Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Sunny" Days Are Here Again

To finish out the year, I give you my Nov/Dec '10 Slice of Life column from Lake Mary Life Magazine, about holiday visitors . . . mothers-in-law.
Happy New Year!

Julie's Slice of Life: "Sunny" Days are Here Again*

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, the day most people view as the official start of the holiday season (all except retailers, who, let’s face it, would start putting up Christmas decorations on Independence Day if they thought it would increase sales). And with the holiday season come visits from out-of-town relatives – those who lavishly shower us with the glad tidings and good cheer we look forward to, and those who, like the love bugs that visit our state every May and September, express their love by descending upon their helpless hosts and refusing to leave until they’ve sullied every surface in sight. If you’re lucky, your relatives bear a closer resemblance to the characters in a Christmas carol than a scary movie, but like the saying goes, even the best guests, like fish, can start to smell after a few days.

Unless, of course, the guest is my mother-in-law, Sunny.

When she and my father-in-law pull into our driveway after a sixteen hour car ride from St. Louis, they bring with them a hurricane-force wind of good will and upbeat attitude. You’ve heard of Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking? Well, I’m convinced that man learned everything he knows from my mother-in-law. When she leaves a few days later, the only reason I could possibly give for wanting to see her go is that, as the perfect guest, her exemplary behavior highlights the fact that I am far from the perfect hostess.

It begins when we open the door to greet them. Where other relatives might whine about the long drive, lament that they didn’t take a plane, or moan about how “beat” they are, my energetic, seventy-something mother-in-law says, “So what should we do first?” And she doesn’t mean take a nap. During her last visit, we went zip-lining at the Central Florida Zoo.

Her conduct as a guest is beyond reproach. When I make a meal, she asks how she can help, and when time comes to clean up, I have to throw her out of the kitchen or she’ll do the job herself while my back is turned. If I forget and leave wash in the machine, I later discover it dried and folded on my bed. If I accidentally sleep in one morning, I wake to find the coffee made and fresh, cut-up fruit on the kitchen table. Where many women I know grow weary from the subtle insults they endure from their mother-in-laws, mine repeatedly tells me I’m just like a daughter to her and thanks me for loving and taking care of her son.

Her presence causes a miraculous change in our children. Suddenly, they don’t fight. They give hugs and kisses without reserve. My fifteen year old daughter, who sees nothing wrong with calling me to bring the car and pick her up from the bus stop at the front of our neighborhood, magically becomes willing to take long walks on the Seminole-Wekiva trail. My eighteen year old agrees to watch The Man from Snowy River, where normally she views any film made prior to 2005 old-fashioned and boring (not to mention, she adds, the special effects are downright laughable).

It’s true. I am that rare breed of daughter-in-law who actually likes my mother-in-law and looks forward to her visits. I love her, too, of course. After all, she’s family. But to like someone can often be a greater compliment because it comes not from obligation, but from genuine respect and admiration for the beneficiary.

Because my mother-in-law resembles Julie Andrews, my husband and I used to watch The Sound of Music with our girls and tell them their grandma was once an actress, and that she played the character of Maria in the movie. Ditto for Mary Poppins. They believed us, and looking back at the nature of both those lead characters, I realize it was as much their grandmother’s cheerful personality as her similar appearance that caused them to fall for our white lie.

No wonder her father nicknamed her Sunny.
*(Originally published in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Lake Mary Life Magazine.)

Monday, December 20, 2010


Bookreporter.com reviewer L. Dean Murphy named RESCUING OLIVIA one of his Top Ten Reads for 2010!

Here's the link to his (and other Bookreporter.com reviewers') Top Ten picks.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom

A few months ago I started writing a new column called "Julie's Slice of Life" in Lake Mary Life Magazine, the community magazine I've been writing for since 2006. We're fortunate to have wide circulation: the magazine is delivered to over 20,000 homes throughout our county and is also available in numerous businesses. I've decided to post the columns here, too, so others outside our area could have the chance to read them. This first one ran in the September/October 2010 issue (hence the references to summer).

Julie's Slice of Life: From Kindergarten Cop to College Mom*

"How much longer?" my agent asks, referring to my next book.

She's anxious to start making the rounds to publishers, to start shopping it. The publishing world pays lip service to quality, but the greenbacks flow most freely to those who can produce a novel a year. Two a year? You're golden.

I'd call myself bronze, at best. I'm lucky if I write a first draft in fifteen months. Two years is more realistic.

"It's summer," I say. "Hard to get any writing done when the kids are home."

And that's true. But here's the thing: I don't want to get any writing done. I want to spend every waking moment with my children, because for the first time since the oldest started kindergarten, I am acutely aware of how few days I have left to watch them while they sleep, or to cook enough decent meals so that they remember me as the mom who fed them well instead of plopping another pizza on the dinner table.

Why this realization?

My oldest daughter is about to leave for college. The younger one, who just entered tenth grade, is not far behind.

I should feel lucky. The parents I know who have college bound kids have already bid their goodbyes. But my daughter's school of choice doesn't start until mid-September; we'll drive her up for move-in and orientation a few days before. So I have a few extra days to hug her and make sure she knows she'll always be my baby. Yeah, just want she wants to hear.

I can still remember vividly the day she climbed the tall steps of the school bus for the first time. We lived in the suburbs of Boston, and if autumn is synonymous with going back to school, autumn in New England, with its brilliant colors and scent of burning leaves in the air, is the quintessence of the season, at once inspiring and heartbreaking. I cried my eyes out when that bus pulled away.

My husband and I followed the bus. Yep, you didn't misread that. We followed the bus. Once we were no longer in our daughter's line of sight, we jumped in our car and quickly started the engine. Turn for turn, stop for stop, we trailed it like two spies in a James Bond movie. When the bus pulled up to the school and lined up behind the other buses to unload the children, we made a small detour, abandoned our car in the parking lot, and took our hiding places behind a bush to watch our daughter disembark. Would she be crying? Would the fear and bewilderment I was sure I'd see on her face cause me to start bawling all over again? Would the school keep the implicit promise it made to all parents and make sure she made it safely from bus to building, building to bus, bus back home again? My husband held our video camera to film this momentous occasion; I lay in wait, ready to spring forward and save the day if our little girl needed our assistance.

When she stepped down, ballet slipper bookbag on her back and posture straight with pride, I smiled. I cried, too, but they were tears of joy. Our Jessie was going to be just fine.

They say you have to cut the cord. It's painful, but all parents do it, sooner or later. I asked both of my girls recently, "Am I a helicopter parent?" The answer was a quick and resounding, "No! Not at all!" I had the sense they knew a few, and I was happy not to be among them. Yet at the same time, I wondered whether I'd been there enough, whether I'd spent too much time with my novels and not enough with my children.

When the last box is set on her dorm room floor, when we've met the roommates and deemed them acceptable, when we've said our final goodbyes and left her behind to start her new life, I only hope my scissors are sharp enough.

My husband, meanwhile, will probably be following her to her first class, video camera in hand.

*(originally published in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of Lake Mary Life Magazine)