Sunday, May 22, 2011

"I probably shouldn't tell you...."

No. 2 son's check-in call at the beginning of his Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge archaeology adventure began with, "I probably shouldn't tell you this...."

And here is where I began thinking, "Seriously? Are we really going to have ANOTHER one of these conversations that were not included in the Mom Handbook*?" (*This would be that Motherhood How-To book no one shared with me, as addressed in my previous blog entry.)

"I probably shouldn't tell you that the swamp is home to the largest concentration of black bears on the East Coast," he continued. "But don't worry. We've been given a lot of safety instructions."

I struggled to remain calm and offer my standard response in stressful situations (the ones where I am screaming inside): "That's nice, dear."

But the screams in my head were getting louder, so I added, "Such as?"

He then read this: "If you hear loud noises in the underbrush, be prepared to make loud noises in response."

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Then he offered: "And I probably shouldn't tell you this either, but I may be trained in using a machete."

My response was stunned silence, but Husband No. 1 cheerfully noted from the extension phone that No. 2's brother-the-cop wasn't even trained in machetes. "Maybe they'll even give you a certificate, too," my spouse said in his best fatherly voice.

Seriously? The screams were now in danger of escaping into the atmosphere. There was no hope of restraining myself now. "Will you be able to use the machete against the three types of poisonous snakes that inhabit the swamp? Because I'm really worried about the snakes."

"Ah, I'm not sure. But don't worry, Mom. We've had lots of safety instructions," he repeated.

Don't worry? Are you kidding me? I didn't scream this out loud, although I wanted to but I believe that elusive Mom Handbook probably advises against showing too much fear (I'm not sure because I don't own the book). Instead, I offered this desperate response:

"Maybe you should ask your brother if you can borrow one of his guns."

Now it was Husband No. 1 and No. 2 son who were stunned. And this was truly the moment when I realized I'd gone over the edge. Here I was, a woman who hates guns and wouldn't allow her children to play with the toy versions, suggesting that one son get a firearm from the other.

"I don't think they'll allow that, Mom. This is a university course," No. 2 son said, enunciating each word carefully as though he clearly recognized his mother had become a crazy woman again.

Fortunately, there was an open bottle of red wine nearby. Once I'd finished that and calmed down somewhat, I developed a new fear: He has to hike 45 minutes from the park entrance in his insecticide-soaked clothing and new expensive wader boots through the swamp to the island site of the archaeological dig. What if he's too tired by the time he gets there to make noise in the underbrush or swing a machete against the wildlife?

I probably shouldn't tell you this.... but I'm ordering No. 1 son to get his gun and climb on that motorcycle I didn't want him to buy -- and travel the 3 1/2 hours south from Washington, DC, to retrieve his brother immediately.

And you better believe I'm demanding someone give me a copy of that Mom Handbook for my birthday next month.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

I recently read about an English guy whose self-published book is topping Amazon's UK charts. It consists of 200 blank pages beneath the cover entitled: "What Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex."

On this Mother's Day 2011, I wonder if I could also publish a blank book, although my cover would say: "What I Knew About Motherhood Before I Became a Mother."

Although I've since learned some Mom lessons the hard way, I wish someone had warned me about the conversations I'd be having with my children, including some unusual exchanges in just the past week.

But first, here are the two most valuable lessons I've learned from being a mother:

  • Never say never. This includes promising to NEVER say to your children "Because I said so."
  • And "Because I said so" is an extremely valuable, all-purpose response if you don't have a legitimate argument, don't know the answer or you're too tired to explain the argument or the answer.

    However, neither lesson seems to apply to the recent conversations that have me thinking--25 years after I first became introduced to it--that perhaps Motherhood isn't such a great gig. Being a Mom has forced me to do and say things I never anticipated. For example, I've threatened for years to cut off all financial support should my children: 1) Buy a motorcycle 2) Get a tattoo and/or 3) Pierce any portion of their bodies.

    Last week, No. 1 son telephoned with the announcement that at the age of 25, he had fulfilled his longtime dream of purchasing a motorcycle. When this news was met with stunned silence from his Angel Mother, he proceeded to detail the tattoos he'll be getting. Again, stunned silence. "Mom, Mom, are you still there?" he finally said.

    "I think your mother just fainted," advised Husband No. 1, who was listening on the extension.

    "Just kidding about the tattoos, Mom," he laughed.

    I'm not so sure he's joking, but I am certain of this: Motherhood takes on a whole new complexion when you don't have anything to hold over your children's heads anymore. But after you've adjusted to the reality that your child carries a gun to work every day, a motorcycle doesn't seem so bad.

    Last night, he called to report the motorcycle is "really great" and he also may be receiving AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle training soon. When I gasped, he said, “Which would you rather have, Mom – me going into an Active Shooter situation with a handgun or a rifle?”

    My first thought was: “With a slide rule as an engineer” because that was his original college major. My second was: "With your words" because philosophy was his second. Instead I said, “I would prefer you not be going into an Active Shooter situation at all, but if you must, I suppose a rifle is better.”

    This was offered through clenched teeth (which is not all that easy when you have braces) after my heart stopped pounding. It also prompted me to wonder: "Why didn't anyone warn me I'd be having these conversations?"

    Meanwhile, No. 2 son has sent home a list of things he must obtain (like YESTERDAY) for his 6-week archaeology expedition to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia-North Carolina border, including thigh-high wader boots.

    "You'll have to take up fly fishing then," I calmly advised him.

    "Huh?" said the boy who won't even eat fish because it might possibly be good for him.

    Although I was tempted to reply with "because I said so," I said,"If we're going to invest in those boots you better get more than six weeks use out of them."

    "How about I use them on my next dig, instead?"

    Although I'd never say never, that's as likely as him eating fish. Apparently he doesn't realize that the expedition's requirement that he soak his clothing in the insecticide Permethrin beforehand means this won't resemble his usual summer activities. I predict by the end of this course (yes, we get to pay extra for him to play in the mud), he'll be so sick of bugs and ticks that he'll avoid swamps -- and waders -- for the rest of his life.

    Meanwhile, I need to inform him this lovely synthetic chemical also is highly flammable, which means he better stay away from campfires, cigarettes and possibly static electricity. Another conversation I never anticipated.

    When I was bemoaning these unexpected Mom moments today, Husband No. 1 offered his own truth about parenting that I wish I'd known beforehand:

    "When they're born, you think they could be president. When they become teenagers, you just hope you can keep them alive and out of jail until they're 21."

    Only two more months to go and my job is done. Still, I doubt my unusual conversations with my children will ever end. Instead of being on the receiving end of these exchanges, however, perhaps I should take the offensive and ask what they think about the British guy's book. I believe I'd rather be discussing that than motorcycles, assault rifles or toxic chemicals to avoid ticks.

    What valuable lessons have you learned about motherhood?

    (Previous Mother's Day musings can be found by clicking here to read what I've learned from humiliation or here on being a "good enough" mother.)

  • Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Mystery World Stars

    I've never been ashamed to admit I relish celebrity encounters, which is why I'm sharing this rather goofy-looking photo of me to accompany my gushing about meeting some of the rock stars of the mystery world last week, including these two gentlemen:
    New York Times best-selling authors Nelson DeMille (16 novels) and Michael Connelly (23 books including the Lincoln Lawyer, also the subject of a new movie by the same name).

    I was at New York City's Mysterious Bookshop (owned by Otto Pennzler, co-editor of a number of the annual "Best American Mystery Stories" anthologies) with a number of mega-mystery writers including Laura Lippman (18 novels) and SJ Rozan (12 novels ), for the launch party for "The Rich and the Dead" edited by DeMille. It's this year's Mystery Writers of America anthology, which is being officially released today.

    It also features the fabulous story "The Gift" by Husband No. 1.

    When I pointed this out to Michael Connelly as he was autographing my book, noting the name Frank Cook was near his in alphabetical order, he replied: "Then I'll write small so there's more room for his name." (That's Michael with Frank.)

    The other anthology authors are: Ted Bell, Peter Blauner, K. Catalona, Tim Chapman, Lee Child, David DeLee, Joseph Goodrich, Daniel J. Hale, Roberta Isleib, Harley Jane Kozak, David Morrell, Caroli Mullen, Twist Phelan, S.J. Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, Elaine Togneri and Angela Zeman. In all, 15 of the 20 authors attended the launch party (including SJ Rozan shown here) and signed books until they were sold out.

    Here's what DeMille's web site says about the collection: "Editor and Contributor Nelson DeMille has collected short stories from twenty of the most outstanding mystery writers in the country, himself included, for a superb collection of new and original stories."

    The Publishers Weekly review of the collection even named Frank's story as one of the standouts!

    These Mystery Writers of America anthologies are published annually and edited by a well-known mystery author (DeMille this year) who asks nine colleagues to contribute stories. One of the nine was David Morell (the man on the left here), who wrote the story that created "Rambo."

    The remaining 10 slots are filled with tales selected by a panel of judges from a pool of “blind submissions” by MWA members. Frank and I both sent in stories for consideration. As you might imagine, there was great rejoicing when his story was chosen, but I'll admit to a tinge of regret that mine was not. Frank explained it this way: "This just shows I know more about being rich and dead than you do."

    Although I laughed, I'm determined to find out more about his "rich" knowledge as he obviously hasn't shared it with me, but I'm not so sure I want to hear about the "dead" part.

    However, I did get to make another trip to New York City because of him and the next day we attended the Mystery Writers of America daylong symposium on mysteries and the state of the industry. That meant more celebrity encounters (me and SJ Rozan to the left) and chatting with Mystery Writers of America President and New York Times best-selling thriller writer Lisa Scottoline, who has written 18 novels and whose latest "Save Me" is being called "a white-hot crossover book about the perils of mother love." One photo I did not get, but wish I had, was with Sara Paretsky, author of 16 best-selling novels and credited with transforming the mystery world with the first female private eye character. Sara also is a founder of the Sisters in Crime mystery organization

    And because writers cannot give enough of books, this trip also included our first pilgrimage to The Strand, the nation's second-largest independent bookstore with 18 miles of books! Other than Frank Cook, there were no celebrities there, although I'm told it's not unusual to spot one among the stacks. Maybe next time.