Parenting: an educational experience like none other

As a writer for children, I am fortunate to be blessed with a non-stop whirlwind of inspiration every day thanks to my two youngest kids.

My two older girls are 23 and 20 and off doing their own thing these days, so taking care of my 6-year-old son and his 2-year-old sister allows me to not only revisit some of the joy, pain, and utter ridiculousness that I enjoyed with the older ones, but to be able to view their development – and mine! – with a fresh perspective.

It’s like watching the video of your wedding and discovering all sorts of things you never realized happened, because you were in the eye of the storm the whole time, and everything was swirling about you. Only when you get a chance to relive it are you able to truly appreciate the event.

That being said, I thought I’d share a few nuggets of wisdom my kids and I have learned over the past few years. Some of these have already spawned poems or picture book ideas; others most likely will, at some point!
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What the kids have learned:

  • If you walk backward without watching where you are going long enough, tragedy is inevitable.
  • A penis is not an appropriate body part when singing the Hokey-Pokey.
  • The punishment for lying is always worse than the punishment for whatever it was you lied about.
  • The cat is not a bean bag, and does not appreciate being part of any game that involves tossing.
  • In addition to creating pretty pictures, magic markers can also be used to paint your nails. And your lips. And pretty much any exposed surface.
  • One must never like the same meal two days in a row. If I loved pizza yesterday, I must despise it today. If we have mac ‘n cheese tonight, I must throw it on the floor tomorrow.

What I have learned:

  • A little girl wearing a Queen Elsa dress with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shell on her back is a beautiful thing.
  • Unconsciousness can do wonders.  No matter how loud, rude, impolite, destructive, unruly, or otherwise improper your little hellion was during the day, as soon as he falls asleep…your sweet, angelic Gift from God returns.
  • I may not like loud, banshee-like screaming, but when it’s happy banshee-like screaming…it’s music to my ears.
  • Reading 8 books before bedtime is not as exhausting as reading the same book 8 times in a row. Or is the other way around? Dang, I can’t remember.
  • When your 2-year-old daughter runs through the house shouting, “I laugh in the face of danger!” followed by a psychotic laugh…be prepared for anything.
  • Two-year-olds have only two speeds: asleep and lightning.
  • When feeding a toddler who dumps half her food on the floor, the family dog is an invaluable resource.

Ah, parenting. I have to admit, being a stay-at-home dad has its advantages when it comes to writing! These two are a never-ending source of stress frustration insomnia joy and happiness!

And as I’ve told many folks, I probably wouldn’t be writing for kids right now if it wasn’t for these two young ones. I get to watch them grow, be inspired by them, and then write about it.

What a career!

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Back on the field…finally!

If your memory goes back to a few years ago (and you cared enough to even bother remembering!), I had a major injury on the soccer field two years ago. I tore my right knee apart – the ACL, MCL, and meniscus – while playing on my men’s indoor soccer league and needed surgery to repair the damage.

Well, the injury happened in late November 2013, the arthroscopic ACL reconstruction surgery was late March 2014, rehab took a little over a year, and I spent this past summer and fall continuing to strengthen my leg and hip muscles to ensure the knee would be safe to use in an aggressive setting like indoor soccer.

So after all this time, I’m finally back on the field tonight!

Don’t tell my wife.

Seriously, she supports me, but really doesn’t want to deal with another torn ACL – and I don’t, either, of course. No reason to think it will happen again, as the new ACL (fashioned from a piece of my right hamstring tendon) should be as strong as the original, but I don’t blame her for worrying.

Good things come to those who wait…but waiting only helps so much

Yes, patience is a virtue and the ability to wait patiently is beneficial, but that only gets you so far. One needs to take active steps to achieve certain goals.

For example, after years of writing poetry for adults and getting some published in various journals around the country, I decided in 2009 to make a serious effort to write for children. And not as a hobby; I wanted to make a career out of writing for children, which I knew was neither easy nor, for that matter, lucrative.

Lullabye coverBut I was determined, and set about doing whatever I could to make that happen. I joined an open SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI, started connecting with folks in the business, and learning everything I could. In 2015, I saw the fruits of my labors in the form of EIGHT children’s poems in FIVE children’s books, including my very first children’s publishing credit, Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed).

I reached another milestone last year, when Rebecca Davis at Boyd’s Mills Press liked my picture book manuscript, Flashlight Night, enough to purchase it! With a Fall 2017 scheduled release date, it is a true test of patience, believe me.

Patience, patience…

– My new studio won’t be ready until later this year. When we had $20,000 worth of ice dam damage repaired this past December, the contractor volunteered to rip up all the upstairs carpeting – which we were going to need to do – at no charge. We took him up on the offer, but that means there’s no carpeting in my present studio space, so voiceover work is a challenge when it comes to sound dampening. I’ll just have to wait!

– Our 2-year-old daughter, whose nursery is going to be my new studio, no longer takes naps – which means I get no writing, voice, or marketing work done until after the two kids are in bed. She’ll start preschool in another two years, but until then…I’ll just have to wait!

– I currently have 8 or 9 manuscript submissions out there in kidlit land, sitting in the slush piles of various editors and agents. The wheels turn slow, so it’s possible 6 months could go by before I get a response, positive or negative. In some cases, I won’t even get a response unless there is interest! I have some names of people I want to send these manuscripts out to, but until I hear back from these others…I’ll just have to wait.

I could go on and on, but won’t. My point is, trying to have patience in a world of instant gratification is tough – and I’m not perfect at it. Far from it! I hate waiting, just like most people.

I think I’m at the age where I’m young enough to still be a bit impatient and impetuous sometimes, but mature enough to recognize that life is short and tenuous. Who knows what could happen between now and my picture book release date? What if i die before I ever have a chance to see the book in print??

Sorry – there’s that imagination again, coming up with all sorts of circumstances. But seriously, if I DID die before the book came out…there are plenty of things I could have been doing in the interim besides worrying about it! So I’ll try to be patient and wait.

After all, I have a new manuscript I need to work on…

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Cookies vs. Blog

Christmas time’s a-comin’…

This is going to be a short post because I have a number of pressing issues I need to attend to.

Like cookies.

You see, construction work on our house was finally completed this past Sunday ($20,000 worth of ice dam damage from last winter!), and only now can the family and I dive into all our Christmas traditions that we’ve put on hold.

Like cookies!

Yes, I need to get voiceover work done. I have a new picture book manuscript I need to start sending out. I have CYBILS-nominated books I need to read and judge. And the house – especially the upstairs – is in such a state of disruption that it’s hard to find the floor, much less anything else. But I’m determined not to let the important aspects of the holiday slip by.

Like cookies!

Oh, I have cards to send, stockings to hang, gifts to wrap…and a slew of other responsibilities like taking care of the kids while mom’s at work. A guy needs to have his priorities straight, though.

First, we set up the Nativity scene on top of the dining room bureau. This is, of course, what Christmas is all about. Then the outdoor lights went up. Then the 4-foot-tall fake tree was erected in the sun room, since we had no room for a real tree this year.

Pretty much all of that was done before construction began. Unfortunately, we had to put a hold on everything while walls were ripped open, siding was replaced, roofing was redone, and drywall was plastered.

But construction is complete, finally! (New paint and floors are still to come, but we’ll take care of that next year) So it’s time to rejoice in the spirit of the season! The advent wreath is on the table. The shopping is done. Our Christmas mass plans are nailed down.

There’s just one thing that absolutely, positively, needs to be taken care of at this point.

Cookies!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Poetry Friday: “At the End of Her Ninth”

We said goodbye to my cat, Cleo, last week. She was 17 1/2 years old – so it really felt like losing a big part of the family. She was like my daughter, my wife, my grandmother, and my angry next door neighbor all rolled into one.

At the End of her Ninth

Cleo - 17 years oldThe click of claws, wail
unmistakable,
proclivity for curiosity
unshakeable,
feline force of will
unbreakable…
mouths one last, silent
meow.

– © 2015, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Please be sure to visit Tara Smith at A Teaching Life for today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup!

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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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In a season of expectations, find peace in reality

My expectations have been too high.

For what?

A lot of things, actually…but I’m trying to change that.

This time of year is filled with expectations: the arrival of Jesus, the arrival of winter, the hope of a new year, and myriad other things.

In fact, our church has been using the concept of “Great Expectations” as a theme for Advent this year. Because of that, I’ve been making an effort to adjust my own expectations…in many ways.

from Charles Dicken's "Great Expectations"

The problem with expectations

It’s fine to look forward to certain things and get excited about what’s in store for the future – whether it’s preparing for parties, unwrapping gifts, or simply getting to work on time. But the problem is, very often, our expectations are far different from reality.

Religiously speaking, as our pastor explained, the Israelites of Jesus’ day were expecting a king in the manner of King David: a warrior, fighter, take-charge kind of guy who would march right in and restore their kingdom. So when they began thinking Jesus may be the one, they got their hopes up based on their expectations of what their king would be like.

However, when Jesus instead preached peace and love, refused to take any role in the government, and allowed Himself to be persecuted and tortured, they were so aghast they rose up against Him. He did not live up to their expectations.

Likewise, in our personal and secular lives, our expectations often get in the way of us enjoying life when reality sets in. A few examples…

Long lines at the mall…who’d have known??

People always complain about waiting in lines at stores this time of year. Everyone is shopping and everyone is in a hurry – so when everyone gets in line to check out, everyone gets annoyed.

Not me. In this particular case, I understand expectation vs. reality.

I assume that I’m going to be in line for at least half an hour. No, I probably won’t be in line for that long, but that’s what I tell myself to expect. Then, when I end up only being in line for 20 minutes, I feel like I’m 10 minutes ahead of the game!

And you know what? My day is not ruined and I leave the store with a smile.

Assuming, of course, my 2-year-old daughter isn’t screaming.

Speaking of high expectations…

Expecting my daughter to not scream about something is unrealistic. Remember what I said at the beginning of this post about my expectations being too high lately? This is what I was talking about.

You see, she stopped taking regular naps a few weeks ago, which is killing me – I have no more time to work, other than the evening. This means I cannot market my voiceover business, write children’s books and poetry, or even update a blog until after the kids are in bed.

That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time; 2-3 hours is about all I have, if I want to spend any quality time with my wife. Consequently, my paychecks have plummeted while my anxiety has skyrocketed. And my expectations have been so far off from reality it’s driving my nuts!

I keep hoping my daughter will take a nap, but of course she doesn’t. I keep expecting her to not draw on the floor with Sharpies while I’m cleaning the cat pan, but she does. I keep expecting her to not play in the cat pan while I’m wiping off Sharpie from the floor, but she does that, too.

I keep anticipating that today is the day she won’t fight and flail and scream because I want her to wear long pants instead of a summer skirt.

But it never is.

Today was different!

No, she didn’t change. What changed were my expectations.

I woke up this morning assuming I’d get absolutely nothing done.

Call me defeatest, but I was simply trying to be realistic! Anyone with kids knows how hard it is to clean a house with a 2-year-old around: as soon as you fold the clothes, the kid is climbing into the kitchen sink; as soon as you pull her out of the sink and wipe the counter, she’s throwing the folded laundry on the floor.

And somewhere in the midst of it all, she’s finding another Sharpie that we thought we had hid and is drawing on a wall.

Or her face.

Speaking of Christmas and my daughter…hard to believe she was just 4 months old on her first Christmas!

So today, I tried something different. I planned to accomplish nothing – and it worked! I didn’t expect to get the dishes put away and reload the dishwasher, but I did. I didn’t expect to be able to get some yard work done, but I did! I didn’t expect to be able to get any voice work done, but —

Oh, wait. I still wasn’t able to do that.

Dang.

But by setting my expectations lower, I found I didn’t get upset or frustrated like I have been, and my daughter and I are both the better for that.

Revising expectations: not always lower…just different

I’m not saying you should always lower your expectations. I’m just suggesting that altering them to be more realistic is probably not a bad idea.

Should you expect a holiday bonus this year? Should you expect one as big or as little as last year? Should you expect to get a great parking spot at the mall two days before Christmas? Should you expect every driver on the road to always use their turn signals and never cut people off?

Should I expect to sell two more picture books next year??

Well…probably not. It’s not going to keep me from trying, certainly; setting a goal of selling two picture book manuscripts is absolutely worthwhile. But I’m not expecting that to happen. I sold one this past year, so the expectation of selling two the following year may be a bit too ambitious.

Oh, and by the way…now that I no longer expect to be able to decorate for the holidays due to the massive construction work at our house, I’m much more at ease. I am, however, still coming to terms with my office/studio being crammed full and covered in plastic:

house 1 house 2 house 3

YOUR “Great Expectations”

Is there some area in your life where you find that reality is not in line with your expectations? Do you know of any ways that you or other readers can alter our expectations about things, so we feel less disappointment and be more at peace with our lives and the world?

Myself, I’m still a relatively new player to the publishing game and have two poems coming out in two separate anthologies in 2016, so I’ll be happy if I sell at least a couple more poems.

I also expect to gain at least one new voiceover client within the first half of the year – far less than I should, but considering my parenting situation, I really cannot expect much more!

I also expect that the new Star Wars movie is going to rock our planet with awesomeness far beyond all expectations!

That’s not too much to expect, is it?

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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

What have I been up to, you ask? Let me explain…

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So if you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything new on Tuesdays for the past couple weeks…let me show you!

CYBILS - gr novels photo
Nominees for the CYBILS Awards’ two “Graphic Novel” categories (click to enlarge)

These are just SOME of the 102 graphic novels nominated for the Elementary-Middle Grade Graphic Novel and Young Adult Graphic Novel categories in the 2015 CYBILS Awards.

That’s a lot of reading, right there.

This is the first year I’ve been a first-round panelist; the past two years, I’ve been a second-round judge in the Poetry category and have only had to sort through 7 books. A proverbial walk in the park, compared to this! But I’m enjoying it.

One thing that has surprised me is how the definition of “graphic novel” has changed over the years. Graphic novels used to be, for all intents and purposes, highly-produced comic books in traditional book form.

Cybils-Logo-2015-Round-LgThese days, any book that utilizes illustrations to tell a significant portion of the story can qualify. Whether or not that definition holds true for each of these books is a question only those of us judging them can answer – and I’m slowly working my way through the pile, taking note of what I like and what doesn’t work.

The variety of styles, narratives, formatting, and age ranges is amazing, though, and it’s going to be difficult paring this massive list down to just a handful of titles to pass along to this year’s second round judges!

Oh yes, I write, too

I would have liked to have judged the Poetry category again this year, but at least two of the books nominated contain poems that I wrote – so I bowed out and moved to the graphic novel category. However, I’m still just as busy writing as I always have been…

Having wrapped up a revision of a poetry collection I’ve been working on for a couple years AND having completed another collection I started compiling this summer, I also just put the finishing touches on a new picture book manuscript.

You know what that means: time to write another!

That’s what I’m doing now, in addition to finding some appropriate publishers to send the completed manuscripts to. There are only so many hours in a day, as they say, and with our 2-year-old rarely taking naps anymore, the days’ hours are even more precious!

(Also, two new poems have been accepted for publication in two upcoming and as-yet-unannounced anthologies…I hope to be able to share more news on that early next year!)

She Blinded Me with Sais

I’ve also been a bit slower than normal, thanks to that 2-year-old daughter I made reference to earlier. Last week, as I was reaching over her car seat to find a necklace she lost, she suddenly grabbed her older brother’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy and jammed it as hard as she could into my left eyeball.

As you can see, the injury severely affected my eyesight as well as other facial features.

When I stopped screaming, I found enough composure to call the local Urgent Care facility to see if they could fit me in. It didn’t appear that my eyesight had been damaged, but infection was certainly a possibility and the pain would fluctuate between a 1 and a 5, so I needed something to get it to stop tearing.

When I told the nurse what happened, he asked, “Was it Raphael’s fork?”

sai
The offending item, a sai (pron. “say”) which my daughter wielded expertly. A little TOO expertly.

Good Lord, this man instinctively knew my plight! “Umm…yes, as a matter of fact, it was,” I replied. “You get these a lot?”

His smile came over the phone clearly. “More than you can imagine,” he said.

I now know why Popeye squinted his eye that way – Sweet Pee probably smacked him in the face with a can of spinach and the poor old sailor man never fully recovered.

Recovery in time for food prep

So now that I can see without pain and without the weird, scrunched-up eye thing I was doing for a few days, I can focus (pun intended) on Thanksgiving! There’s a turkey to brine, desserts to make, and bread dough to rise. My wife and I are also trying out a vegan butternut squash lasagna for the first time, so I’m looking forward to that, as well.

I hope you have an enjoyable week! If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope it’s wonderful for you…and if you don’t, perhaps you’ll find some time to reflect on all the positives in your life.

Personally, I’m thankful for my family, my health, my faith, my talents, and all the tremendous blessings I enjoy. Many of these blessings, like the books I’ve been able to be a part of, you are part of! For that, I thank you.

By the way, you only have about one week left to get your “Poetry…Cubed!” poems in – and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click HERE to get caught up-to-date!

As for me…I have some reading to do!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: Accepting a challenge to go back in time

Poetry_Friday logoEarlier this month, friend and fellow poet/blogger Michelle H. Barnes spotlighted the illustrious Lee Bennett Hopkins and his latest children’s anthology, Jumping Off Library Shelves (WordSong, 2015).

As she does each month, Michelle asked her celebrity guest to issue a “Ditty of the Month Club Challenge” – that is, a poetry prompt to encourage readers to submit their own original poems. In this case, Lee asked readers to take a look back at their own life’s history and write a “ME” poem, a poem about one specific moment in their life that changed them in some way.

Always up for a challenge, I submitted mine and it is now posted on her blog! The poem is titled “…I write her name in my notebook.” and it captures a scene that is apparently reminiscent to many other folks besides myself – I had no idea there were others feeling and doing the same things I was! So please check it out HERE and let me know if you, too, were one of those hopeless romantics.

And for all of today’s Poetry Friday links, head over to the one and only Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!