Big Momotaro Movie News

So this happened:


Darlene Caamaño Loquet, the VP at Fox who bought it, told me her daughter had picked it up in the bookstore one day. When she went to work the next morning, it was in the mail on her desk, waiting for her review. #fate

I’m set to be a consultant for it, too, so I hope to get a peek at the whole process. Of course, I am not allowed to talk about things until they are hammered into stone.

Fingers crossed!



Minding Your Own Business

Dear People of the World: MYOB.
I just saw this article about how these parents who live in a beach condo received an anonymous note criticizing their choice to live there with 2 kids. As if billions of other people in the world don’t live in far worse conditions. As if there’s NOTHING to do so close to the beach. As if kids can’t share a room. I don’t need to list the reasons this note-writer is wrong (OK, I did a little bit!); anyone with a modicum of sense can tear apart this feeble argument. How sad is someone’s life that they have nothing better to do with their time?
I wanted to post this because it reminded me of a recent chat I had with my kids about not worrying over what other people think about you. Because sometimes worrying over others’ reactions or perceptions can lead to shame, or social avoidance. What if I get judged? What if I say the wrong thing? As a writer, I run into negative judgement on a daily basis, almost. I get emails. I get comments from people to my face. 
I see a lot of viral posts about people feeling shamed because someone made a comment in the grocery store/side-eyed their partner/said their Goldendoodle wasn’t a real breed. It is true that people should keep their mouths shut, but it is also true that we will never be able to control what other people think or say.
The truth is, 99% of the time, what other people say or think about you has everything to do with them, and nothing to do with you or your actions. Someone is always going to have something negative to say about you, no matter how much you do right. It is far easier for someone to post a negative comment or make a lazy remark than to be constructive. 
When people are jerks, you have a choice.You  can let them get into your head and think about it dozens of more times, reliving it relentlessly. That doesn’t seem like a good deal for you!
If you care, you can engage and try to state your side, but most of the time it’s not worth it for a brief interaction with a stranger.
So you can shrug, think, “Sheesh, wonder what’s happened to that sap that he turned into such a bitter figure?” and mind your own business— continuing on with your fabulous life. Mentally tear up the note– or in the case of these folks, physically tear it up– and throw it in the trash.

Teaching Kids How to Meditate in 4 Easy Steps

Image from New York Nursery and Child’s Annual Hospital Report, 1910


I’ve seen this article shared a bunch of times on Facebook about how using meditation has improved behavior at a school.  I’ve actually used a similar technique in the classroom and I can attest to how well it works. I learned about this meditation technique from a hypnotherapist that was recommended by my pediatrician to help with anxiety. This method takes it a step further by teaching the kids how to immediately return to that calm state of mind no matter where they are—even if they’re about to take a test, for example.

Last year, I taught creative writing to kids who did not necessarily choose creative writing as an elective, and therefore were very resistant to it.  Basically, if they didn’t choose an elective or their parents and didn’t submit the form, they were put into my class. Thus, I had some kids who were defiant or who simply could not stop talking, especially the seventh grade group who came in amped up right after lunch.

Teaching creative writing is difficult enough with kids who want to do it, but more so with kids who don’t. I needed a way to calm them down and hopefully teach them something they could continue using.

  • Tell the kids to shut their eyes and visualize a safe, calm space. The kids do this in their own heads and keep it to themselves. You could tell them, “It could be anywhere– outer space, a beach, your bedroom– wherever you like.” Tell them to picture the scene’s details fully—what are they hearing? Smelling? Who’s with them, or are they alone? And so on.
  • After a few minutes, tell them to open their eyes.
  • Instruct them to choose a secret signal, such as thumbs up, or crossing their fingers or toes, or whatever they want.
  • Now they do their secret signal and go back to visualizing for a few more minutes.

The idea is that they practice visualizing while they perform their signal. Then, if they need to be calm, they do their signal (thumbs-up) and their mind is automatically taken back to that place of calmness. The more they practice, the better they will get.

I was surprised at how well this simple exercise worked. Kids even told me they used it to help them calm down and focus in other classes.

Try it out.


Happy December! Where have you been, you ask? Besides recuperating from my 4th procedure since July, I’ve been (drumroll) teaching! Yes, teaching creative writing to the sunniest, easiest age group of kids that ever was…middle school.

A glutton for punishment, you say? Perhaps.

I was hired a couple days before the school year began, and couldn’t teach until my background checks and things were complete. Then I was informed that a great many of the students in my class had NOT chosen creative writing as an elective. So they kind of threw everyone who didn’t respond to the call for electives/was late in responding into my class.

So me stepping in after a few weeks of subs + kids who didn’t pick writing + me equals not the greatest equation for writing success. It’s difficult to get kids to write in general, let alone kids who don’t want to.

Plus, I had no idea of how to use the systems in the classrooms/online, and I created my own curriculum, and basically it was all very sink or swim.

But, after everything calmed down (and after my long hospital stint, another kink in the system!) the kids and I have reached detente. Well, it’s actually much better than detente.

They write. And revise. (Which I hated to do until I was like 25, so I’m particularly impressed. Every writer knows that revision is where the story becomes fully-formed).

Even the kids who don’t want to work have somehow mostly come around to the idea that this scribbling can be kind of fun. That they can work through problems or invent worlds (or both!). That revision is worthwhile.

I find that I like being out of the house. I enjoy having something else to concentrate on besides this sometimes wacky publishing business, day in and day out. So it’s win-win.

Is it always easy? Yes. (Ha!) Nope. Of course it’s not.

But I enjoy the kids. I enjoy seeing what their minds produce. I enjoy it when a kid busts out a second-person perspective story and it WORKS. Or when a kid who’s failing most other classes gets a story idea and grins. Or when I gasp in surprise at some kid’s turn of phrase and the kid gets pink-cheeked and skips away. Or when a kid turns inomething that is all TELLING and I explain how to SHOW and then revises it into something great. That is all pretty cool.

What Was Wrong With Traditional Halloween?

A few weeks ago I chanced to see a book and figure about a Halloween witch.

This witch, you see, needs your candy. If you don’t give her the candy you trick or treated for, her pet will die. Or her broomsticks need it for energy. Or something. I saw a couple different kinds. I’m not even linking to it because there’s more than one witch thing on the market and it doesn’t need publicity, does it?


Like Elf on the Shelf, this proudly proclaimed on the packaging to be a “tradition.” Never mind that a tradition isn’t a tradition until it’s been done for years (Tradition definition: “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way”). But obviously “tradition” is a great marketing keyword that makes you part with money.

I’m sure some parents think this witch is absolutely fantastic. Kids don’t need that much candy, they think. So instead of being actual parents and saying, “Hey, Jimmy, you get two pieces today,” or determining how much they can have in total, or my favorite, “Yeah, whatever, go ahead and eat all you want,” (kids only do that once because nobody likes being sick to their stomach) these parents’ apparent default is, “I’m too much of a wimp to tell my kids what to do. Therefore I will buy this object so I can trick my children into giving up their candy and buy them another object in addition.”

Because in return for the candy, the parent is apparently obligated to leave money or a toy. Before the advent of this witch marketing thing, I’d heard of parents telling their kids about a witch fairy, a sort of tooth fairy, who would leave them $20 in return for candy. Which led to my kids coming home and saying, “How come I didn’t get $20 for my candy?” Which then led me to explaining that those kids were tricked. That’s me, no parent-parent loyalty.

Anyway,  let me break this down for you. You spend $50 on candy to give out. You spend generally $25-35 on a costume for your kid. More money for Halloween carnivals and haunted houses and everything. And then you take your kid for 4 hours with their pillowcase to trick or treat and then…you make them give it all up? And then you pay MORE for the privilege by buying a toy or giving the kid money?

(shakes head) America. What would your greatest generation grandparents or great-grandparents say about this?

My father tells me that in his coal mining town of Nemacolin, PA, in the 1930s, he and his sisters would trick-or-treat for weeks, like into November They didn’t know any better and they were poor and their father had lost his leg coal mining, and obviously the neighbors felt kinda bad for them so they gave them treats through the whole month.

And here we are, tricking kids into giving us their candy.

Believe it or not, generations of kids have pigged out on Halloween candy and come out unscathed. For me, it was the one time we could. If you’re worried about your kid being overweight as a result of Halloween candy, then make them walk the dog more or go running with them or something. Once a year is not going to harm them.

And as the parent of not-young-kids, this has worked out fine. My eldest (despite having consumed non-organic foods and loads of Flaming Hot Cheetos, watching SpongeBob, and eating all the Halloween chocolate she likes) is graduating in the top 15% of the state, a year early. She has played water polo and founded and run a club. She remembers to do her chores. She is her own person. So she is pretty much my proof in the pudding (though honestly, she is just who she is anyway so I’m not actually taking much credit).

And, like I said, an average kid will only pig out to the point of being sick once.

If you want to do something with extra Halloween candy, look into a troop donation program. Our school collects candy for the military, who, by virtue of spending 8 hours a day or more involved in physical activity, can easily consume all those extra calories.

But why pay for a “tradition” that actually involves MORE work than just telling your kid to not eat all that candy at once? Why not just say, “We’re trick or treating two blocks, and that’s it.” Problem solved. Less work. Less money. Put the money for the Halloween witch into your holiday savings account or buy yourself some chocolate.

Otherwise the ghosts of your ancestors will rise up from their graves and slap you in the face.

Blood Clots and Grafts and Other Things

I’ve been having a run of bad health luck lately. I got an ablation to correct an extra heartbeat, and my leg hurt afterward. It wasn’t swollen but it hurt as if I’d done 1000 squats on one side and I was dragging it all over the place. My foot burned or felt like pins and needles. My calf ached.

Finally I got an ultrasound and found there was only 70% blood flow. The vascular surgeons opened up my artery (where the wire for ablation goes in) and found the artery walls were basically hacked up. There was also a large blood clot that they removed. They put in a graft and now I have a lovely 7 inch or so scar in my groin down my thigh.

So, if you ever have surgery, be vigilant in monitoring your symptoms afterwards. And if your doctor’s office doesn’t call you back then call them again.

Anyway, I’m off work for 2-3 weeks so I might actually get caught up on my blog!

How Did I Get Here?

I’m lying on my back looking up at the fluorescent lights and the acoustic tile ceiling at the gym (seriously, do they purposely make the lighting that bad so you look horrible and keep returning in the vain hope that one day you’ll catch sight of your reflection and appear normal?) when it hits me. I’ve been in this room, in some permutation, since I was 16 years old.

That was when the gym was a TJ Maxx. It was the only place within reasonable walking distance—a mile—and I applied there regularly for six months to a year before they hired me. The reason, the manager said, was because I was persistent.

Anyway, I always thought I’d move far far away from San Diego, never to return. I hated high school. I found the area to be dull. My family has no particular ties to the area, my dad being from the east coast. Growing up, we didn’t socialize with other families. We didn’t do community stuff. My roots were shallow. I always thought, One day I’ll move somewhere and it will feel like home. Because this area never did.

So as I’m lying in the gym, I wondered if I’d betrayed my 16 year old self by not moving away for good.

How did I get here?

I married my husband.

The Dilloways are fairly well-known in the area. Even now, when I whip out my credit card to pay for something, the cashier might say, “Dilloway? I know a Dilloway…” and if they know a Dilloway from San Diego, then chances are excellent that I’m related to them. Or maybe even 100%.

Those Dilloways were always doing community work. Coaching Little League, umping Little League, leading the local Scouts, showing up at community council meetings.

And their roots go back even further. My MIL grew up in El Cajon, back when it was farm country and she took the trolley to school at age 4. She and her brother had horses and shotguns.

Both my parents-in-law went to local high schools and SDSU. They’ve attended the same church for over 30 years.

Their roots run deep.

The other day, my husband and I were leaving my inlaws’ house and an SUV stopped going the opposite way, the driver waving frantically. He rolled down the window. It was a guy from one of the Little League teams, in town, who remembered my inlaws and wanted to come by and say hi. My husband hadn’t heard from him since high school. They swapped memories for a few minutes.

This kind of thing happens fairly frequently. People coming back to say hello, to say, “I wanted to tell you how much you meant to me and how much fun I had with you guys.” Sometimes, to my MIL, “I wanted to thank you for forcing me to be polite in your house and take off my hat because I got a job/impressed my girlfriend’s parents.” Because those roots, that sense of community, affected people in ways the Dilloways never knew about.

So now we live just a couple miles away from where I grew up. A couple miles away from the rest of the family. My kids attend the same high school where I went.

And somehow this place has turned into home.

Now I meet people in the stores who recognize me from places in our shared past, not just from my name.

And I’m still going back to TJ Maxx, in its new life.

Kid Milestones: Unlocked!

My youngest turned 10 a couple of days ago, but this morning it really hit me. We have NO kids in the single digits anymore.  Milestone unlocked. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s bittersweet– she’s our BABY, she’s not supposed to AGE!– but we all know how the days are short but the years are long already, don’t we?

Anyway, this got me to thinking about milestones. Raising kids comes with a bunch of obvious ones—potty training, driver’s license—but here are some slightly less obvious yet still completely grand milestones that make parenting worthwhile.

The Light-Packing Milestone. You hit this the day you go on a family outing and you only have maybe a backpack with snacks in it. No strollers, no diapers, not even a wipe. You might not even bother carrying hand sanitizer. And then the milestone-upon-milestone is when you go on a family outing and all you have is your own regular purse with your regular stuff in it, and if the kids want juice/water/snacks they carry them their own damn selves.

The All-Our-Kids-Can-Bathe-Themselves Milestone. No more assistance required for soaping up hair or directing the shower spray so it doesn’t drown them. You don’t even need to turn on the hot water so they don’t scald themselves. They do it all. AND they hang up their towel afterward.

The Feed-Themselves Milestone. Yesterday Cadillac and I went out for dinner, shouting, “We’re going out! Be good! Find something to eat!” as we darted out the door. And they did. And the angels sang.

The Get-Up-By-Yourself and Get-Ready-for-School-Solo milestone. The kids have alarms and they wake up and get ready. I think that the youngest only achieved this in the last two years. When I tell people about this milestone, they seem impressed. It took a lot of being on top of them before they did it, but once they get into a routine (bathroom-breakfast-get dressed-brush teeth) it’s pretty simple.

The Put-Yourself-to-Bed Milestone. I’m not just talking about not reading stories or singing songs anymore. It happens like this—you’re hanging out watching TV and not even paying attention to the time because this show is so good. Then your kid looks at the clock and knows it’s bedtime and says good-night and you feel like the biggest doofus parent ever because honestly you totally forgot about bedtime. But it’s quite a relief, to know that somehow, someway, this bit of responsibility sank into your child, even if you are personally a slacker.

The Do-All-Homework-Without-Intervention Milestone. Another one that takes most of elementary school to unlock. In first grade you’re practically doing the big projects for your kids, you have to hold their hand so much. Read a biography of George Washington and make a poster of him with illustrations? Huh? You have to show them how to break it down into chunks.

By fourth they’re mostly on their own (except for the Common Core math, which always requires ten emails to the teacher and a box of tissue shared between me and the kid). In middle school, I rarely intervene unless support is obviously needed or asked for. Why? Because I want them to be accountable, not me—in 6th they need help with some time management and planning, granted; but once they figure how to use a calendar and plan their projects, they receive the assignment and figure out how to execute it. If they fail in middle school, it’s not a huge life-changing deal—and they’ll have to face the consequences we impose. Has this happened to our kids? Yup. It happened one time and this kid did not enjoy the iron fist of oversight that descended, nor the lack of electronics. Ever after, the kid handled projects appropriately.

It’s better to let them fail in middle school and learn their lesson than it is to micromanage them all through high school so they fail out of college, doncha think? Besides, it’s a huge confidence booster for the kid to discover how his own hard work translates into achievement, and how he can overcome obstacles without parental intervention.

The I-Remembered-Sunblock Milestone. Another one that gets ground in via repetition. I notice that the teens always remember, and so do their friends. They get out the spray sunblock before getting in the pool. The ten year old does not.

The I-Saw-a-Full-Trashcan-and-Emptied-It Milestone. This one still hasn’t been fully unlocked. When will my kids see a full trashcan, a clean dishwasher, a basket of clean clothes and, of his or her own volition, take care of it? It’s happened, but not often. Well, I guess don’t always take action when I see a full dishwasher, either, so maybe this is expecting too much (Cadillac: No, it isn’t. Me: If you stayed home you’d sing a different tune. There’s too MUCH to always do).

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.


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


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



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.