Those of my mother’s generation know where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of Kennedy’s assassination. My mother can even tell you where she was and what was going on when she heard of Martin Luther King’s assassination. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s not a pretty story.
My generation? Heaven help us.
My first year teaching was the year Harris and Klebold made me question high school teacher as a “safe” profession. (April 20, 1999) Still, I soldiered on through lockdown drills and warily eying some real winners I had in that class. The violence hadn’t touched me personally, so I could push it back into a different compartment, a little panic room I didn’t have to visit.
September 11, 2001 almost brought me to my knees. Not only was I pregnant, but I was also charged with the task of explaining the inexplicable to a group of loveable, silly sophomores. That was the day our music died. I thought, “Surely, this is it. This is going to be the one moment of my life when I say, ‘I know where I was. I remember the ugly blue paisley dress I was wearing.’” I came home and held on to the couch while I watched CNN wondering if I was even doing the right thing by bringing another child into such a cruel, violent world.
By the time Hurricane Katrina came, I was pregnant watching the helpless and the cruelly opportunistic once again. I cradled that baby in my not-even-showing belly. At least with Katrina, I could tell myself that so much of that ugliness and cruelty could’ve been avoided with timely aid. At least the outward devastation had more to do with nature’s caprice than the darker side of man’s soul.
And then the Virginia Tech Massacre came. I was teaching preschool looking at chubby, innocent faces and clapping loudly as those little darlings mastered using the potty. I hugged my own babies, knowing someday I would have to send them off to college. At that moment, I wasn’t in any big rush.
Through all of this and more, I have clung to my faith. I will continue to cling to my faith. I am not a perfect person, far from it. I don’t expect the people around me to be perfect, either, but, for the love, can we cut this out? Take a look at what I remember from the past couple of years:
- 2011—Sandusky scandal breaks
- February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin is shot.
- July 20, 2012 Dark Knight Massacre in Aurora, CO
- August 5, 2012 Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting
- August 13, 2012 Texas A&M Shooting
- September 11, 2012 Attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya
- December 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre (I can’t talk about this one yet)
- Early 2013 Steubenville Rape trial
And now on April 15, 2013, explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, a place where so many people were trying to live a once in a lifetime dream. My heart aches for runners and spectators, for witnesses and people who live in and love the city of Boston.
I tell you, enough.
So you’re not getting your way. So people don’t agree with your religion or your politics. Can’t we all agree to not hurt each other? At what point did so many people decide that it’s okay to hurt others to make a point? I’m going to tell you now that all you should get is the right to write a sharply worded letter. Your rights? They end where mine begin. And I don’t think allowing the people around you to live and breathe should really be such a hardship for you.
You know what? Try some kindness. Honey catches more flies than vinegar. Karma tells you that you get what you give. The Torah tells you to love your neighbor. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Concern for the needy is one of the pillars of Islam. Nonviolence is a moral ideal of Hinduism. Pick one or pick something else to believe in as long as you get the idea that hurting people is wrong. Period.
I beg of you mass shooters, bomb detonators, rapists, and all around assholes, please stop. Don’t you understand that I have to send my babies out into that world? Every day I have to send them to school, a place that hasn’t felt safe since Sandy Hook. Someday I’ll have to send them to college. Someday I’ll have to let them chase their dreams by doing crazy things like running 26.2 miles.
Please, please stop.
Get help. Ask a friend. Turn yourself into a mental institute and tell them you’d like the good stuff, but please, please, please, please stop hurting people.
And somewhere in the back of my mind I can see my Granny shaking her head at me in a sad, knowing way. My mind’s eye sees her waving her hand, favoring the middle finger she accidentally amputated the tip of courtesy of the lawn mower. She’s shaking her finger, unintentionally flipping me off as she repeats, “There will be wars and rumors of wars until the end of days.”
And back then I thought the wars she referred to were only fought with armies.
I was going to write a blog post entitled “In Defense of the Scrunchy,” but there were two problems with that. First, I couldn’t decide if the singular was, indeed, scrunchy or, perhaps, scrunchie. Even more importantly, it would be a post to overlook what I really ought to be thinking about: Golden Heart and RITA calls. More specifically, not getting one.
If you are a nominee for the Golden Heart or the RITA, my heartfelt congratulations. I hope you float on air for the next week. No, the next month. No, may you float all the way to Nationals. Something about your work spoke to those judges—your peers—in a deep and visceral way, and I applaud you. You are awesome.
Now, go away. This post isn’t for you.
Okay, depressed ones, now I’m addressing you. You have a few options at this point: A) Declare the whole contest a fraud. You were ripped off. Those people just don’t understand your greatness. Or B) Grab a beer or some Ben and Jerry’s and shed a few tears. You really thought this was your year. You worked really, really hard on that entry and you could use a sign from someone, anyone that you aren’t wasting your time with this writing business. Or C) Put on your big girl panties and learn something from the experience. Get to revising. Find some new Beta readers who aren’t afraid to tell you what they really think—in a respectful and constructive way, of course.
I’ve been at this a while. I wrote my first novel, a historical romance that should never see the light of day, back in 1998. I joined Georgia Romance Writers in 2001 with the foolish thought that I could sell that manuscript. Then I wrote the requisite autobiographical sprawling piece of crap, birthed a kid, attempted a category romance, dropped out to teach, birthed another kid, got a degree, chased a trend and wrote a paranormal, and finally, finally wrote a novel that finaled in a couple of contests. Hell, it took all that just to find my voice. (The part where I wrote a book targeted to Harlequin that had a mortician as a hero should’ve been a clue that I was more of a southern fiction/quirky single title kind of gal, but I’m notoriously stubborn.)
So which option did I choose, you may ask? I chose C. I’ve already revised 25 pages today, and I plan to revise 25 more while Her Majesty is in ballet. The other advantage of having been writing for so long is that I knew my entry was a long shot. I knew it in my gut. It’s taken me a long time to trust that gut instinct, though. I think we all have these stories in our head and they play out so perfectly up there that sometimes we can’t see the disconnect between imagination and paper. That’s one of the reasons why we need critique partners. Without them, we’d go around telling people about their splinters even while we can’t get through the door for that log stuck in our eye.
So, if you didn’t get a call today, I’d like to think you’re in good company. Yes, there’s the very real possibility that your manuscript is ready to go and you just got a couple of judges who didn’t “get” you or who were having a bad day. More than likely, however, there’s still something not quite right about that manuscript. You can either fix it or scrap it and start something else, but option A does no one any good—all of the judges are volunteers so there’s no need to beat up on them. Option B might make you feel a little better, but it’s not going to help you out in the long run either. So, why don’t you join me over in option C? And may your revisions not be anywhere near as extensive as mine appear to be. (%$#@ dogs and horses and ^%$#@ beta heroes!)
Hey, there’s always next year.
All right fellow non-nominees, go forth and be productive. Oh, and you GH and RITA nominees? I secretly hoped you’d make it all the way down here despite my rude admonition to go away. Keep up the good work! Having been where you are now, I’m so proud of you and so excited for you. I’m especially rooting for you, GH finalists, may this be your Golden Ticket.
Peace out, fellow writers, I’ve got cows to wrangle so I can give my mortician a proper story.
P.S. I’m wearing a scrunchy. And I like it.
To Her Majesty, My Little Honey Badger,
You’re getting to an age where you’re going to have more freedom, so we need to establish a few ground rules. The most important of these is that I need to know where you are, who you are with, and when you are coming home at all times. No lies. This isn’t to be mean; it’s a common courtesy to your family. I tell you where I’m going and when I’ll be back. You tend to roll your eyes at me when I do, but still. Oh, and keep your phone turned on, charged, and on your person at all times.
Now, I know what I’m about to say to you isn’t fair, but it’s the truth: people are going to judge you for who you hang out with, what you wear, and what you do. Yes, they’re going to judge you more than they judge your brother. If he messes up, someone’s going to wave it away and say, “Oh, boys will be boys!” Girls…well, everything is more complicated with girls. As long as you’re being true to yourself and being kind and compassionate to others, I don’t really care if people think you’re sugar and spice. You just need to know society doesn’t hand us a free pass when it comes to flaunting our sexuality.
You see, people—especially the boys who are starting to notice you—are going to make some assumptions about you based on how you dress and what you do. No, it’s not fair, but that doesn’t make it any less true. If you wear revealing clothes, some boys are going to think you’re open for business. If you drink at parties (which is ILLEGAL until your 21st birthday I must remind you), they may think you’re looking for a good time. If you’re drinking from an open cup, one of those asshats may decide to slip a little something in your drink so he can knock you out and take advantage of you. I don’t want to make you paranoid, but, again, it’s the truth. Being a girl is a lot like being a wizard in the time of Voldemort: Constant Vigilance.
And the girls? The same girl who told you to wear a tube top and the world’s tiniest shorts may very well call you a total slut behind your back. You see, some girls like to wage a war of words. Don’t be one of them. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online or behind someone’s back. If one of your “friends” is constantly putting other people down, she’s probably telling them similar things about you. You don’t need to hang around people who have to break others down in order to build themselves up. Even more importantly, if you see anyone being physically abused or verbally abused, you have to tell someone. Tell me. Tell a teacher. Call 911. If you stand on the sidelines while someone else is being hurt, then you’re condoning what’s happening. It takes strength to stand up to assholes. I’d like to think I’ve raised you to have that kind of strength.
Oh, the boys. You’re going to have a hard time finding gentlemen at this stage of your life. Some of those gentlemen—and indeed some of the ladies—are going to look a little awkward, maybe not be as popular. You remember that any high school student can turn out to be a swan. Maybe you feel like an ugly duckling. Don’t worry. Your time will come. That time might be in college, but it will come. Be patient.
Speaking of patience, please, please don’t make some of the mistakes I made. I remember wanting to go on my first date for the sake of the date because I was one of the few of my peers who hadn’t dated yet. He was a gentleman. But some of the guys after him? Not so much. As your Big Dada would say, “Some people are just sorry.” If you feel as though you have to have a man in order to be complete, you’re going to run across a greater percentage of those “sorry” guys than if you wait patiently to meet the right person. I’m not saying you shouldn’t date. I’m saying you shouldn’t date out of desperation.
When you do start dating, it’s once again time for Constant Vigilance. You have hormones. He’ll have hormones, and things may get heady fast. Please remember this one thing: your body is your body to do with as you want to do. Please, please don’t let any guy pressure you into something you’re not ready for. He may tell you that you were the cause of the wet dream he had the night before in the hopes you’ll do something about it. He may tell you that if you were really a feminist then you’d take charge of your own sexuality and let him stick his fingers up your hoo-ha. He could–despite your protestations–perform oral sex on you in the hope that you will reciprocate. A man who respects you and loves you won’t do any of these things. He’ll let you take the lead and do what you want to when you want to. You always have the right to say NO at any time no matter what–just remember that it’s considerably harder to say no if you’re high, stoned, or unconscious. Should he try to pull some kind of bullshit to the effect of “If you love me, you will do such and such,” you turn those tables on him fast and respond, “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t ask.” And if he ever hits you or harms you in any way? Well, you come on home. There are no second chances with that sort of behavior.
It is your body, but once you lose your virginity, you can’t get it back. And the same goes for every base from first to home. You can call me old-fashioned, but I still believe sex is meant to be between two people who love each other very much. I don’t care what the boys say, what your girlfriends say, what the television or the radio says, that’s when sex is its best. You’re going to have feelings and want to explore, and that’s fine. Be aware of your instincts, do they tell you to run? Do they tell you that this is a man for whom you would be willing to clean toilets for the rest of your life? If you listen closely, you’ll know. You think about it. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life cleaning toilets and birthing babies for an asshole.
And I haven’t even spoken of the ultimate consequences. Any time you have sex you could become pregnant. I wouldn’t kick you out of the house or disown you like some parents do, but I wouldn’t baby you, either. Your life would be instantly different and more difficult. The “father” would probably trot merrily off to a future similar to the one he had before. You would be stuck with a baby on your hip and a much longer row to hoe. Trust me, you don’t want to have children until you have found a good man, someone to be your partner in the endeavor. Not only that, but STDs are nasty. They often don’t show themselves as quickly in women, and many of them stick around forever. Some can even make you infertile. I’m not saying you can’t have sex, I’m saying you need to be careful and deliberate. You need to trust your partner implicitly—and always use protection even when you do.
Look, I’m not gonna lie. In some ways I’m being harsher with you than I was with your brother. I told you from the get go that this wasn’t going to be fair. The fact of the matter is that we, as women, have to be careful. We need to be aware of our surroundings at all times and project an air of confidence even when we feel like crumbling from the inside out. We have to be extremely careful about our friends, sticking closest to the loyal ones who build us up. And guys? There are good guys out there, I promise. Don’t waste your time with the cads. Wait for the guys who respect you. You’ll know you’ve found the right one when you start to bring the best out of each other. He’ll know what you need even when you have trouble figuring it out. He’ll do what’s best for you even when it’s not best for him. He’ll respect your opinions, ask your advice, relish your independence, and always think you’re beautiful no matter what. In those ways, he’ll treat you the way your father treats me.
Remember: if you are ever in a place you don’t want to be, you call me. Any time day or night, I will be there. You can throw me under the bus and tell people I’ll kill you, that I’ll ground you, that I’ll take away your car or you shoe collection. You can tell people your dad is tall and extra mean (he will be if anyone hurts you) or that your brother is overprotective (which he is). Friends come and go, but family stays forever. Anyone who makes you do something you don’t want to do doesn’t deserve to be a part of either circle.
And no matter what anyone says, you are intelligent and beautiful. We love you just the way you are, and you should love yourself like that, too.
My Not-So Little Hobbit, My Precious,
We need to talk before you start going out with girls and hanging out with the guys. We’ve already spoken about how you shouldn’t let your friends talk you into things you know are stupid, and that rule still applies. There are some people who would like nothing more than to get you in trouble. Don’t give them that opportunity.
Now, as you get ready to date—(this is the point where my husband would interject that, since he’s a Kilpatrick, he really can’t reasonably expect to date before he’s 35. This is the point where I slug my husband on the shoulder and give him a dirty look)—Now, as you get ready to date, I want you to remember to treat any young lady as you would want your mother or your sister to be treated. I know you’ve got hormones, and I know you don’t want to talk about that with your mother, but just remember that whoever you’re going out with is someone’s sister or daughter. Be a gentleman.
For heaven’s sake if you see your friends, and I use that term loosely, mistreating another person in any way, do something. Tell someone. Call me. Call 911 if you have to. And then re-evaluate that “friendship.” Are those the people you want to hang out with? Remember that underage drinking is illegal. It doesn’t matter if “everyone is doing it.” It’s still against the law. Drugs are illegal. Having sex with a girl who’s 17 when you’re 18? Still illegal. Taking photos of naked people? Illegal. I know, I know. You know all this, and I’ve just made you blush. I still have to have this conversation with you.
This one’s really, really important: remember you can call me anytime day or night and I will come get you, no questions asked. No matter what. If you want out of a dicey situation, your father and I will get you. You can throw me under the bus. You can tell people that I will ground you for life, that I will take away your car. You can tell them that I’m evil and you can’t wait to get to college just as long as you let me come get you out of that situation.
Okay, I hate to say it, but I know it’s true. You need to be careful about the girl, too. As your Big DaDa would say, “Some people are just sorry.” That goes for the girls, too. They, like anyone else, can lie. Don’t trust her if she says she’s 18. Don’t trust her if she’s had too much to drink or she’s been smoking something. This is why so many people go to restaurants and the movies for their dates—far better to get to know people in public. And, yes, I’ve known one or two girls who’ve cried rape even when it was consensual at the time, so you be extra careful. Know what? I know a lot more girls who’ve been pressured into things they didn’t want to do or were raped and didn’t tell anyone, so you remember that no means no. You don’t want to be in that he said/she said situation. You sure as heck don’t want to become a father before you can even finish college. It’s not going to hurt you to be cautious. And if she doesn’t respect that, she’s not the girl for you. Hell, you may have a girl come on to you and not want to take no for an answer. You be strong and tell her to step back. Convictions and a good many STDs last forever. It’s always better safe than sorry.
The most important thing I could tell you about sex is that it’s not for random strangers. It should be something shared between two people who really, really love each other. I know that’s not the popular thing to say, but it’s true. Your father and I didn’t party together. We didn’t shack up before we got married. Here we are, still together and still in love. Our friends who got married because they partied well together and/or had lots of great sex early on in their relationship? Most of them didn’t last as a couple. Just because you’re old enough to do something doesn’t mean that you should.
All right, now that I’ve scared you to death about being a teenager, I’m going to lay one of the biggest rules on you: I need to know where you are, who you are with, and when you are coming home at all times. I don’t ask you this because I want to be in your business. I ask you because it’s a common courtesy to your family to know where you are and when you’re coming home. I need to be able to get in touch with you at all times. It’s what caring families do. Think about it. Do I ever run off and not tell you where I am?
High school isn’t going to last forever, but your family will. If the people you hang out with in high school are assholes, then write them off and wait until you get to college. You’re sure to find more assholes there, but you’ll also find some good people who share your interests. Once you find true friends, stick to them and be good to them. In the meantime, you don’t need friends or a girlfriend badly enough to stick with bad ones. You’ll know when you find the right friends, and you’ll know when you’ve met the right girl if you listen really carefully to that quiet, inner voice that always tells you the truth and always, always tells you what’s right.
I wish I could shield you from bad people. I wish I could take away all of the bad that life will throw at you, but I can’t. I’m just your mother, just one woman who tries to do right and often still does wrong. Know that I love you. I will always love you, and I will always come for you. Be strong in the face of all of the idiots in the world and do what is right even when it’s hard—especially when it’s hard.
Dear Ms. Fey,
You are awesome. Maybe having someone snap a picture of you in your bathing suit is your worst nightmare–mine is closer to bathing suit shopping followed by a bikini wax–but you’ve actually done all of us ladies a world of good. Moreover, you look pretty damned smashing in that bathing suit, if I do say so myself.
Seriously, I don’t see cellulite. I don’t see varicose veins. I don’t see ANY flaws–and I wouldn’t lie to you because I’m a woman and am thus trained to immediately look for flaws in anyone else who has the misfortune of being saddled with ovaries. No, I see a woman with a pony tail who has a smile on her face and her hand on her child. Really, that’s how we all ought to be: ready to have fun with our kids without worrying about how we look in our bathing suits. We both know, however, that there are plenty of women out there who won’t don a bathing suit and play with their kids because they’re afraid of flaws, either real or imagined.
I say kudos to you. I’ve always been a huge fan of yours because you write with a fearless humor. Now I tip my hat to you for getting out there and being, well, you. Thanks for showing us how it’s done. We’re not all twenty with willowy bodies begging for bikinis, and that’s okay. We’re still beautiful, and you are, too.
Only the Best,
Here in La Casa Kilpatrick, we have a love/hate relationship with those gorgeous Christmas plants known as poinsettias. You know, I think part of the ill will I harbor toward the plant stems from the fact I’m not even sure how to pronounce their darned names. Blessedly, Wikipedia says it can be either / poin setia/ or /poin seta/. I like to pronounce that second “i.” It’s the Spanish teacher within.
At any rate, what the what, poinsettias? Why do you have to die on me? I hear tell that my husband’s grandmother used to keep hers alive. There was a thing with a deal and covering the poor plant with a sheet and shoving it in a closet. First of all, where would I find a closet where the poinsettia (I don’t even like to type the name because it forces me to attempt to pronounce the word in my head) could live in peace and quiet without something falling on top of it? Second, I’m supposed to cover the thing with a sheet? Third, isn’t it a moot point by the time the thing looks like this?
Oh, I give up. Percy is about to sleep with the bunnies. And by that I mean I’m going to toss him into the ditch in the backyard. Tune in next year when I’ll buy another beautiful and vibrant red poinsettia and once again reduce it to a leafless skeleton.
How about you? Team Poinsettia or not? Anyone ever successfully resurrected one of these bad boys?