Review of The Beat on Ruby’s Street by Jenna Zark

rubySynopsis: The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.

As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.

Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Beat on Ruby’s Street is a novel intended for middle-grade students, as the protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Ruby, and the story is told from first-person point-of-view. Ruby’s voice is realistic for a girl her age, and I think this book reads appropriately for kids around the same age.

The details of New York in the late 1950s and the Beat Generation of the time are also fleshed out well in the backdrop. There’s a certain freedom to being a kid 60 years ago that I feel no longer applies nowadays. A girl like Ruby can wander the streets with her friends for hours at a time and be safe. I am reminded of stories my mom told me about how far she’d ride her bike or how she’d ride on public transportation when she was about Ruby’s age and be gone all day, yet her parents didn’t have to worry.

Ruby is also an aspiring poet. She wants badly to meet famous poets like Jack Kerouac and is on her way to one of his readings when…

The freedom Ruby experiences is threatened when she is accused of stealing fruit, however. A social worker steps in and begins to question Ruby’s home life. The reader discovers that Ruby’s parents aren’t married. Their apartment isn’t kept up. Her dad, Gary Daddy-o, is a musician who is on the road for weeks at a times. Her mom, Nell-Mom, is an artist is is oblivious to the comings and goings of Ruby and her brother, Ray. Ruby and some of her friends attend “school” at a store called Blue Sky, where they learn some stuff from the owners, Sky and Blu, but they aren’t being properly educated.

Everything Ruby thought was true and normal about her life is suddenly threatened. She spends some time in a children’s home. Her childhood innocence is ripped away from her. To see the shortcomings of adults through a child’s eyes is a unique perspective. I remember when I was a kid thinking my parents knew everything and that I would understand everything about life once I was grown up. To have that worldview shattered, to realize your parents are far from perfect and that your home isn’t the nice place you thought is scary and also realistic, a part of growing up.

This is a quick read. Being much older than the intended audience, I found the novel had its charms and was good for middle-grade readers, and yes, it reminded me of what it was like for me when I was 11 or 12, but I didn’t get much else out of this novel. It’s a good story, but not great. It doesn’t necessarily stand out from much else I’ve read, but it was enjoyable enough.

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Old Family Pictures & Genealogy: Our Connection to the Past

grandma2I can still remember sitting at the dining room table in my grandma’s house and looking at old family pictures. Those days were at least 25 years ago now.

When you’re a kid, time almost seems to stand still. Those Sunday afternoons at Grandma’s house seemed like they would never end.

Now I cannot believe how much time has passed.

The photo to the right shows my grandma’s family around 1921. My grandma is the girl in the front, about 8 years old here. She grew up in a family of nine (her younger brother hadn’t yet been born here) in Cleveland, Ohio.

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My grandparents in 1942: Love the hat!

Those old photographs now belong to my mom, but I have scanned several of them. They reside in a box in the closet, on my computer, and in my heart. I look at them now with an awe and appreciation I couldn’t as a child. Now I’m a mother. My mom is a grandmother, and so the cycle continues.

Seven years ago, I dove into genealogy and researching my family tree on both sides. I used Family Search as a free resource to find a lot of my information, but I was also fortunate to have documentation of my own. I used My Heritage to build my family tree online and share it with my family. Next week, I will share more about my experiences with family tree creation, so come back to check that out!

I wanted to update and document my family tree, as heritage is important to me. Knowing where I come from is part of who I am. When I see old pictures of family members, I can look into their eyes and smile with them, feeling that connection. I am transported back in time, and Grandma is sitting next to me at her dining room table again, telling me who all those people are in the photographs.

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What’s Holding You Back from Your Dreams?

Everyone has dreams, and I don’t mean the kind you have at night when your mind slips into an unconscious state.

When you’re asked what your dreams are, what do you say? Do you freeze up, unable to articulate your dreams because you claim you aren’t sure? I’m not a betting person, but I’m willing to bet the uncertainty that plagues you is fear.

Maybe you won’t even name your dreams or dare to dream because of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, low self-esteem, a negative self-image, and caring too much that others think or say (which is mostly in your mind, anyway) are all factors of not daring to dream in the first place.  

I have been following a vlogger on YouTube for years now who I think is beautiful (inside and out), talented, adorable in her antics, inspiring, and a fighter.  She admits often that the persona she portrays to the world in her videos is much more confident than she really is.

I used to be shy, but now I am able to talk and usually joke around with just about anyone. I can laugh about life when I’m in a group, even the things that bother me. Put me alone with my thoughts, and I am not that outgoing, confident person.

I get what this vlogger is saying. We can put on a smile on the stage. As I wrote in one of my novels, a smile can cover a lot of pain. Laugh enough and it doesn’t hurt so much, right? Yeah, something like that.

I look at this lovely young woman who I know only through the Internet and marvel. She has enormous support, but with any sort of fame come those who are all too happy to belittle, threaten, and hurt. Funny how 99 people can compliment you, but it only takes that one person to tear you down. What do we focus on? The negative.

Like this vlogger I follow and think the world of, many people suffer inwardly. She admits to turning down several opportunities because she doesn’t feel worthy. She has wonderful dreams, but her low self-confidence gets in the way. That is what holds her back from her dreams. She knows that.

For years, I said I wanted to be a published author. That was my dream, at least one of them. Yet for years, I did very little to make my dreams a reality. I had ideas for my first novel (based off my late grandma’s life, who I loved dearly). You can read more about the inspiration behind my first book here.

I managed a few pithy chapters. I read my grandma’s diary and a few pages she had written about her life while growing up. I jotted down several notes. This was between October 2006 and January 2009. I then left the book sitting on my hard drive. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but whenever I thought about sitting down at the keyboard and writing, I faltered. Overwhelmed at the prospect of writing an original story, I let fear dictate my actions and reasons.

Fear wasn’t the only culprit. It was easy to find excuses, a hundred other things that needed my daily attention. Many of those things were legitimate, like caring for my young kids and the house, but I believe if you really want something, you will do whatever you need (within reason) to attain it.

If I wanted to work out more, I would get to the gym more often. If I wanted to eat healthier, I wouldn’t buy chocolate or go through the McDonald’s drive thru. If I wanted to save more money, I would stop buying unnecessary items.

Sure, I want these things, but how much do I want them? Not enough, apparently.

pablo (25)I came to the hard realization that even though part of me wanted better or more, I must not have wanted those things badly enough.

I have written about having no regrets in a previous blog post. This one ties into that. Both topics involve fear of failure.

I believe the only way to fail is to do nothing.

In March 2015, I finally make a life-altering decision: I would write every day on my original story, even if I never published it, even if no one ever read it. Tired of traipsing through the lands of other authors and their characters in the world of fan fiction for 20 years, I knew that if I was to take myself as a writer seriously, I NEEDED to write every day, even if only for ten minutes.

Ten minutes. That’s all I told myself. It was a realistic goal.

To reach your dreams, you must set realistic, attainable, often short-term goals. Setting the goal of writing a whole book could have been too much. It was for me for years. As I said, overwhelming. I had already committed to exercising at least three days a week and had been doing it for three years at that point. If I could do that, I could write for ten minutes a day. Besides, I loved writing. I believe and have always believed that writing is in my blood, my fourth child (I have three actual ones), and was one of my purposes in life.

Your life purpose is what drives your desire to have dreams, but getting there is the intimidating and often difficult part. Goals at the stepping stones, every inch of pavement poured to create the road you travel from purpose to dreams. Day by day, little goal by little goal, you get there.

I finished my first draft of my first novel ten months after seriously sitting down to write it. I published it seven months after that. Once I got going, I couldn’t stop. I now have published a second novel, completed two more, and am nearing completion on my fifth.

Besides all this? I have joined a writers group at my local library, which you can read more about here. I have made invaluable friendships with several of these wonderful people who are like-minded. They are writers. They understand my raison-d’etre. I get them.

I have days when I question my ability to write, but they are fleeting. Our days are numbered in a fleeting life, so why do anything other than go for your dreams? If I hadn’t overcome my fears, I would have never gotten where I am today. I wouldn’t have shared my stories. I wouldn’t be spending time doing what I love daily.  I wouldn’t have met so many lovely friends.

Speaking of friends, a long-time and dear friend of mine has written extensively on the topics of life purpose, goals, and dreams on her blog. I highly recommend you check her blog out if you would like to seriously pursue these topics further.

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It’s funny that I had this blog idea for months and how its placement at the beginning of February coincided with my friend’s recent blog posts about the same topics. Fortuitous? Meant to be? I would like to think so.

Keeping dreaming, my friends, but if you’re serious about making your dreams a reality, you have to do the work. Pave your road with goals, not good intentions. Build your life with action, not ideas.

As any good writer knows, a story is driven by action. Ideas are good and all, but a good idea doesn’t necessarily make for a good story. You have one life. Make it a good story, even a great one.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

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No Regrets in Life

You’ve heard it said before: have no regrets.

You’ve probably also found yourself alone with your maddening thoughts, maddening both as in crazy and provoking anger. Your lovely mind has this magical ability to conjure out of nowhere every past fault, failure, and fracture. But such thoughts do have a hiding place. They lurk in the deepest recesses of your mind. You know, those places you put memories you wish you could forget.

But you don’t. Or can’t. Or maybe the masochistic face of you doesn’t want to.

Misery loves company, after all.

I can remember getting ready for work when I was in my 20s. Ah, such was the decade where I was caught between responsible adult and kid. My husband was already at work. I had the house to myself and a tendency to not want to get up in mornings. I hated mornings. While mornings and I still aren’t buds, we can tolerate each other now, but I digress.

I was often tired and cranky while getting ready for work because I stayed up too late. I guess you could say I regretted staying up late come morning–ha! But seriously, because of my already compromised state of mind, I would find myself ruminating on certain people in my life, both past and present, who I felt had let me down. I’d grow increasingly mad, to the point sometimes that I wondered why I had wasted precious hours, days, and years of my life with some of these fine folks. I’d have regrets for even knowing them, for letting them get to me, and for letting they still live rent-free in my mind.

Although it wasn’t really rent-free. I wasted countless energy and time over past hurts, over regrets, over things that couldn’t be changed.

I could go further–regrets over things I didn’t do, should have said, or a path I took. Could have. Should have. Would have.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that I never go to those ugly places, those closets filled with boxes labeled “regret.”

If anything now, I regret having regrets–ha!

pablo (22)I’m not entirely sure how, or when, or even why, but somewhere along the road of my 30s, I came to understand a deeper truth: I can’t change the past or my circumstances, but I can change how I look at them.

I have no control over other people or what goes on in the world. The forces of nature are beyond me. The thoughts and actions of other individuals are the result of their free will.

At the end of the day or my life, the only thing I should have to regret, if anything, is my outlook on life. I have a choice every day to make: be bitter or be content. Contentment, I believe, goes beyond momentary happiness. Feelings are as fleeting as leaves blowing by on a windy day. To have inner peace, a resolve to keep going, to say I’m going to stand and not fall, that is true contentment.

Instead of looking at a failed relationship as a waste of your time and being angry at the other person and yourself, look at it as an opportunity to learn something. I believe everyone who comes in and out of your life can teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

These are the words I etch on my heart and stamp on my brain. I hope they go deeper and imprint on my soul, that eternal part that is who I really am. I hope, at the end of the day and my life, that I have no regrets because of choosing to rise above.

There is no new wisdom in these words, but just a simple reminder I think we all need from time to time. Friend, if you’re filled with regrets, make a choice right now to let those ugly boxes of junk go. Fill your mental storage with memories boxes of love.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Nothing worthwhile is easy, I believe.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

 

 

The Only Way to Fail is to do Nothing

No one wants to talk about, or even think about, failure.

Fear of failure is what keeps us from acting, from trying new things, from fulfilling our dreams.  Because there’s that little nagging voice in the back of our heads that whispers, “What if you fail?  If you don’t try it in the first place, you can’t fail.”

Lies, I say!

I used to subscribe to this way of thinking…for years, in fact.  I have always been writing, but I haven’t always written original stories like I do now.  I spent years and years living in the wonderful world of fan fiction, both reading and writing it.  I was comfortable playing with other people’s characters, but create my own?  Well, that was downright scary.

What a daunting task!

Even after I woke in the middle of one mid-October night in 2006 with a fictional name on my lips and an idea to write a story based on my late grandma’s life, I still didn’t fully embrace conquering my fears.  The momentum of excitement over the idea drove me for a few weeks.  I created a family tree with character names, read my grandma’s accounts of what it was like growing up in the early twentieth century, took notes, and even wrote two chapters.  Over the next two years, I turned out two more chapters.  In early 2009, I had four chapters and not much else.  

Of course, during this time, I was prolific with writing fan fiction.  That took center stage.  But write an original story?  I’d have the idea in the back of my mind and think about sitting down to write more, but I rarely actually opened the document.

I told several friends that my dream was to be a published author.  I had a couple of people who would ask how my story was going.  My answer: It’s not.

And as much as I wanted to be an author, I didn’t really think it would seriously happen.  Ever.

Then a funny thing happened in March of 2015.  I wasn’t writing much fan fiction any longer, my life filled with taking care of my kids.  I thought, “Why don’t I just try it?  I’ll commit myself to writing for fifteen minutes a day, every day, and see what happens.  Even if I never publish it or share it with anyone, at least I can say I wrote an original story.”

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Ten months later, I had my first draft.  A few months after that, I had a final draft and tried querying agents.  Scary, right?

It wasn’t scary at all, but rather liberating and amazing!  I couldn’t believe I’d done it, and I was now serious about writing more books, already in the process of writing two more manuscripts.  

I was prepared for rejection from agents, as I had read a lot about the process.  Few unknowns get their foot in the door.  That was okay with me, because the bigger accomplishment was writing and then editing the story!  I had looked my fear of failure in the eye and owned it.  It wouldn’t be a failure to me if no agent picked it up, because I had done something to be proud of.  I self-published the book, and now I’m living my dream.

The failure wasn’t in not traditionally publishing it.  Nor was it is not making a ton of money or having a load of people read it.  

Because I wrote it.  I tried, really made the effort.

The only way I would have failed would have been to not write the story AT ALL.

So you try something and decide it’s not for you, or you start something and give it your all and it doesn’t pan out.  Okay.  You did NOT fail.  You tried, really tried.  You didn’t let fear dictate your life.

I have come to firmly believe that the only way we fail is to do nothing.

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

That’s in the same spirit as my belief about the only way to fail.

Be bold.  Be courageous.  Be triumphant.

Because life isn’t meant to be lived in a box.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My new novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My first novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful,  is available for $3.99 here.

 

Facing Loss and Embracing New Possibilities

Loss.  It’s a word we don’t want to hear, let alone experience.  Yet we all experience it.  We all know loss, not just of it.  Some of us have known it on a first name basis for too many years.  If we’re lucky, some of us know it only as an acquaintance for brief periods throughout life.

When I say “loss,” what comes to mind?  Losing a loved one to death?  Divorce or a tough breakup?  Loss of a job, a friendship, a dream?  Or maybe just all the socks that lost their mates in the laundry?  Sorry, I had to throw a random joke in.  This is a tough subject matter.

Chances are, if you’re lived long enough like me, you know loss intimately enough to define it, to know the emptiness it leaves in its wake, to know healing is hard, to know that moving forward after a great loss can seem insurmountable in the moment of grieving.

I was in a Bible study once where the question was asked: What do you think the saddest word in the English language is?

My answer?  Hopelessness.

Whoever wrote that study agreed with me.  Now maybe you have another word, but I’d suspect that hopelessness would be in your top ten most depressing words.  Hopelessness and loss are often intertwined like a tight braid, held in place by an elastic of grief, anger, sadness, and denial.

Then where is acceptance, which can lead to hope?

My earliest memories of loss aren’t deep: a goldfish being flushed down the toilet, our outdoor pet bunny escaping and running away, attending wakes and funerals of people I didn’t really know.

For me, the loss of my innocence at an early age, something precious ripped from me, was the type of loss that affected me the most at the time.  When I was eight years old, two boys in my neighborhood, barely older than me, sexually molested me.  They had access to pornography.  It wasn’t sex, but it was bad enough.  I knew enough to know that “stuff down there” could cause pregnancy and AIDS, which had just come out as the latest big disease scare.  For months, I thought I was going to die of AIDS and prayed several times a day to God: “Please don’t let me have AIDS.”  Luckily, I told my parents what happened, and they went to the police.  I stayed away from those boys, but it never went to court.  No one was held accountable.  Maybe worse than thinking I had AIDS was that it seemed like everyone at school knew my secret.  Those boys told other kids.  I remember feeling dirty and violated for years after the incident as I walked the halls, sometimes being asked, “Were you raped?”  As a child, I couldn’t pinpoint terms like “dirty” and “violated” to describe the uncomfortable feeling of a slimy snake creeping inside me when people stared and asked rude questions, but I know now that was what I was feeling.

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But I survived because of the kids who were my friends and because of my family.  I had parents who loved me.  I had a few good friends who stuck by my side, and as the years passed, the news of it died.  Understanding more about “stuff down there,” I knew I wouldn’t die of AIDS.  I stayed away from those boys as much as possible.

My next experience with a huge loss came when I was 15 and lost both of my grandmas within two weeks of each other.  My dad’s mom had been battling cancer for over a year, and she lived in Kentucky, so I rarely saw her and wasn’t that close to her.  While my dad and brother attended her funeral, my mom and I stayed home to be with her mom, who was in the hospital.  We received the news no one wants to hear–the cancer had metastasized to her lungs (from a sarcoma on her leg the previous year), and there was nothing to be done.  Even chemo would only give her a small chance.  She was already 81 years old and didn’t want to go through that.  Despite being given two to six months, she passed a mere two weeks later.  She was at our house, so she died surrounded by family and didn’t suffer for long.

I had always known my life with my dear grandma.  We visited her every Sunday after church.  She had that warm voice that greeted us and those rosy cheeks and that beautiful smile.  She always had candy in her purse and cookies on top of her fridge.  She had her quirks from living through the Great Depression of watering down her shampoo, of saving a hundred plastic bags, and of using the smallest amount of batter left to make a quarter-sized pancake an eighth inch thick.  She burned her pizza that tasted like cardboard, but her pork chops were marvelous.  She spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with us.  She went on numerous vacations with my family.  She was special.

pablo (2)So how could I, at 15, understand what it meant to face life without one of the most important people?  While she was still in the hospital, I wrote a letter to her, where I told her brave she was, how much I loved and admired her, and asked her to send me a sign upon reaching Heaven.  She passed on a dreary early April day.  The rain continued until the day of her funeral four days later.  After we came home from an emotionally draining day, my mom called me to look out the window with her.  Stretched across the clearing sky was a beautiful rainbow!  I knew this was her sign to me!  Just as soon as my mom and I saw Grandma’s rainbow, it faded.  I had no doubts.  I found comfort in that rainbow.  Even though I would miss her dearly, time had helped heal the immediate stabbing loss.  A scar remains on my heart, but my grandma and her rainbow would go on to create something miraculous.

I wrote her life story in a fictionalized account and published it a year ago.  She has been my inspiration to write more books, to embrace what I call my heart’s song, my raison d’etre.  Not only died my grandma give me hope and the possibility to write, but my daughter is named after her.  Emma was a surprise child, not planned but welcomed and blessed!

Out of loss came immense possibility that became reality.

As the years went on, I would know the loss of a relationship with a boy who I once was in love with, but I would then meet the wonderful man who would become my husband and the father to my children, who I’ve been married to for 14 years.

We enjoyed several years of marriage where it was just the two of us.  We got to know each other more intimately.  We travelled to Italy, Hawaii, the Caribbean.  We focused on our careers.  We got a house together and made it our own.

The next step seemed obvious: children.  I was in my late twenties.  Everyone around me seemed to be getting pregnant, so I knew I was at that life stage when it was time.  My husband, Erik, and I were ready…as ready as we could be.

pablo (3)Little did I know how hard our journey to conceive would become.  Every month would come and go the same: hope that this would be the month we got lucky, only to flee with more tears and heartache at an empty womb.  This trend would continue for the next two and a half years.  My husband and I went through testing.  They could find nothing wrong.  We tried artificial insemination three times…nothing.  We were told fertility drugs would only increase the chances slightly, so we held off.  As 2008 drew to a close, we were on the verge of trying in vitro.  Drained beyond panic and exhaustion at this point, I suggested we held off for six months and just tried to relax and enjoy life again.  We had put so much pressure on ourselves to conceive that I was just done.  With it being Christmas, my favorite time of year, I didn’t want to deny myself drinking some wine and the general fun of the festivities.  

That Christmas was great.  Pictures from the time show a true smile on my face, surrounded by coworkers, friends, and family.  I stopped thinking so much about conceiving.

The New Year came.  I was late.  Of course, there had been a few months when I had been tricked before by this very thing.  Why did early pregnancy symptoms have to mirror the ones I got when it was that time of the month?  I knew the stabbing pain of loss from too many months of not conceiving, and I didn’t want to be tricked again.  Why get my hopes up?

But I couldn’t wait.  It was now five days past.  In the bathroom at work, I took a pregnancy test.  When two lines appeared instead of one, I thought for sure this was a dream.  You can imagine my elation!  Finally!

All those months of loss died upon receiving this amazing news.  My pregnancy would continue as healthy, and I gave birth to a 7 pound boy right on his due date of September 10, 2009.  Luke was a miracle baby, a baby so many friends and family, and my husband and I, had been praying for for years.  

As Luke grew, we knew we wanted to grow our family more.  The stresses of trying to conceive were no longer a problem because we knew we could do it.  Luke was now a toddler, a happy kid who was walking and beginning to talk.  A younger brother or sister would be great for him.  As we wanted our kids close in age (2-3 years apart), we decided the time was ripe.  On New Year’s Eve of 2010, I had a hunch I was pregnant and took a test.  It was positive!  The exciting thing was that this second baby would be due the same date as Luke’s birthday!  We attended a friend’s party that evening, and I declined the wine.  The other girls gave me knowing looks, two of whom were pregnant.  We all squealed quietly.  

On January 12, 2011, I miscarried.  Sure, it was early…only six weeks in, but the loss of my baby hit me like a train.  Loss of life is tragic, no matter how old.  A mother carries her child in her for the first nine months.  She and the child are literally a part of each other during that time.  I think I cried more that day than I ever had.  My prayers to save the child went unfulfilled.  I was devastated.  How could I possibly move on from this?

One thing I knew: I didn’t want to keep my loss to myself.  Having a miscarriage is understandably a very private thing for many people, but suffering alone is daunting.  I shared my experience with those around me, mostly other women from church and my friends.  What did I immediately notice?  How common miscarriages were.  How many people related and understood what I’d been through.  If it weren’t for these brave, strong women supporting me through this tough time, I wouldn’t have been able to heal.  Of course, a woman never can forget her lost child, but with the support of friends and the passage of time, healing can occur.

My doctor encouraged me to try to have another baby after allowing my body (and mind) to heal for a month.  Would you believe I got pregnant that first month?  After the hardship of trying to conceive with our first child, there was no pressure.  I had another healthy boy that November: Josh.

As my boys grew, life seemed to fall into a comfortable routine.  I continued to stay home with Luke and Josh.  The boys played together and were both generally happy kids.  As Luke got older, however, we noticed that he wasn’t developing socially and verbally like other kids his age.  We had already enrolled him in speech therapy soon after turning two, as he didn’t have many words.  Seeing little progress over several months with therapy and Help Me Grow intervening in our home, it was suggested that I take him to a developmental pediatrician.

Luke wasn’t even three years old when we got the diagnosis: moderate autism with a speech delay.  My husband and I sat there as the developmental pediatrician, a speech therapist, and a psychiatrist gave us the news.  We were inundated with information in the form of tons of papers of what we should be doing as far as intervention, plans to move forward, what the diagnosis meant, and so much more that I couldn’t process it all.  

I went home, determined to be proactive.  I enrolled Luke in occupational therapy (OT) for his fine motor delays.  Help Me Grow got us set up with the preschool in our city, and he would be receiving services there.  We would continue private speech.  I read through the information and tried to arm myself with knowledge, hoping that early intervention would make a difference.  My son was still so young, after all.  He had time to catch up with his peers.

Luke made progress, but it was slow.  He, to this day, speaks in single words or short phrases to express his wants and needs.  We paid a lady to come into our home to potty train him over a weekend, and it was successful…only to have that work undone a couple of years later when he regressed with no understandable reason why.  We haven’t been able to completely get back to where we were with toileting.

While usually a happy kid, Luke has been prone to meltdowns, especially when overloaded due to sensory processing issues.  Loud noises, crowded rooms, hunger, cold, heat, tiredness, and more can trigger a meltdown.  When he was smaller, it was easy enough to pick him up and put him in his room until he calmed down.  

As he’s grown, his meltdowns have gotten harder to control and more violent.  He kicks, hits, pulls hair, throws thing, and pulls pictures off walls.  We’ve had to remove the lamps and anything breakable from his bedroom.  He is on a medication to help with the meltdowns, and while they are less frequent, they can happen without provocation.  His mood can change like someone has flipped a switch.  As his mother, it breaks my heart to see him like this, to know he cannot express himself like he wants to.

pablo (4)My biggest struggle is facing the loss of the son who I thought I would have.  I will be honest.  I hate autism most days.  Look what it does to my son.  As moms, we have these too-perfect dreams of what our kids are going to be like.  Sure, we expect them to have some struggles and quirks, but a diagnosis like autism… Who expects that?  I often rant and rail at God at the unfairness of it all.  I have cried bitter, angry, dejected tears in the middle of the night or locked away in my closet because–let’s be honest–it’s not fair.  Even yelling at God is prayer, however.  Any communication with God is prayer.  Knowing that helps.  God can handle my anger.

Soon after the diagnosis, after a few weeks of trying to hold it together and be proactive, depression grabbed hold of me and pulled me down.  I took out my anger and hurt on those closest to me.  Sadly, from time to time, I have turned to this dark place because sometimes I just cannot take it.  I feel unqualified, underprepared, unable to raise a special needs child.  Did God really think I could handle this?  

I have been through plenty of times of loss in my life, but those losses have either resolved themselves or have found a way of healing.  This time, this loss is ongoing.  There’s no end in sight.  This is lifelong.

So what do I do?  How do I choose to face this epic loss and embrace a new possibility?  Hard truth: I embrace the loss of my picture-perfect dream and truly embrace the boy who is my son.  Because he is my son.  He is a person worthy of love and deserving of understanding.   No diagnosis changes a mother’s love for her child.

If it weren’t for Luke’s autism, I would not have met many other precious people in my life.  I have cried with other moms “who get it.”  I have hugged and been their source of encouragement, and they have returned the favor.  Other people have been strong for me when I couldn’t be.  My parents, my church, my friends…they are the true heroes here, not me.

And God.  I cannot understand why Luke has autism, but I believe God works good from the bad.  My heart and mind have been opened by raising a special needs child.  I believe I am more compassionate and understanding of others who have various diagnoses.  I believe we all will go through some sort of diagnosis at some point in life.  It’s all part of living.  God holds us and sustains us through, often by using other people in our lives to carry us when we cannot walk.

Whatever loss you’re facing in your life, I ask you to take some time to try to see a new possibility in it.  Every experience is a chance to grow, to learn something, to continue in hope.

That is a much better place to be than alone and suffering in your loss.  Loss is just as much a part of life as gain.  I believe there is much to be gained in loss–hope for tomorrow.

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Why Reading Matters: From a Little Girl Who Hated Reading

The second hand seemed to take an eternity to make one lousy rotation.  Tick.  The minute hand moved the slightest fraction.  A minute is forever to a seven-year-old sitting on the living room couch next to her mother, the simple supposed easy-reader book between them.

“Go ahead.  Sound it out.”

The mom’s words could have been encouraging.  Should have been.  Maybe they had been the first, second, or even the third night of this routine, but after weeks of spending what Mom insisted was “important quality time,” the girl heard only impatience in those words.

Trips to the library to pick up books for these evening readings were boring.  The little girl only marvelled at the graffiti-riddled bathroom walls while she stood in the stalls.  Talk of renovating the library in an otherwise nice suburban city had begun.

Reading “x” number of books to get enough stars on that huge poster board chart the teacher had at the front of the classroom with every student’s name and progress on it was perhaps the only motivator.  It was a race to see who could get enough stars to earn another free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut for the Book-It program.

Mmm.  The thought of a pepperoni pizza just the right size with that melting cheese, on a rare occasion when the family actually went out for dinner…

“Cyndi, please pay attention.”

The little girl sighed.  Too many exceptions to the rules of long vowel sounds and words like “thought” and “rough” and soft and hard “c” sounds… Why did reading have to be so difficult?

So, she trudged through another ten page book with a few words on every page, perhaps taking fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen hours.  All the while, the clock…tick…an eternal minute… tick…tick…

pablo (1)At the end, the girl rather thought these reading sessions were almost as bad at the numerous times she’d fallen while learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  The neighborhood had wooden fences lining the sidewalk in every yard, and going down from the bike, hands out in defense, meant a hundred splinters in the palms…then the painful hour or two of sitting on the bathroom floor while Mom removed them with the tweezers…one by agonizing one.  Yep.  That was what reading was like for this girl.

This girl was me.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t read.  I just didn’t want to.  This general dislike of reading continued as I grew older, and although I managed to usually get a B in English, it was the subject I struggled with.  I was the kid who would rather watch the movie instead of read the book.  In fourth grade, we were assigned C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I remember trying to read, only to find myself bored after a couple of pages.  I watched an old cartoon movie version from the 70s, which lacked much of the detail of the book…which plainly showed when test time came.

Interestingly enough, when the class was assigned The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, I loved that book.  Although I’m not sure what it was about this book that captured my interest, to the point that I was reading ahead, I think it might have been the intrigue of a swan who wrote on a chalkboard he wore around his name to communicate with a little boy.  I remember very little about that book all these years later, but it was probably the first book that I enjoyed reading.

By fifth grade, I still wasn’t much into reading.  Then at the class gift exchange for Christmas, I got a Babysitters Club book (by Ann M. Martin).  I was at the age where the prospect of babysitting appealed to me, and the thought of a bunch of girls my age or a little older having a club for babysitting sounded super cool.  I could relate to the characters in the story.  Maybe that was my first indication of a love for reading: needing to find something I related to.

I read that book quicker than anything and for pleasure.  The Babysitters Club series would become my first books I actually read for pleasure.  I spent that next three or four years engrossed in them, anxiously waiting for the next book to come out.  I spent my hard-earned allowance money on them and got them out of the library.  Suddenly, library visits were exciting.  I was seeing that there was a difference between reading what I wanted and having to read for school.

Still, the reading for school didn’t sit well with me.  As I progressed through junior high and had to do summer reading, I remember groaning over it.  I had a whole summer to read a lousy book, which seemed plenty of time.  As you can well imagine, I put off most of the reading until the last minute.  Reading Jurassic Park during the same summer when the movie was out was kind of neat, however, because I felt like I was reading something current.  Perhaps part of my dislike of reading stemmed from the fact that most of the stuff we were forced to read in school was historical.  I remember how deeply it struck me when reading Jurassic Park that there was a time before humans walked the earth and there would be time after.  At 13, such a thought was beyond my world.  It got me thinking.  It was also the first time I heard about DNA.

Once I was in high school, I read the assigned books and did well in English class, although it was never my favorite subject.  I was writing poetry since I was 10 or 11 and short stories, but writing for English class was a different matter.  By this time, my homework load was so large that I really didn’t have time to read for pleasure.  I worked part time at a movie theatre, was in marching band, did Aikido, and, of course, had a full course load at school.

My tenth grade English teacher didn’t like that I thought outside of the proverbial box on the test on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter.  I barely managed to pass that test.  Looking back, being forced to conform, to read what only was assigned, to write the answers that we’d been lectured on were the “right answers”….well, I didn’t like that.  Only my eleventh grade teacher (a laid-back guy who seemed like an older hippie and more like a college prof with the messy office, beard, and just-got-outta-bed hair) seemed cool.  He was unconventional.  He told us it was okay to use “I” when writing our papers.  We read a lot of poetry and just talked about it as a class.  Our individuality was encouraged.

As strict at my twelfth grade English teacher was, she was a little spit-fire.  We studied world literature that year, and it was the first time I learned about many of those cultures.  My eyes were being opened to a world much larger than American and British lit.  It was amazing.  And she challenged us.  She was the type of teacher you loved and hated and would always remember, always appreciate, always respect.

I suppose this bigger-world picture is what first got me interested in reading nonfiction, most specifically Egyptology.  I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties reading about ancient Egypt for fun.

Once in college, I was pleasantly surprised by English 101.  We read current stuff.  Again, much of my beef with reading in English class in high school was that everything was so old.  I didn’t relate to it.  Reading Tuesdays with Morrie, which had only been written two years earlier at the time, was a love-affair with a book for me at age nineteen.  I breezed through the pages, finishing it way before schedule.  Life and death.  Living life to the fullest.  Appreciating every moment.  That was what I took away from that gem of a book.  Current affair topics like racism and sexism and such were what we read about and discussed.  This stuff felt relevant.  It was like someone had opened the window after spending years in a stuffy room.pablo (2)

College was another time in my life where I spent much time reading textbooks, so my time to read for pleasure was limited.  I’d taken more to writing fan fiction, engrossed with meeting people online who had common interests as me.  I read a lot of fan fiction as well, so since I was reading in my favorite genres, it was the escape I needed at times.  I got that escape from writing, too.

Fast forward a few years.  I was 23 and done with college, working as a research technologist.  A good friend encouraged me to pick up the Harry Potter series, of which four books were written at that time.  I’d seen the movies and enjoyed them, so I thought, “Why not?”

I devoured those books, all four of them, in two weeks, which was record time for me.  The fifth book was scheduled to be released that summer, and I joined thousands of others in anticipation.  I.  Could.  Not.  Wait.

So began my love of reading that I never would have imagined possible when I was seven.  Even as I got older, I didn’t love reading most things.  My reading for pleasure was severely limited to fan fiction, not actual books.  But hey, it was something.

I couldn’t tell you all the books I’ve read since 2003 (when I was 23).  According to Goodreads, it’s something like 400.  Most have been fiction, but some have been nonfiction.  I spent a few years diving into the classics, like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and discovering a love for the way the authors could paint a picture with their worlds and melt or stab my heart at the same time.  I marvelled at the beautiful poetry of the prose of older books and came to appreciate them deeply, relating to the characters in a way I never imagined when I was younger.

Then I read Jane Eyre in 2006 and loved it so much, I mourned the fact that Charlotte Bronte had been dead for a hundred and fifty years.  She felt so alive through her words.  It was like her breath was on every page.  I longed to discuss her masterpiece with her, what I felt was her heart’s song.  That was the first time I’d felt that passionately about a book.  Those dead authors we’d studied in school suddenly seemed very much alive.

And so I have continued on this love affair with books.  Reading matters as deeply to me as writing now, and it’s thanks to those books I mentioned above (and some great teachers and friends who encouraged my reading) that I love to read.  I am constantly reading something, usually many books simultaneously.

Reading matters because we can lose ourselves for a few hours to another world.  We can be Frodo on a quest to destroy The Ring or Harry Potter in search of the Horcruxes.  

Reading matters because it makes me a better writer.  Even if you’re not a writer, you can appreciate the art of a well-crafted book.

Reading matters because of stories.  Story is the essence of life.  People have shared stories since language existed, long before the written word.  We want to explore the human condition in all its forms, its beautiful messiness.

And guess what?  I’ve recently reread some of the books I “had to read” in school: The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Twenty years later, my perspective is different.  I can see those characters through the lense of a mature woman instead of a child.  I also revisited Jane Eyre and felt just as much in love as the first time.  

Reading matters because those books are like old friends, always there to comfort us and bring us home.  That’s quite something coming from a little girl who hated reading

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