Writers and Parents: Be Careful What You Wish For!

Writing is a great many wonderful things but making a living at it isn’t easy. And, more importantly, it may not be a good thing. Consider this story. I wrote a parenting book some years back, before the advent of self publishing. Shockingly, at least to me, it was published by a major publishing house and even more shocking, they actually spent about 10 minutes promoting it. (Because promoting books is not one of the things big publishing houses do well or even at all for most books! Yes, that was a surprise to me too.) One afternoon I returned to my home office to hear this voice mail:

Woman’s voice: Hi. This is Andrea. I’m a producer  at the Oprah Show. We just received your parenting book and we think it’s terrific. We’re doing a show on being organized and we already have an expert booked on the show but if you could be in Chicago next week, we might be able to add a segment specific to parenting. If you’re interested, please call me at …

OMG. I won’t even bother trying to describe how I felt.  I know you can easily imagine. (Suffice it to say the moment was so thrilling, I can still remember what I was wearing when I heard the message.) So, of course I returned the call ASAP. First she waxed poetic about my book and explained the reason they loved it was because it was so practical. Every suggestion in the book was something any parent could do with any child. She loved the way I looked at parenting which was that parents should integrate kids into their lives while maintaining as much of themselves and their previous lives as possible. I was thrilled they understood the point of the book which was to give parents actual, doable advice for raising responsible, good kids without overwhelming parents with a lot of theories and philosophizing. She asked if I could send video of me on any prior appearance on TV as well as a brief description of what I thought would be a good two-minute segment. She explained it was not highly likely they’d be able to add me in since the show was really already tightly planned but she really liked the book and was going to try. I sent off my package and held my breath.

Next I phoned my agent, who, while she was thrilled for me, had a cautionary warning. What I said to her, somewhat jokingly but also maybe a little bit wistfully was, “Maybe I’ll be the John Gray of parenting.” Back then he was the IT writer, who had written the phenomenally successful relationship book about men being from Mars while women were from Venus. She answered quickly, “You don’t want to be that. He’s a relationship expert who’s on the road about 50 weeks a year. Do you want to be writing about parenting while being away from your kids 50 weeks out of the year?”

That struck me and proved to be a little comforting when I heard back from the producer who reported, alas, they could not fit my two-minute segment into the show, as she had feared. But, she said they loved my book and would try to find another show to work it into. Despite the fact I spent the next year sending her show theme pitches and small gifts in Fed Ex envelopes monthly (my agent’s suggestion), my Oprah appearance remained elusive. I was so disappointed. My dream of being a fantastically successful writer did not come to pass.

IMG_2999
Lego Art by Nathan Sawaya

Thus, I did not become the John Gray of parenting. But I did raise three amazing daughters who probably lamented how much I was around the house more than I did! I have no regrets. My book sold okay, I did some other  fun TV and radio appearances with it and got some very positive feedback. Thanks to the ability to self publish and the fact that the rights reverted back to me, I updated it and published it again this year so if you want to check out Raising Amazing Children: While Having a Life of Your Own, the practical parenting book an Oprah producer loved but didn’t produce a show about, it’s just 99 cents on Amazon. I figure if it’s a bestseller now, I can hit the road. My kids are all grown and won’t even notice if I leave town!  If you give it as a gift to a new parent you know, you can tell them it was almost on Oprah. (They don’t have to know you only spent a dollar on it!) If you read it, please share a review on Amazon. Your opinion will mean more to me than any producer’s! And, writers, rethink your disappointments. Maybe the way it’s working out for you is the way it’s meant to be after all.

Who Taught You To Be Generous?

Love the conversation I overheard in the gym locker room this morning. Okay, I admit it freely; I am an eavesdropper of the highest magnitude. On a scale of 1-10 guilty of listening in to what total strangers are saying, I’m a 12. But it’s a wonderful vice to have. I find people so fascinating and sometimes uplifting too.

Two women, both in their 40s or so. Truthfully I can never tell, they may have been anywhere from 40 – 65. But they did both look terrifically fit, whatever their age. (I’m not that big a snoop, I didn’t secretly photograph them so you’ll have to take my word.) Here’s how the conversation went:

Woman A: I’ve always had the habit of making extra food when I make something like Tiramisu or lasagne,  you know the things it’s just as easy to make double of as it is to make one. I give the other one to someone else. But my husband always asked, “Why are you giving our food away?” He was annoyed about it and didn’t understand why I didn’t just freeze it and keep it for us. So I told him it was no big deal to make extra and other people need it more than we do. We’re not rich but we can certainly afford to give away a lasagne every so often.

Woman Z: That is really nice of you. How do you decide who to give the food to?

Woman A: Well, I just kind of pick anyone I’ve talked to recently who I think could use the help. Like you know that guy in the gym who just lost his wife? He’s alone and I don’t think he cooks so I gave him a meal last week. And, that’s when it got interesting. When I got home and told my husband who I gave the food to, he said, “Oh, now I get it. I understand why you’re giving away food. That guy probably won’t have a home cooked meal now that his wife is gone. He probably doesn’t cook. That’s really nice of you.” So, when it was someone my husband could clearly relate to, because he knows he’d be lost without my cooking, he finally understood the whole idea of helping people who need a hand. I was really happy he got it and won’t be pissed at me for giving away our food.

Woman Z: So, that’s cool, you taught your husband how to be generous. Who taught you that?

Woman A: (Period of total silence)

Woman Z: I mean you weren’t born that way, someone had to teach you about generosity. Who was it?

Woman A: Wow, I never thought about that. I’ve always just seen myself as a good and generous person. Let me think about it.

Woman Z: Your mom?

Woman A: No, I don’t think so. Wait, you know what? It was probably my dad. He is and has always been dirt poor. He lives in Puerto Rico and has never made any money but he’s always seen a beautiful world around himself. He never thought of himself as poor. When I was a teenager I’d take odd jobs to make some money and I’d give some of it to him. He’d give it away and I’d get really angry. I’d say, “I worked to make that money for you, not for that guy. Why’d you give my money away?” And he’d say, “I’m okay. I have everything I need but that guy needs help.” And, believe me, my father had nothing, but somehow he always thought others were worse off and wanted to help them because for whatever reason, he saw a beautiful life surrounding him and felt sorry for other people.I guess it was my dad.

And she smiled. And the woman who asked the great question smiled. And I smiled but I had to turn away so they wouldn’t know I was eavesdropping. But I was glad I did. Maybe I should have saved this post for Father’s Day and maybe some folks will reblog it then but I just couldn’t wait. What a tribute to what makes a great dad!

So I ask you that wonderful question. Are you generous? What does that mean to you and who taught you to be that way? If you could teach that to someone whom would you choose?

IMG_2989

Jump For Joy? Why Not?

Once I saw Goldie Hawn being interviewed. When asked why she always seemed so happy and was it authentic, she answered, “Yes, it’s real, I guess I just have an inner joy that’s always with me.” My daughters said, “No wonder you’ve always liked Goldie. You and she think alike in that same corny way.” I couldn’t disagree with them, even as I knew they were making fun of me. That phrase, inner joy, stuck with me. It became a goal for my life, to do whatever I could to maintain joy inside me and to promote it in others. Of course it’s not always easy to do either. But I believe keeping my eye on the prize did and still does help me get through some of the challenges of life, including those of my crazy dysfunctional family. The maintenance of joy is one reason I kept humor throughout my book.

Toward the goal of promoting joy in others, I share two things today. First is a blog I tripped over just this morning called, “Jump For Joy.” It’ll make your day so go check it out. The artist shares photos of, perhaps you’ve already guessed, people jumping for joy. They’re fantastic and guaranteed to make you smile.

Secondly, one of the things that makes me joyful. Love, love, love sunrise. Don’t see it often. Here’s one I saw recently. EnJOY. 🙂

P1000072_2

How do you attain inner joy? Is it something you seek consciously on a daily basis?

Could You Attend A Functional Family Convention? If you do these 10 things…

We become part of a family and although it’s a complex machine, we receive no instructions on how to make it work well. Much like becoming a parent, you do it and you fly from the seat of your pants. There’s no instruction manual, no how-to guide, no user guide, not even a quick-start info graphic. No wonder so many families go painfully awry!

So I thought I’d remedy that today. Here are 10 things people who appreciate family do.

1. Love unconditionally. This one seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand how important unconditional love is. Love doesn’t just happen, it takes work. Unconditional love means loving someone regardless of what they’re like or what they do for you. It’s loving for the sake of loving, no more, and no less. Unconditional love is a gift for the giver and the recipient. It starts with loving yourself unconditionally and grows from there.

2. Seek understanding. Notice that says, “Seek understanding” not “be understanding.” My point here is  it’s up to each person to reach out to family members to try to be understood by sharing what matters to them. Great family members want others to know them well.

3. Be understanding. Here’s the other side of the understanding coin. Understanding is definitely a two-way street. Family members who wish to be understood are often the ones who understand others well. The give and take of understanding is the foundation of any great relationship. It’s particularly acute in families where if you can’t understand each other, it’s harder to just walk away.

4. Stand and fight. Yes, sometimes conflict happens and it probably should. Chances are if you never disagree on anything in a family it’s because you’re not doing much together. Family members who interact a great deal are likely to disagree from time to time. It’s okay. Those who stand and fight can also resolve problems. Those resolutions lead to stronger bonds. So great family members don’t have to shy away from problems, they can fight and win stronger ties.

5. Forgive. Following the fighting with forgiveness is a hallmark of a healthy functioning family. Forgiveness isn’t magic. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious letting-go of any resentment. A conscious letting-go. Family members who want to move on after a conflict make a choice to move forward to peace of mind. Those family members help to set others free from the pain of the conflict. This one is huge.

6. Give. People who understand the value of giving in a relationship don’t hesitate to do so. They may give time, they may give money, they may share possessions, they may give a sympathetic ear, they give what they can when they can. Giving is a way of exhibiting caring. It’s a manifestation of how a person feels.

7. Take. The other side of this coin. Giving is great but, surprisingly, taking reasonably is also terrific. (In other words, there’s a difference between taking and taking advantage which is not good.) Being able to accept, whether it’s time or help or money or advice is important. It may show vulnerability and that is a good thing of sorts. Being vulnerable means to be open to hurt. Why is that good? When people are vulnerable they are exposed because their defenses are down. In a family the walls that protect us should not have to exist.  Great family members should be comfortable with being somewhat vulnerable and open to emotion.

8. Stay honest in the big moments. Honesty is fluid and that’s okay. If your sister gets an awful haircut a loving family member can choose to assure her it looks okay and that’s fine. But a loving family member doesn’t tell lies to manipulate others.

9. Eschew secrets. There’s a fine line between being trustworthy with private matters and keeping secrets that shouldn’t be kept. Loving family members don’t recruit others to keep secrets that might later come out and hurt people.

10. Be accountable, reliable, responsible and dependable. Loving family members mean what they say, do what they promised and show up.

So, how does your family stack up? If you have family members who do all of these things, consider sending this post with a thank you note to brighten their day. And if you think you could do a bit better, consider sharing this post with a note of promise to work harder so your family functions better than ever. Is there anything you’d add to this list?

syncswim