Tuesday, February 17, 2015

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

   Since starting this blog, I’ve been surprised by how many compliments I’ve gotten on how much people enjoy my writing style. Which is awesome, because in my head I sometimes think I still sound like a whiny teenager. I’m glad to hear that is not the case.

Some of you have expressed interest in my fiction writing, but I really have never completed a single piece of … anything. I don’t even like reading fiction. All those unnecessary adjectives and long descriptions about people’s movements. I’m a plot and dialogue girl. Just say it and move on. But sometimes it’s fun to just write from the imagination.

Since my retirement from full-time journalism, I’ve even gone to two writing workshops held at the library on fiction writing. I enjoyed them because they were sort of a pep talk for closeted writers, and I guess I’m a closeted fiction writer. Or maybe even a step back from that. I’m like those people who stand around watching a game of pool and keep telling the players how they should have hit it, but never pick up the cue themselves. OK, but hopefully I’m not that annoying.

I also enjoyed these talks because I like being around other writers. There’s this undercurrent of wanting to create something, to put your thoughts on paper and have other people agree and approve, but then never really living up to your own standards or expectations. With that in mind, I can’t imagine being a full-time fiction writer. Even when I was a full-time journalist, I felt like that was just half of my life. If writing was my full life, I think it would be a depressing life. Unless I was one of those super wealthy full-time writers who lives at a beach house and writes in front of a window facing the ocean while drinking a gin and tonic or some other delicious beverage while writing one hour per day. That, I think I could get into.

Despite my inability to really flesh out a whole story, there’s one area of fiction that I’m still drawn to—children’s books. And I don’t mean pre-teen melodramas or even anything that comes in a paperback, I’m talking about board books. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, board books are printed on cardboard so they’re easy to flip pages and you can’t rip them out or bite off part of a page or smear the ink by drooling on them. Rye still reads board books almost exclusively, because he gets frustrated with paper pages, but so many board books are terrible. We have about a dozen good ones that we own, but when I try to get more out of the library, I usually only find one good one per week. And almost none of them are good enough to want to buy and expand our collection.

Which leads me to believe that it must be pretty darn easy to get published in this field. Not that getting published is something I’m really shooting for; I almost see this as an act of public service, improving the reading options for toddlers (and their parents) everywhere.

I’m currently reading a biography of my favorite children’s author, Margaret Wise Brown, called “Awakened by the Moon.” If that name doesn’t sound familiar, you would recognize it immediately once you saw the cover of this book, because it has part of the picture of the “great green room” from her most famous book, “Goodnight Moon.” She actually wrote over 100 books, 40 of which are still in publication. I’m only familiar with a half dozen of them, but they all have this alluring, poetic quality to them. Others you might be aware of are “The Runaway Bunny,” “The Little Fur Family,” “The Big Red Barn,” and one that my mom gave us when Rye was born because my dad was a mailman, “The Seven Little Postmen.”

So far I’m still in the childhood part of the biography, but supposedly she drew a lot of her stories and scenes from her early memories, which is perhaps why they all have a sort of dream-like quality to them. I might try to track more of them down, because I have a habit of unconsciously altering my writing style to whoever I’m reading, and if I could be the next Margaret Wise Brown, that would be amazing. Except for the part about how she died at 42.

When I saw that in the introduction, I was freaked out that she had committed suicide or had a drug overdose or something, but rest assured, she died of a blood clot after a routine operation. So these ethereal stories, which sort of have a non-sad melancholy to them (if that makes any sense), were not the work of someone who took her own life. I don’t think I’d want Rye reading them so much if that was the case.

So in honor of Margaret Wise Brown, here is my first finished attempt at children’s fiction/board book writing. This is a first draft, mind you, and I’m no artist so the publisher would have to hire an illustrator, but I think I’ve given them plenty to work with.


“The House on the Hill”

 In the house on the hill, there was a big front door that was painted red. Next to the door was an umbrella stand, holding an umbrella with a parrot-shaped handle that was left there since the last rain storm.

Inside the front door, there was a blue mat where the children left their shoes. Sometimes the cat would lay on the rug and smell its fibers, snooping out what adventures her family had been on while she had stayed home curled up on the bed.

In the living room, there was a big fireplace, where the father would stack loads of wood to keep the house warm day and night. The fire glowed orange and made the house smell like the campsite where the family would stay in the forest for a week each summer.

The dog liked to lay by the fire, but the dog could also be found in the dining room, under the walnut table, waiting for the youngest child to slip him her beef when it was too chewy. The girl had to keep a napkin in her lap so she could wipe the dog’s saliva off her fingers before reaching back up to her plate.

In the kitchen, the cupboards were filled with sacks of flour and sugar and chocolate chips, and every Sunday, the mother would bake delicious cookies for all of the children.

Upstairs, there were four bedrooms, each with one bed. Mother and father had the biggest bed, which sat very high, stacked with pillows in a mix of yellow, blue and gray.

In the oldest boy’s room, there was a picture of an eagle on the wall that he had painted in school. The eagle looked very powerful, and it scared the younger brother from coming into his room.

The younger boy’s room had orange walls and a striped rug. The younger boy liked to pretend the stripes were roads and sidewalks and he drove his cars in between the lines.

And the girl’s room was filled with purple. Purple walls, purple blankets, purple curtains, and even a purple elephant where she stored her toys. The cat found this room the most favorable, and thought the purple was purr-fect.

The house on the hill was very high, and from the highest window in the attic, the children could see all the way to the next town. Sometimes they would see their friends playing in their yards down the street and they would try to yell to them and wave, but they were too high up to be heard.

It was a good house, nice and warm and filled with laughter and love. Whenever the children stayed at a friend’s house for too long, they would start to miss their home and their family. Sometimes the girl would call her mother and ask her if she could be picked up early because she was so homesick.

At night, the moon shined through their windows, and the stars felt closer because they were so high on the hill.

In the summer, they would look out the attic window and watch for a shooting star before they would go to bed. They always saw one. And then it was time to go to sleep and dream about their house on the hill.

The End

And that’s just my first idea, which I thought up and wrote in 15 minutes. You might not be impressed, but I think it’s better than at least 80 percent of the board books at the library. Do any of you readers want to be my illustrator? I think I’ve got something here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

“So are you ready to have another one?”

   A few months after Rye was born, I already was anticipating getting that question. And anticipating it would make me wince just as much as when people used to ask me, “When are you going to have kids?” or “Don’t you guys plan to have kids?”

Yes, Josh and I were married 10 years before we had Rye, but not all of those childless years were by choice. We got married at age 22, and agreed at that time that kids were a long way off and we’d discuss it again in the future. The longer we went without having that discussion, the more comfortable we were in being “just the two of us.” And a lot of our friends were still single, and almost none of the couples were having kids (yet) either, so the conversation felt like it was always out on the distant horizon, no need for us to come closer.

But it was something I prayed about, because even as I started thinking of us as a couple that just wasn’t going to have kids (and you know, could go vacationing in Europe and backpacking in Peru), I didn’t want to miss out on God’s blessings if that was something he wanted to give us. And in the summer of 2008, God spoke to me, and totally awoke my desire to have a child. It was a 180-degree turn overnight.

Unfortunately, God didn’t speak to Josh that same night. Josh needed time to think about it, and we were in the middle of a major house renovation project, so I agreed to wait a year before “trying.”

Even now, thinking about the next 2 ½ years of “trying” makes we want to curl up in bed (alone) and pull the covers over my head. For anyone who has not reached the stage of trying to get pregnant, let me tell you, it’s not fun.

The average amount of time it takes a woman to get pregnant is 6 months. After that, you start getting antsy. They say at 12 months, you might want to consult a doctor and make sure everything is functioning and rule some of the easy obstacles out. We waited until about 21 months into it before going to a doctor.

Each month, hopes were dashed. Tears were shed. And every third person I knew seemed to be pregnant. Even people on birth control were getting pregnant. And I kept thinking about all those years I had been on birth control and worried about getting pregnant and how it was all for nothing. Josh, the pragmatist (and pharmacist), would remind me birth control was on the $4 list, so it wasn’t a “big deal,” but when you’re the woman and it’s your responsibility, it is a big deal.

Perhaps the hardest part was that I had gotten on some kind of mailing list that presumed I was pregnant, AND WAS GETTING PRENATAL MATERIALS AT WORK! Which led to the inevitable teasing of “Hmm, Carrie, is there something we should know?” Oh, if only they had known. Note to everyone: don’t tease people about pregnancy, because as much as we like to think that getting pregnant or not getting pregnant is in our control, it really isn’t.

When we did get doctors involved, all the preliminary stuff looked good. Josh got an A+. I had no cysts or tumors and my records showed I clearly was ovulating. So we had to proceed to bloodwork and really look at my hormone levels. And that’s where the trouble was.

They never came up with a specific diagnosis. My hormones just were not the way they should be. And a mysterious hormone whose purpose is unknown but seems to have a correlation to how many eggs you have left was undetectable in me.

Despite knowing that God was the one who put the desire for a child in me, I was losing hope. And I kept getting a year older, and whatever eggs I had left were getting older too. So in December 2011, we went to a fertility clinic. Six months, thousands of dollars and many, many more tears later, I was finally pregnant. And 10 months later, our precious miracle was born.

People who go through fertility treatments are often told stories about women who were infertile, went through fertility treatments, then had a surprise extra baby (or two) in the next year, without trying. Those stories warm my heart, and any story of the infertile-or-previously-infertile definitely pulls at my heartstrings.

But my year of “surprise baby” eligibility has come and gone, and I suspect my hormones are just as off as they were previously, and my eggs, may they still reside within me, are turning 35 next month.

So am I ready to have another one? Yes, please! But I can’t go through fertility again. I’m glad I did because Rye was worth every bit of it — the emotional roller coaster, the overcoming of squeamishness to inject myself with needles, waking up at 6 a.m. for daily drives to Baltimore for bloodwork (not to mention all that bloodwork and how stingy my body is when it comes to giving blood), even the first failed attempt and then having to do it all again while harboring the fears that it would fail again and I might never have a child.

I just don’t feel like I can go through it again, mostly because of the emotional component. I think only people who have gone through it can know what I mean.

Throughout my infertility, I wondered if things would have been different if we had started “trying” at 22 or 24 or 27. We’ll never know. Had I known what a joy children can be, I would have started at 24 and hopefully have had 6 kids by now.

But as it is, I’m not on birth control, and I’m not crying at the end of every month. If God were to grant me another pregnancy, I’d scream hallelujah and rush out to buy a lottery ticket. We are also willing to accept any babies on our doorstep for people who find they are currently or soon to be in the possession of an extra baby. If you know of such a person, I will draw you a map to my house. No questions asked.

When people do ask me “are you ready for another one?” I haven’t let it bother me. To almost-strangers I give the general “we’ll see.” More often, my formulated answer is “Rye is kind of a miracle baby, and I don’t know if we’ll have another miracle.”

Really all babies are miracles. Ask anyone who has “tried” to have one.