mom blog

First born, first book

When I started writing Catcher’s Keeper, my oldest was five. He was so little, it never occurred to me that he would ever read it someday. But recently, at age 14, he did. And he loved it.

Reading Catcher's Keeper

Inspired by The Catcher in the Rye, I originally wrote CK for adults — though it’s often paired with Rye in high schools as a YA book (fun fact: Salinger originally wrote Rye for adults too). I may have cleaned CK up a bit if I’d known kids (especially my kids) were going to read it.

I mean, its prose has a toilet mouth. Take the first line:

Not even a week since I moved in with my brother and he’s testing my pacifist nature, butting in on my shit.

And that’s just the first line. (The word ass appears another paragraph down…)

It’s an odd feeling. My son peeled back a layer and saw another side of his mom. One that writes in male voices and curses like a truck driver. Yikes. To say I was relieved that he liked it is an understatement.

Though it was published in 2014, the book has gotten a boost recently. Still a favorite for book clubs, it also resides in several classrooms as a Rye companion. There’s been a slight uptick in sales, which is nice. In November, it was featured on this cool website, Snowflakes in a Blizzard, which highlights and brings awareness to some awesome, lesser-known books.

And hey, the ebook is a bargain at only $2.99!

I’m proud of my first book. But even prouder when I read this from my first born:

I’ve read Catcher in the Rye and I thought it was great. The voice, the conflicts, the hidden messages. But, when I read Catcher’s Keeper, it shed a whole new light on everything. The characters were all so believable as adults, you’d think it was written by JD Salinger himself! That signature Holden Caulfield (now Alden) voice is ever-present, but you experience and feel everyone else in a whole new way. The struggles, the twists, that suspicious MD, and an unforgettable ending makes this book a must-read for anyone who’s read Cather in the Rye. 5 stars. 

Catcher's Keeper book review

New #boymom advice

#TBT to 2013 before I had a blog or a website or any books published. My boys were 8, 6, and 3…and I wrote this for my cousin who just had a baby boy. Rereading it now, it reminds me how precious those baby days were–mess and all. Any #boymom will appreciate…

Sisterly advice for raising…boys – !

Not that I’m an expert, but I’ve been at it nearly eight fun-filled years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two…

Be ready for mini-geyser as soon as ye old diaper is removed. Don’t waste your money on peepee teepee’s. Just keep ye old diaper nearby to cover.

If you have to ask if it’s poop or chocolate, assume it’s the former. It’s not worth the risk.

Pee, however, is sterile. Remember this if – no – when the little guy whizzes in the tub. Or if/when you get splashed by the mini-geyser. Not a biggie.

And later – potty training. There are no rules for this. Don’t waste time reading about strategies, etc. When your little guy decides he wants to use the potty, he will. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to train him. And believe him – however unfathomable it may be – when he tells you he didn’t feel it coming out. Be ready to clean the *entire toilet* not just the bowl. Also be ready to do loads and loads of laundry.

Be ready to do loads and loads of laundry. (In case you missed it the first time).

Speaking of laundry, once he starts ‘helping’ by putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, always check his pants! I have put more than one diaper through the wash. One with poop made it through the dryer cycle. I had poop cooked onto my new white capris. Delightful.

Boys love wheels. Forget the baby toys. All you need are balls and cars. Keep two matchbox cars in your purse at all times (one for each hand). You will be amazed how soon he will ‘need’ them!

Also dum-dum lollipops. Keep stash in purse. Even at 15-months it will save your shopping trip.

If you don’t already, get ready to love Halloween. Your every October will be full of scary-but-not-too-scary activities. Ours continue through Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas. It truly becomes a magical time all over again – for parents too. And Christmas music. Get out the ole Chipmunks. Adam went through a ‘Rudolf’ phase that lasted at least six months. He refused to be called anything else, and we had to sing the whole song to him as he pooped on the potty. (Do you see a theme developing?)

If your boy likes crafts – congratulations! Any craft I organize is over in two minutes. I envy the mom whose daughter who will sit for hours with a coloring book. Boys’ crafts have to be MESSY and involve goo or shaving cream or finger-paints. My boys like to build towers with playdoh tubs to knock over with a super bouncy ball.

About the super bouncy ball – seems like cheap entertainment. And boys love them. But be forewarned: those little spheres have been known to shatter vases and other fancy things.

About fancy things: What fancy things?

Hitting, biting, and other shocking acts of violence are completely normal for a toddler – and frustrating as hell. Time-outs can start as soon as 18 months (our time-out spot has always been the bottom step of the stairs – one minute per age). But keep in mind it is a phase and he will grow out of it – !

Around age five or six, his real appetite will awaken. You will be shocked at how much he will consume while at the same time wonder where it has gone. (Hence the man-sized poop you will find when he forgets to flush. I do hope for your sake all poopy accidents are finished by then.)

Boys love their anatomy. You may already have spied baby reaching for his private, tugging until it changes shape. This doesn’t seem to be something they grow out of, yet take to new levels. Diapers and then underwear with pants & seams tend to limit public crotch-grabbing. But really, there is no cure.

That said, they will wonder where Mom’s dinky has gone. Try to handle this delicately, as it seems to be quite a shock for a little guy. My standard answer, “That’s the difference between boys and girls” didn’t seem to garner comfort but deepen confusion on the matter.

Men love boobs. I’m sure this is no surprise to you. But to discover the origin of the fascination was an eye-opener for me. Even long after nursing, boys will firmly believe your boobs are their own personal pillows or stress balls or –- my boys’ personal favorite –- bongos. You’ll begin to believe it too, and wonder why the heck hubby continues to fondle them.

Book one date night a month – immediately! It’s okay if you talk about nothing but the baby for the first hour, but it is critical to get out of the house without the little guy. Reconnect. It will feel good to miss baby, and to sneak into his room and see him sleeping sweetly in his crib.

Speaking of reconnecting, take advantage of nap time. (wink wink)

Boys love Dad. Soak up all the mommy-time you can in the first two years, before they start asking for Dad, needing Dad, preferring Dad. And although it is bittersweet, it will be precious to see that guys-only relationship bud and blossom as an observer. Take lots of pictures. Or – better yet – take advantage of the ‘down time’ and get your nails done.

They always want Mommy again.

 

My littlest loved Forte

His older brothers were at least 10 before they read it, but Chaz finished Forte on the eve of his 9th birthday…and then gave ME the best gift: a glowing review!

Middle grade fantasy FORTE series

My littlest reading Forte on vacation

As part of his review, he drew a picture of Sami using her piano magic to defeat Aquamarine.

Middle grade fantasy Forte series

Sami using her piano magic in Forte

His review:

What I liked about FORTE! 

Everything but the kissing parts!

Then I urged him to write just a bit more…

FORTE is about a girl who loves piano. She tries out for volleyball which she has never done before but when Coach Payne touches her she becomes amazing! She soon finds out that Coach transferred Aquamarine which is a drink that helps you in sports! But she learns she will die if she doesn’t stop drinking! 

By Chaz Spero

2019/July/23

Middle grade fantasy series Forte

Original draft 🙂

Next on his reading list: CONCERTO!

“I can’t wait to read it!”

Fart Class

In his seventh grade art class, our oldest son was assigned to draw a self portrait based on a computer-printed, enlarged, grid-lined photograph of himself. After weeks of sketching, shadowing, erasing, and sketching again, the due date is finally here. (Actually, it’s passed but who’s counting.) He’s got half of it done. But symmetry is tricky. And the other half has been erased so many times, the paper is nearly translucent. It’s been a struggle, to say the least. Tonight, there were tears.

That just about did me in.

This story helped him.

In college, my good friend decided to take an art class…for fun! Her major demanded a class load full of difficult, rigorous classes and she wanted to mix it up with something light outside of her major. Silly friend…this was college…no such fun classes allowed! She spent more hours on this fun class than any other, going in for extra help, toiling over every art project, shedding buckets of tears… She tried everything. Still, her art skills didn’t seem to gel (or whatever) and she ended up with a B. Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except that she had a perfect 4.0 in all those other demanding, difficult, rigorous classes in her major. So her hard-earned GPA was brought down because of this fun class.

She called it “F-Art Class.”

Our oldest has the typical traits of a first-born. He’s extremely driven and a bit of a perfectionist. This class, though, will teach him a good lesson.

Not everything can be perfect. Not every assignment will get an A. Sometimes it’s okay to hand in something that isn’t stellar. It’s not worth the tears. Not when there are *so many* other great things happening.

Especially if it’s for Fart Class.

 

*UPDATE: Here’s the final version, which was included in the school’s annual art show. (Drawing on left based on B&W photo on right.) Not bad, IMO.

Rock the Vote

In 1993, I studied abroad in Russia.

In 1993, it had just become Russia. I had known the country all my life as the USSR. A real fear of The Cold War being the end of the world shaped my childhood — and still lingered even though the wall had come down. The Gorbachev era had just ended. The country was being redefined. They were embracing capitalism and democracy. It was the first time in over 50 years that citizens were able to vote.

What a better time to live there as an American, right?

Ha.

I understand some people in the US don’t vote. With the election imminent, this is strikingly clear seeing how many public figures are reaching out, urging people to get out there on Tuesday. Those ads have always left me a little miffed. But this basic, American privilege doesn’t resonate with everyone. I know this firsthand. Let me tell you about my stint in Russia.*

Living in a Russian home with a non-English-speaking host who had never lived out of her country, I fully embraced Russian culture. So much of it was wonderful. So much of it was about music and stories and sitting around a table overflowing with savory, homemade salads and casseroles and soups. There was laughter. Lots of full-out belly laughs. Do you know what they laughed about?

The government.

They laughed about how awful their lives were. How awful *the government* had made their lives. All their lives, they had lived in a communist system that had rationed food and jobs and apartments and, basically, every personal item they could point to except their children. And you know what? They *enjoyed* laughing about it. This was part of the culture. Families of five were crammed in two-bedroom apartments and by a stroke of luck the bread truck visited your neighborhood when your pantry became empty. But there was music and stories and friends and family and laughter. That’s what they knew.

Then. Suddenly, they were asked to vote.

Say whaaaaaat???

Yes. Out of the blue, they were asked to be accountable for their shit lives. They were asked to take some responsibility for the crappy hand they were dealt.

Surprise, surprise. They didn’t see this as an opportunity. They weren’t thinking “Oooo–this is time for change! We can make our lives better!” The idea of having a say was not in their repertoire. And, frankly, they didn’t want it.

They’d rather laugh and deal with the crappy hand.

But we don’t have to do that. We don’t have a crappy hand. We have it all. We live in the best country. We don’t want for anything. We have fresh food in our supermarkets. We have coffee whenever we want to drink it. We can travel without fear and speak freely. We have opportunities in education and careers and a measure of safety and freedom that is *unthinkable* in more than half the world. Our children have that safety and freedom. It’s such a normalcy we take it for granted.

But, think about it…

WHY WOULD WE WANT TO PUT THAT AT RISK?

That’s what would happen if we give up our right to vote. If we assume it doesn’t count or it doesn’t matter or lose faith in the system. This is a time when we need faith. Find it. Find a reason to care enough. Make it a priority to exercise that privilege and please don’t take it for granted.

Please, vote.

* This is my personal memory and does not necessarily reflect the attitude of my Russian host or host-sister, whom I hold in the warmest regard and will for the rest of my days.

In 1990, MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign registered 5 million young voters.

The Sex Talk

My 5th grader came home the other day asking what “sexual assault” was. He’d heard about the Kavanaugh thing on a kid-friendly news station at school. It was sadly reminiscent of when his older brother came home asking a similar question back when he was in fifth grade. But then it was Trump’s “grab her pussy” comment that prompted the question.

What did we do? We sat them down and had the sex talk. It wasn’t the talk we’d imagined having. We had to address their questions, front and center. We had to address the ugliness in the world. We had to talk about why they’re hearing phrases like “sexual assault” and “grab her pussy” in the news. We had to back in to the topic from the most uncomfortable angle.

There’s something heartbreaking about telling your innocent, prepubescent boys that sex could be anything but a beautiful thing between two people who love each other. I know how that sounds. I’m not naive. I know these are things we need to talk about. But we’d barely broached the topic of puberty, no less sex, before we had to apologize for the reality of sexual assault.

And then Trump made that ironic comment: “It’s a scary time for young men.” And Lynzy Lab‘s catchy and clever response keeps replaying in my mind.

And it hit me. Maybe it’s a sign of our times. Maybe the sex talk is supposed to come from that uncomfortable angle.

In my latest book I’m working on in the Forte series, there is sexual assault.

The book is clean — geared for pre-teens. It’s not graphic. There’s no gratuitous violence. The scene doesn’t get to the point where the young girl is raped or beaten or even undressed. But she is clearly violated. There are harsh words. She is pushed and pinned down. The aggressor is someone she knows well — her boyfriend.

A girl doesn’t have to be naked to be assaulted. It doesn’t have to escalate to rape, either. There can be no trace of evidence on her body and it can still be a terrifying, transformative experience. It is still assault.

The scene is sadly realistic, and all too common. And it leads to another harsh truth: the ugly aftermath, with no clear path for girls to make things right.

I try to make it right for my young female character. In a fictional world where magic exists, she is empowered to miraculously reclaim her life. But it’s impossible to erase all the scars, even in a magical world.

It hurts to write about this stuff. I cry when I read scenes of my own creation. Because it’s so hard to write about a young girl battling against sexual assault, I know it’s meaningful. I was so riled up after my writing session recently, I had to write THIS!

My husband and I have a responsibility to raise our three boys well. These three boys will become young men. They will be physically stronger than their female peers. They will have subtle (and not so subtle) advantages over them, too.

Our boys’ understanding of sex has to be more than what’s covered in a science class. Beyond love or reproduction. Forget the birds and the bees. They need to hear from the female perspective. Not only hear it, they need to have the female perspective ingrained so it is top of mind when they become intimate with a girl. It should be the first thing they think about.

As they change and grow into young men, we need to keep talking. The #metoo conversation is far from over in the news and in the world. Who knows what they’ll hear next? And this is a good thing. It’s opening a doorway for communication, which is so important — even if it’s at an uncomfortable angle.

My beautiful mother.

My whole life, I’ve felt I was special. But I wasn’t special. Not really.

I was a typical kid with quirks and faults that morphed into pitfalls of destructive social mores . . . even still, through it all, I felt I was special. Worth something. Smart. Beautiful. Extraordinary.

This has everything to do with how I was raised. My parents saw me as extraordinary. They set the bar super high, and by holy hell water I was not going to let them down. Not because there would be hell to pay but because there would be a level of unspoken disappointment that would prove unbearable. Somehow, I knew this instinctively early on. There was no option but for me to be something special. Simply because I was something special.

Not only that. I was pretty.

Yes. I was told I was pretty from an early age. And, honestly, beyond all the smart and special and other kinds of praise that was showered on me, this was the most important. To me. A young girl. Shamefully true, but true nonetheless.

And try as I might to become a success in life . . . no matter how many honors I achieve, how many awards I win, how much praise I receive for my performance, I yearn for that reinforcement–from my parents, my friends, my husband . . . that I’m pretty. And I’ve been lucky. I’ve always felt confident and strong and happy with how I look–on a somewhat sliding scale (I mean, hey, I did live through the 80s by gosh . . .)

Fate has me living in my hometown after over twenty years of living away while believing I was that special, that kind of over-the-top talent, that kind of head-turning beauty. Since being home, I’ve been to several fundraisers and honorariums for different community groups that have been in existence long before my existence . . . and I’ve seen pictures of my mother in her prime. Gosh, that breath-taking beauty. I’ve proudly posted her photo on social media, praised her, raised her up, bragging to anyone who would listen–look, that’s my mother. Look how beautiful. And talented. And special. And extraordinary.

My beautiful mother.

I don’t know when it’s supposed to happen that you see yourself for who you really are. Maybe it’s supposed to happen this way. Tonight, I looked across the room at my 70+ y/o momma and was simply breath taken by her light and energy and beauty. Yes, not only her appearance, but her spirit. It was inspiringly captivating.

On her and my father’s anniversary, several pictures were taken–some of which captured me in my truth. And it woke me up a little.

My parents so empowered me throughout my childhood, I sometimes felt I knew better than they did. Maybe all grown children do this with their parents . . . and it’s an ugly truth . . . but I have often wanted to correct them, or rolled my eyes at their habits, or outright scolded them–silently or aloud–for something insignificant but somehow intrusive to my life. And, gosh, my mother has always shown such overt deference to me, I’ve often mistaken it for authority. She so often showers me with praise and love and affection, I too often take it for granted. I believe it too easily.

The truth is, I’m no better than my parents. It seems so obvious to write the words, but I have to admit I haven’t always felt that way. And that thing that I always felt so confident about–my looks? Well, guess what. I’m no extraordinary beauty. I’m not complaining. I’m fine with my appearance. But compared to my mother? There’s simply no contest! It’s so ridiculously clear. She was the true beauty. She was the standout, head-turning, throat-catching, student-crush-worthy stunner that you only see on the movie screen. She was that kind of beauty.

And still is.

Why am I only seeing this now?

As a mom, I try to balance praise with tough love. Encouragement with constructive criticism. Sternness with unconditional–not only love, but acceptance. As a daughter, I need to do the same with my parents. As we grow older–God willing–together, I want to lift them up the same way they lifted me. They gave me the best gift. They gave me a storybook childhood and a life most people could only dream of. They trusted me before I earned their trust. They respected me before I did anything worthwhile. Maybe it’s time to put them first for a change. Don’t they deserve it?

My mom certainly does.

Me and my beautiful mother.

Apple falls up

A talented writer in his own right, my oldest son AJ has been named Student of the Quarter twice in a row for WRITING. Last year in fifth grade, he wrote a short fantasy story for school that blew me away. The title is “Eugallado” and, after begging him to allow me to share it, I’m thrilled to post a sneak peek at the opening:

Eugallado. Chapter 1. The Cave.

It was a day like any other when the secret world was discovered by two ordinary boys.
The trees and the ground were covered in prestigious, sparkling white snow, and the sun made everything shine so bright it was almost hard to look at it. We gazed at the beautiful trees, sprinkled with glistening sugar-white powder, longing to explore the woods. My mom said we could never go in, but she wouldn’t tell us why. Of course we wanted to find out.
“Let’s go,” my best friend Ryan said excitedly . . .

People like to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that jazz, but I think it’s the opposite. In our case, the apple falls up! And writing is just one of his many talents. I’m so proud of this kid. He inspires me. He’s an inspiration to our whole family.

QMS Student of the Quarter

Excellence Award in Writing

On my school visits, I always tell students that the best way to improve your writing is to READ. Read everything. Always be reading. AJ is proof of that. He’s participated in the Battle of the Books program at school since third grade. He’s usually got at least 2 or 3 books going at one time. He reads books he likes, and books he dislikes. And maybe it’s his youth, but he seems to remember EVERYTHING!

I’m honored AJ is such a fan of my books! He read Forte twice — and after reading the first draft of its sequel, he gave me feedback that will be cherished forever: “I loved your book so much! I loved the description, and I felt like I could really feel the characters. I loved the combonation of music, magic, and mythology. Definetly one of the best books I’ve ever read! – AJ <3”

YA magical realism Concerto

AJ almost done with Concerto

When Concerto was published several months after he read the first draft, he was eager to read it again (gotta love this kid). Now 12 and dealing with middle school antics and LOTS of sixth grade homework, he found the time to read my book. It was my gift to see him peek out with a smile from behind my book as I tucked him into bed. As soon as he finished, he wrote a review on Google docs and shared it with me.

*Warning: contains spoilers!* (But too precious not to share!)

Concerto Review By AJ Spero

Mom, I thought your book Concerto was absolutely amazing! And I’m not saying that just because you’re my mom. If I went to Barnes & Noble and bought your book and read it, I’d say, “WOW! This book is so cool!!” First thing: I thought the characters were awesome! They were so real, I felt like I could really feel and connect with the characters. I also really liked how there was some suspense that made you ask questions that really kept you turning the pages! I always wanted to see what happened next. And the drama between the characters was really good! I felt like it was emotional but not over-the-top, you know? For instance, When Sami started to date Miles, I was like, “No! What about Jason?” Then when she went to visit Jason, I could really feel the awkwardness. I was cringing myself! Then when Jason gave Sami a pat on the back, oh man. Total cringe fest. Then at the end, I loved how they finally started to get back together again. I didn’t really like how they broke up in the first draft, though, it was even painful for me! I know I have a big, long, rambling list of all the things I loved about your book, so I’ll wrap it up with one more thing. I loved the sneak peak chapter of “Cadence”! I want to read it so bad now! I love how you see the other side of that conversation Lauren and Sami had. Sami seemed so oblivious! I also like Lauren’s fun personality, and I can’t wait to find out more about Lauren. I felt like, in “Forte,” I couldn’t really connect with Lauren as a person, but I like how I’ll find out her side of things. Overall, I thought your book was SO GOOD and I can’t wait ‘till “Cadence” comes out! 

 

Rave review(s)

As an indie author, it’s important to get online reviews. Actually, it’s CRUCIAL to get online reviews. Why? Amazon uses an algorithm to determine which products to push–and books with lots of 5-star reviews (over 50) have a better chance of appearing in search results, etc. Needless to say, I’m super eager to get reviews. (hint, hint!)

The review that came in yesterday, though, wasn’t on Amazon or Goodreads. It wasn’t on Facebook or any social media. It was written (& drawn) with markers on a blank sheet of paper. And it will be cherished forever.

CONCERTO REVIEW

I love your book, the combination of magic and mythology was astounding. The battle at the end had lots o’ action and I love love love action. I’m just gonna sum it up with just a few words … , … YOUR BOOK WAS AWESOME!!!

Love, Adam Spero (age 10)

Adam loved Concerto!

Adam finishing Mom’s book yesterday, snuggling with Mom on the couch.

Looking back at my posts, I see that my oldest AJ finished Forte when he was 10 and gave me the most valuable review. 

Adam finished Forte last summer and was like “Oh no, she drank the blue stuff! This is baaaaaaad!”

Adam loved Forte

Adam finished Forte last summer. Loved it!

I sat with Adam as he finished the final pages of Concerto. It was a special moment. I loved seeing his reading habits. Unlike me, he wasn’t racing to finish. He took his time. Stopped to admire the cover, read the back copy blurb. He even took a break to read the teaser chapter for book #3, for the second time.

Oh, those little hands holding my book, *my heart*.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polar Bear Prints

My youngest son just finished a unit on polar bears in art class. His teacher just posted this beauty to Artsonia.

Polar Bear Prints

Polar Bear Prints by 7 y/o Chaz

I love this artwork for so many reasons.

Some of you may be surprised to learn polar bears inspired the concept of Concerto.

For those of you who are familiar with Forte, you’re probably wondering how the sequel could have anything to do with these beautiful arctic creatures. Forte is about music and magic . . . an ancient rivalry and a mysterious prophecy to fulfill. No lions or tigers or bears of any kind.

Its follow up, Concerto, is also about music and magic — but also about extreme weather personified by power-hungry gods of the sea and skies.

Sure, my latest may not involve animals, but it does involve their habitat.

Years ago I watched a documentary about polar bears that made me cry. With their habitat melting away, the problem seems insurmountable. And that’s just one example. Climate change. Global warming. Beyond these buzz words in the political arena, when I think about the kind of environmental problems we are passing on to the next generation, my mama-tiger claws come out. But then, despair hits. What can I, a writer, possibly do?

Write this book.

But this book is not a political statement. As the book evolved, the magic created an otherworldly twist that doesn’t translate to what’s happening in our environment. Sami, my main character, is charged with fighting extreme “natural” disasters and the evil force behind it. However, considering all the crazy extreme weather happening in the world lately, it seems timely. Wouldn’t it be cool if music could magically affect the weather?

I’m not hoping my book will trigger an environmental miracle. I do hope that it helps raise awareness, though. I also hope my son’s precious artwork is not someday seen as a study of a glorious animal that had become tragically extinct.