Oh, what one can accomplish when the kids actually behave

I want to take a moment and thank my two young children for whatever success I may have down the road with my writing career.

Granted, whatever success I may enjoy would probably have come sooner had I not had to keep stopping to tell the 6-year-old to stop running through the house half-naked while playing with the TV remote…and it might have come sooner still had I not had to tell the 3-year-old 67 times to stop pulling her clean clothes out of the dresser and throwing them all over her room and just take a nap, for the love of Pete.

But still, I would have no success at all without those two little devils angels because they – and their older siblings – are the reasons I write for children in the first place. Being a stay-at-home dad, I may barely have a career as it is…but I’d have no career whatsoever without them.

And no one to go sledding with, either.

“You got yourself down there, you can get yourself back up!”

So today, I just wanted to give thanks for the inspiration, love, and exhaustion that my kids provide me. For the past several months, I’ve had a difficult time getting any significant writing done; the 3-year-old is rarely taking naps now, so my work time is severely diminished, and now that she has been waking up at 2 or 3am every other night, I’m only getting 4-5 hours of sleep at night if I’m lucky.

But today, for some reason, went differently.

I don’t know if it was the fact we had our first real snowfall of the season (the 3-year-old spent a good hour outside with me in the morning before I’d even had breakfast), but for some reason she was exceedingly helpful today. And as it turned out, today was THE day I needed her to help me out.

Somehow, I managed to get some commercial television voicework recorded and sent off to an agency in Baltimore with whom I work on a regular basis…I wrote two boyds logoversions of a poem for an upcoming anthology due out in the next few years…made final revisions to the text of my upcoming debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyd’s Mills Press, Fall 2017)…began work on another new poem for another project…AND managed to shovel the property, twice!

Oh, and I wrote a blog post.😉

And once the 6-year-old came home from school, I was even able to clip enough evergreens from around the property to fill our house’s four large window boxes, and start getting more greens together for our wreaths.

Granted, I got almost no housework done – hey, something’s gotta give, right? – but days like this are few and far-between lately, so I needed to try to make the most of it.

And if I know my 3-year-old daughter, I’ll be spending most of tomorrow doing laundry, dishes, and vacuuming. And picking up clean clothes off the floor. After all, I can’t expect her to give me two of these kinds of days in a row.

But the snow is still on the ground, so anything’s possible.

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Poetry Friday: “Sunday afternoon, 1975”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllWell, I hope you enjoyed that little excursion into the past with my Throwback Summer series…many of you commented that you couldn’t believe I was willing to share poetry I’d written in high school and college, and my response is, “Hey, we all had to start somewhere!”

Granted, “Ode to a Dishrag,” “Ode to Lint,” and “Ode to a Poem I’m Writing Only Because I Couldn’t Think of Anything Else to Write About” were never Pushcart contenders…but I wanted to show readers how far one can develop through hard work, practice, and sheer determination.

As I always say, #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!

Today we get back to my present-day writing, and the following is one of those poems I wrote specifically to submit to a journal. I’ve previously shared my thoughts about the value of submission requests as inspiration to write, and this was one of those cases; the journal was looking for poems about ice cream, so I put this together.

It was just a few weeks later that I went to the journal’s website and all references to this particular issue were removed, and even the contact person’s name was nowhere to be found. Sigh. Oh, well…no reason to let the poem go unread, right?

Sunday afternoon, 1975

Ice cream, again. One of them said
something wrong, I think, something the other
didn’t like;
I don’t know what. I don’t know why
they’re even here in front of the grocery store
instead of at home – one of our homes –
but we’re here, and people
I don’t know are looking
and all I can do is fight
a shiver in my chest. I try not
to make them mad, but it always happens
around this time
every second weekend.

Without warning,
mom snatches my hand and turns, walking
so quickly I can barely keep up; I turn my head
to look behind
and see dad, standing on the pavement
watching, arms
by his sides, right hand
angled in a half-wave
as if to say
he’s sorry
it’s ice cream again.

– © 2016, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Poetry Friday is being hosted by the one and only Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm, so head on over for all of today’s poetry links, and learn more about a brand new book being published by the folks responsible for the Poetry Friday Anthology series, Pomelo Books!

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Amazing new discovery: My childhood!

Well, ok – I admit, that headline is a bit misleading. As someone who spent 25 years in radio and now writes for children, one could make a case that I never really left my childhood.

Matt lunchbox
The only lunchbox I ever owned. Alas, it’s missing the special “silo”-themed Thermos! Ahhh, memories of lukewarm milk and room-temperature Beefaroni. It’s a miracle I lived through all the potential food poisoning.

However, as I mentioned this past Friday, I recently came upon a huge stash of papers and memorabilia from my school days, while cleaning out my parents’ house. Their attic has been a treasure trove of nostalgia, where I have discovered old school tests and projects, several of my old journals, and even my elementary school lunchbox!

The journals – portions of which I’ll be sharing throughout the summer – were only part of the story.

The folks saved darned near everything

If the strength of a mother and father’s pride in their only child can be measured in the number of school papers and knick knacks they save, my parents are superhuman. Among the additional artifacts unearthed:

  • Poems by Emily Dickenson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others that I was required to memorize in high school.
  • A printout of my senior-year computer class project:  a program I designed using BASIC (any geeks remember that??) to keep track of a basketball team’s stats. I actually went back to school the Monday AFTER I graduated to try to fix a bug in the program. I wasn’t going to get any extra credit for it, but it was one of those things that kept annoying me and I had to fix. Never did. >sigh<typewriter 1
  • The first typewriter I ever owned! Yes, we all have to start somewhere.
  • Copies of the high school newspaper, of which I was a staff member and editor-in-chief my senior year. (see below!)
  • A big, pink, construction-paper heart envelope filled with 2 or 3 years’ worth of elementary school Valentine’s Day cards. You know those cheap, dozen-for-a-dollar cards they sell every year? Mom kept them all.
IMG_1259
My mug shows up twice on these front pages…score extra points if you can find me! (click to enlarge)

I still have wonderful memories of working on the student newspaper:  spending days after school typing stories on the old word-processors; cutting and pasting the stories, artwork, and photos together; and being embarrassed during journalism class when our teacher, Mrs. Jencks, told everyone her two younger daughters liked visiting us after school because they thought I looked like Remington Steele.

Not sure why Pierce Brosnan gets to keep his hair these days and I don’t…but I suppose that’s just more proof that life really is not fair.

IMG_1260  IMG_1263

When I first joined the newspaper staff, I started out entering news stories on our clunky Apple II computers. (MS DOS, anyone?)  I also created word puzzles, which I absolutely loved to do. During my senior year, I was not only editor, but also provided some of the cartoons. The school faced serious overcrowding issues; hence, the cover art on the left! (click to enlarge)

When you suddenly realize none of the kids you knew…are kids

A very sobering aspect of these discoveries is that I look at names and faces and need to come to grips with the fact that none of these children knew what was in store for them.

The kids whose names fill that Valentine heart, in particular – barely older than my 6-year-old son – give me pause to reflect on life, death, and fate. April, who went on to marry her childhood sweetheart. Karen, who became our senior class Salutatorian when I became Valedictorian. Chris, who committed suicide before he had a chance to graduate. Eric, who, a mere 2 months after high school graduation, died in a terrible car crash that should never have happened.

I think about Chris and Eric, and I so desperately wish I could somehow go back in time and wrap my arms around them, these little 7-year-old boys, and protect them the same way I would protect my own little dude.

Hold them. Shield them.

Warn them.

But they grew up, as we all do, and made choices they should not have made…and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

typewriter 2So I’ll continue sifting through my memories, sharing them here, and hopefully creating new ones, as long as God or Fate allow me to do so. And as I watch my son tap excitedly on my old typewriter, making up stories in much the same way I did – albeit with a dry, 40-year-old ribbon – I pray that he, and all my children, and everyone’s children, may live to see their dreams come true.

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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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Learning to be happy with disappointment

Well, now…that’s a cheery title for a blog post, isn’t it?

True, it’s not as exciting and peppy and others I’ve shared, but the good news for you is, this will be shorter than usual!

My little crazy-haired girl loves her brother’s Legos, trucks, and dinosaurs!

I have been trying and trying for months now to come to terms with a new lack of time available to work – either for my voiceover business or my writing – and having finally come to the conclusion of what I need to do, I’m finding it extremely difficult to put that conclusion into practice.

You see, my 2-year-old daughter has decided naps are no longer her ‘thing’…and it’s killing me that I have now lost 2 hours each afternoon in which I used to devote time to recording, writing or marketing myself. The only time I now have for my work is at night, once my daughter and 6-year-old son are asleep. And that doesn’t leave a lot of time for much of anything else.

The stress has been getting the better of me, I hate to say. I work late now, but still wake up at 5:30am when my wife gets up for work, at which time our son usually wakes up, as well. Consequently, I’m exhausted more and have less patience with the kids – and then add in the fact I have to drive nearly an hour away once or twice every week to help my parents who are in their 80’s and having a hard time getting around – and my time is no longer my own.

I’m racing here, racing there, forcing my son to hurry up and eat his breakfast and get dressed for school, then hurry my daughter so we can leave to run errands, then try to get her to be quiet for a little while in the afternoon so I can at least check emails, then hurry up and make dinner and hurry up and get them to bed so I can hurry up and try to write…it’s absolutely exhausting.

And not just for me; I’m sure it’s exhausting for the kids, as well.

Selfishness is hard to fight

I have to admit, I have selfish reasons for wanting to work: two-and-a-half years ago, I left full-time employment to develop my voiceover business, and had a hard time building it up because, as a stay-at-home dad, so much of my time was spent raising my son.

Fortunately, I was able to write quite a bit at night, and my children’s writing career took off even stronger than my voiceover business; I started selling poems as a Lullabye covercontributor to a number of different books, and even signed my very first contract for a full-length picture book just last year.

NG Book of Nature Poetry coverSo things were really growing for me, and I wanted to maintain that momentum. I wanted to be writing more, submitting more manuscripts to publishers, and hopefully sign another contract. But now, with almost no time left to myself, I feel I’ve hit a wall.

I squeeze my recording sessions in where I can and squeeze in my writing where I can, but feeling that heavy sense of urgency when trying to write poetry (or anything, really) is counter-productive. How does one “hurry up” and write anything that’s worth reading??

My conclusion

So, as I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve come to a conclusion that I’m having a difficult time putting into practice. And that is…

To put it in God’s hands.

You see, what we expect of ourselves is not always what God expects of us. What we expect of others is not always what God expects, either. In fact, as my wife and I were reminded this past Sunday at church, even Jesus was not the king that people were expecting at the time.

So I’m trying to remind myself that my daughter’s and son’s well-being are the most important things I should be concentrating on right now. I’ll continue to work on my voice career as time allows, and will write as time allows, but if I can’t capitalize on my publishing “momentum,” so be it. Perhaps I can capitalize on it next year.

Or perhaps I’ll manage to sell one of the 5 or 6 manuscripts I’m currently submitting.

Regardless, I need to change my way of thinking, and it’s not easy. Not easy, at all. I’d like to be a successful voice actor, a successful children’s writer, and a successful father/husband. But if it’s not possible to be all three, I know which one I need to pick.

I need to make an effort to be the person my kids, my wife, and God need me to be…not the person I want to be.

But come to think of it, that’s not entirely correct.

The person I should want to be…is the person my kids, my wife, and God need me to be. And if I can strive for that goal, all other goals can be secondary.

With that frame of mind, there’s no disappointment.

And I’m happy with that.

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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: Visiting with Penny Parker Klostermann!

Before I say anything, I have to apologize to someone…

“I lost your comment, and I’m sorry!”

I was scanning through my blog’s “comments” filter and deleted a bunch of spam-type stuff…and just as I hit ‘DELETE’ I realized one of them was a real comment…Aaargh!

So whoever you are…please leave another one! It was a comment on my Tuesday post, when I listed some of the many things my kids and I have learned over the past few years of their existence. The comment made reference to raising 2-year-olds, and that’s all I saw before it vanished…again, I apologize!

Poetry_Friday logoFor today’s post, I’m very excited to share two poems as part of writer Penny Parker Klostermann’s blog series, “A Great Nephew & A Great Aunt.”

Granted, I am neither a great nephew nor a great aunt (nor am I even average), but Penny has been featuring a number of folks over the past several months who are related or connected in some way.

The premise is, one person – usually a child – provides a picture while the other person provides a poem to go along with it. When Penny asked if my kids and I would be interested in participating, I jumped at the opportunity! Both my 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter are little artists, and were quick to provide me with some creative material.

I hope you’ll take a look at Penny’s blog and see what my kids and I came up with! And if you’d like, Penny has all the past participants available for viewing, as well.

And if you STILL can’t get enough poetry, Catherine is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Reading to the Core, featuring an interview with Irene Latham and a couple of selections from Irene’s new book of children’s poetry, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica (Millbrook Press).

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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!

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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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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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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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!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
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!