinking of you.

Sincerely,

California and Florida

Friday, August 26, 2011

How do you know when you're finished with a novel, a poem, a book...

Yesterday, Matt Bell posted a Facebook comment about finishing the new round of edits on his novel -- a process that took two years of daily work. He ended with "Already wondering what I'm going to write tomorrow."

I get the question, "When do you know it's finished?" For one thing, I don't hand anything over (to a reader or a friend or an agent/editor) until A. I'm lost. I don't know how to make my next move. or B. The deadline shows up and I'm at an ending -- not the ending, mind you.

But there's also this shifting of attention. I saw it in Bell's post. He wedged in the final brick, saw something out of the corner of his eye, and turned his head toward it.

So, here's a poem that answers the question. (The poem appears in my collection Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees and is originally dedicated to poet Rodney Jones -- a great poet to read as both an aspiring poet and fiction writer. Today, I'm dedicating it to Matt Bell.)




Q and A: When do you know a poem is done?

I have said that each shirtless boy pumping a bike could be a lover,

that a new baby needs attending. There is no

finish; only

a shift of attention.

Like this: I determine that it’s spring.

An observation not of bright crocus beaks breaking ground from below or rain,

but some clockwork,

my whole body suddenly tightening with blood.

Sometimes, yes, forewarned by slow warming,

but usually it’s as if winter were an old house in a field

torn down while I slept

and I’m not sad that it’s gone,

but overwhelmed

by how much sky it had been holding back.



(For those of you who might reside in Newark, Delaware, this poem was specifically inspired by the massive old lonesome house that sat empty forever on Barksdale Road until, one day, it was gone.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Q and A: Do you simultaneously submit?

(a poem reposted for a Facebook friend -- it originally appeared in my collection Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees)

Q and A: Do you simultaneously submit?

My grandfather sold Electroluxes in Morgantown

door-to-door under the constant rain of ash.

A laboring mountain town, it was a joke

to think of keeping it clean.

Roadside wild flowers pinched coal.

Soot snuck in to gray the sugar bowl,

to dust baseboards, wash tubs, porch gliders,

the bird’s newspaper-lined cage, the bird, its clawed feet.

His boss had a pork-pink face, jowls.

He drove the men around town in a converted hearse,

dropping them at street corners. Glowering,

he’d say, “No tea cakes. Cover your beat.”

Now I am the boss in the long black car and, too,

my grandfather at the top of High Street, dusk;

he’ll disappear one night, drunk, die in a hospital

in upstate New York, his head wrapped like a swami,

but for now he’s sober. He says, “No tea cakes.

Cover your beat, Baggott. Keep at it.”

A family to feed, who would knock once and

sit on the stoop through the bitter winter?

In a warm parlor, he’ll prove the vacuum’s power

by sucking up a metal ball which locks to the tube’s mouth.

I admit I have no tricks only the hearse and the heavy case,

a slouch and shuffle, a valley of lit windows.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Decision -Making, Food, Willpower & Writing.


The New York Times Magazine ran a piece on decision making this weekend, "To Choose is to Lose". The idea is that, after a battle of willpower or a series of decision-making, we suffer ego depletion (phrase coined by Florida State's own Roy Baumeister).

Early on, the author, John Tierney, says that the term was a shout to Freud -- as if Freud needs more shout-outs. (He also says parenthetically -- so I'll respond parenthetically -- that Freud was all wrong about artists "sublimating" sexual energy into their work, and he quips "which would imply that adultery should be especially rare at artists' colonies." Tierney is being funny. Ha ha. But, I don't know, I think Freud might be right, and that's why instead of saying to Dave, "I'm going to go work for a couple hours. Does that work?" I'm going to start to say, "I'm off to sublimate!" And I'll grab a donut and a cigar and head off to the office!)

I digress.

There are a few important things that I learned from the article that might apply to writerly types -- as well as more generally.

First of all, it explains why people on a diet have trouble dieting. Exercising willpower wears down your willpower. And one thing that helps boost us -- fill up our depleted ego tanks -- is ... get this ... glucose. Basically, it requires willpower not to eat, but it requires food to have willpower.

The article doesn't speculate specifically about my bar of dark chocolate kept on my writing desk and how I nibble at it throughout the day ... or, well, not blatantly. But, basically, I've decided that it's the smartest thing I can do as a writer -- this chocolate bar. I pop off a square and boost my saggy, flailing ego. I'm less likely to surf the web, check my Facebook, and eat an entire tray of donuts, and more likely to have the willpower to keep at the writing.

The article doesn't say it but I think it would come out as pro-grazers.

The article also talks about the importance of time of day. Basically, you don't want to go up in front of a judge after they've made a row of decisions and when they haven't eaten. And the grad students who bring bagels and coffee to a defense, brilliant. Personally, I'm scheduling any future surgery in the morning.

I've been saying this about writing in a different way. Pay yourself first. It was advice my aunt used to give her high school students. She was talking about saving money, for the most part. But I've applied it to writing. Figure out when you're at your best and only use your freshest brain cells on your work. Basically, let your saggy ego-depleted brain cells attend to your other daily grind issues

(I don't want to sound too light here. The ramifications of the research could be profound -- the judicial system, poverty, medicine, business, high-pressured jobs, education ... Hopefully, it will be put to good use.)

Now go sublimate something.





Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Advice Given to a Brilliant Writer who Isn't Writing.


This is advice that I gave to someone I knew long ago (though never all that well, but we're in touch now) who's a brilliant writer who isn't writing. She confessed she wasn't writing because she no longer knew how to say things and that, even if she did, the audience would misinterpret it ...

She wasn't asking for advice. But this is what I said -- more or less:

my suggestion -- on the writing front -- to take or toss -- is not to try to think of readers -- only one reader. and that reader might be a younger version of yourself -- and only whisper what you have to say into that one ear. i would allow for incomplete and pieces (to be assembled later -- or not) ... there's beauty in pieces and in ellipses. you've said you don't know HOW to say anything but you haven't said that you don't have anything to say. i would simply use words. or let them use you. and not think about shape -- not think about the bottle you might one day shove the handmade boat into -- a messed up sweet wild boat, maybe even just the splinters of a boat.
Maybe that will be of use to others...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Advice I Gave this Week to a Young Writer

I ask people for advice and people sometimes ask me for advice. This week, a former student and now a good friend -- who's a fantastic writer and now trying to make it in 9 to 5 America -- writes me a pretty desperate message from his day job. He's having trouble making it through. I thought I'd post here what I wrote to him. It's not pretty advice and it might not be good advice. But it's what I thought might get him through the day and maybe someone else will get something out of it:

listen.
dave and i have been through some shit together -- hard hard work. scraping by. having kids. succeeding and failing and failing and succeeding. and we've always been able to gut things out if we have short term and long term goals. in fact, you put everything negative out of your mind and you do what's in front of you because you have to -- to get to that long-term goal. i can be extremely specific here.
you can do this. just keep gutting it out. for now. you're going to do great things. i know this. i really and truly do.
don't worry.
call me later if you want.
think: i'm here b/c i want the paycheck b/c the paycheck allows me to get X Y Z and meanwhile i write -- i was always a prisoner with a spoon. digging my tunnel (writing) when no one was paying attention -- and late at night, making time from nothing.
these people around you are characters. you aren't going to have access to them forever. this is short term -- in the long view -- it's part of your story. it will inform your work. these people are material. if you aren't taking notes on this shit, you should be.
write down their language their gestures... work this. and think of your goals. you can gut this out.

if all else fails, be glad you're not in vietnam, during the war. that helps me sometimes. "i'm not in nam. i'm not in nam. i'm not in nam."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seeking counsel -- our greatest obstacles as human beings, as writers...

My real college counselor -- not the mustard crusted cardigan sweater guy who told me to minor in computers so I could one day get a real job -- was a security guard named Ricardo. He was in charge of safety and walked patrols. He was maybe forty, African-American, tall, lean, often tired, working the night shift, and he confessed to me, later, when we'd gotten to know each other, that when he wasn't working, he wrote his own music, played the piano.

I got to know him because he'd sometimes make sure I made it from (I almost wrote the library but my time there was limited, to be honest; my only vivid memory being a clandestine meeting to sort out some messy relationship; I became addicted to libraries post-college so I'll say) one part of campus to the other. We talked about stuff -- what we wanted out of life, the future, childhood ... Our conversations roamed and scattered. They were broad. Philosophical. Ricardo gave me advice on my future as a writer, as well as my relationships. He told me the greatest obstacle to love was pride -- he wasn't afraid to make proclamations and I was in a place in my life when I wanted to hear proclamations and turn them around and around in my head.

During my last semester, I was heaping on my classes to graduate early. I was in love with a Frenchman doing his mandatory military service in Antarctica and I wanted to be finished when he was free. Plus it was cheaper. And, moreover, I was restless to get going -- though the Frenchman and I didn't work out and I ended up teaching at a Catholic school come spring and pined for college where all my friends were blowing off their last semester in high color.

I ran into Ricardo in those final months while working late in one of the buildings. I told him that I'd be gone soon, and I said that I wished I'd heard him play the piano just once before I took off.

Well, he was a security guard so it wasn't a problem to unlock one of the classrooms that had a piano in it. He knew this classroom well and, I imagined, had spent some of his work hours playing it. I didn't expect much. My mother was a classically trained pianist. Ricardo was a campus security guard. I was being class-ist, was overly invested in the idea of formal education at the time.

He sat down and played me the songs he'd written -- melancholy, sad and sweet, nostalgic songs that, I'm pretty sure I'd recognize today if I heard one. They were good, as good as many of the melancholy songs that have snagged and stirred the music industry ... They choked me up. Granted, the whole thing choked me up. I was leaving school. I was heading out. I'd likely never see Ricardo or any of these friends and teachers again. It was a blurry, choked up time.

I did keep in touch with Ricardo for a while. I remember calling him when I got into grad school. He was happy for me and sure about me and my future in a way I couldn't muster. He was still writing songs though, as I recall, reluctant to perform (as my mother had always been); and there's something here about the greatest obstacle to performance (that exposure) being pride... maybe. Who am I to say?

In any case, we live with blinders on. We miss people who have things to teach us. I know I do. I know I'm so rushed and overwhelmed that I don't take the time to talk to people who might change me in some elemental way, for the better. And I don't mean those assigned to my case -- in whatever way that can now be perceived. I mean the people you pass by. In fact, I think one of our greatest stupidities and, in some cases, sins is our ability as human beings to keep passing each other by.

And it's particularly stupid of writers who need as many angles on our humanity as possible.

Okay then, that's all I've got to say ... go forth.




Monday, August 15, 2011

My lost year and the Thyroid-Problem Epidemic

Have I lost it? Actually, it might be your thyroid talking.
(This is kind of part Public Service Announcement)

This weekend, I met a friend (a fellow writer) for coffee. We hadn't seen each other in a long while. She told me that she was feeling so much better but had lost about six months of last year -- depressed, exhausted, not writing... I stopped her. I said,

"Can I ask if you found out that this was thyroid-related?" It was the way she was describing her symptoms that tipped me off.

She said, "Yes! It was." I wish I'd seen her and talked to her earlier. I could have helped, maybe saved her a few months of misery.

I told her that about ten years ago, I lost over a year to being undiagnosed. I told my doctor how bad I felt -- I was exhausted, queasy, my hair was falling out, my arms were tired ... He checked my blood work -- including thyroid, which I was hawking because my sister has had thyroid problems since after the birth of her first child, long ago. One thing was that I was small still and thyroid issues often affect people's weight -- sudden gains and losses.

My numbers were within normal range. The doctor told me I was working too hard. It was stress. I was the sole breadwinner and along with the three kids (one of which was a baby), it was too much for me. Slow down. Rest.

So, I went to a therapist's office every week -- because obviously I had a mental issue. I suddenly couldn't handle my life -- which was a life I'd handmade and loved. I cried each week. My friend told me that she, too, had been in therapy, and one nurse had suggested Prozac.

Now, some of you might remember this therapist from my New York Times Modern Love piece -- the therapist who wrote me a love poem. So, uh, this therapist wasn't perfect and he admitted that I had plenty of issues that I could discuss with him for a very long time, but he also told me that there was something physically wrong with me. I needed to see another doctor. He put me in touch with a wonderful holistic doctor.

This doctor asked me other kinds of questions -- for one thing, if I was cold, if I was sweating a lot or not at all, about my periods... I had weird answer to all these questions. He redid the tests, which still weren't showing a crazy thyroid problem, but a new piece in, again, The New York Times had reported doctors weren't looking at the numbers with as much hard and fast scrutiny but in concert with the patient's symptoms. He suggested we try a low dose of some organic meds and see.

In six weeks, I had my life back. It was amazing. I was myself again.

I now take synthroid and still watch my numbers and have times when things get out of step; the thyroid affects so many areas of your overall health that you have to keep hawking everything -- especially if pregnant. And I try to be a good hypochondriac about all of this.

In case you missed the moral of the story: If you feel like hell and you think you've lost it, check in with your body, get the blood work done, keep advocating for yourself, mind & body. A number of things could be out of step, but make sure to check your thyroid -- whether male or female.



Is this an epidemic?


When I talk about my thyroid, I'm always stunned by how many people are taking synthroid or some thyroid drug to keep theirs chugging. In fact, I know so many people -- colleagues, friends, neighbors, family ... -- I recently asked a nurse practitioner -- who takes meds for her thyroid -- what percentage of patients were taking meds for their thyroids. I don't want to give the stat because it's only anecdotal -- but it was staggering. An epidemic percentage. The highest number I've seen is 30 million while googling, but I feel like it's growing exponentially.

The meds work well -- but what's the source? This is yet another auto-immune related disease on the upswing. Are we messing with our immune systems because of all of the shots we take to boost our immunities? Is it radiation-related; the thyroid is worn out by radiation... (This is where a blog breaks down on you, by the way -- in addition to my messy typos. In a REAL article, you'd get some answers right about ... here.)

I know absolutely nothing about the source issues. I know it's not the same problem that my grandmother had in West Virginia -- a lack of iodine ... But it is seriously alarming that this very important (but med-replaceable) part of our bodies is burning out.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kids and Food and the Humbling Effects of Motherhood

I don't like research that tells me that raising healthy happy kids is simple and that I'm, kind of, a bad parent or maybe just a jackass.

It might just be me -- being overly sensitive -- but that's kind of how I felt after I read this piece on NPR.org which explains how the baby's palate is informed in the womb and breastfeeding by the variety of foods the mother eats. I've heard this before. It gives the impression that to grow a healthy eater who has a wide variety of foods the child is drawn to is simple! Eat a wide variety of healthy foods while pregnant and nursing! Don't be a jackass, the research seems to say. Eat well and your child will want to eat well! It's simple science.

Now, if I only had one child, I'd be an incredibly cocky overbearing mother -- the kind who knows everything and shoves it onto others at every possible opportunity. Motherhood eventually (usually) knocks the cockiness out of you. (Is this by design?) Or at least I've found motherhood to be very humbling, personally.

But if I had only one child -- in fact, my first child -- I would agree, wholeheartedly, with this article. I would go so far as to make comments like, "If you put carrots and fresh raspberries on the table, the child will eat them! It's that simple!" And I might even beam -- I might even have one of those sparkles in my teeth like in those Orbit gum commercials.

Alas, I didn't stop at one child -- who is, for reasons unknown, a natural fruits and vegetables eater. I had to go on and have a second (then third and fourth). My second kid, a son, only wants to eat meats and salty foods. He hates not only the taste but texture of most fruits and vegetables. He will eat broccoli and apples and salad willingly - well, it takes goading, but he'll do it (and this after YEARS of nudging).

Then just in case someone thought it was a gender thing, my third, also a boy, will eat anything at all -- spicy, sweet, salty, meat-fatty, the vegie plate, fruits, garlic, sour, cheesy ... Bring it. On a recent breakfast outing with my father, I made him swear not to eat the scrapple -- no matter how much my father talked it up. He's eaten some very exquisite meals and fried bologna.

The youngest is picky but he'll eat in a spotty way across the board -- some fruits not others, some meats not others ... He's a finely tuned intestinal maestro all his own.

And I ate and ate and ate through my pregnancies -- foods that I liked, foods that comforted me, foods of my homeland, foods of foreign lands ... I was fairly consistent as was my amniotic fluid and breastmilk (I breastfed for years of my life). So, how you like them apples?

Dear science, I just think you're overstepping. No offense, but you seem like one of those cocky mothers with one kid who packs raw carrot sticks in wax paper in your baby bag and meets up with everyone at a playgroup and has your kid eat those carrot sticks in front of all the other mothers whose kids slap carrot sticks, gag on the slimy textures, and cry so hard they throw up the tiniest little slivers that managed to slip in. In other words, shut up.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How to Choose Your Kids' Colleges (Sorting Hat Inspired)

A. Buy one of those big fat phone-book-sized guides to 4-year colleges. Which one? It doesn't matter.

B. Get a bunch of the kids together. We had summer family-reunion access to our own kids and a bunch of cousins, which was perfect -- the more kids the faster the whole choosing process goes.

B and a 1/2. You might want to start after the adults have had cocktails. This can get rowdy, but the overall mood should be somewhat respectful, complete with hushed moments just before results are announced for each kid.

C. Someone calls a kid's name. That kid comes forward. An adult starts letting the pages slip through his/her fingers and tells the kid to shout out, "Stop."

D. Once the kid calls stop, the adult opens to that page. The kid can pick any school on that page. (What if there's only the second half of an entry? We allow that the child can back track only to include that one school. But this is a slippery slope and each to their own.)

E. The kid picks and THAT is the college/university that child will attend.

Results may vary. I mean, sure, Phoebe is going to an evangelical bible college in Texas, but our cousin Grace is going to a pretty sweet university in the New York system.

So far, this seems like the most reasonable way to pursue higher education decisions.

P.S. I suggest keeping a written record; memories can be faulty.