31 Things No One Tells You About Becoming a Parent: A Response

Yesterday on Facebook an old classmate of mine posted a link to a list entitled, “31 Things No One Tells You About Becoming A Parent”. Every entry on the list made me either nod enthusiastically, laugh, or kinda cry a little (for various reasons), so I thought I’d list the entries here, along with my own personal response to each one.

Rule #1: Assume crash position.
Rule #1: Assume crash position.

1. At some point you will accidentally hurt your kid and you’ll feel like the worst parent ever.

The first time this ever happened to me was when I was clipping my daughter’s nails when she was an infant. She wasn’t even squirming, but somehow I positioned the nail clippers (infant nail clippers, even) in such a way that I clipped off a piece of skin at the tip of her finger and she immediately started crying. The crying only lasted about twenty seconds, but I felt like the worst person ever for quite a while afterward.

2. You will know a lot less about this: [insert image of a newspaper showing important world news]

I’ve never been all that up on what’s going on in the world, but I can definitely state that since becoming a mother I rarely, rarely know what the hell is going in the world. My world has gotten a hell of a lot smaller, after all. 99.9% of the important things to me begin at the top of my daughter’s head and end at the tips of her toes.

3. And a whole lot more about this: [insert an image of a bunch of special figure toys]

I’ve always been the kind of person who knows more about things like toys and video games than “adult” things, but that knowledge has increased tenfold since I became a mother. I swear I know the specs, available colors, and price tag of every toy available at stores in this province.

4. Your Netflix account will eventually only suggest kids’ shows.

My husband and I don’t actually have our own Netflix account, but my husband’s parents do, and I can let you know that, yes, their account has decided that there are nothing but children in the house. Between my daughter and her cousin, Netflix shows pretty much nothing but My Little Pony and Ninja Turtles.

5. Your pet will no longer be your top priority.

Sometimes I genuinely feel bad about this, but yeah…my cats have become less than second fiddle since my daughter was born. In fact, most of the time I want to lock them in a room somewhere just so I don’t have to deal with them.

6. You will gain 15 pounds.

Hahahahahahahaha…. This one is supposed to be based on the fact that kids eat junk, and thus you will end up eating junk as well. That’s definitely part of it, but I also submit that while you may spend a good part of your day chasing around a super-fast little lunatic, you will then ultimately spend any time when they’re asleep lounging on the couch in pajama pants and stuffing yourself with whatever food is closest to your hand.

7. The backseat of your car will be nasty.

I considered taking a photo to back this one up, but I didn’t want any of my readers to lose their lunch. The saddest part is that I clear out our back seat actually quite regularly, but it ends up back the same way within a day or two.

8. You will eat 95% of your meals either incredibly fast or with one hand. Or both.

This phenomenon has been slowing down as my daughter grows up a bit, but it’s still pretty common for me to eat with one hand (usually the wrong one) because she wants to sit on me during supper time. And don’t even talk to me about meals like breakfast. Usually I just eat them from the kitchen counter as fast as I can because otherwise she sees and wants me to “share”.

9. You’ll basically become a ninja.

The quote that goes with this one is “When you need something from the baby’s room late at night you’ll be able to slip in and out without upending a feather” and I can absolutely confirm that. My daughter goes to bed at night with one of her TV shows on and usually rolls around so much before falling asleep that she ends up without a single blanket on her. As a response to that I “ninja” into her room every night to wrap her back up in blankets and turn off the TV. To date I’ve only woken her once or twice.

10. Despite your best efforts, your kids will get their hands on your iPhone.

Yes, yes, yes. Once, my iPhone ended up locked for over an hour because my daughter failed to properly input my code a ridiculous number of times.

Also, my photos folder is full of adorable toddler ‘selfies’.

11. Parenting is harder than you think it’ll be, but you won’t really notice.

The author of the list states that parenting will continuously get harder and harder but you won’t really realize that it’s happening. The more I think about it the more I agree. Though the days of being up all hours of the day and night and being at my daughter’s beck and call every second of the day are over, things have gotten harder in other ways. But, as the list’s author states, I haven’t really acknowledged that difficulty increase. It’s just kinda the way it works, I guess.

12. You will have to sneak candy like it’s a contraband substance.

This one really made me chuckle. Every year after Halloween my husband and I go out and buy a ton of discounted candy, which we keep in a closet on the main floor of our house. And whenever one of us wants a piece of that candy, we have to sneak around like thieves in the dead of night in order to make sure that our daughter doesn’t see us, especially if she didn’t eat her supper that night.

13. You will laugh more than at any other time in your life.

Young people without kids would never believe that this one is true, especially when they’re watching people with kids running around, chasing them, yelling at them, and looking like they haven’t slept in a year. But it is true. My daughter does so much stuff on a daily basis that makes giggle like a fool or laugh like a lunatic. Kids are the world’s little jesters.

14. You’ll be awakened at 2 a.m. to fetch a glass of water only to find your kid passed out when you deliver it.

I’ll admit, this one rarely ever happens to me. Not the “awakened at 2 a.m.” part…that happens almost every night. But the part where the kid passes back out before you can complete your task? No, that’s not me. When my daughter wakes up, she’s up. That said, there was one night that she banged on her door and when I walked in the room she was drowsily rubbing her eyes and complaining that she wanted her TV show on. I tucked her into bed and set about trying to find the right show, but in the thirty or so seconds that took I turned around to find her snoring on her pillow. I then employed number 9 of this list.

15. You will see your own faults reflected back at you.

Hahahahaha…oh my, yes. A big one (which I think is common in my neck of the woods) is the swearing and/or saying mean things. My husband and I have a very bad habit of telling each other to “shut up” when we’ve lost an argument. We don’t say it in a mean way…it’s actually a bit of a playful thing…but every time the daughter hears it she repeats it, which we obviously don’t want.

Also, stubbornness, temper, impatience, and a gluttonous sweet tooth. Yeah. She’s like a damn mirror.

16. Folding kid and baby clothes is torture.

I’ve pretty much gotten a handle on this one at this point, but my husband definitely hasn’t, and I don’t either of us will be able to properly fold the daughter’s underwear until she’s grown a few dozen more sizes. Those things are ridiculously small.

17. It’s impossible to feel manly when folding said baby clothes.

Obviously I can’t judge this one personally, but I can definitely say, without hesitation, that it is impossible to look manly when folding baby clothes.

18. The power of cute is more formidable than you realize.

The power of cute could rule the universe, I’m certain. Since the day she was born my daughter has been using the overwhelming powers of cuteness to diffuse situations and get out of trouble. How can you stay mad at a kid when she looks up at you from under her eyelashes and says – with a big frown – “I sowwy, mama”?

19. You will find talking to your friends without kids more difficult.

At this point in life more of my friends have kids than don’t, but yeah, I can definitely agree with this one. You don’t realize how much your kids have become your entire world until you try to have a conversation without bringing them up. Because, let’s admit it, your friends without kids really don’t give a rat’s ass about your kids, and you don’t want to be one of those parents, but then, what do you talk about? Because honestly, you haven’t done much more than cook, clean, change diapers, and watch Treehouse TV for the past year.

20. Kids become actual people and not baby blobs way sooner than you think.

Tell me that the wording of that one didn’t give you a chuckle.

It’s amazingly true though. It feels like it was just yesterday that my daughter was sleeping fifteen hours a day and couldn’t even hold her own head up, but now she’s this little individual with likes and dislikes, attitudes and tempers, and a unique personality. She’s a person…just smaller and slightly more difficult to understand.

21. Something you love will get ruined.

I’m patiently waiting for the day this one happens to me, but I can honestly say that it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve had glasses broken (eh, they were cheap glasses anyway), drinks spilled on bedsheets (washed and dried and perfect again), and my daughter has an affinity for getting all manner of disgusting fluids and crusty things all over the screen of my tablet (that’s why we buy screen protectors!), but to date she hasn’t destroyed anything that I love. This is one thing on this list that I seriously hope to foil.

22. You will turn into your parents.

No comment. Move along. lol

23. Very little will embarrass you.

I can remember before I had my daughter, whenever I would see a kid throwing a tantrum in a store I would (after I got over the annoyance of having to listen to a kid scream) feel sorry for the parent. How embarrassing, I thought, must it be to deal with that kind of thing in public, surrounded by judging eyes.

I can tell you now that, for me at least, it’s not embarrassing at all. When my daughter is being a little brat in a public place I literally throw her over my shoulder and just keep going about what I was doing while she kicks and screams and whines, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest if every eye in the room is on us. Kids throw tantrums sometimes, people. It ain’t a circus act.

Also, as a mother, once you’ve shown up to playgroup with bed hair and no makeup because you were too focused on getting the kid ready and totally forgot to get yourself ready, nothing can embarrass you anymore.

24. You won’t be able to watch movies where kids are killed or kidnapped.

This one started for me when I was pregnant. It’s seriously just not possible. My heart physically hurts now if I see a kid die in a movie. Before I’d feel a little sad, but hey, it’s not real, that kid’s an actor. Now I feel like someone is stabbing a hunting knife in my stomach and twisting it.

25. You won’t want to spend money on yourself because you’ll know every dollar spent on yourself is a dollar you could’ve spent on your family.

I know quite a few parents who are the exact opposite of this, but I can say that, yes, some parents definitely fall into this category. I occasionally spend money on myself, usually in the form of some small treat. But for the most part I spend 2 out of every 3 seconds spent in stores looking at kids clothes and toys, thinking about all the things I want to buy my daughter. If it weren’t for the tiny inkling of restraint that I do have, our house would be a ball pit of toys and not much else.

26. Buying your kid something will make you way more happy than buying yourself something.

Christmas is a testament to this now. I love Christmas, and I’ve always loved both giving and receiving gifts, but now that I have a daughter 200% of my attention is focused on her when it comes to presents. I get a little thrill of giddy happiness every time she opens a present, I really do.

27. When your kid is little, every trip out of the house will feel like getting ready to go to the airport.

Once, when my husband and I both lost our jobs and had to take a trip to New Brunswick for job interviews with another company, I didn’t think our Corolla was going to make it because it was so loaded down with the gear we needed for the baby.

28. You will love to watch kids’ movies.

I’ve always loved kids movies, to be honest, but these days I even love watching them if I’ve seen them eighty times already because nothing is better than snuggling under a blanket with my daughter and listening to her reactions to a great movie.

29. You will cram your entire adult life between the time your kid goes down and you go to sleep.

If you put a spy camera in our house you would see this one in action. Sure, I write during the day, sure we get chores and the like done while the little Missy is up and running around our ankles. But things like watching (non-kid) movies together or having  a couple of drinks? Yeah…that stuff starts around 9 pm and ends around 11 pm.

30. For a while, only you will be able to understand them, so you’ll basically become their interpreter.

My husband is better at this one than me, but it’s true and also hysterical. My daughter’s grandparents can never figure out what she’s saying, especially my husband’s father, so it’s up to us to regularly translate every line. The other day my daughter was singing a song to my mother and I had to keep shouting out every second word so that my mother could repeat it.

31. And lastly, it’s all worth it.

Some days it won’t feel like it. Sometimes you just want to jam a pillow over your head and pretend that the world outside your personal bubble doesn’t exist. Sometimes your kid will go on and on and on and on and all you’ll want in the world is for them to shut their yappy little mouth for five minutes. And sometimes you’ll seriously consider installing dead-bolts on all your bathroom doors because JEEBUS CHRIST, CAN I PLEASE PEE IN PRIVATE?!

But the other times, the times when your kid says or does something that truly amazes you, or the times when they come to you with tears in your eyes to ask you to kiss a boo-boo better, or the times when they come up to you for absolutely no reason at all to give you a hug and a kiss and tell you that they love you…yeah, those times make it 100% worth it.

Photo 11-22-2013, 3 13 16 PMHow about it, fellow parents? How much do you know about toys these days? Have you gotten your black belt in ninja stealth yet? When was the last time you saw any actual upholstery in the back seat of your car? Please share your own thoughts and stories! 🙂

Laugh, Cry, and Scream

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of jumping between stories. Within my own work I’ve been moving between zombie apocalypses and werewolf romances, between epic fantasies and personal journeys. At the same time I’ve been reading books, watching movies and TV shows, and playing video games. All this going back and forth between different stories with different characters has gotten me thinking about what makes a truly memorable character. What is it that makes a particular person in a book, tv show, movie, or game become this amazing character whom you can’t get enough of? What makes a character great?

I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with three answers, three things that make a character great, in my opinion.

Great characters make you laugh.

Humor is almost a given, isn’t it? Laughter is like a drug, one for which the only side effects are happiness and maybe some pleasantly sore muscles. Mentally and physically, our bodies get high on humor, which is why we love comedies so much, why we appreciate friends and loved ones who can make us chuckle, and why we tend to gravitate toward peers who share our appreciation for what is or isn’t funny. Sense of humor is not universal, of course, but almost everyone will find themselves drawn toward a character who can make them laugh, especially if that laughter is of the deep-down, belly-rumbling, gasping-for-air variety.

Characters who give me the giggles:

Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory – He’s just so absurd and stoic in everything he says and does that it’s absolutely hysterical. I genuinely don’t know how the actors of this show make it through their lines sometimes.

Tyrion Lanister from the A Song of Ice and Fire series (G.R.R. Martin) – I’ve rarely read a character so damn witty. His humor is rude and crude one minute, and exceptionally intellegent the next. Every second line out of his mouth makes me go “HA!”

Great characters make you cry.

Sadness is a little less obvious, but whether you might believe it or not sometimes we crave a good sob-fest. Why else would movies like The Notebook be so popular? The thing is, crying is cathartic; even if you didn’t realize you were stressed out or upset, crying gets all the pent-up bad mojo out, and while no one wants to be sad for real-life reasons, being sad for a character allows you to experience that release of emotions. Being able to feel for a character, to be truly empathetic toward them and experience their pain, releases a host of hormones and chemicals that leaves you feeling somehow refreshed and rejuvinated.

Characters who give me the sniffles:

Dean Winchester from Supernatural – It’s one part great writing and one part awesome acting on behalf of Jensen Ackles, and the combination is a character who has made me exceptionally weepy on more than one occasion (but don’t tell my husband…I always turn to my side so he doesn’t see).

Simba from The Lion King – There is one scene in particular that I’m talking about, and if you don’t automatically know which one I’m talking about you can’t possibly have ever seen The Lion King, so GO WATCH THE LION KING RIGHT NOW, YOU FREAK.

Great characters make you scream.

Fear is another thing entirely. Though there are always going to be some people who run in the other direction when faced with fear, quite a lot of us love it. Fear gives a person a unique rush of adrenaline and “fight or flight” hormones that can be obtained in no other way, and how better to experience such a thing than from the comfort of your own home while reading a scary book or watching a horror movie? When a character makes your heart beat faster, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and gives you a nervous twtich because of the incredible tension, that is something real and visceral that you won’t soon forget. If the eventual result is actual nightmares, the character has really done their job.

Characters who give me the wiggins:

The creepy ghost girl from Shutter (original Thai version) – There is one thing I will give to the Asians…they know how to do ghosts, and this chick in particular had me literally watching the movie from between my fingers. Bonus points for totally freaking out my husband and father-in-law.

The Joker from The Dark Knight – He may not be scary in the “I’m going to have nightmares forever!” sense, but Heath Ledger’s maniacal version of The Joker creeped me out more than I can tell. He was truly, entirely mad, and that is a frightening concept.

There are, of course, lots of other factors that go into making a good character. The protagonist should be likable but also have real flaws, the antagonist should be hateful but have relatable qualities as well… You’ve heard it all before, I’m sure, or if you haven’t I’m sure you know most of the rules without even realizing it; that’s how you as the consumer recognize the characters you like. But in my opinion, the three things I’ve mentioned above are what take a character from simply enjoyable, to positively incredible. And if you can somehow incorporate all three of these types of characters into one story…wow. Just wow.

Character (groups) that have made me giggle, sniffle, and wig out:

The cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV) – Fear doesn’t necessarily apply anymore, but I watched this show when I was young and significantly more innocent, so hear me out. Back in the day the monsters creeped me the hell out, the banter between characters (good and bad) constantly had me laughing, and the misery that several of the characters went through made me (on more than one occasion) bawl like a little girl. To me, that is seriously a winning combination, and that is why this show is one of my all-time favorites to this day.

The characters from Invitation to the Game (Monica Hughes) – The characters in this book were witty and amusing, went through a tense, frightening situation that threatened their lives, and experienced a plethora of negative emotions and miseries. I’ve read this book dozens of times and I still experience an emotional rollercoaster whenever I read it.

As a writer I now find myself in the position of trying to incorporate these factors into my characters, which is a much more difficult endevour than simply pointing them out in the books I read and the movies and shows I watch. Humor isn’t my strong point, although I’ve been told by readers of my fanfiction that I’ve made them chuckle a time or two. I strive to incorporate fear into my horror and fantasy pieces, and I hope it comes across, but I haven’t been in the position yet to have anyone tell me one way or the other. Misery seems to be my “thing” (what does that say about me…?), as I love to torture my characters and I’ve had a number of people inform me that I was successful in drawing out those tears. It’s a very difficult thing striking all three, but as other writers will attest, writing is rarely easy and creating excellent characters can often feel like an exercise in futility. Regardless, now that I’ve beaten down exactly what it is that creates characters I’ve come to love, you can be damn sure that I’ll be keeping these three factors in mind whenever I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

What about you? What characters have made you laugh until your belly hurt? Sob like a baby? Cower under a blanket? Are there other factors that make a character great for you? Please share!

Going Beyond Your Depths

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

Dealing with (Imaginary) Death

My daughter loves Sesame Street. She knows a ton of characters, even if she can’t quite pronounce them all (“Tookie! Ahnie!”), and if we’d let her she’d have our living room television playing episodes and specials all day, every day, until the Elmo’s World theme song made our heads explode.

If you can handle ten hours of this a day, you are the toughest person I know.

It is for this reason that my husband tracked down “40 Years of Sunny Days”, a special done a few years back that documented a bunch of famous scenes from over the first (first!) 40 years of the show’s life. I popped the show on the other day, partly for the little missy, but also partly because I was curious to see which of the scenes I remember from my childhood would pop up.

Tell me you don’t remember this, I dare you.

At one point – I believe it was somewhere in the “Years 10-15” section – a scene came on that I’d never caught when I was a kid because it was an old episode by the time I was watching. It was the episode where Mr Hooper dies and the adults have to explain to Big Bird about death. In the scene, Big Bird has drawn pictures of all his adult human friends and is passing them out as everyone oohs and ahhs over what a great job he’s done. When he comes to the end and asks where Mr Hooper is so he can give him his picture the adults go silent and look at each other like no one wants to have to be the one to explain it. They take turns explaining to Big Bird (“Don’t you remember? We told you that Mr Hooper died?”), who reacts with the same kind of misunderstanding, anger, and distress that a small child might. Eventually he comes to grips with what the adults are telling him and says that he’ll miss Mr Hooper, as he hangs the picture he’s drawn up at Hooper’s Store.

I won’t lie; I almost teared up. The baby, of course, had no idea what she was watching, but I certainly did. Strangely, though, the primary thought that was running through my mind as I watched the scene play out was, “How hard must it have been for the writers to prepare this scene?” Unlike writing the deaths of fictional characters, the writers for Sesame Street were writing about the actual death of a man they’d worked with, who had been on the show for many years and was an important part of the world which they’d created together. He wasn’t just a character, he was their friend. I can imagine it would have been even more difficult for the actors who had to perform the scene. In fact, one of the other actors, Bob McGrath, was quoted as saying, “I couldn’t go near the store for about a year after he was gone” and the scene in question was done in one take because the crew was too emotional after the first try to do another one.

The whole thing amazed me quite a bit because of how emotional I can get when my completely fictional characters are killed off. Even though these are people who exist only in my own mind, I’ve found myself nearly in tears when it came time for one of them to die. Maybe that means I’ve written them to be likable. Maybe it just means I’m a huge sook. Either way, it can be surprisingly difficult sometimes. I’ve even been known to fight with myself over whether or not I can change the story so that the character doesn’t have to die. It’s this attitude that is making it so difficult for me to figure out the (eventual) ending to my fantasy novel. Logic dictates that one of two particular characters has to die in order for the ending to make sense, but it kills me to do that to either of them.

Do other writers deal with this, I wonder? I mean, without the character in question being someone they actually knew?