Dysfunctional Family Desired for Story Premise

Vintage reads

Remember those good old TV shows from the Fifties? Andy Griffith, Leave It to Beaver, The Lone Ranger, and a host of others. Today’s viewers say, “Boring. No conflict. Not enough action.”

 
Excuse me? While superheroes didn’t bounce out of the sky and smash a city to individual cinder blocks, the characters in those programs faced real problems and taught children how to solve them. In many family comedies, Dads led their wives and children through a jungle of moral decisions. The parents, as a team, guided their children toward wisdom, unlike many of the buffoons in today’s sitcoms.

 
Take Eddie Haskell, a problem that never stopped. Wally and the Beaver didn’t like him, but they treated him with grace. Their parents told them to, they obeyed, and further conflict was averted. At least, until Eddie tried something else, and the cycle repeated.

 
Or Opie Taylor, Andy Griffith’s son. I remember an episode where he had to choose: prepare to fight the bully for what was right or join the crowd to do wrong. Thanks to his father’s consistent example, Opie chose to stand for righteousness.

 

 

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Dennis the Menace entertained us with his inept efforts to be helpful, and his generous heart taught children like me to love our neighbors. His parents were often at a loss as to how to handle what Dennis might get into next, but they always explained to their son how he might have done things differently with less disastrous results.

 
Even westerns taught Judeo Christian morality. In The Rifleman, a father taught his son right and wrong and to use violence as a last resort to save other lives. The Lone Ranger never looked for credit for his good deeds. The rescued asked, “Who was that masked man?” as he rode into the sunset. Lessons in humility.

 
I want the same lessons of goodness in the books I read where characters solve problems in an honorable manner. It’s why I prefer the classics, books that contain intact families who love each other and face conflicts together. I get so tired of the dysfunctional families and missing parents in today’s literature. As an experiment, I went through the archives of The Scriblerians and checked the family situations in each of the books I’ve reviewed. I was dismayed by the results:

 
Dysfunctional Family/Missing Parent Intact, Loving Family
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Even if I discount the handful of books written past 1990, I found that authors use the lack of a good parent as an integral part of the conflict for the child protagonist. As much as I love each one of these stories, I’m saddened by that reality.

 

 

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Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is a case in point. Thirteen-year-old Sara lives with her snarky teenage sister, her little brother Charlie, and their aunt. Their mother died; their dad split. Charlie has unnamed developmental disabilities. Today we might say he’s on the autism spectrum. Sara loves Charlie; she hates his neediness. She hates herself as many young adolescents do. The novel is beautiful and character-driven with a flawed protagonist who finally realizes she loves her family as it is.

 
Most of the events in the plot could have been accomplished with a mom and dad still around. Two parents could have struggled together in dealing with Charlie’s eccentricities, and teens in their struggle for independence get in grand funks even when they grow up in wonderful, loving homes.

 
Strong families are not exempt from ongoing crises. I’m currently writing a fictionalized memoir covering the first five years of my little sister’s life. Our parents enjoyed a solid marriage, and they had to cope with the uncertainties of raising a profoundly deaf child. Heartbreaking events occurred, and comical episodes still made life fun. We were strong. We were together.

 
This is what I feel called to do in my writing, to glorify God with stories of family who strive together to overcome the obstacles in their path as they journey through life, pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land.

Lessons From a Seventy-Five-Year-Old Musher

… And a top skiing instructor, and an extreme landscaper, and a backcountry horseman (in the 1940’s when most women did NOT do that).

Yes, of course, this is one and the same person – my mom!

As mentioned, in the 1940’s, when most of my mom’s friends were learning the fine art of sewing, doing kitchen duties and catering to their husband’s every need, Mom was kicking around on her horse in the B.C. backcountry when she wasn’t teaching gym to kids. She wanted to visit family in Vancouver 300 miles away approximately, so off she went (in her twenties) on her horse without a second thought, with some grain for her and her horse to eat, beef jerky, and a general idea of how to get there. Did I mention there were no roads? Seven days later she and her horse wandered into Vancouver no worse for wear, visited for a few days, then turned around and went home again. No problem!

mom and horse

As a small child, I assumed that every kid’s mom was able to man-handle 100 pound slabs of rock from the hills surrounding our place to put into landscaping. (She was only about 5’4 ) We lived on three acres that contained barns, horse pastures, fish ponds, huge multilevelled barbecue areas, ravines, and lake frontage to romp around in. Normal stuff, I thought.

Then, I remember, when I was about seven, skiing with family while mom taught others to ski. She’d started skiing when she was about 50, but as her indomitable nature dictated, she excelled quickly then was hired to teach at our local mountain. She has been hailed as one of the best teachers to have hit the mountain, even to this day!

Later, my parents, in their seventies, lived in a cabin by a small lake above our town. No running water, outdoor biffy, and bears for neighbours. My kids’ earliest memories were of tobogganing by the cabin in the winter, and fishing on the lake in the summer. Mom owned two siberian huskies that pulled her around on a sleigh in the winter. These dogs were obstinate pullers by nature, but were as calm and obedient on the leash as any citified dog.

How?

Mom twisted their leashes over their backs, around their middles and through their hind legs. So… uhm, pulling for these male dogs was not an option on the leash. Ingenious, right? This allowed mom to take them on lengthy strolls through the woods by herself.

mom and dogs

Mom has always had a quiet, get-things-done nature with no negative thoughts on her situation or other people. Don’t think for a second that our family has always been blessed with good health and prosperity. We have had our share of tragedies with finances, health and relationships, but with everything she showed a humble determination to simply work through obstacles, and when you couldn’t, you worked with what you had left. Let go and let God, was her steadfast motto. She introduced me to my faith and showed me where her strength comes from.

She is now celebrating her 97th birthday and is going strong.
Elsie Wilson is the ultimate hard act to follow!!

Love you to the moon and back, Mom!!!

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Is This Your Child?

My heart was heavy when I saw this video. I really identified with its message. Have a look…

I was born and raised on a farm loving the outdoors and playing non-stop with my horses, cats, dogs, and friends on our property. I wasn’t into sports as much as our kids, but still preferred to be outside rather than inside, and invented very simple games to occupy my time.

But today, to be completely honest, I do enjoy my time in front of my screen, with FB, emails, or whatever. I can certainly see the draw of watching youtube videos and movies, but can’t say that games are much of a temptation.

Our kids’ generation’s screen habits started gradually, but have burst into their lives with video games and phones. We tried to limit our sons’ time on the computer when they were young and they didn’t own phones. And it worked most of the time. But when they went over to friend’s houses, how could we control that? Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but kids are almost considered weird if they don’t have phones. (I won’t go into that personal pet peeve)

I feel that this draw also takes them away from reading, and as a writer, I wonder how we can recapture their hearts and time. We as parents can try as much as we can while our kids are at home, but what happens when they leave? I am trying to picture how these kids who are hooked on games etc. will bring up their own kids. I have confidence that there will always be kids in sports etc. and I am encouraged by commercials on tv. about trying to get our kids off screens. And I know that many kids are able to moderate their time on screens. But there is much that we can’t identify with as adults who weren’t raised with these temptations. There is the world of difference between how we spent our time as kids, and how our kids spend their time.

Can I safely say that if I was raised today, I wouldn’t be hooked on screens too? I can’t, in all honesty.  I doubt it, but I will never know.

As a blog writer, I feel that I should have some answers, but all I can do is present the very complicated problem, and offer what we did as parents. I’m very interested to hear what your thoughts are on this!!

The Bowling Ball

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Todd goes through life much like an oversized bowling ball.

Like his arrival home – heralded by the usual thumps of him kicking perennially unlaced runners against the wall, then a shoulder check to the door while twisting the knob and finally, an eruption into the house.

“You won’t believe this,” he exclaims, stomping into the kitchen in his rumpled gray T-shirt and khakis. Frayed hems flop behind his heels. He tosses his backpack onto the island. “Mr. Crowthers sprung a surprise vocabulary test.”

Our cat sidles out of the kitchen.

Todd scratches his wild curls, yanks the milk out of the fridge and slams the door. Three fridge magnets clatter to the floor. He replaces one.

So far, the bowling game is comparatively low scoring.

“Was it a surprise to everyone else?” I retrieve a magnet from under the fridge.

“Dunno. Prob’ly.” He grabs a spoon and the Almond Crisp, then scrapes a stool to the island.

“Well, how’d you do?”

He stares at the back of the cereal box. “With what?”

“You know, the surprise test.”

“Oh, not sure. We didn’t mark ‘em yet ‘cause he had some VERY IMPORTANT things to discuss. He even held us for an extra six minutes.” He splashes the milk into the bowl, and onto the counter.

“So, what did he say?” I hand him a rag.

“Something about mid terms. I think.”

He swipes once at the milk puddle then fires the rag toward the sink, but instead nails my Easter lily. It nose-dives to the floor. Head Pin!

“Oops.”

I hate that word. But, there are others – “uh oh,” “whoops”, and the ever popular, “Was that an antique?”

“Todd. Seriously! Slow down!” I rush over and groan at the severed white bloom in the pile of dirt.

“Sorry…Oh, hey, you gotta see this.” Burrowing through the contents of his backpack, he yanks out a wrinkled piece of paper. He slaps it down exclaiming, “D’ya like that?”

I recoil – it’s stained brown from something in his pack I’d rather not know about. I gingerly smooth it out and see a circled 43/40. “Wow. Nice going. But 43 out of 40?”

“Bonus points.” He pumps a fist. “I named three Roman Emperors.”

For the millionth time, I wonder how consistent he would be if he really tried.

After re-washing the counter, I bring out the dustpan.

“Hey, I can do that,” he blurts through a full mouth.

I glance at my other tender plants – more potential pins. “Uh, no. S’okay.”

Suddenly I’m in a firm neck hold. Todd delivers a smooch that feels more like a playful punch to the jaw.

“Goin’ to Brandon’s to work on a project. ‘Kay?”

I survey my once neat kitchen. This bowling match could turn out a winning score very soon. “Sure. Great idea.” I say a bit too enthusiastically.

He hauls his backpack off the counter, snagging his cereal bowl. It clatters to the floor.

“Whoops.”

“Todd!”

Strike and end of match.

 

Does this sound like anything you could relate too? I’m hoping you can say yes.

This little story was  the winning entry to a contest on personalities I’d submitted to years ago. I think I took all of ten minutes to write it, as it was crystal clear in my mind. I had, right in my own home, all the inspiration I needed to write about a boy’s personality. All I had to do sometimes (when I wasn’t scurrying off in the car to another of his hockey practices) was grab a chai tea latte, and watch. Okay, plus grab a rag.. and a broom.. and a tylenol for my headaches.

But the difference between normal people (and I use that term loosely) and writers, is that life experiences seldom go unnoticed and/or undocumented. Living life is just doing research for our books. My boys know that my characters are them in different settings. And thankfully they are fine with that.

So tell me, how many of your characters are your family members and/or friends? Or if not, where do you get your inspiration?

 

 

TRADING DEPENDENTS

About 15 years ago, my sister-in-law glanced incredulously at me while flipping the pages of my sketchbooks. “Loraine, why on earth aren’t you doing your artwork? Or your writing for that matter?

I laughed. “Oh, sure, I think I have all of a ½ hour per day when I’m not either driving the kids around to their school sports, cooking meals for said children, or taking care of our acreage and horses. Oh, yes… I guess I also have a husband in there too who requires a little attention. If I allowed myself creative outlets, I would be like that cranky dog with a bone. I would not be a nice mommy or a supportive wife if I was dragged away from my writing or artwork. Besides, creativity can’t just be turned on and off like a tap when the few moments arise.”

The excuses rolled out of my mouth faster than our kids and their friends exiting their school at 2:30. And to be honest the excuses were mostly valid. At that point in my life the kids were my priority and I wasn’t going to miss a thing. Their desires and needs for my services and time would soon pass as their priorities and lifestyles changed.

Andrew in track

(My son Andrew in his track years)

It might have been different had I not had my other hobbies taking up my time too (my horses and showing). So my creative side waited, not all that patiently, along the sidelines.

Later, after my kids graduated and the hours spent as a taxi driver and fan of their sports diminished to zero, I allowed myself to tread tentatively toward my neglected artistic and creative side. Also due to nagging injuries, I had to let go of my horses and acreage. My creative juices were flowing full steam ahead in the form of writing courses, conferences and contests. I was also commissioned to illustrate my first book. Hallelujah! I’d turned the page of my life.

However…

Dependents come in many forms. First it was the children but now my last remaining parent, my mom, whom I adore, needs my help. Of course, as before with my children, when her needs arise, I leave everything and leap to her side. Thus my creative outlets are yet again sometimes leashed and tethered.

Mom and girls

(Me, my mom and my sister)

But I have now found, perhaps as a more assertive ‘over fifty’ woman, that delegating has had to become the norm, rather than taking on everything as I did before. We luckily do have a large and supportive family in town and there is now a schedule of duties. Even though I’m the only daughter in town, the other brothers have been roped in for duty as well as their fantastic wives.

Also, my age-old excuse of being unable to ‘turn on my creativity like a tap’ doesn’t cut it anymore. If I have only a few minutes to spare, those minutes are put to use. Every person has an ideal time to write and work, and mine is in the mornings. However, if have been up with the owls on occasion to get some deadlines met. Even though my kids do ‘all nighters’ for school frequently, I detest them. But do them I must, to get done. Oddly enough, my body seems to go through a bit of a sleepy snit-fit about midnight, but then gives in for the second wind now.

So, tell me. How do you all get your projects done when dependents tug at your collars?

Don’t Wanna

 

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“Don’t Wanna.”

The two words made everyone in the grocery line freeze in terror.
The three-year old stood,
feet planted apart,
hands clenched at her side,
head lifted in defiance.

This was a temper tantrum.

As a mother myself I knew the signs:
there was no stopping this train.
It had already left the station.

I was oh, so glad that it wasn’t my child.

But when I read my Bible the next morning a phrase hit me:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. (Romans 8:14)

My train of thought went something like this:

I am a child of God.
What a comforting thought.
Father/daughter images of post bathtub snuggles,
and bedtime story reading fill my head.

How wonderful…
*smiling all proud like*

But wait…
*furrowed brow of confusion*
the Bible refers to me as a child...

A defiant,
hand clenching,
anger filled child!

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Hadn’t my own children just interrupted me that morning,
after I’d gotten knee deep into my work?

I had a plan,
a carefully laid out plan.
It was what I wanted to do.

But God said no.

And what was my first reaction?

Don’t Wanna.

In fact, that was my default setting.

My child, this direction.
Defiance.
But this will make you smile.
Hands clenched.
This will hurt for now,
but it will bless you later.

Feet planted.
I know that path is well worn,
but it’s not the one I want you to take.
Full. Blown. Temper. Tantrum.

How many gifts have I missed?
How many blessings have I ignored?
Because I didn’t want His way,
I wanted my own.

No matter that his gifts are good and perfect.
I’d much rather sit playing with my broken crayons,
then see the jewelled miracles and blessings he offers in the everyday interruptions.

Tonight my youngest comes running.
Tears marring her cheeks.
No physical marks,
only a battered heart.

On the tip of my tongue are the words:

Not now.
Too busy.
You’re fine.

Instead, I close my laptop,
and take her into my lap.
Yes, Lord.

Her feet nearly touch the floor.
A head covered in soft ringlets rests on my shoulder,
instead of under my chin.
How long until…

My child, this is a moment to take ahold of,
too soon it will pass.

I hold her close to comfort her,
just as my Father does for me.
Yes.

It’s Good.

No.
Perfect.

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When has an annoying “Don’t Wanna” moment turned into a blessing? Try to find moments in your day to transform your “Don’t Wanna” into “Yes”. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

My Creativity is Like a Pot of Soup…

“The next person who drags me away from this room is going to bear the brunt of my very focused wrath!”

Such was my warning to all in my household after the holidays had let a thick layer of dust gather on my keyboard. My family just chuckled and went about their business. But at least I was allowed an hour or two of uninterrupted writing and illustrating. I had to work on a manuscript, get a blog entry sorted out, do some critiques, prepare a few school presentations, and continue working on an illustration project. Upcoming deadlines felt like someone had thrown a fifty-pound backpack on me. Christmas and New Years had been fun, but it was time to come back down to earth.

Then came the phone call from my mom’s facility.

“Your mom has bumped her leg!”

Now, you must understand, my mom is 96 and no injury is a simple thing anymore. What started out as a blood blister the size of a toonie, soon became a major hematoma. All plans for the week were cast away in a split second. After many doctor’s visits and trips to Emergency at the hospital, we now had a huge ulcer on her leg that required constant attention. Once again, my keyboard was gathering dust.

When my kids were small, I denied myself most artistic and creative endeavors because I knew my personality. When I allowed myself to get into something creative, I was like a kid with a video game, a seagull with someone’s lunch: I did NOT want to let go! So consequently, to be the best parent/taxi-cab I could be, I waited until the kids were out of school and finished with organized sports before I pursued my creative outlets.

But now with an aging parent, I am back into the same role I had as a parent of younger children. Only now, my darling little mom (who was and still is my hero) has memory and health issues that need constant supervision.

God has given me creative gifts, but he has also put people in my life that he expects me to care for. And even though at times I have to be pulled away from my work to care for them, God is all about relationships too. And I never want to regret not spending as much time as I could with those I love. Of course there are times I must meet deadlines, but if I’m really honest (and organized), I do have time to look after my mom.

And I usually benefit just as much as those I’m caring for. Often my loved ones sneak into my stories, and my illustrations. It’s no surprise after raising two boys that I’m comfortable writing in the voice of a young male. And my mom’s sayings and witticisms have wiggled into my older characters’ dialogue.

My creativity is like a pot of soup that I have to put on a back burner every now and then, but during life’s sidetracks, the soup is being flavored with each relationship and struggle. So each time I come back to being creative, I am slightly different than I was before, but better.

Yes, I still get frustrated when I have to once again shove the pot on to the back burner, but seriously, how can you resist spending time with fun people? In case you’re wondering, my mom’s a beach babe and I’m the star in Hungry Games.

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So, how do you manage when you are hauled away from your creative projects?