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Margaret Dilloway, American Housewife

Come for the books, stay for the fun.

Reasons I’m Glad I Had My Kids Young

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make as a woman, if you want kids, is when exactly you ought to reproduce. Straight outta college? After a career is established? In our community, I am on the younger side for having a 16 -year-old, so obviously I fall on the younger. I had my first at the grand old age of 25- on purpose.

  1. Having kids young means you’re too naive to know all the things that could wrong, and that makes you as brave as a gung-ho young man volunteering for war. Things go awry with jobs, with health, with everything. I count this as a good thing, because if I knew what I know now, at age 41, I might not have ever had kids. I’d be too scared.
  2. I was already used to being poor. Having a baby is costly, and so is going down to one income, even temporarily. If we had time to get used to solo vacations and buying everything we wanted all the time, it would have been mighty hard to get used to not having those perks. Besides, since I was already a struggling young mother, it was pretty easy to become a struggling writer.
  3. People think my daughter and I are sisters. And they think my husband might be my father or my sugar daddy. (Actually that was only one person who thought that about my husband, but it was pretty entertaining. For me, anyway. My husband wasn’t particularly amused).
  4. Middle age makes you tired. I’m 41 and I honestly don’t know how my friends with babies do it. I can barely muster the energy to tell my 16-year-old to drive to Starbucks and get me a latte.
  5. “Having it all” is a myth anyway. Every path requires compromise and sacrifice.
  6. It would have been physically impossible for me to get pregnant in my mid-30s, according to my OB/GYN. And this family heart condition can make pregnancy unstable. So if I hadn’t have had my kids young, it is highly likely that I would have no kids at all. And my kids are pretty awesome, and I’m not just saying that because I want them to take care of me in my golden years.

So when should you have babies? Nobody can decide for you. I’m not you. But I guess there’s one thing I’ve always known, from when I was little. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone. There’s never a “perfect” time.

Putting in the De-Freak-o-Later

This summer has been an interesting one, to say the least. Instead of my kids writing about what they did on their summer vacation, they’ll be writing about how they took over all of mom’s duties because she had to have a pacemaker/ICD installed. A defibrillator, AKA “the de-freak-o-later,” as my youngest dubbed it. I prefer “de-freak-o-later” because it does indeed make me less freaky.

To think of oneself as a healthy person who works out regularly and then go in for an annual check-up and be told you need an ICD is quite shocking (ha, that’s kind of a pun). I’d just gotten a new cardiologist, courtesy of our awful/fantastic PPO plan (awful because the out of pockets were so high, fantastic because I could go anywhere). This guy was recommended to me by another cardiologist, who sends all his family to him. When a doctor uses another doctor, you kind of know he’s the best. This guy only deals with heart failure patients but agreed to see me, because he specializes in the rare genetic heart condition that runs in my family: noncompaction cardiomyopathy.

Basically, this condition is what caused my mom’s heart to fail, ultimately, along with two of her sister’s. It happens when the walls of the heart are spongy instead of smooth– some error in fetal development, possibly. Sometimes the walls are just spongy and nothing happens. Sometimes they become weak and as a result, the heart beats irregularly, and as a result, the heart enlarges.

About half of these patients, I gather, die suddenly due to the irregular heartbeat. This is sometimes what you see happen with otherwise healthy young athletes and such.

It’s a pretty newly named disease. When my mother died 21 years ago, they did not know this was the cause– they thought maybe she’d had scarlet fever as a child. A lot of docs don’t know much about it; my family practice doc and the anesthesiologists at the hospital asked me to explain it to them. The cardiologist I’m seeing does cutting-edge research on the condition.

Anyway, he had me wear a Holter monitor for two weeks instead of two days, like is usual,  and found that my heart was doing a funky-dunky dance at one point (ventricular tachycardia) which corrected itself shortly after it began. However, if it ever did that and it DIDN’T stop,  then my heart would just stop working. If I were his sister or his mother, he said, he would advise me to get a pacemaker/ICD. It was insurance against the unlikely possibility of this occurrence, he said.

Though I was not fond of the idea of getting an appliance that requires surgical replacement every 7 years or so, I had to agree with the whole not-passing-away suddenly thing.

After all, unlike my mother, I want to live to see my kids get married and maybe even have grandchildren. I want to be old and crotchety with my husband, so we can do the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol together (a police volunteer force of seniors who go around and look for stuff out of place). I haven’t been to half the places I want to go.

Unfortunately, my first crack at surgery was a failure. First of all, the device slide up and down inside my chest. It hurt a lot. I chalked it up to it not being scarred in place yet. But then my diaphragm kept contracting as if I had the hiccups. Turns out the sponginess of the heart walls makes it difficult for the ICD wire to stick.

So it came to be that just one week later, I had to go back in and have a new wire put in. This wasn’t exactly a picnic, as the nurse promised it’d take 15-30 minutes. I told him, “I’d allow more time for that if I were you.” And indeed, it took two hours.

For this one, I was in a twilight sleep, but I woke up fully while the fellow (doc in training) was stitching me up. I told him I could feel it and he said they were almost done and asked if it was sharp or dull pain. I said, “Sharp.” I asked how much longer and he said, “5-7 minutes.” At this point I considered ripping off my mask, but was afraid the stitching would come out, but then they gave me more meds.

Apparently it’d taken so much longer that they were afraid I’d stop breathing if they gave me too much more medication.

The other thing they fixed was the device slipping around, by stitching it to my muscle. It feels way better.

I’m now almost 3 weeks past my second surgery and feeling great. I didn’t feel bad before. But I find that the more stuff I do, the better I feel.

My cardiologist assures me that plenty of people have this condition and never really get sick from it. My heart function is really good. There’s simply no way to know.

The cool thing about this device is it has a wireless modem that sends info to the doctor when something’s wrong, and on a regular basis. If I feel something’s wrong, I can also hit a button to have it transmit data.

It mostly doesn’t do anything. I take a beta blocker to help control PVCs, or extra heartbeats (if I’m active,they go away!). If my heartrate drops below 50, it’ll speed it up (never happens) or if it goes above like 190. Or if it goes into such a strange rhythm that it won’t stop, it’ll shock it.

So I definitely feel safer now than I did before.

At this point, I am pretty much back to normal. I am cleared for almost everything–  driving, travel, work, roller coasters, sports. Unfortunately, my lifelong ambition of challenging Ronda Rousey for her championship MMA title can never be, because I can’t do combat sports. Le sigh. Or ultra-competitive sports, like ultra marathons, which I was ALSO TOTALLY GOING TO DO. Now I can sit and talk about how I could’ve been SUCH a contender, if not for this pacemaker thing.

This is at the hospital, first surgery.

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This is shortly after the surgery. Pretty lumpy and swollen here.

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This is after surgery 2, when there was less swelling, probably because the device was stitched into its rightful position.
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And

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The reason I’m sharing all this is because I think it helps if you’re looking for info on the procedure and you find someone who can tell you what happened to them. In the time since I shared some of these pics on Instagram, I’ve had people reach out to me and tell me how they were affected by their own ICDs.

I would also hope people know the device can help them do MORE activities, and to lessen their worry.

Saturday Night

Tonight is Saturday night. Tonight I wrestled down a copse of dead trees standing between us and the neighbors. I’m sitting here with a hair full of bark and glasses full of sawdust. I’m not sure what kind of trees they were. They were tall, providing privacy; now they’re just branches sticking into the earth. So easy to push over that all I had to do was wedge myself between the fence and the trees and give it a good nudge. Boom. Timber! Then I sawed the branches with an electric reciprocating sawinto manageable pieces, until my hands tired and I feared I’d cut off my leg. Cadillac was impressed with my brute force and said I should have taken a photo, but my camera was upstairs and I was too dirty to traipse across the house.

Meanwhile, Cadillac is replacing the garbage disposal. He’s handy, that Cadillac. He comes from a line of men who work with their hands. His grandpa was a carpenter, who built many of the houses around here after he emigrated from England in the 1940s, after the war. His dad was an electrical/mechanical engineer, an executive at power companies, but still did and does as much of his own car/yard/house work as possible. When Cadillac’s dad was young, he and Cadillac’s grandpa built a boat in their backyard– a seaworthy vessel that, for all anybody knows, is still moored someplace. So Grandpa passed this do-it-yourself ethic to his son who passed it to his own sons. Thus, even if we had loads of money, Cadillac would likely do most of this kind of work himself, because he can and it’s almost anathema to him to let somebody else do it.

I was thinking about his grandpa. About how he fought in WWII and Cadillac’s dad didn’t see him for six years, except for a few periods of leave. About how he and his little family just chugged on over from England and made a new life here. About my paternal grandfather, how he was a coal miner who lost a leg and had seven children in a tiny two-bedroom townhouse. About how the struggles we face today pretty much pale in comparison to the struggles our grandparents had. About how lucky we are to live where we live, instead of being born in a country full of Ebola or constant civil war or drug cartels trying to kill us. How much of this life is out of our control, and how generous the universe was to my family, I think. I must be grateful for what I have.

So some people might think I’m having a crappy Saturday night, full of chores. I’m really not. I’m pleased to have trees I can chop down, because they’re MY trees now. I’m glad to have a reciprocating saw, instead of chopping the trees by hand like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m grateful to have a garbage disposal to install, because we can afford to buy a new garbage disposal without worrying about it.

This mantra of gratitude has come grudgingly to me in the past. Don’t we all think, Oh, I should be out doing THIS and THAT, I should be actively worrying about a thousand things that are actually not in my sphere of influence. I’m getting better at letting all that go. Perhaps this is how one can be happy.

After Cadillac’s done installing the disposal, we’ll sit on the couch in my office/grown-up hideaway and drink gin and lemonades and maybe watch a movie on Netflix. And then I’ll go to bed, my muscles sore for once from actual labor, and hope that I sleep soundly.

Writing Wednesday: How to Write a Query for a Memoir

While I was at BlogHer doing the Path to Publishing workshop– in the MIDDLE of Path to Publishing, actually– it came to my attention that neither I nor my co-leader knew how to write a query for  memoir. I thought it was nonfiction and therefore out of my area, so I hadn’t even looked it up.

I tried to find out on ze Internets, and got conflicting results. No one concrete answer.

In nonfiction, you have a proposal, sample chapters and perhaps an outline. And some articles said that’s how you sell a memoir, too. But other (also reliable) sources said memoir is sold like fiction and you need the whole thing.

Thus I sent out the Batsignal on Facebook, and emailed my agent, Dan Lazar, to ask.

This is what I found out:

  • It all depends.

Is that concrete enough for you?

My friend Alison Singh Gee, author of the memoir Where the Peacocks Sing responded first.

Alison wrote a proposal, which was 100 pages long, and didn’t have a full manuscript. But she had a solid, long career as a journalist/columnist.

Alison also said, “My friend Wendy Lawless initially tried to sell Chanel Bonfire in proposal form, but she says she didn’t yet have an alluring enough platform. She ended up writing the entire book, and sold it that way.”

Then Dan responded with this:

“If you’re a new author, a full manuscript helps very, very much — but honestly it’s not essential. That’s why you’re getting mixed opinions. If an author has a great title, and a great voice, and a great concept… usually a few sample chapters and a strong outline will do the trick. Most of the memoirs I’ve sold have been on proposal.”

So, to sum up:

  • The best thing to do is write the whole memoir.
  • If you haven’t written the whole memoir, write a few sample chapters and an outline and try to sell it that way.
  • If that doesn’t work, write the whole manuscript.

There you have it.

That’s the funny thing about advising people on how to get published. You talk to ten different authors and it worked differently for each. All you can offer are guideposts, what worked for you, and hope it helps.

Comic-Con 14 Recap

I went to Comic-Con this year. If you’re in publishing or another sort of media pro, you can apply for a free pro pass. I know! This year, my publisher submitted me to be considered for a panel, but I didn’t get one. They were nice and invited me to the Penguin party, but it was on Thursday! When I was still at BlogHer! The humanity! I know, embarrassment of riches, the likes of which I might not ever see again.

world’s smallest violin

This was my third time and my first time with Cadillac. Who is kind of a closet geek. That is, he lurves him some Star Wars, he is obsessed with Harry Potter, his favorite anime is Vampire Hunter D (he’s been a huge unwavering vampire supporter since before Anne Rice, even during the great Vampire Drought between Rice and Twilight). But from looking at him, could you really tell? Nope. It all adds to his complexity and mystery. Ha.

 

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The last two times were with the two older kids, which was a stress filled event for me. I am claustrophobic and don’t like crowds all that much and I’d rather just let somebody lead me around. The boy was ready to leave in 15 minutes while Eldest could have stayed all day. So, having Cadillac there was great. He pushes through crowds (people kind of bounce off him) and I just hold onto his back and jog behind. Also, he carried all our stuff. Also, he was amenable to whatever I wanted to do while suggesting things and looking at the map.

And the air conditioning worked a hell of a lot better than it did two years ago.

We went on Saturday morning, which at first wasn’t all that crowded because people were hungover from the night before and not coming in.

See? Not bad.
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Not bad.

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Still not that crowded.

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My brother was also in town for Con, as he’s been going since the 90s, and he told us some tips.

 

(The link above goes to a pic of my brother. He made Entertainment Weekly! He looks rather trustworthy with that mustache.)

He told us to take the trolley (totally correct– driving down there is mayhem). And also: If you want to get autographs or buy things at special kiosks, like the Mattel kiosk, you have to go to a drawing at like 9 am. Then if you draw correctly, you can get in line.

We didn’t much care about that, so we decided to walk around and see what we could see.

First we saw this statue of Boba Fett (which my eldest just told me was the wrong color for Boba Fett, what do you think?) Cadillac’s fave Star Wars character! Here they are getting ready to go on a romantic picnic and walk along the beach.

 

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Then we saw a big old Hobbit display, where this Smaug slowly opened and closed his eyes. Basically Comic-Con is like walking through Universal Studios or the equivalent.

 

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They also had different experiences you could…experience. Like a lab thing from Bates Motel. Or The Walking Dead experience, which we didn’t wait in line for.

 

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Our kids gave us a list of souvenirs to find. This was a surprisingly hard task, especially for our son, who wanted a “pillow shaped like Bedsmith“, a character my brother assured us was super duper obscure.

 

So we wandered up to the Pro Lounge. That’s right. While all you peons have to squat on the floor and get yelled at for leaning against walls, us Important Folk get to go into the Pro Lounge and have foot massages and brandy.

 

Actually it was lemonade and coffee. Or tea.

The coffee was really really good though.

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Then it was lunchtime, and we ventured out.

Those crazy people with the REPENT signs were all there with bullhorns telling us we are all going to die. Um, duh?

“Heretics!” I shouted at them. I’m sure they would have been aghast, had they not been so glassy-eyed.

I used Yelp to find a sushi place. Which we found with a sign saying WELCOME COMIC-CON!And the hours (should be open).

But it was closed.

Then we found another sushi place (being in the mood) where they had a menu with like 4 rolls on it. None of which were my favorites. The lady said they were a pop-up just open for the Con. I did not like that.

Then we went to a Mexican place, which had no air. I immediately stuck grossly to the seat so we left.

Finally, we ended up at Seersucker, where we sat at the bar. They gave us the brunch menus though it was after 1.

Before we were done eating, the bartender would tell the other patrons they were out of sandwiches.

 

Out of sandwiches. Can you believe it?

Lots of different shows/films decorated the buildings. Here’s one for the show Ascension.

 

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Then we headed to stand in line for the Grimm panel. It’s in Hall 20, which hosts various panels all day. They don’t clear the room so people get in early and sit. Sit. Sit. Waiting for Vampire Diaries.

We were almost in and then we had to be stopped just before this hallway, across from the ballroom.

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Finally we got in and found the first available seats next to a family of wildebeests who were waiting for…you guessed it…Vampire Diaries. Which meant that they just freakin yakked it up.

 

We were sitting quite far back, so we mostly watched the monitors. The program said they’d be showing a preview of the new season, but alas, they did not. Cadillac said the only actor he liked was the guy who plays Monroe and the rest were funny. Like not funny ha ha. “Having seen who they are in real life will greatly diminish my enjoyment of the show, ” he said. (Actually, he intoned. You know Cadillac. And yes, he talks like that).WP_20140726_15_16_55_Pro

After that panel, we stayed for Vampire Diaries simply so we could talk through the whole thing and ruin it for those people. (not really. I thought about it and Cadillac said he was game, but I didn’t care that much).

Then we were trudging through the sales floor looking for Bedsmith again when the backdoor opened and men in suits shouted, “Make way! Two minutes! Back up, please!”

And Josh Brolin, Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson (and Frank Miller, presumably, but who cares about him? He’s just a writer and director and artist. Totally boring!) came through for their Sin City panel.

I whipped out my phone and managed to snag this somewhat blurry pic. Alba is holding up her phone taking a picture of the crowd. Dawson’s behind her.

 

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They were tiny, like actors tend to be. Small like pro ballerinas. Alba is very very pretty. I didn’t recognize Dawson until later.

Brolin has a huge rectangular head that looks like somebody chiseled it out of a rock. Also a good feature for an actor.

“Who are those people?” Cadillac asked.

I told him. “You’ve seen stuff they were in.”

“I haven’t.”

I told him Sin City and he said, “Wasn’t Mickey Rourke in that? Was he there?”

We are going to be such annoying old people, he and I.

Then, up on a pedestal, we saw the girl from The Descendants and that hot guy whom Mary killed with her lethal lady-bits in Downton Abbey (seriously, every man she sleeps with dies. Her new suitors ought to be concerned). I actually looked up and just noticed Theo James and thought, “That’s that really hot guy from Downton Abbey! Who’s that girl?” because Woodley is a really great actress but looks like a regular girl. Which is refreshing, because all the actresses look the same these days. But she looked really tired. Who knows what they had her doing. I couldn’t get a pic because people (guards) were moving us along.

Who else did we see? The cast of Constantine, outside. And possibly Harry Potter. And a cosplay convention goer lady who was pretty much nekkid except for some cyborg pasties over her breasts, and cyborg hands. She had almost as big of a crowd as Divergent gawking around her.

Skunks and Other Minor Annoyances

This was just a banner week in terms of annoyances. It started off on Sunday with a fire that torched the mountain across the way from our house. I smelled smoke and asked my family, “Does anyone else smell that?”

“Nope,” they said. “It’s your imagination.”

I looked out the window later and saw smoke starting to go up and the first thing (I know it’s bad) the FIRST thing I yelled was, “I TOLD you I smelled smoke! The hill is on fire!” The theory is that someone threw his cigarette out their car window, a theory borne out by the fact that a bunch of people saw a dude throw his cigarette out the window, and the subsequent fire.

I just hate that. Responsible smokers clean up their butts. They don’t leave them on the ground or throw them out the window into the pile of dry tinder known as San Diego from April through October. And the next day I saw someone throw a cigarette out the window near the mountain and I swear I came thisclose to ramming them with my trusty mini-van (So THAT’S how your bumper got knocked ajar, eh, Margaret?)

Then on Wednesday night, I was asleep when another smell awoke me. It was chokingly awful, like a mixture of rotted onions, eggs, rancid pot, and a paint thinner all thrown together.

I went downstairs to see Cadillac washing his hands. “I let him out and he got into something. He’s foaming at the mouth.”

“It’s skunk. Can’t you smell that?”

So I fired up the Internet and found the skunk potion: baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and water mixed together, and Cadillac, cursing like the dad from A Christmas Story, turned on the bathtub.

I opened all the windows and blasted the A/C and oh mah goodness. It still stank. I could taste it. It permeated the air.

It took a long time to go back to sleep.

The next morning I was totally knackered (British word, right? I like it! We need to use it here and it begins RIGHT NOW) and I had to take los animales to the vet for their shots. Gatsby still stank. Then I had the brilliant idea to just drop him off at the groomer’s, and after calling around found one that had time to take him and do the de-skunk treatment. It worked on about 80% of the stench. Four days later, he still stinks quite a bit.

Yesterday evening, Cadillac opened the garage door. We have an extra fridge in there, and a litter box for Richard Parker, that semi-feral cat. We leave the door cracked for him. The skunk was using the litterbox. It ran under the car and peered up at Cadillac, unperturbed mostly. We theorize it had appeared for what we call hard rubbin’s. This is the firm petting that our animals get from Cadillac on their backs. He kind of, I don’t know, smashes their backs down, but the animals love it. Like, if I pet an animal they will abandon me to go get petted by him. I am a poor substitute in terms of pettings.

Now we have to trap Richard Parker in the garage at night.

On Friday, Cadillac had to go to Pasadena to do an audit for work and he took us with him to go to the Huntington Library afterwards. It was all going super until I walked into the gardens and felt like I needed to vomit, cry, and lie down all at the same time.

On the way up we made a pit stop at the same Carl’s Junior we’d stopped at on the way to Tahoe, where I got the same food without incident. I was hungry and had only eaten a small bowl of almond milk and puffed rice. I got a breakfast that had scrambled eggs (whole eggs + citric acid!) and a biscuit and tater tots and sausage and bacon. I only ate the eggs and gave the rest to my son.

I think the eggs were bad. Approximately 3.5 hours later, the GI distress hit.

Not to get into many gory details, but I had to stay near a bathroom. The guards were looking at me sideways, no doubt thinking, What is this lady up to? Is she doing drugs in the Huntington Library bathrooms? but I was prepared to tell them the truth.

Cadillac took the kids to a couple of the gardens and we looked at the library and then I said I needed to go. We stopped and got Tums and I basically slept the whole way home, whereupon it really hit me.

See, that’s always my biggest fear when I’m traveling. Getting sick like that and having to ride 2 or 3 hours back in a car. And what if I chaperon something and I get sick? What happens to the kids? How the fuck would I be able to drive home? I would never make it. Is it just me or when you have a vague anxiety about something that finally HAPPENS, do you feel a sense of triumph, like the I TOLD YOU SO phenomenon? That’s probably a personality defect.

So that was my trifecta of sorta bad things.

Of course it could have been worse. I could have been hit with a GI plague so bad the car would have been totaled. The fire could have jumped the road and burned down our subdivision. The skunk could have sprayed me in the face instead of the dog, who was valiantly protecting the homestead. And of course there are far worse tragedies happening in the world right now which I will not mention because I figure you don’t come here for that kind of talk, right?

Hopefully, this week will be better. BlogHer and Comic-Con!

 

The Accidental Skin Cream Spokesperson

So this is kind of interesting.

I sometimes use a site called YouBeauty, and one day they emailed me and said I’d signed up to be a beauty panelist (or something like that, I truly don’t remember, I think I signed up for it a few years back) and would I like to try a sample of something called Resveratrol?

Sure, I said.

I tried it and it actually worked very well, so well that I wrote a review of it. It actually worked so well that I regretted it working so well– good skin hydration, fewer lines– because the stuff is kind of expensive.

Then the SkinCeuticals folks saw that review and asked if they could edit it for use in an email blast.

Thus, my spokesmodel career was born! Er, not really. But they did send me a couple of samples.

(And they didn’t ask me to promote it on my website or anything like that.)

The Absolutely Definitive Answer to How Many Children You Should Have

The Absolutely Definitive Answer to How Many Children You Should Have

Have you been wondering how many kids you should have?

Have you read article after article telling you you’re selfish if you have one, you’re crazy if you have more than two?

Have you been spotting endless Dear Abbys and Dear Prudences asking HOW MANY SHOULD I HAVE? and then letting the whole world weigh in?

Have you just been hopin’ and waitin’ and wishin’ that somebody would just TELL YOU WHAT TO DO?

Here’s the answer.

Ready?

It’s nobody’s damn business but yours and the person with whom you’re raising the kid.

I hear you. Dilloway, you low-down dirty double-crosser. That title was nothing but click bait! Something to get you on this page! That’s no real answer! WHERE ARE MY PARENT VS NON PARENT WARS? THE LONELY ONLYS VS ONE AND DONES? All the other manufactured debates about parenting invented to get your eyeballs onto pages and to whip up froths of parenting controversy?

Okay. Let’s talk about this a bit more.

How about this?

SHOULD I EVEN HAVE A KID?

Are you a selfish person if you don’t personally experience the joys of parenthood?

Nope.

There are already too many people in this world who have kids they don’t have any interest in raising. Too many who thought, “Eh, I SHOULD have a kid b/c that’s sort of the most socially acceptable thing to do” but they really don’t want one.

However, if you don’t want a kid, then you shouldn’t be joined with someone who does. And vice-versa. That’s just not fair. If your partner says, “I never want kids,” then don’t think, “Okay, I’m going to marry this person anyway,and then change him!” NONONO. Give me your best friend’s phone number, so I can tell him or her to slap you. Lovingly.

I HAVE ONE KID, SHOULD I HAVE ANOTHER?

Having had 1 kid, do people always ask you when you’re having another? And you’re considering it, just because you think you *ought* to? Do people say stuff like, “Oh, only children are always spoiled” or “so lonely” blahblahblah?

Don’t do it.

Only have two if you really want two. If you can sustain, emotionally and financially, two.

I know lots of only children who are perfectly fine.

I HAVE TWO KIDS, SHOULD I HAVE THREE?

That is a discussion not for me but for you and your partner.

After you have two kids and they’re out of diapers, do you really want to get up all over again and do all the diapering/preschool/etc AGAIN?

Are you and your partner strong enough to take on three? Do you have enough SUPPORT? Do you have enough money?

The reason we had her is because we were always feeling like there was someone missing. I’d set the table and look at seat three and wonder, do I need to set three places? No?

I HAVE THREE KIDS, SHOULD I HAVE FOUR?

Cadillac, the youngest of four, wanted four originally. “That way we can have even numbers at Disneyland,” he said. Totally legit reason for having another human being, right? Well, that got kiboshed quickly. Me+pregnancy=not pretty. I think I might honestly die if I got pregnant again. Like, literally for real. Not just metaphorically. ]

Plus, the third did us the f in, in a big way. Like, you feel all energetic and stuff with two, and you’re in a groove, and handling things, and then THREE hits, and it’s like being flattened by a boulder. I have heard the same from others. Obviously not from everyone, because I know families with four and six and eight children who seem to have it more together.

I HAVE FOUR KIDS, SHOULD I HAVE MORE?

Again, beyond my experience. Therefore, it’s up to you. You can have as many as you like, provided that you don’t hire them out for reality TV. I think that’s a pretty good clause in the unspoken parenting contract.

The bottom line is, there are pros and cons to everything. An only child might have more chances to do more stuff because he has more resources spent on him, but a kid with siblings has different experiences. No one answer is right for every single family or person on earth.

Do what’s right for you, and don’t pay any attention to anyone who tells you how many kids you “should” have.

After I had Little Girl, I ran into a woman I knew at a preschool event. She looked at my kids and shook her head and said, “Three? You’re crazy, girl.” And let me tell you, that was an incredibly helpful statement to make after, you know, I ALREADY HAD THREE KIDS.

So the final piece of advice: if you think X should have Y number of kids, please. Keep your mouth shut about it.

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The End of the School Year

The school year’s come to another close, and I I was going to use this post to tell you Important and Fun Summer Activities to do with your kids, but instead I’m going to gloat. I have no at-home summer activities to do with your kids. I don’t care about summer organization anymore. Every single craft kit and Pinterest summer fun idea has either gone unused or been done in half the time it’s supposed to take. So why bother?

I’m not even wringing my hands at how little time my kids spend outside and how I can’t just push them out the door and tell them to come back at dusk. You know why? It’d be useless. There’s nobody to play with around here, so what are they supposed to do?  That’s simply the reality of the situation.  

So. This is my summer activity list:

Give kids a list of chores to do every day.Which includes reading though that doesn’t really count as a chore anymore than “eat chocolate” counts as a chore for me.

The end.

My kids are now 15, 12, and 8. Which means they should be able to do everything except drive places. Cook, clean, scrub the pool, walk the dog, everything. In fact, maybe I should just leave for the summer and let them Lord of the Flies it out.

I have to say I’m not dreading summer this time around. Could be because Little Girl is almost 9, which means she’s more like a tween, practically, which means she likes to sleep the hell in. Woot! She sleeps until 9, and the other kids just tend to sleep as long as possible, which is good for my work because if I get up early, I can get a lot done. But it’s bad for my evenings because the darn kids are hanging around preventing us from watching our shows. I know. So sad.

I’ve also signed 2/3 kids up for a couple weeks of day camp  AND we have a vacation already set up. It’s 100% unheard of. We’re going away with Cadillac’s extended family, minus a few, one of whom is house/dog sitting for us. And after all that’s over, it’ll be time to get ready for back to school, almost.

In the old days, Cadillac’s extended family (brothers and their kids and his parents) would go camping at Lee Vining. They’d take a motorhome and whatever extra kid friends were hanging around and go up there for a week or two. 

But Cadillac’s the youngest of his siblings, and their kids are generally a decade older than our kids, so my kids never got to do that kind of family vacation because his parents were over it by the time our kids showed up. So this will be a good way for our kids to make some neat familial memories with hopefully some shenanigans involved. Sure, there will be Grandma telling us we’re mortal sinners because we don’t go to Mass every week (which, as you can imagine, is a HIGHLY effective method of getting us to go) but at least we don’t have to camp like the old days. We’re renting a house. (Yessss!) There are advantages to missing out on some things and waiting for others.

 

 

Welcome to the Disney Family!

My parents always described me as being stubborn, and it’s true. While this might not be such a desirable character trait when trying to get me to like peas (which I will never like), sometimes this works in my favor.

Because I generally don’t like to talk about things before they are solidified, few people know that for the past couple of years, in between adult projects, I’ve been working on a middle-grade fantasy novel that’s a retelling of a Japanese fairy tale, MOMOTARO. I’d always loved the tale and I’d never read a fully realized version of it. I wanted to set it in contemporary times and introduce the story to English-speaking readers.

It went through countless drafts before I got it right. It was entirely possible at one point that I’d never get it right.

Fantasy, unlike what some people think (like this woman who scoffed that Harry Potter isn’t stimulating enough for adult minds), is an extremely difficult genre. You have to create a whole world with different rules than ours– and those rules have to make sense all the way through. The adventure needs to start pretty soon, but not too soon. The way the characters get into the world must be believable. The main character has to be fighting some kind of inner struggle, too, and all the characters have to pop (which isn’t really different than other genres).

I stopped working on it for long periods. I cut out many characters. I restarted the whole story from ground zero three different times. I wrote it from third person and from first. It was never quite right.

But one day, I had a breakthrough.

Maybe it was when I decided to go for broke and not listen to my inner adult anymore. To put in the things that me the mother might have thought were a little shocking or rude or whatnot but that kids adored. (In other words, I had a LOT of fun).

Then I test drove it in my daughter’s 3rd grade class. The kids loved it. I mean, they responded so raptly and with such laughter that I got goosebumps.

The best compliment I got was from one little boy who said that one passage, “sounds like poetry.”

Thus bolstered, I sent it off to my agent, who is very picky. He loved it and sent it out immediately. After my agent sent it off to the publishers, I sat around, chewing my nails. At that point, there’s zero you can do except wait.

My main character, Xander, is half Japanese (of course, like me) and I have this whole big world and plan imagined for him. I was a little bit afraid that nobody would buy it– I’d heard through the grapevine that publishers say that Asian characters (especially boy ones) simply don’t sell well. (Some of you might be following the #weneeddiversebooks movement, which asks publishers to provide more multicultural children’s books. Here’s an infographic showing how the number of children’s books with by/and/or/about people of color hasn’t changed over the past 20 years).

Well. My boy Xander is going to prove everybody wrong. I’m beyond happy to announce that MOMOTARO has sold to Disney-Hyperion in a two-book deal to editorial director Stephanie Lurie. Stephanie edits Rick Riordan and others.

We spoke on the phone and it was finding the one stranger at the party who laughs at all your jokes and feels like an old friend after you’ve been standing in the corner all evening. There’s no better feeling for a writer. What you’ve been trying to do has, at last, been understood.

Here’s some of what she said about my book:

As you might imagine, I have received several Percy Jackson-esque submissions over the last few years. They always pale in comparison to Rick’s writing due to slow pacing, lame attempts at humor, a generic main character, and a lack of heart. Margaret Dilloway’s MOMOTARO was a refreshing change. 

And then I collapsed into a puddle.

I have to admit, Disney-Hyperion was my first choice. They have a small list (maybe 4-5 middle grade books per season as opposed to 20) but the power of Disney. It will have illustrations! It will have a second book! (I already had ideas for the second book and talked to Stephanie about them during our conversation).

Now that my heart has started pumping again, let me share the Publisher’s Lunch announcement:

 Author of How to Be An American Housewife Margaret Dilloway’s middle grade debut, MOMOTARO, about a half-Japanese kid whose father disappears in an unexpected storm, and who discovers he’s the latest in a line of Momotaro heroes when he embarks on an epic journey to find him, along with his best friend and his dog, with only a comic as a guide against a maze of of obstacles (acid waterfalls, angry giants, volcanoes, and more!), to Stephanie Lurie at Disney-Hyperion, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Daniel Lazar at Writers House (World English).

And that is where being stubborn gets you.

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