Friday, May 11, 2012

Why I Love My Kids

I have the luxury of truthfully admitting that I fell in love with both of my children within eighteen seconds of meeting them. I will never forget the moment Erilyn opened her eyes (what a beautiful moment) or the words Olivia first spoke to me ("When did you get a life?"). In vastly different ways these girls won my heart--one with a look and one with a quip.

But it has evolved infinitesimally since those two moments. I look forward to two events each day on my way home from work. They do not happen every day, but when they do, I cherish them.

The first is Erilyn's eyes lighting up when she recognizes me, and then the feel of her little vice-grip arms latching around my legs. The smile on her face and her up-stretched arms as she frustratedly grunts "UH!" and waits for me to lift her into my arms where I am occasionally rewarded with the "best hug yet". This is a wonderful experience.

The other event is more intricate, for it involves Olivia. I consider myself lucky if I get a conversation with Olivia that turns toward the serious. Some days she just doesn't want to talk. Other days? She doesn't close her mouth. I would like to share two events from this past week that made me proud to be her Daddy.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday, after supper, Michelle had to go to work and I was left with the two girls at dinner, chit-chatting. As I'm cleaning up, Olivia exclaims something along the lines of "Oh! You put the syrup on the pancake, the butter on the syrup, the knife to the butter, the hand to the knife, the mouth to the hand, and the pancake to the mouth. It's a circle!"

"What?" I ask.

"Never mind, Dad. It's a Robert Munsch book. You wouldn't get it."

And you know what? I didn't. I recognized Robert Munsch's name, but for all my English-teacherness I sure thought he was the author of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie". He isn't. That would be Laura Numeroff. I'm not familiar with Munsch's books. Olivia says his name as if it ends with an exclamation point: MUNCH!

The next night at dinner, she hops up and leaves the table. She doesn't eat much, really. So dinner is, for her, boring. She's not eating, she's just sitting there. So she hops up and comes back in the room (after my repeated cries of OLIVIA!) holding an abridged, illustrated children's copy of Little Women.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"Reading this book, Little Women by Lousy May Alcott. It's really good."

She plopped down at the table, and began to flip through the pages. She took careful, deliberate care to read aloud each picture caption.

"Jo and the Laurence Boy meet!" she says.

Then, after a moment, she says,

"Daddy, why is a girl in a book about women called Jo?"

I'm pretty sure I wrote an essay in college about this same topic.

Those are my girls! Heaven help me when Erilyn learns to talk.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

How to Be a Good Parent (and Aunt) (and Grandmother) 004

I need to take a moment to process today, and I process best through writing. First, it has been a week of words with Olivia. She was sent home from school one day this week, lots of e-mails, disobedience and trouble. My sister, Kayla, volunteered to take her to the Children's museum this morning to give Olivia some one-on-one attention and to give us a little break.

The morning went quite well. Michelle and Erilyn and I worked hard out in the yard, sweating and gardening and mowing. Michelle and Erilyn came in to take a shower around 1:30, and I stayed out to work in the garden. I had just finished weeding the huge thing, and I had settled in on removing two ant hills that had formed on and near my cucumber mounds. Since I'm peculiar, I don't use pesticides or poison in the garden. So I removed these ant hills by shoveling the entire mound up and carrying it to the woods, thenceby disposing of it. I was on the last shovel full of the second mound when I slung the shovel over my shoulder and dropped a glob of ant hill down my shirt. Frantically trying to remove the ants and their hill from the back of my shirt, I hear Michelle tapping on the window. This is the second or third time she's tapped, and I know she's ready for me to come in and get dressed to go to town.

Wait a minute! I'm about to say. I have ants all over my back!

But I can tell by her voice something is wrong. This is the voice mail my father left us:

"Olivia and Kayla were in a bad accident. Call me quick."

Have you ever had a panicked-ridden fifteen seconds of waiting for someone to pick up your call? That was today.

They were both OK, but it was a long car ride to Easley. A woman pulled out directly in front of Kayla, and Kayla T-boned the woman at 45 mph. They were both wearing their seat belts, all six air bags deployed, but neither Kayla nor Olivia lost consciousness. In fact, Kayla said that she was dazed from the impact of the airbag to her face, and before she shook out of it Olivia was in her lap from the backseat screaming,

"Aunt Kayla, smoke! Wake up, get out of the car!"

I don't care how bad my kid was this week. I've got one heck of a daughter.

The dust from the airbags scared Olivia more than the crash. Kayla had to kick her way out of the car (which was totaled), and she got Olivia across Hwy 123 to the parking lot of a Firehouse Subs. Kayla told me Olivia was freaking out until she saw Kayla was bleeding. Then Olivia calmed down and said, "Aunt Kayla, don't panic. You are bleeding. I think you will be OK, but I don't want you to freak out."

Way to be there for the adult, kid. Like I said, she's one heck of a kid.

Further impressing is that Olivia knew both her birth date and address. "Well, I don't know my address, but my street number and highway is ***"

"Sweetheart," the police officer said, "that's you address!"

The woman from the other car was taken to the hospital as well (in fact, we saw her and her husband there. They were very concerned about Olivia.) It was not Kayla's fault, and no bones were broken, but we took them to the hospital for check-outs.

And while we were there, there was a woman in the waiting room. She was trying to talk to Erilyn. (My mom and dad were watching her while Michelle and I were back with Olivia.) My mom had a weird feeling and took Erilyn over in the corner, away from the woman. At that moment, the police officer who worked Kayla's wreck comes in. My dad waves at him, "Hey!" Then, he notices his gun is out.

The woman sitting by where my mom had been takes off running. Seven other police, their guns out, storm into the emergency room waiting room. My mom hides Erilyn under a chair and blocks her with her view.

The police arrested the woman and took her away. Olivia and Kayla's X-rays came back, and there were no broken bones. It had been one long, crazy ride, but we are all home now, and safe.

And thank God above for good parents, daughter, aunts, grandparents, police officers, doctors, and friends. Some teacher at Olivia's school was in the parking lot of Firehouse Subs (don't know who yet) and she gave Olivia a stuffed bunny. Olivia has held onto that bunny for dear life.

We may have nightmares. We may have one strong daughter. We may have trouble getting her to be at ease in a car, but we have a daughter who is alive and happy.

And that makes me more thankful than I've ever been before.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How NOT to be a Parent 004

So I was seriously considering skipping this post this week. It is the opening day of our musical and I have so much going on it isn't funny. I was thinking I'd jump back on the Good Parent/NOT a Good Parent bandwagon next week, but last night spun me right into reality:

This week's post was going to happen. And it was going to be about me.

Last night we had a family affair. Olivia decided it would be advisable--nay, wonderful!--to cut Erilyn's hair. She snipped about two inches off the front, where the last little bit of her dark baby hair was holding on to her bangs. It was just long enough to pull back behind her ears before, now it is too short.

How NOT to be a Good Parent

The worst part? It was on my watch.

See, I thought I was being a GOOD parent. I've been gone so long for musical rehearsals, last night I got home around 7:00. Michelle was still out taking kids home on the church van, so I was going to watch the kids and cook dinner.

They were playing so well in the playroom. Yes, they were making a mess, but I really thought I was watching them. I even crept into the kitchen and peeked through the window into the playroom to watch when they got quiet. Because in my house, quiet means trouble. But there they were, sitting and playing Barbies. Being great sisters. Right?

Not really. Sometime between my spying and their playing Olivia found a moment to steal scissors and snip, snip, snip. We weren't able to be there for our Olivia's first haircut, and now we've missed Erilyn's too.

I couldn't even extract a good hair clipping from the floor, because, after striking Erilyn's do, Olivia lit in on all her Barbies.

So, Olivia is not allowed to be unsupervised any more. At all. I suppose this is a good rule, but it sure doesn't take back our sadness. Because not watching your children closely enough, and letting them rob you of wonderful memories, is a great way to NOT be a good parent.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Death and a Wedding: My Weekend in Notes

Some of you may have been wondering where I went toward the end of last week. I've been very habitual in the production of my How-to and How-Not-to Parent blogs, but I missed the Thursday edition last week.

I'd like to take a moment and explain why.

Thursday began as any day: I woke up, woke up Olivia, made coffee, woke up Olivia, made my breakfast, woke up Olivia, made Olivia's breakfast, woke up Olivia, took a shower, dressed myself, brushed Olivia's hair, pulled Olivia into the car, and dropped her off at school. Then, I headed to Furman University for the Upstate Consortium for a professional development seminar. The good news: I got to spend a couple of hours at home before coming back to school for musical rehearsal. The bad news: that was my only break for about three days.

After one of the most frustrating musical rehearsals of this year, Michelle and I packed the kids off to my parents' and went on a field trip to see Les Miserables at the Peace Center. We have about twenty students with us (and two other teachers), and despite a twelve minute technical error that stopped the show, IT WAS INCREDIBLE. Pardon my caps, but it was awesome. Then, because Jean Toole is awesome, she secured us a backstage tour by an electrician after the show.


To keep this as brief as is possible, I'd like to mention three interesting facts and move on: 1.) Over four miles of cabling are used in the show. 2.) There are over 5,000 costume pieces, including 80 wigs. 3.) They change the lightbulbs every 3-4 months. The total cost of LIGHTBULBS: $25,000.

That, and the fact that they had stopped the show for a technical difficulty every night at the Peace Center made me feel much better about Cinderella. However, as we were leaving the stage, texts began coming in that a fellow English teacher at my school had died of a horse accident earlier in the evening.

The bus ride back was not pleasant. All I am going to say on this note is that Pam Scott had some students that loved her on that bus. I also owed her a piece of chocolate for covering my class earlier in the week while I went to a doctor's appointment. It was with me on Thursday, but I never went to work to give it to her.

Pam Scott, Liberty High School English Teacher
Coworker, Friend
I hope she's enjoying something better than chocolate right now.

My life kept churning, though. And the next day landed me at the wedding of a beloved friend, Nathan George. As sad as the previous day was, and as tired as I was (we weren't home from Les Miz until almost 1:00 o'clock in the morning...that's late for this twenty-five going on forty father of two. What would Eric Cromer think?) the wedding was spectacular.

I have to spend the last few moments of this post recreating one of the most spectacular events I've seen at a wedding in years. The ceremony was beautiful and meaningful, filled with family blessings and prayers of support and the whole atmosphere screamed that the couple was already loved and in-love. The h'orderves were kickin'. (Whoever invented bacon-wrapped barbecued shrimp on a skewer: Thank you.) Seeing some of my old friends was special, how we've all moved on separate paths, but mostly connected along the lines of ministry and Wesleyanism. Some were married since I'd seen them last, some were pregnant, and somehow I was the old dad in the room. But I think I laid it down pretty fresh on the dance floor. Thanks, Michelle DeRossett, for turning away long enough for me to jive like it was 2007. You are my only love.

But the most spectacular event of the entire wedding came later, on the dance floor. A song came on, Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The dance floor lit up. Despite the fact that I did not, everyone else there seemed to know this song. And by the second chorus, I knew it too. Suddenly the wedding, spectacular up till then, seemed like something scripted from a Hollywood movie. I can't capture the emotion here, though I am going to try.

Thad, Nathan's younger brother, was there in his grey-vested groomsman suit, no jacket, with a shock of red hair shagging back around his neck, looking the picture of Thomas George (his older brother) from our freshman year together when he red shirted on the SWU soccer team. There was Thad, clapping and spinning around in a circle, everyone singing the words about home being "wherever I am with you," and Nathan and Lauren, his bride, looking the picture of love. Then, the magic happened. I asked them if it was planned and they all shrugged and said, "not at all." The song kicked into the last run of the chorus. Nathan and his brothers,and their wives--the close family--moved into a circle, arms locked around each other's shoulders, and began dancing in a clock-wise circle, legs kicking in and out. The groomsmen and outer-level of friends began dancing counter-clockwise in a circle around them, and the other guest stood around this circle, clapping and singing. When the last Ho-oo-me  came across the speakers and everyone lifted one finger and looked at their loves and smiled--that was real.

I know what it's like to get married: a blur of color that ends with two kids and a cardboard box of orphaned kittens. So I thought maybe Nathan would forget this moment (though I don't see how) and I wanted it committed to the written word. I think the most spectacular part was that some of the immediate family had not been dancing until it came time for the intimate family circle. It's like they knew they needed to be there and everyone else knew they did not. I feel like everyone connected, and I just couldn't imagine a better way to kick off your marriage, or a better way for me to end of heartbreaking, exhausting week.

Congratulations, Nathan and Lauren. I've got a feeling you're going to go far and be happy on the way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to be a Good Parent 003

For this week's post, I am going to attempt to make up for my previous slams against my mother, Janet DeRossett. Occasionally, when I am feeling nostalgic, I write in a rambling Microsoft Word document labeled Memoir. I write down these snapshots of important moments in my life, the little mosaic pieces that are now the mural of who I am. I went back to that document and pulled a story from my childhood, which I will share with you below.

(It is what it is.)

My mother with my cousin Kellie in 1994

My relationship with my mother will always be a peculiar one, though it is now perhaps better than ever (grandchildren will do that, you know). But the following story is the summation of the relationship between the sensitive child I was in my youth and the mother who helped raise me to be a man, despite the fact that she often (to me) seemed determined to keep me a child forever:

We were in Wal*Mart in Easley, South Carolina. At the time, it was the only Wal*Mart around. I was perhaps six years old. I wanted a small toy truck. She told me she’d come back and get it later. I don’t know why. I shudder to think that we didn’t have the three dollars it cost locked away in our checking account, but I have no clue. Perhaps you assume that she told me she'd come back as a ploy just to shut me up, but it is not true. Because, sure enough, she went back to get it perhaps a week later.

The problem is, she brought home the wrong toy. And I can’t even remember what I originally wanted, now. I only remember what she brought me: a Cookie Monster concrete mixer that really tilted its dumper.

I was so angry at her for bringing me the wrong toy. I can remember shouting and yelling in the kitchen in our house. I can remember being so, so angry. This was, in my opinion, the first time I came face to face with a monster that would haunt me for years—even now as I write this it lurks warily in the back of my mind —that  quick temper that would one day cause me to shatter over half of my wedding dishes in one single blow, and would that day cause me to shout and shout at my mother right in the face of the nice thing she'd done for me.

Some weeks later, though, I can remember playing with that little dump truck in our old dirt driveway. I had a cup of water from the kitchen and was making concrete out of mud. I enjoyed the toy. All that anger, and I still enjoyed the toy. I loved the toy.

I did a Google search for that toy about a year ago. I can't find anything that looks like what I remember.

I think I wrote my mother an apology letter. If I never did, I’m writing it now. Because one sure-fire way to be a good parent is to love your kids and keep your promises and endure their evil tempers. And, because I lost that little dump truck.

And I’ve never forgiven myself for that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How NOT to be a Good Parent 003

Well, after a couple of weeks, fretting about screwing up something that I'd wind up posting on here, I found something the other day that I'd done without ever even trying. It's amazing how you can watch your step every day, trying to be a GOOD parent, and somewhere along the way, you just veer off the path whether you mean to or not.

So, here it is: this week's way to NOT be a good parent.

When you speak, do not enunciate your words. That way, your daughter will think that empty bed room down the hall is, in fact, a ghost room. Not, well, a guest room. 

So the other night Michelle had to go into work in the evening and I found myself alone with my girls. Balancing an adorable toddler on my hip, trying not to drop her in the sink, cleaning up from dinner while Olivia jimmer-jabbered about anything and everything, my phone rings, still in the pocket of my pants in the back bedroom. (I was wearing gym shorts, by the way.)

Heading back into the house, Olivia exclaims,

"Are you crazy? Don't go back there alone!"

"I'm not alone. Erilyn's on my hip, and you're right beside me."

"Of course, I'm not staying in the kitchen by myself. But do NOT go into the ghost room."

"The what?"

"The ghost room! Just let it go to voicemail and check it when Mama gets home. Don't leave us alone!"

The conversation went on like that for some time, me trying to figure out why she thought the room was haunted, her trying to convince me it was. But it wasn't until I was retelling the story to Michelle that we realized the similarity between guest and ghost. I supposed I shouldn't have misspoke.

However, the next day, when Michelle asked Olivia what the room across the hall from hers was called, Olivia said,

"The bedroom where Daddy keeps his clothes? Oh, the guest room."

The ghost room was never mentioned again.

So...maybe there is something weird about it after all? Either way, misguiding my children into fearing the room across the hallway is definitely how NOT to be a good parent.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to be a Good Parent 002

For this week's post, I thought about telling something nice about my mother to make up for last Thursday. But I can only keep coming back to one thing: to write about the best parent I have ever known.

Sorry, Mom. It's not you.

That woman is my beautiful wife Michelle. She is a natural parent, and despite all the time that she spends with our kids: she loves them still. She really, truly loves them. I suppose that's the only way to be a good parent, but in many more ways than one, my wife knocks this parenting thing out of the park.

She's an organizer. (PS: I'm not.) Over our spring break last week (10 days) we

1. Got Olivia's ears pierced
2. Went camping in Kentucky
3. Saw the largest waterfall in the southeast
4. Battled sinus and cold symptoms in both our kids
5. Went camping in our back yard
6. Plowed an entire garden, planted it, and set up an irrigation system from scratch
7. Repaired our old lawnmower (for now)
8. Celebrated Easter and Palm Sunday
9. Enjoyed a lovely breakfast at church which Michelle helped organize
10. Enjoyed an afternoon or two or three with both sets of grandparents
11. Had several movie nights
12. Had a "lake day"
13. Took Erilyn to Wiggles and Giggles at the library (and was interviewed by the Greenville News)
14. Went to the zoo
15. Loved our kids to death.

Now, while all of those may not seem like ways to love our kids, they were all intentionally planned by my wife to be bonding, family activities. She is the lover, cuddler, protector, comforter, helper, healer, and inspiration for my children. She may not know it, but she's all they talk about when she's not around. And tonight, Erilyn sat all through dinner blowing kisses to the picture of Michelle behind our table. (Michelle was at work.)

So here's to my wife, a woman who, among other things, will always hold the coveted title of "Good Parent" in my book.

I love you, Michelle. Thanks for inspiring me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How NOT to be a Good Parent 002

Reflecting upon this last week, I would be willing to say that starting a how NOT to parent blog series is a great way to become a good parent. I've been so self-conscious, afraid I'd end up a victim of my own blog. And, despite what I told several families at my church, I will try to only post about my own experiences and not, oh, say yours. Or yours. Or that guy over there who let his children climb over the do not cross fences at the edge of the largest waterfall in the southeast.

So, today I am going to pull from my own experiences of being parented. Sorry Mom and Dad, but no one's perfect (although you did give it your best and I turned out ok...right?) It's taken me a while to come up with this post, but I think it's definitely the post for today.

1. Do not judo-chop your son when he comes to you in the night after waking up from a nightmare. 

Hmm...where do I begin with this one. Ah, with Walker, Texas Ranger. Growing up, that was my parents' favorite Saturday night tv show. They (and I) loved Walker. I can still hum the theme song and sing all the words (though not at the same time. It's very hard to hum and sing together.)

However, one Saturday night I, as a small child of at least six no more than eight, I approached my parents' bed after waking from a nightmare that was probably induced by the episode of Walker, Texas Ranger we'd been watching earlier. I stood in the blue-lit midnight darkness by my mother's bedside and called,

"Mama. Mama."

To which her reply was to judo-chop me across the bridge of my nose and send me sprawling backward onto the floor.

Looking back at this situation, I suppose this post could be entitled "Do Not Watch Walker Texas Ranger as a Family Unit." I will say that I recovered, and have since forgiven my mother, but judo-chopping your kids is a sure-fire way to NOT be a good parent.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to be a Good Parent Tuesdays 001

Because I'm an on-again, off-again blogger, I've decided to set a goal for myself of at least two posts a week, one on Tuesdays and one on Thursdays. Today, I want to kick off my "How to be a Good Parent Tuesdays" post series,a follow up to my "How NOT to be a Good Parent Thursdays" post. Since being a parent takes up every ounce of my energy these days, I suppose I should write about it, right? So, here goes. Some are taken from my own experience as a parent, and some from my own experience of being parented. Either way, here's How to be a Good Parent: 001.

1. Include your daughter in your school's first school-wide musical since the 1960s. 

Since directing the musical is a great way to NOT be a good parent, I suppose that including Olivia in the production (Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella)  is a tiny way to make up for all the time I'm missing at home. Olivia is playing "Little Girl" in the town scene and has the line: "And me I'm in the second grade" as her solo line, and several others sung in chorus with the five other little girls in the scene. She will also be guest-starring as a mouse in the magical transformation scene. 

Olivia is super excited about the play, and she wants to do very well in it. She looks darling in her little dress and (if I can be this bold) is absolutely adored by the cast. What a blessed father I am. 

While many have suggested that Erilyn would make an adorable mouse as well, I am not sure that she is up to the dancing quite yet. So far her dancing consists almost entirely of shaking and bouncing. At least she has rhythm! 

2. Painstakingly reteach your daughter the appropriate way to play with blocks. 

After the "Block Blockers" fiasco of last week's Wiggles and Giggles, I have worked carefully with Erilyn to teach her that "Block Blockers" is not the best game to play. While the look on her face is disheartening (Daddy...why is this wrong?) I believe that this will make her a better toddler as a whole. Coming from a father who has a deep passion for LEGO building blocks, I assumed she would pick up the creative building habits of blocks rather innately or through osmosis. So far she just seems confused, but Michelle has informed me that I am taking her to Wiggles and Giggles next week (during Spring Break), so I have about half a week before I have to rewire her way of playing blocks. 

3. Smile when the other parent in your home shows you "really interesting poop" that your baby just dropped in the toilet. 

Well, here's to learning and bettering yourself as a parent. Learn what not to do on Thursdays, and check back here next Tuesday as we painstakingly work together to be better parents and better spouses. Happy Easter! 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How NOT to be a Good Parent Thursdays 001

Because I'm an on-again, off-again blogger, I've decided to set a goal for myself of at least two posts a week, one on Tuesdays and one on Thursdays. Today, I want to kick off my "How NOT to be a Good Parent Thursdays" post series, and I plan to follow it up on Tuesday with my "How to be a Good Parent Tuesdays" post. Since being a parent takes up every ounce of my energy these days, I suppose I should write about it, right? So, here goes. Some are taken from my own experience as a parent, and some from my own experience of being parented. Either way, here's How NOT to be a Good Parent: 001.

1. Direct your school's first school-wide musical since the 1960s.

As an English/Theater teacher, when I moved into my brand-new school building this year (complete with a beautiful new theater), I decided it would be a great idea to produce the first school-wide production since the 1960s. Pretty soon the other theater teacher was on board, and the ball was rolling. Now, time time time time time time time time time is spent on the musical and I miss my kiddos. Start-up programs are time consuming and difficult, and more often than not the noncommittal attitudes of today's youth are more of a hindrance than lack of materials or funding. Either way, signing on to direct your school's first school-wide musical since the 1960's is a good way to NOT be a good parent.

2. Teach your child an innovative young game called "Block Blockers"

When Erilyn was a young infant--young enough to lay around and move her arms, but not old enough to crawl--I taught her to play an innovative young game called "Block Blockers". I even created a great theme song: "Block's time to block blocks!" The game consists entirely of me trying to stack ten wooden blocks on top of each other before Erilyn reaches over and knocks them down. Sometimes I win. Usually, I do not. She is methodical in knocking down those blocks. She loves this game. It is her favorite game. We play it all the time.

Until my wife comes home from Wiggles and Giggles--the children's play group that meets at the library on Wednesdays. Erilyn--who can now walk and giggle and jabber with the other children--struggles making friends because "all she wants to do is knock down their castles and it annoys the other kids." Ooops. I never thought about those ramifications. When we began, Erilyn was too young to stack blocks. All we played was "knock down the tower, Erilyn". Now, well, I guess teaching her to play Block Blockers was a good way to NOT be a good parent.

3. Every time your baby poops in the potty say to the other parent in your home, "Hey, Kevin, check this out!" 

I think these three are probably the extent for this week. Look for the happier version of this series on Tuesday of next week where I will share a few tips on how TO be a good parent.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Writing Tip: 001

With my daughter's adoption just a little over a week away I have had quite a busy week. This spring I am also co-directing Roger's & Hammerstein's Cinderella (more on that in the weeks to come), however, I have still managed to make enough time this past week to make a few writing submissions.

So far every single one of my submissions has netted me a rejection letter. Some rejections are electronic, just a simple DECLINED on a status bar. Some come in the mail with little stationary from the magazine and a cute old lady's handwritten signature. However, these submissions have already netted me something more than just rejection--and I haven't heard back from any of them yet.

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer, editor of Poet's Market, hosts a poetry writing prompt on his Poetic Asides blog. Last Wednesday I posted a poem, and, while this isn't technically a submission (the blog isn't a publication) it did help me in one very specific way:


Other poets--some published, some not--were able to read and comment on my poetry. They all said good things (I was new, I'm sure the critiques will come later), but they built up my self-confidence. Two days later Brewer hosted a Poetic Form Challenge, this one with the chance of publication in Writer's Digest magazine. The poetic form was a Tritina--a three stanza poem consisting of three end words that cycle through three tercets in a ABC, CAB, BCA pattern with a tenth line that uses all three words in any order. I posted two and have received great comments so far. My second tritina really pushed the form because I my three end words were can, wind, and lashes, but I used words like pecan, unwind, and eyelashes.

Anyway, head over to Poetic Asides and enter the competition today. It's a fun way to submit poetry, and it will build your self-esteem.

Good luck!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finally, the Adoption

After many years of waiting (two for us, seven for her), our daughter Olivia is finally being officially adopted soon. I cannot express how excited I am about this event, or even the joy and peace it brings to my family. In honor of this tremendous, inexpressibly wonderful day, I would like to share an original short story written by my daughter Olivia.

"Little Penguin" 

By Olivia DeRossett

Little Penguin hatched out of the egg. Little Penguin got lost from his father. He saw a bird and a seal. Little Penguin was found, and he became an Emperor. 

In many ways, I think this may be autobiographical. I love her writing. I see so much potential in it. The bird and the seal part--that's what makes a good story, all the little pieces.

I love this girl so very much. And in her honor, I'd like to post a poem about the first time I met my little girl.

"When I Got a Life"

Incredible moments happen in
parking lots.
Cold, rainy,
I met my daughter for the first time
When she was five.
So sweet, so gullible, smart, and new
To me.
Where did she come from, this
Will o’ the wisp light
This changling child, this
Kind of kid?
The moment she entered I smiled.
She stepped out of the car
She smiled at my wife
Her first words spoken were
“When did you get a life?”

                (The answer, it seems,
     was right about then.) 

Response to Yesterday's Poem

I didn't mean to write this, really, but poetry breeds poetry in a way. In fact, there is an entire magazine dedicated to referring poetry from other materials. After posting the poem I posted yesterday, this came to me. Maybe you'll enjoy it, too.


I see the way you look at me
Swinging a left hook at me
With your eyes.
What does he know of addiction?
And admitting in this statement
That you know I know of addiction--
Which means that you, too, know of it.
In your accusation,
A confession.
It's not that you wonder how I know;
It's that my admittance made you admit.
You're uncomfortable,
I am too.
(we're both human)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Coming Clean, A Poem About Addiction

I'm pretty sure we're an addicted culture. We're addicted to video games, food, pornography, drugs, gossip, the internet, magazines, you name it. How many people are comfortable sitting at home, alone, in silence? No, we need things. It's more than a need, though. In a way, it's a craving.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am trying to take addiction head-on in a new book of poetry that I'm working on. My goal is to finish it sometime this year. In a way, I'm just trying to make sense of my life, and who I am. But, really, who isn't trying to do that?

I'm leery about posting my poems online. It's weird for me, because I don't usually share them with everyone, or anyone. But, the poem is here. I hope it shows the destructive nature of our addictive lifestyles. Feel free to leave a comment or two to let me know what you think about it. Hope you enjoy!

“Coming Clean”

He clenched a ball of fire in his fist
And ate it like you would eat an apple
Bite by bite.
He wished it didn’t burn so much
But what can you do when you’re addicted to the
Dancing flames.

His mother caught him licking live coals
When he was fourteen.
Ever since then
He’d been afraid of losing his tongue.
So now he just inhales the heat
And tastes the flames.
But still, he misses the feel
Of the coals
Searing his tongue.

Maybe just one last ember. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Blog, New Design, New Book

So I redesigned this blog, renamed it, and give it a general, over-all face lift.


Mainly because I realized the old one wasn't working. It wasn't who I am, or even who I want to be. It was all too writer-ish. I want to be a writer so bad that I often make the number one writer's amateur mistake (and I can already see my wife smiling): I focus more on wanting to be a writer than I do on actual writing! Can't be a writer if you don't write.

The problem was that my old blog was created to be a "writer's springboard". Phooey. No one in my life cares or wants to have a weekly writing prompt. What do they care about? My stories. My family. My life. That's where the entertainment lies.

There is only one problem, as my wife points out: I tend to repeat the same stories. In fact, sometimes the exact same stories happen twice. I watch myself (in an almost out-of-body experience) telling some friends a story about my life growing up, and, at the same time, I watch myself realizing that the very same incidents are happening to my own children now. History repeats itself, and so, it seems, do my stories.

I'm working on a writing project now. My fantasy book series is going on the backburner for now. No one wanted it right now (or at least, they didn't want it from me.) All I hear about in the writing world is platform, platform, platform, so I'm starting to build my writing audience. And with this realization came another quick on its heels: I already have an audience. And they want to hear my stories. Even if they repeat themselves.

The writing project I'm working on now is not an easy one. It covers my lifelong battle with a hereditary quick temper that often gets me into trouble and an addiction that has tried for over a decade to eat up my soul. I don't like confessing fault or guilt--I don't like being vulnerable. So this is not an easy book to write. I am approaching it through poetry and some original drawings (if I can make them good enough to ever publish).

So hold on tight, ever-watchers. There are plenty more stories where the first ones came from. And if I do ever run out, well, some stories will have to repeat themselves.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Craziest Day of the Year So Far

So I woke up this morning having one of those days. You know, those days where troubles fall like Dominoes stacked up against you? It was cold here last night, the first truly winter night in weeks. I woke up around 5 am, freezing. The heater had gone out. The house was sitting at 55 degrees, and falling quickly. So I'm up and calling the gas company, and the church that owns our house, trying to figure out a way to heat this bad boy up.

I hop in my car to head to work, already a little bit late. My truck won't crank. The battery froze out in the middle of the night as well. Furthermore, the way our two cars are parked under our two-car awning, my jumper-cable couldn't reach from one battery to the next. So I push and wheel and drag until I can jump off my truck to get to work. My principal is covering my first period class for me.

I arrive at work twenty minutes into first period. My principal leave. Moments later our new assistant principal (you know, the one you know the least, and probably the one you'd really want to impress with a stellar lesson so that his first impression of your teaching is...WOW!), well, he walks in to do an observation on me. There I am, thirty minutes into class, still wearing my coat and trying to get my laptop up and take roll.

That's pretty much the extent of the bad stuff, although I did forget that my truck battery was shot during the course of the day. Dealing with all the hullabaloo of getting the heater back in working order (should be fixed by Thursday), I'd forgotten that little tidbit of the morning. So, it's about 4:15 and I hop in my truck to leave, only to find it dead once again. Luckily, there was one teacher left on my hall and he gratefully jumped me off.

That jump took me to the O'Reilly's in town. Sure enough, bad battery. Along with about five other customers who woke to the same issue.

Then, something that I can only describe as miraculous occurred.

In the auto-parts store, I ran into one of my former students and her son. I'll spare you all the details, but she'd come in with a gift card intended to purchase her a new battery. The shop checked her battery, and told her that she only needed to clean her terminals and the battery should work just fine. And her alternator checked out, too.

So she left me that $80 gift card. Gratis. Said I needed it more than she did. She, at least, had heat tonight.

I'm tempted to cry coincidence. I'm tempted to say "ain't that somethin'!" But two days ago I spoke with my pastor about recognizing God when he shows up in your life. And there was my former student blessing me in a way far beyond anything I'd imagined would happen on this crappiest of days.

I swear I hate teaching sometimes. And sometimes, sitting here on my school-issued laptop, huddling by a portable ceramic heater under layers of blankets, I just can't imagine a better profession.