how to talk so (future) kids will listen

Recently I reviewed How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk over at the library’s blog. I could say a lot more on about how much I liked this book (and I will).

But first I need to talk about another concept that has been ruling my life lately–in a good way.

My future self.

The idea is fairly simple–thinking about what you want to have accomplished in five years, ten years, or even six months from now, and work towards building that for your future self. It helps put things into perspective. If you don’t know what five years from now looks like, it can be hard to guess what future you will want. Regardless of what job you’ll have or house you’ll live in or strained family relations you’ll be forced to endure, one thing remains constant: you. You will be you. I will be me.

This kind of future-building was hard for me even a few years ago. I was so unorganized, I didn’t know what I wanted out of life, but most importantly, I didn’t know who I was. I probably still don’t know who I am, at least not the extent I will know in about ten years, but I have a better idea of what I’m not and what things will not ever be important to me, and what things have stayed important to me. And sometimes, that’s the battle.

Things have been hard lately. I recently lost a family member and the only reason I even mention it at all is to highlight how awful the month of January can be when depression hits the hardest, the whirlwind distraction of the holidays has passed, and there’s nowhere to hide from the grief.

I don’t feel like giving gifts to my future self. I don’t even care about her, honestly. It’s too hard.

If it were just me, I could probably keep cruising this month, surviving but not much else. It’s not just me, though. My kids are watching.

One of the tenets of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen is that long view thinking–modeling behavior so kids will adopt your own good habits. In the book they’re talking about table manners, conversations, and personal responsibility. I am taking this one step further and teaching Sweet Tea and Honey Bee to plan for their future selves.

How?

One thing we do… On Mondays we spend a couple of hours in the morning cleaning the house–deep cleaning–on top of the daily stuff we do to keep everything running. Let me be honest here, I haven’t felt like doing it. At all. What goads me on is that future self. I hate spring cleaning, and my gift to my future self is doing a bit of deep cleaning every week so that I never have to dedicate a whole weekend to the task.

I let Sweet Tea take full ownership in his jobs. Arguably, a four-year-old can’t remove each speck of dust underneath a piece of heavy furniture with the vacuum hose, but he is very proud of the work he does. As for me, I ignore the bulk of what he missed and offer one or at the most two suggestions. I don’t want to nag, but more importantly I also want to trust him, and give him the space to trust himself.

He’ll get better on his own, with practice. It’s less about doing it today, but about preparing him to do it tomorrow.

That’s kind of what this is–practicing to be the kind of person I want to be. The kind of person who doesn’t let the tub grow hard water deposits before she rolls up her sleeves. The kind of person who enjoys taking care of herself, of her children, and her house. The kind of person who can tackle even the largest of projects by taking them one piece at a time. The kind of person who keeps to a routine for intrinsic motivation and not because of shame or anyone wagging a finger at her.

Sweet Tea won’t always get so excited about our work days, but I have faith that even when it does become actual work, he’ll still help. He is competent. He is responsible. He can work for his own intrinsic motivation. He knows the satisfaction of a job well done. He creates his own good habits.

Maybe I occasionally reward us with some brownies. Today it’s cold and windy outside, so it’s the perfect day to have the oven going and enjoy the smell of super-chocolatey, gluten-free, dairy-free brownies making our nice, mostly-clean house even nicer.

I try to avoid the imperial ‘we’ for discipline. To me, saying ‘we don’t hit’ after a child has clearly just hit someone is the equivalent of pointing at the ottoman and saying ‘that’s a cow.’ But I do love imperial ‘we’ affirmations. We are responsible. We are generous. We take care of each other. We enjoy spending time together. We share this space; we share our lives.

We build today the foundation for relationships we need tomorrow. The work we do today, we reap next season. That’s the gift for my future children, and that’s how I’m talking now so my future children will listen.

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author fair!

Local author fair at the library!

Next weekend!

Come see us!

Many great authors!

Prizes and snacks!

I’ve had too much coffee!

Click here! See you then!

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cultural shifts and speculative fiction

So I’m aware that I released a book and basically disappeared for four months. Does it help if I had a good reason?

img_20160916_1953269_rewind

A cute reason, actually.

Cuteness aside, I’ve had a lot of topics swirling about in my mind lately. Some of them are ‘off-brand’ because they aren’t about books, they’re about parenting or sewing, but they’re important things, maybe not for you, dear reader, but for someone. We’ll see what happens.

Today, I’ve been thinking about cultural shifts and how things can change from generation to generation.

For example, breastfeeding and prenatal care in the past 100 years. If you’re wondering how breastfeeding matters to you as a writer creating your own societies, bear with me. I’ll get there.

The history of breastfeeding is pretty fascinating even if you aren’t a woman who might be in the position to create then feed a baby. It’s proof that progress isn’t linear, and that something that seems as trivial as someone’s diet for two years can make a whole lot of difference in the world they grow up in.

Disclaimer: I am one of those crazy breastfeeding fanatics, but when I say that breastfeeding makes a difference, I’m discussing cultural shifts and our understanding of science and medicine and how it affects society (and world-building for writers), not the personal decision of feeding one’s children.

Though, to be fair, the personal decision does generally reflect culture, doesn’t it?

So, a history. For the most part, it’s safe to assume that human babies were given human milk for the greater part of our written and unwritten past. I hate calling it ‘natural’ because breastfeeding does not always come naturally, but it is nature’s design that mammals should feed their young until their young are developed enough to eat and digest their own food. I can personally attest to how instinctual and hormonal the drive to breastfeed my own children has been–and how absolutely fierce those drives are.

The last hundred years have been a little rough on this front. Someone decided they could make money by selling evaporated milk (you know, the stuff in pumpkin pie) as infant food. From there, once others realized that there was even more money to be had in formulating the dairy milk with extra vitamins, and with the help of pediatricians everywhere, infant formula became the norm.

There’s a ton of cultural baggage surrounding formula, and let me assure you that this is the most abbreviated version of the story ever. But what I know is that the pendulum has swung dramatically for new mothers. We’ve gone from breastfeeding (and wet nursing) as the primary and sometimes only way to raise a child, to synthetic is better, and back again, back to the breast. The back to breast movement is so strong that hospitals and health departments in many places offer free services–whatever it takes to get more babies fed with mother’s milk. We now realize that breastfeeding is the best way to avoid illnesses, infections, SIDS, and a host of other problems.  In fact, it took American society taking so fully to formula and experiencing these things en masse to realize the difference.

(And yes, formula has saved lives, because some babies fail to thrive or otherwise have problems eating in those early days.)

It’s easy to look back on that little blip of our history and dismiss a whole generation of people as foolish or chasing trends or gullible to marketing. But at the time, they truly believed they were on the cutting edge of progress.

Much of our lore, habits and wisdom for breastfeeding were lost when an entire generation chose to bottle feed their babies. All those breastfeeding grandmothers couldn’t teach their daughters. And that is the part I find fascinating as well as haunting. Sure, it’s disruptive innovation because so much else is happening like electricity and communications, but this is also culture at work.

Each generation responds to the way it was raised by embracing or eschewing old values. Trends aren’t limited to fashion.

When we talk about world-building for writers, we hardly ever talk about young families. I get it–children and new mothers are a trope to be exploited. There’s like this unspoken rule that the only reason to make a woman pregnant is for tension. Someone is going to die–probably not the daddy (you know, the ‘real hero’ of the story), possibly the baby or the mama, maybe even both.

We can do better.

The #normalizebreastfeeding movement inspires me to think about the way I build my fictional societies. When I feed my baby out in public, I’m not trying to be political, yet every nursing mama has a story of how a stranger treated her while feeding her baby, because in our Western culture breastfeeding has fallen out of favor. This is cultural baggage of a different kind, but it speaks of the culture we live in.

Children and their mothers have been isolated in our modern society. When mothers and their young children are shuttered away, never appearing in, it says a lot about the society, doesn’t it?

You can say ‘well, my story isn’t about breastfeeding’ which is fine. I think writing a story just about breastfeeding would be pretty moralizing and I don’t want to read it.

But let’s talk about imagery. Vivid details. Showing powerfully. Symbolism.

There’s the obvious: casually mention that one mother at a protest is nursing while she chants. Suddenly, she doesn’t just represent herself, does she? A mother with such a young baby, fed of her own body, represents the future. She speaks not for herself; she speaks for her children.

There’s the less obvious: when nursing mothers are welcome everywhere, they go everywhere–which means young children go everywhere, too. Maybe it makes sense to mention that in a crowd of people that many are children and some are babies. Maybe your reader won’t imagine it unless you make a point to.

Maybe this shows us a little about your other characters, even the ones who don’t have children. A world where young children are welcome suggests that the characters have been long welcome. If an attachment-style parenting with breastfeeding and baby-wearing is the norm when your characters are adults, the reader will assume that your heroes were also raised in a similar fashion.

Consider the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can have ramifications for generations to come?

An extended family that lives under one roof will breed different characters than small families isolated by distance or estrangement. They’ll have different ideas on what should be shared–food, space, belongings. They’ll have different expectations of behaviors and roles of children, elders, and even genders, and they’ll respond differently, too. A character with seven young siblings may not like babies, but they probably know how to take care of one. That same character might grow up with the expectation that they, too, will build a large family. How do they feel about that?

Maybe it won’t ever come up in your story. But it can–not as a direct question ‘do you know how to take care of a baby,’ but in other ways. Giving yourself a broadly painted visual of your character’s earliest formative years can pave the way to confident answers to all kinds of questions. Pushing yourself to create some form of parenting/child-rearing culture in your fictional world might unstick a stuck plot in a surprising way, or it might give you more story seeds than you can possibly use.

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heaven’s most wanted quote

Aggie wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans. No one in the cafeteria was watching her, but it sure felt that way. If community college was high school 2.0, then the divine cafeteria was community college 2.0, full of cliques ready to make war on each other. The only thing missing was cheerleaders.

Heaven’s Most Wanted, available now!

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it’s out!

Heaven’s Most Wanted is officially available! Buy it on Amazon! Or for your Nook! Or on Kobo! Or at Smashwords!

Okay, I’ll stop with the exclamation points now. Here’s what you’re in store for in book 3:

HVM ebook cover

It wouldn’t be Heaven if it wasn’t completely broken…

After saving Heaven from certain peril twice, Aggie should be a hero—or at the very least, receive a thank-you card.

Instead, she gets to fix Heaven’s outdated communications network. Her team is as unqualified as she is, and her personal assistant is… Raymond?

Yes, that Raymond, the archangel who stole her memories and tried to murder her two years ago. He’s all smiles now, with the most surprising offer:

If she can put the past behind her, Aggie can have her memories back.

Turns out, memory reabsorption is a painful process. While Aggie’s puking and discovering she was a terrible sister, Raymond tries to have her killed. Oh, and there’s a hacker sending malware all over the network.

It gets worse. The hacker isn’t some demon, she’s a human who just happens to be Aggie’s kid sister. This is a problem she can’t fix with holy fire—if Aggie can’t convince her super-stubborn sister to quit, Grace is gonna make herself Heaven’s Most Wanted.

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heaven’s most wanted quote

Kip clapped his hands. “Isn’t it beautiful? I wasn’t sure about the fountain, but now that it’s here, it’s just so adorable!”

At first glance, it was that classic woman pouring water from an urn statue. Except it wasn’t. The face was a cartoon kitten with oversized ears, and it was wearing a chain-mail bikini underneath those chaste robes. For lack of words, Aggie echoed blandly, “Adorable.”

Available now!

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heaven’s most wanted quote

“I’ll stop by tomorrow and fill out a report. You can add this to my other fines.” Aggie crossed her arms and kicked a round stamp. It spiraled across the floor, disappearing deep underneath a utility shelf.

Through blatantly clenched teeth, Abraham said, “Your fines have reached maximum capacity. You’re delinquent.”

“And you’re a bad librarian,” Aggie sniffed. There. She said it.

He grimaced, a look that went deep into his eyes and caused him to shudder. “You don’t mean that.”

Heaven’s Most Wanted–Available now!

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