Coming soon! Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years

I remember that moment.
It was ten years ago and I was in a hospital bed recovering, just hours after giving birth to twins via a double-whammy (a vaginal birth and a c-section).
The pediatrician had arrived to do a quick examination of both boys. He sat on the edge of my bed, reached into the crib they shared and tickled their toes.
“Congratulations on your identical boys,” he said. “They are perfect.”
Identical?
That was a word I was unprepared for.
When we learned I was carrying twins five months into my pregnancy, my doctor assured us they were fraternal. The placentas had implanted on polar opposite sides of the uterus. Identical twins who have their own placentas implant close together, he said. They couldn’t possibly be identical.
I was relieved.
Imagine all the ways parents could screw up identical twins!
Then along comes this hospital pediatrician, telling me our look-alike babies are identical. (Okay, so maybe we had our suspicions after we held them that first time.) Six weeks later, DNA tests proved him right.
That’s alright, I thought.
I’ll just Google some information on raising identical twins or buy a book.
But I found nothing anywhere.
Absolutely nothing.
So at my husband’s urging, I started a blog. I recorded the development of our twins from birth through their sixth birthday, supplementing the posts with research, fun facts and advice from my own experiences and the trials and errors of others.
I felt a bit like a journalist again. It was fun and it was, according to the comments and emails I received, appreciated. I ended the blog on their sixth birthday, figuring they had reached an age where they deserved a new level of privacy.
But the emails didn’t stop.
Several readers suggested I create a book, something they could give to relatives or to other new and expecting parents of identical twins. I toyed with the idea while working on my fiction. Finally, I put the fiction aside for a bit and dove in.
Raising Identical Twins: The Unique Challenges and Joys of the Early Years will be released in just a few weeks.
I hope you enjoy it!

  

When two worlds collide: motherhood and writing

I told a fellow writer recently I would not be attending two appealing conferences this spring and summer because of conflicts with my children’s lives. One falls on the weekend of my son’s first-ever prom and the other clashes with summer camp drop-off.
She commended me on my “sacrifices,” but suggested I reconsider.
I need to put my writing first, she said.
I need to ensure that I am taken seriously if I want to succeed.
I was taken aback.
I just don’t see it that way.
I chose my career, but I also chose to have children.
I believe in balance, but when I am forced to tip those scales, they will always tip in favor of my four kids. My husband is no different in his approach to his career, though it’s less obvious because he doesn’t have as much flexibility.
Motherhood has made me a better writer, so if it slows me down a little, that’s okay.
My perspective is unpopular, at least that’s what I gather from forums, blogs and books on the subject. We female writers are supposed to protect our writing identities at all costs and forgive ourselves the selfishness required by our career choices.
Don’t get me wrong.
I am selfish sometimes.
Um, plenty of times.
Just this morning, I encouraged my sick ten-year-old son to watch YouTube videos so I could write in peace. The house could be a lot cleaner. I could put better meals on the table. I could be doing art and science projects with my kids during school breaks and on the weekends to keep them off their iPods and computers.
I could also take a regularly paying job and earn money for after-school activities, upcoming college costs and educational summer outings. I have sometimes worked part-time when our finances required it. Most recently, I was a taxonomy specialist for a media company.
But as soon as our finances allowed, I quit.
Why?
Because I’m selfish.
I want to write even if I can’t guarantee that my writing will sell.
But I have my limits.
No conference is worth missing my son’s first prom.
I want to see the flush in his face when I tell him how handsome he looks in a tuxedo. I want to see him give his date her corsage and wave as the two of them head off for a night of dinner and dancing with friends. I want to hear all about it when he gets back.
No networking opportunity is worth missing camp send-off.
I want to hug my twins before they disappear into their cabins for their first full week of overnight camp and squeeze my daughter before we let her go for two weeks, longer than we have ever been without her.
And no novel of mine is going to suffer because I didn’t go to that one workshop.
Look at all the real-life experience I am getting through my kids.
You can’t buy that.
We women have good reason to be protective and defensive when it comes to our identities as writers. Despite all the strides we have made as a gender, society as a whole still tends to see male writers as professionals and women as hobbyists.
But we don’t have to deny one identity in order to reinforce the other.
I completed four novels while my children were in the most physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding stages of their lives. They still need me now, but their needs have changed. These days, the conflicts with my writing are more about the schedule.
Achieving a balance is easier and it will only get better.
If I get published now, my youngest kids are old enough to understand that I will have to travel for signings, to teach workshops or to participate in conferences. They are old enough to be excited for me, to be proud of me and maybe even to sometimes travel with me.
And it goes both ways.
I am secure enough in my identity as a mother to do all that without guilt, to enjoy success as a writer.
I have not sacrificed.
I have compromised to get what I want, an entirely different concept.
We are not going to change society’s view of female writers by mimicking the success of stereotypical male writers. Why would we want to do that? We need to show the world something different. We need to show society that parenthood (fatherhood included) is a valuable asset for writers, not a complication or a burden.
I will go to a conference this year, but I won’t miss a child’s birthday, a school event, or a milestone to do it. Childhood lasts for only so long, but I intend to write forever.
Where’s the sacrifice in that?
(Margaret Atwood, you are my idol!)

Why I march

While most of you slept, my daughter and I boarded a bus for Washington, DC.
We are joining hundreds of thousands of women for the Women’s March on Washington, a massive show of solidarity among all marginalized groups and those who support them.
This is not a popular move in our area.
We live in a land of Trump supporters — good, honest people who want change and who feel Donald Trump is the catalyst we need.
Most do not understand my motivation, especially for bringing our 15-year-old daughter to such an event. They think we are protesting Trump and his election to the presidency, and they don’t see the point.
We are not protesting Trump.
This is not a protest.
This is a rally, intentionally planned for the day after the inauguration to help make the message clear. It is intended to raise awareness and show our strength. It is designed to help people bond and to empower them, so that days, months, years after the march, they can draw on this strength and these bonds to create change.
Donald Trump is our president.
The people chose him by the means provided by our Constitution.
This, I accept.
This is democracy.
What I don’t accept are the attitudes expressed during his campaign toward women, immigrants, disabled people, Muslims, the LGBT community and people of color. What I fear is that these attitudes will work their way into our system of justice, both civil and criminal. What I want is progress, not regression.
I want to protect our daughter and our three boys, who share our values.
I want them to grow up in a world of tolerance and diversity.
I want to be an example for them.
I want them to see that I am willing to march for what I believe it, that I am not afraid to express myself publicly even when I am surrounded by people who disagree with me. I want them to see that I am trying.
I want our daughter to feel empowered, too.
Like any event of this sort, the Women’s March on Washington will draw people with their own agendas. Those who fear what we embrace will narrow in on such individuals and hold them up as examples of why this march is so wrong.
Please don’t do that.
Please know that most of us are marching for the country we love, the country you love.
Please remember that this is me, your neighbor and friend, that I love and respect you regardless of your politics. Please try to keep an open mind and I promise I will, too.
Something is wrong in America, and the majority of Americans believe Donald Trump has the skills and the leadership ability to fix it.
I hope he does.
I hope that his attitudes toward women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, disabled people, the LGBT community and other marginalized groups were lies, that he threw them out there to pull in votes from certain vulgar segments of the population, people who believe the Constitution applies only to those who are like them.
I hope that he will take us forward not backward.
I hope that he will listen, not ridicule, when we march, and I hope that you will do the same.
Let us be heard.
Let us roar over the voices of hate and intolerance.
Let us march.

  

Rest in peace, Keegan

A friend posted on my Facebook news feed yesterday that addiction is a choice, unlike other diseases.
I fought hard to control my anger.
She couldn’t have known that just an hour earlier, my brother had called to say his son had died — his sweet, intelligent, good-hearted son.
Keegan did not choose addiction anymore so than others choose heart disease, or diabetes, or epilepsy or other diseases or conditions. He was born with it. It runs in the family. It is, truly, honestly, sadly, a disease.
Nor did he choose to die at the age of 30.
Why would he?
He had everything to live for and he wanted, so badly, to live.
He tried.
Hard.
He sought treatment beginning at age 15 when he showed his parents the whiskey bottle he’d been drinking from daily. He asked for help and they gave it to him time and time again, with no regard ever for the financial and psychological cost to the rest of the family.
They were there through every Code Blue (and there were many) in the emergency room, through every rehab stint, through every halfway house stay. They stayed even when the therapist said it was best to give up on him and forget he existed.
They loved him.
Over the years, alcohol, opioids, gambling, all kinds of addictions fought for control over him because that’s the way addiction behaves. It isn’t particular and it is incredibly selfish. It wants everything from its victims.
It is cruel.
We like to portray addicts as losers. It’s safer that way, to draw a line between us and them, to believe that it can’t happen to us because we are way too smart for that. We like to believe it is a choice and that we and the people we love won’t become addicts because we’re not stupid enough to make that choice.
Keegan was not stupid.
He was highly intelligent. He did well in high school and in college. He held patents from a major food company at a young age. He earned a master’s degree between stints in some of the most highly rated rehab facilities in the country.
I’m sorry, but you are not safe.
Your children are not safe.
No one is safe.
No one will be safe until we remove the shame, the stigma from addiction.
So think before you post.
Think before you degrade and judge.
Just think.
Rest in peace, Keegan.

For my young friend who was berated by her peers

A friend’s sixth-grade daughter posted on Facebook yesterday that other girls had made fun of her Halloween costume. Her words were heavy with devastation. This was clearly not the first time she’d been made to feel inferior by her peers.
I didn’t respond because I knew a back-patting sentence or two wouldn’t be enough.
What I wanted to do was hold up a mirror. Let her see how gorgeous she is inside and out without a social filter. And then I wanted to take her up into the sky. I wanted to draw a circle around our little area from above and show her how insignificant we are when compared to the rest of the world.
How insignificant these people are who think they have a right to define her.
I wanted to show her that elsewhere, that deep, red hair of hers is highly valued as something people can’t buy in a bottle or create in a salon. I wanted her to see how infectious her smile can be, how many people will find joy in it when she exposes herself to the rest of the world.
I wanted her to understand that small towns can be safe, comfortable, wonderful places to grow up, but that they can also be deceiving. They can make people feel as if they are trapped within identities, identities that are not of their choosing, identities created by the insecurities of others who have claimed high places in tiny castles, building walls around themselves to keep threats like her out.
In small towns, there is nowhere else to seek confirmation that different is good.
The pool of potential friends is finite.
People are often stuck within regional influences and made to believe those influences are universal, that these identities are inescapable. They are led to believe that they created those identities because they are flawed as people.
Those who never leave might never learn the truth.
Those who leave and come back are often shocked by their own complacency.
I know because I experienced that shock and I want her to do the same.
I grew up in Saranac Lake, NY, a beautiful community in the Adirondacks, a place I love to this day. My class was larger than this girl’s with about 130 students and I was fortunate in that even the most popular girls were relatively nice, at least to me.
I am told our class was unusual in that sense.
Still, a small group of boys and girls ruled. They were the starters on sports teams. They were the members of the Winter Carnival Court. They were the stars of the dating scene. They went to most every prom and could get away with most anything.
I accepted my place.
I believed I was simply not good enough.
Until I moved to Florida.
I was already at a low point when my mother announced she was leaving. I had failed to make the final cut for basketball, which meant I would hardly see some of my closest friends all winter. My family was falling apart and we were broke. I had only two pairs of jeans to my name and five or six tops, but I refused to shop in thrift shops because the popular cliche did not.
I feared they would find out and my status would worsen.
I had nothing to lose, in my opinion.
So I left.
No one knew me in Florida. No one knew my family. Their only option was to test the waters and  find out who I was, whether I was worthy of their attentions. I was shocked to learn that I was indeed worthy, that Emma, Beth, Amy, Lance and Mike all were drawn to me because I was me.
I was surprised that my teachers found me worth their investments because they saw what my mind could do, not what my siblings did before me. I was stunned to learn that other people’s parents liked me for who I was, not for who my parents were or were not.
My social issues back home were of my own making.
It was lack of confidence that made me feel inferior, lack of experience beyond my small-town realm. Certain people fueled that lack of confidence, but only because I was naive to my own worth. I let them.
I returned to Saranac Lake after five months because I missed it. I missed school, I missed my friends and I knew I wanted to attended college where the climate was more to my liking.  But I returned as a different person.
Yes, I still had problems. Lots of them.
But social confidence was not one of them.
I couldn’t change the culture in my school, but I found I lacked the desire to do so. I no longer shared the values of the elite because I knew how truly absurd and insignificant those values were. I discovered I could be friends with anyone because I no longer envied them or feared judgment. I also learned to cherish the friends I had even more.
Greater trials awaited me as I dealt with a fractured family and feelings of abandonment by both parents. That lead to a different kind of insecurity. But my new-found social confidence provided a core strength that pulled me through.
There are benefits to a small-school culture that are invaluable. We chose this for our children over city living for many excellent reasons. Our older children, who have experienced both cultures, have said they would never choose to go back.
This girl has a long ways to go. Six more years. But those years can be great years if she can find that confidence, if she can learn to elevate herself above her own insecurities and love herself so much that no else will be able to define her.
She has a family that loves her fiercely and so many others who love and appreciate her. She is worthy, much more so than she believes, and I’m willing to bet her costume was awesome. All of that is easy for me to see and say as a 50-year-old though.
I know her road will be hard and I want so badly to pave it for her.
To make it smooth.
I want to do that for my own children as well.
But I can’t.
No adult can.
That kind of perspective can only come from within.
The best we can do is to constantly expose them to difference and to our love, and hope they figure it out.

The incurable itch

A high school senior told me recently she intends to pursue creative writing in college. I mentioned this to her father, who sighed.
He is trying to talking her into something else, he said.
Something more practical with more job opportunities.
Good luck.
I was that girl.
I fought it.
I lost.
The forces of my childhood pointed me toward a career in writing.
I won a local poetry contest in elementary school. I wrote radio commercials for our small, always-broke Catholic school. I wrote short stories for a short-lived junior high school publication.
Writing was my therapy when I sensed trouble between my parents, when my parents finally separated and when they later divorced.
(Okay, writing and alcohol, if I must be honest.)
But I’d grown up with no money and I wasn’t about to grow into the same situation.
I didn’t even consider majoring in English or creative writing.
Instead, I chose geochemistry when I enrolled at SUNY-Oswego. I loved rocks. I loved chemistry. I was strong in math and science. I could work for an oil company like my cousins. It made sense.
Until I took the first course and realized it was (gasp) work!
At a loss for a major, I enrolled in an interpersonal communications class because I wanted to become more confident. At the same time, I registered for a fiction writing workshop just for fun. An elective, I told myself.
Even as I grew more interested in interpersonal communications and declared it my major, I continued taking classes in creative writing through the English department: ficton, poetry, journalism.
Why not take a few literature courses as well, I thought.
I even enrolled in summer sessions so I could take more classes in both fields.
I told myself my involvement in the college newspaper — first as a writer, and then as an editor — was simply communications-related. Same with my internship at a Pennsylvania television station.
Then my advisor enlightened me: With just another course or two, I would have a double major in interpersonal communications and English/creative writing.
A newspaper journalism internship was among the creative writing courses I needed, so I tracked down the regional editor at the Syracuse Newspapers and asked whether I could write for free. The free work became a paid internship and the paid internship led to a full-time job when I graduated.
And there I was, writing for a living.
Great, right?
End of story?
Of course not, because that itch is incurable, that desire to write fiction.
It lay dormant for several years, satisfied with the human experiences journalism afforded me and the opportunity to grow within the craft of writing nonfiction, but I missed voice. I missed character. I missed plot.
I missed it all too much.
So what did I do?
It took me six years of working full time and driving two hours each way, twice a week to Binghamton University to get my master’s degree in creative writing. But the need to scratch kept me in motion.
A degree still wasn’t enough though. Just before I graduated, my husband and I made a deal: We would move to Arizona to pursue his dream job. When we were settled enough financially, I would pursue my dream of writing fiction.
It hasn’t been easy.
Kids came along (Yay!) and finances dictated that I bring in some money, forcing me to set aside plans to write fiction full time. I have worked part time as a college English instructor, a magazine freelancer, a book editor, a website moderator and a taxonomy specialist, trying to balance work with family and writing.
So far, that has resulted in three published short stories and four unpublished novels that are in the hands of my wonderful literary agent, Liz Trupin-Pulli. Two more novels and a couple more short stories are in the works.
I have come to terms with my passion for fiction and my need to constantly scratch that itch (I suppose I could come up with a more pleasant metaphor.). It’s been a long and complicated road, but that instinct, passion, itch — whatever you want to call it — never let me stray too far.
I am not alone.
I know so many other writers who also went to war with their natures and lost.
Some are best-selling authors. Some are mid-list. Some are still looking for publishers. Many gave up lucrative careers in other fields — interior design, law, education. Why? Because the forces that drive us to create in such a way are simply too strong.
Fighting it leads to depression, and who wants to be depressed?
So don’t be surprised, my friend, if your daughter ignores your advice and majors in creative writing anyway, or if she heeds your advice and later gives up her financial stability for the pursuit of the written word.
She’s not being disrespectful or trying to mislead you or acting out of youthful ignorance.
She is simply abiding by her nature.
She’s scratching that incurable itch.

One hundred days …

You know that last post?
The one about the Christmas dream?
I should have been more clear.
I meant the Christmas of 2015, but I’m not picky.
Christmas of 2016 will do.
In fact, I would prefer it.
So much has changed since I last wrote:
I took a part-time paying job to help meet mortgage payments on our old house until it sold. (Yep. I am now a taxonomy specialist. Ever hear of that? Neither had I, but it’s kind of cool.)
My mother-in-law broke her hip and came to live with us. (She calls herself my fifth child, but don’t let her fool you. She’s 88, but she’s already back in the commander’s seat, itching to permanently move back home.)
My agent and I agreed to switch submissions strategies after only a handful of publishers, shelving the thriller for a bit while we push the rewritten mystery/suspense series. (Working on book three of the series now!)
So my time has not been my own and the timing for my debut into the publishing world would not have been great.
At least, that’s how I rationalize the situation to quell by my impatience.
Distraction is key, so I plan to hunker down for the upcoming months and devote any free time to my work-in-progress. But I hope you’ll forgive me if  I steal a few moments to toss pennies into fountains with my eyes closed, cross my fingers and write a few letters to Santa.
Christmas of 2016 is only 100 days away.
Anyone know of a stocking appropriate for a book contract?