Young Adult Romance – Is the Crush Over?

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YA Romance– For several years now, I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about YA romance, as if the whole idea of romance is undesirable. Romance has become that thing, the guilty pleasure that no one wants to admit they like … Continue reading

Mother’s Day 2017

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Our children take us places we can’t envision when they are a bundle of cells commingling with our own. When we feel them kick inside of us for the first time, we think only of the wonder of life, so … Continue reading

The Art of Radical Acceptance

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Radical acceptance is the psychological term for learning to live with sorrow we cannot change. It’s not a new concept, and it’s only slightly less trite, perhaps, than the famous 1970s prayer asking for the courage to change that which … Continue reading

My Latest Review

Thanks to Isla Mcketta, I have a new review which you may check out here. When I was writing LKS, I was really struck by the parallels to our present time: social and civil unrest, racial tensions, terrorism (though in 1969-1970, this was largely domestic), and a general sense of upheaval and uncertainty. I love this review because it lets me know that these issues came forward in the way that I hoped they would. On inauguration day 2017, I feel especially blessed to be considered as a writer who has offered at least one reader hope. May we all forge a path to a brighter future together.

The Face of Institutional Racism

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The other day, my high school freshman son had a lacrosse game for school. My white son goes to an independent college preparatory school that prides itself on its diversity. As a result, his team is made up of kids from various racial, socioeconomic, and cultural groups. There are about 65 students per class. It’s not a school known for its athletic titles, but it has a few. They played a large (about 425 students per class) suburban school that is predominantly white. Despite the fact that our opponents had more than twice the number of players on their team, I didn’t see a single kid who didn’t appear to be white. They beat us by a score of, I think, 16 to three. I really wasn’t keeping track of that, I was just watching to make sure my kid didn’t get hit in the head and no one notice it.

After the game when my son got in the car, the first thing he told me about the game was that some of the opposing players had taunted his black teammates with racial slurs. One boy, in particular, they targeted with insults because he is very tall and muscular for a junior. I had heard some of the other team’s parents complaining that this boy played too roughly and that the referees needed to “do something” about him. I didn’t notice him playing all that aggressively, but he has a tremendous reach because of his size and he wasn’t letting anyone intimidate him into not using that size. It’s lacrosse, after all, a fairly rough sport. But when my son told me what had gone on during the game, I understood why the boy was so determined not to let anyone intimidate him.

This kid is really nice kid. He’s also a super smart kid who is going to have his pick of Ivy League level schools. But despite his qualifications of character and athleticism, he was made a target by some jealous kids because of his race. And then parents from that team singled him out for his play even though it wasn’t anything the refs were willing to even call.

I asked my son if the refs had heard these slurs. He said no, he didn’t think so. It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this. My oldest played hockey with a kid of Pakistani descent who sometimes had racial slurs hurled at him. There are strict league rules about it. In one instance, my son, who was never a fighter, had stepped between his teammate and the kid targeting him. The refs then got involved and, I believe, threw the kid out of the game and suspended him. I trusted the system to take care of it.

I think most of us, in general about everything, trust the system to take care of problems of racial, gender, disability, and other forms of discrimination. But what has come to light in the news in recent years and sparked the Black Lives Matter campaign is the fact that our trust is often misplaced. Too often the system does not address the problem, and, in fact, is part of the problem. I thought about this yesterday and I became increasingly concerned that the boys on that field from my son’s school would see another instance where the adults they trust would trust a system that ultimately might fail to do its job.

I talked to one of my son’s coaches today. They were aware of the issue at the time, this coach had himself heard at least one slur. They had yelled to the refs that it was going on, but the refs said they hadn’t heard it. So, after the game, they lodged formal complaints with the other school’s athletic director and the league. They talked with our boys. I don’t know what the league will do, but I am hoping they will have an investigation and take action. The athletic director of the other school apologized on behalf of his students and has promised to take action. I worry that not much will come of all this, or at least not enough. Because the discrimination against our players was demeaning and wrong. It was demeaning and wrong for our targeted players in particular, and it was demeaning and wrong to every boy on our team. It was offensive to every boy on our team. But it matters that the process is there. It matters that the system is being used by my son’s coaches and that they will do their best to hold the kids who used these racial slurs accountable. It matters that my son and his teammates know that there are adults trying to fulfill a promise of a world in which we judge people by their characters rather than by their race or gender or sexual orientation or any other criteria used to marginalize human beings. It matters that every kid from every race on my son’s team knows that the system is going to be used to protect them and their classmates, teammates, and friends from discrimination, for every type of discrimination suffered, but especially for racial discrimination because it is so prevalent. And, most of all, it matters that we all start paying attention to whether the system is held accountable to work as it’s supposed to do.

The Art of Letting Go

Letting go

Letting go

I’ve never been a big fan of change. Maybe because I was never very goal oriented, at least not in the sweeping sense of achieving some great feat. I was the slow and steady type, plodding forward on the path of expectations, going to school, always practical and low maintenance for the other people in my life. I suppose if you have a big dream, then change is a reflection of each little step toward that dream and so you would welcome it. But for me, change always meant uncertainty and letting go of the people and places who made up my world, for better or worse.

I don’t know how old I was when I began to associate change with letting go, but I must have been pretty young. Maybe it was my mother’s stories about growing up, and all the people she talked about who were no longer present. I never knew any of my grandparents. The closest I came was having my paternal grandfather know that my mom was pregnant with me before he died. But my mother would tell me stories about the past and I wanted so much to touch it, to touch the people she talked about, to know them and have them know me. My mom always spoke of her mother with so much love, and I heard that from all my aunts and uncles, all my cousins who had known her. My mother always would say as she told me about my grandmother, “Oh, how she would have loved you.” But things change, and I never got to know her.

As a teenager, letting go seemed to be something ritualistic. We become fully aware of letting go. We let go of high school, though for many of us it’s not much of a loss. Let’s just say that I’m among the many who can say, thankfully, those were NOT the best years of my life. But still things change and we let go. My best friend moved to Arizona and we lost touch for a long time. Our two dogs, a brother and sister born when I was four, grew up with me and outpaced me and became old. They died a few years apart. Two of my uncles died. The last family from my grandmother’s generation passed away. The landscape of my childhood began to shift and change. I became an unwilling student in the art of letting go.

Sometimes we find that letting go is the healthiest choice we can make. That guy who broke your heart? Or that person you thought was your friend? That school you didn’t get into? Like James Bay’s song Let It Go, sometimes we are the ones who need to change:

I used to recognize myself
It’s funny how reflections change
When we’re becoming something else
I think it’s time to walk away

I grew up. I went to college and law school and got married. I turned thirty and let go of unrealistic dreams that were never going to be. I had children, welcoming each as the most wonderful change in my world. But change doesn’t let you freeze-frame or pause. I learned to let go of their hands, their bikes, their passwords. I learned to let go of their choices and their time. But somehow, despite all this practice in life, I haven’t really gotten any better at letting go than I was when I was young. I’m generally an optimist, and I know that as an optimist I should say that letting go frees us up to new experiences, new hands to hold, new possibilities we can’t imagine while we are holding onto other things. But the truth about letting go is that, for most things, it’s hard. It hurts. And sometimes the fastest way to heal is to just let yourself feel the pain. I think maybe that is the lesson here. That the art of letting go is is all about walking across the coals, knowing it’s going to hurt, but moving forward anyway. Because, just like burning your tender feet on hot coals, it’s only when you have finally crossed that you can start to heal.

I’m Not Sure Where November Went

November, 2015

November, 2015

The only thing I am sure of is that it’s long gone. It’s been a kind of whirl wind month for me. My first young adult novel has been accepted at Harvard Square Editions and will be forthcoming sometime next year. Last Friday, I went “cover” shopping with a writer friend of mine. We met for coffee at my local Barnes & Noble and then looked at covers from various YA genres to get ideas for what mine might look like. It felt a lot like Christmas shopping, in a very good way. I’ll definitely update on what the publishing experience is like as I go along.

Also last month, I attended my Western Pennsylvania Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference. There were some amazing and inspiring presentations by editors and agents, and it reminded me a little of being at my MFA residency, that kind of immersion in craft and ideas that makes you feel like anything is possible if you just open yourself up to your creativity. You can learn more about the SCBWI and the WPA region here. Also, be sure to check out our Assistant Regional Adviser’s blog for additional information. Her name is Kate Dopirak, and you can find her here. She’s an awesome author, too, by the way.

And, finally, my young adult short story, Honor’s Justice, came out today in Lunch Ticket, the MFA journal of Antioch University Los Angeles. You can check that out here. I’m very proud to be associated with this edition and it’s emphasis on the human condition.

Following Your Heart for Your Learning Disabled Child

My son was in kindergarten when my heart first told me something was wrong. I started asking questions. I was told he was completely normal. My heart kept telling me something was wrong. I kept asking questions. And the road I was on suddenly diverged into two distinct paths. Those who cared enough to help me and those who didn’t.
I bounced around between these two paths, trying to find my way, trying to know whom to trust, whom to seek out for help, whom to follow. The harder I tried to do the right thing, and follow the right path, the more I stumbled and fell.
When my son was in seventh grade, he crashed, emotionally and academically. I stumbled along and reached out to another diagnostic agency. I sat in the office of Watson Institute in my son’s evaluation interview and, with tears in my eyes, I told them that if they didn’t help me, I was going to lose my child either to suicide or to his ever-increasing risky behaviors. They listened. And they helped. They diagnosed him with uncommon disability issues that finally made sense for his difficulties. They recommended a cognitive behavioral therapist to treat his depression “from not being properly accommodated” at school.
At the same time that we started therapy with a good therapist who cared, I met the woman who handles disability issues at my local school district’s high school. I had no reason to trust her because I had had my son tested through the school district when he was in first grade and had been lied to about his test results. I had been told he had no disability, despite the fact that he qualified under our county intermediary standards. But she seemed to care about her job and I was desperate for information. I started asking questions. She helped.
Slowly my son’s school began to realize what he needed at the same time I began to understand what I could ask for. I began to have hope. I began to believe.
The problem, though, with believing when you are the parent of an LD kid is that you aren’t the one that has to believe. Your child has to believe, too.
My son has never learned to believe. I have thought, during the last two years, that there were times when believing was within his grasp. He finally has all the tools available for him to have a real chance to level the playing field, but he still can’t find his way onto the path I plowed for him. He is an angry, desperately unhappy, floundering mess and I am helpless at this point to influence him. He may someday get it together, but it will be too late for his best opportunities. He may also never get it together, and that possibility is just a little too much for me to bear.
I’m sharing this because I want other parents of LD kids to know that you have to keep testing your child until the answer you get makes sense. You have to keep asking questions until you understand what your child is entitled to. And then you have to demand what he is entitled to, no matter how many people try to keep your child from getting the help he needs. You have to keep advocating for your child every day, no matter how emotionally exhausting it is. But just as important, you have to win these battles before it’s too late. Before your child is in middle school and is too ashamed of what his peers will think of him if he asks for help. Before your child doesn’t believe you when you say there is always a compensation, we just have to find it. Before your child wanders into adolescence alone and afraid and not believing in himself. The path to finding out what is wrong can be long and challenging. But don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t a race, because it is. It’s a race you have to run every day from the moment your heart tells you that something is wrong. And, most importantly, it’s a race you have to win at any cost.
For help with LD issues, please contact the National Center for Learning Disabilities and your local bar association (they can direct you to legal help regarding your child’s rights at school).

Playing Like a Girl

My daughter plays hockey. She loves it. She especially loves to play goalie, although she also likes to play forward. She’s a pretty good little goalie, too. Good enough that, when a boys’ peewee team from her organization needed a goalie, they recruited her, even though they had a boy goalie willing to play.

To be fair, it isn’t just a boys’ team. There are three other girls on it. There are really two types of teams through high school: coed and girls only. Girls only hockey exists because, ultimately, the girls are forced out of the coed teams because of the brutality of the checking. Most girls are not physically willing or able to play coed hockey at the bantam level (13-14 years old) and above because that’s when checking kicks in. So even though it may technically be a coed team, most parents of hockey playing kids, including myself, refer to these coed teams as boys’ teams.

I was worried about my girl playing on a boys’ team this year. I was worried because I have seen boys’ teams who did not treat their girl players very well. I have seen boys target girls on the opposing team. I have even known of parents encouraging their boys to “go after” girls on the opposing team. Moreover, because my daughter is a goalie, I worry about boys who might shoot high on her trying to hit her in the head to intimidate her. Or just plain hurt her. Some people in hockey call that “buzzing the tower.”

So every time my daughter goes out on the ice, I wonder what I should say to her (besides “protect your head at all costs.”) The first game she played this year against another coed team, I made her tuck her pony tail into her jersey. “Don’t make it obvious,” I told her. Maybe I’ve been around the military too long, but I still remember the signs in a recruiting station in Dorchester, England, that my husband and I saw when we were there in 1995: “Travel inconspicuously” and “Don’t let anyone know you are a Royal Marine.” The Brits were well versed in avoiding terrorism long before we caught on, thanks to the I.R.A. When my husband deployed to Iraq, he drilled force protection into me. Tell no one who doesn’t need to know that you have a weakness.

My daughter is navigating a man’s world. She is worth 77 cents to every dollar her brothers can make. She will go to college in the wake of shocking revelations about the pervasiveness of sexual assault on our university campuses, so much so that the federal government has stepped in. She will walk down the street and get cat-called and no man who watches it will stand up for her. She will know to never walk alone at night, no matter what. She will know to never accept a drink from someone she doesn’t trust, literally, with her life. She will know to always vet the boys who want to be part of her life before she trusts them. She will know that she needs to be able to support herself, and her children, in the event she chooses unwisely. She will know that she will always have to do more, work harder, and be braver than any man in her life.

But she will also know that she is an advocate. For herself and for every other woman who doesn’t have a voice, or who allows her voice to be silenced or subjugated to the policies of people who try to make her a second class citizen. She will know that she should be proud to be a woman, in every sense of the word, because women are mothers and leaders and teachers and givers. She will know that she descends from suffragists and scholars and artists and free thinkers. And she will know that she must conduct herself in a way that lifts up women everywhere and inspires the girls who come after her.
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So when my daughter went out on the ice this weekend with her team at a tournament in Cleveland, with her pony tail hanging down the outside of her jersey, I had only one piece of advice for her. I told her to play like a girl.

 

Ownership Matters

Today I watched a wonderful trailer for a movie about being Dyslexic at The Big Picture Movie. This trailer pierced my heart because it is exactly what my oldest son needs to hear. He’s not dyslexic, but he is learning disabled, and the message is still spot on: owning your disability allows you to take control of it.

I don’t believe there is anything more important for a learning disabled person to hear, except, perhaps, that you are not alone. We are not alone. We walk among each other without even realizing our connections, but they exist. When we take ownership of our disabilities and are not afraid to admit to them, we begin to see each other, learn from each other, and triumph together.

My son has not learned to take ownership of his disability, but it is the mission of his parents and his school that this be the year in which he makes that leap. It is a leap of faith, a leap that requires belief in not only himself but in those of us who have promised to be there for him. There are a lot of reasons why he has not had this faith. The system let him down in so many ways that it would take a full length book to explain them all. Now he is getting the help he needs and slowly learning to trust again. And I know that when he finally is able to make that leap, there will be no one more proud of him than I am.