Saturday, December 31, 2011

Three Good Things

String Bean can be a bit of a muller/wallower/worrier. Especially at bedtime when she's reviewing her day and getting herself too worked up to sleep over the stressful/scary/sad stuff that happened. So I started a tradition with both girls, that as I cuddle with them and tuck them in for the night, we each list three good things about our day. In the beginning, it was sometimes hard for String Bean to think of three really good things. Now she rattles off happy moments like she's been storing them up all day, just waiting to share them. Peanut rarely has a list under 10 good things, and usually ends her list with, "I just had the best day!"

It's seemed to help String Bean settle down at night, to make a point of remembering the good stuff from each day, hopefully helping her learn how to let all of the less-than-good stuff go. And there are definitely nights when this helpful reminder comes in handy for me, too.

As the year draws to a close, a year of more strife and hardship than I was expecting, full of more illness and death and divorce than I want to recount, I'd like to apply the same wisdom on a grander scale. So, my three good things for 2011 are:

(1) my beautiful brilliant little girls are thriving, reminding me every day what really matters: love, laughter, and wonder;

(2) my writing is thriving, getting some recognition here and there (a new short story published just this week!), giving me much to feel proud of and more to aspire to every day; and

(3) I have the best extended, complicated, ever-changing, but loving and supportive family and friends around. It's been a turbulent year, but I'm standing on solid ground thanks to the people standing beside me.

Happy new year everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Falling Down

Today was one of those days we all fear as parents. A day when one of our little ones gets hurt. It was a typical morning. We were running late because the girls were tired and dragging and wouldn't get in the car. We made it to school with a couple of minutes to spare, and were heading down with the masses toward String Bean's class, picking up speed, when Peanut fell down.

Peanut falls down a lot. She's a rough and tumble kid, unafraid of spills, and if she's moving, she's usually going full force. Well, she went full-force to the ground, face first. I picked her up, dusted her off, and saw blood. Lots and lots of blood, pouring out of her mouth. And a tooth, her top front tooth, at a very bad angle.

I scooped Peanut up, rushed toward String Bean's class, handed String Bean off to another mother, and raced back to the car with Peanut, shoving wadded towels into her bleeding mouth. We raced straight to the dentist. X-rays showed her tooth had broken off at the root, so it couldn't be saved. Luckily it was a baby tooth, and in being knocked out it hadn't damaged the adult tooth behind it. But Peanut just turned 5, and the adult tooth is nowhere near ready to come in. The dentist said it may take a year, possibly close to 2, before the adult tooth drops down to fill the hole. The teeth on either side were knocked loose, but not beyond hope. We have weeks ahead of a soft food diet and avoiding contact with those teeth, in the hopes that they will strengthen and stop wiggling, and wait firmly in place until the adult teeth behind them are ready to make an appearance.

Peanut was a champ the whole time. She cried pretty good when it first happened, but once we got to the dentist she was completely calm. She followed the dentist's instructions perfectly and even corrected him when he was trying to be silly with her. She was all business. When she was all cleaned up, they offered her a bounty of prizes for being so good. She insisted on taking two of each, so her big sister wouldn't feel left out.

We had a long day of trying to find something, anything, that she could eat without hurting. In the end a few sips of milkshake and some yogurt was all she could manage. She's got a scraped up face, a hugely swollen lip, cuts and bruises all around the inside of her mouth, and a cute gap where her tooth should be. But she's still my smiley girl who thinks it's super cool that she's one of the first kids in her kindergarten class to lose a tooth. And she's very excited about the tooth fairy coming.

In reality, all turned out fine. The scrapes and bruises will heal, the adult teeth will come in, and someday this will just be one of those family lore stories about what a tough kid she was. But for right now, this moment at the end of that long day, it's all I can do not to stand guard next to her bed and protect her from ever being hurt again. We're never ready to see our kids get hurt.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Happy Frozen Cheese Pizza

On Monday my little Peanut will, impossibly, be turning 5. I don't know where the time went, but I can tell it's gone, because at the end of her fourth year she's suddenly sporting a new pair of longer legs and less-chubby cheeks that show off her cheekbones. She looks five, which does nothing to make it easier for me to swallow.

I have a party planned for her, set up as she requested: just a few friends here at the house. Peanut is nothing if not easy to please. I mean, she's the most stubborn human being I've ever met, which is saying a lot since previously I was the most stubborn human being I'd ever met, but that's only about 1% of the time. The rest of life, she goes easy on.

So the following weekend we're having family, about 8 kids, and cupcakes to celebrate this milestone. That's all she wants, and that's fine by me. But I keep asking what she wants to do on Monday after school, since that's her actual birthday: go somewhere fun, have a friend over, go out to dinner? And she's decided: she wants a frozen cheese pizza, here at the house, with me and her sister. That's it? That's it.

Every day I come up with a few more ideas, tantalizing little notions sure to entice her into imagining a more interesting birthday. Nope. Frozen cheese pizza, play time with her sister, and maybe a story or two before bed.

I love having an easy-to-please child, I really do. And I don't want her to feel wrong for wanting to keep it simple. I'm trying to recognize that while this milestone feels huge for me (She's in kindergarten now! She's reading! She's doing math! She has these ridiculous legs! The baby fat is all gone!), and worth celebrating in some spectacular fashion, maybe she's got enough newness going on in her life that the same old same old sounds perfect: a little familiar comfort to ring in her fifth year. Okay. Fine. I get it. But I'm still getting cake. And balloons. She'll just have to deal.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Today is the big day when both of my girls become elementary school kids. String Bean started first grade today, and Peanut started kindergarten. There were no tears, from either the kids or me. It was nice to catch up with several of the moms I haven't seen since last June, and cute to see String Bean scoping out her new class, getting excited about which girls are in it with her. Peanut has a few friends starting kindergarten at this school as well, but none of them are in her class. When I asked if that bothered her, she just shrugged: "No. I'll make new friends." I fully expect the class to be following her around like little ducklings by the end of the day. She seems to have that effect on other kids. String Bean had a moment of tearing up as I kissed her goodbye, and she turned away so I couldn't see. I got to see her again during recess when I dropped Peanut off, and she was running around the playground with a little boy right on her heels, oblivious to my presence.

While my kids are both in school five days a week, I'm going to focus on writing. Not just putting words on the page, but submissions, contest entries, revising one of my novels and getting it out to agents, building a web site, and trying to keep up with my blog and Twitter (@cassdunn) posts. In short, it's time to start treating this writing fantasy like a job. I've been able to meet some amazing local best-selling authors recently: Meg Waite Clayton, Ellen Sussman, and Ann Packer just to name a few, and one thing I'm realizing is that while I've developed fairly good discipline for writing, I'm sorely lacking in the self-promotion department. So while my girls are navigating through a new school year, I'll be feeling my way through the practical aspects of a writing career.

First on the list: a website! I'll post the link when it's done.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Heavy Stuff

String Bean has always been a bit of a serious kid. Not when she's running around in the Ariel costume she just scored for 25 cents at the garage sale down the street, singing in her shrieking high voice about the wonders of the sea, but when it's late and quiet and she has time to settle into her own mind a bit. She likes to cuddle in her bed together after I put Peanut to sleep and talk about some of her thoughts, to sort of clear her mind before sleep. I get this, as I do it, too. Only I don't talk about it, I just mull over my own thoughts as I battle it out with insomnia. Some nights, the thoughts clear and I fall asleep soon. Other nights the insomnia wins and I have lots of free time for thinking.

So, for tonight's bedtime chat String Bean wanted to discuss the horrors of slavery. She wanted to know why light-skinned people would take dark-skinned people from their homes and families. Why they were cruel to them. Why they wouldn't pay them for working for them, and why they hit them whenever they wanted. She wanted to know why there were no laws to protect them. She also asked about the Civil War, wanted the low-down on Jim Crow laws, and followed up with asking why anyone would want to shoot Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was just trying to make the world a fair place.

I like that she's a deep-thinking 6-year-old, but sometimes I worry about all the heavy stuff she's carrying on her tiny shoulders. I asked if we should change the subject, if maybe talking about all of this scary stuff would make it harder for her to fall asleep, and she said, "It's not scary, just sad." And within a few minutes of expressing her sadness about the way people will treat people sometimes, she drifted off to sleep.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Mommy, Please Leave"

Every Tuesday morning my dad and step-mother watch my girls for a few precious hours, so that I can get out of the house and write distraction-free. It's been a great weekly date for the girls as well, who wait by the front window, watching for their grandparents' car, squealing as they see it park, jumping up and down as Grandpa pulls his banjo out of the back seat and Grandma fetches her coffee and latest book and heads toward the front door.

I try to take a few minutes to chat with my dad before heading out, and sometimes we even get a few words in. Usually, though, the girls are in a hurry to send me on my way. They have songs to sing while my dad plays banjo, or weddings to plan where he will be the groom, or various animal rides to take where he will play the animal and they will play the riders. The visual of my 71-year-old father crawling up and down the stairs with a 40-pound child on his back is priceless, and sometimes I like to take a moment to acknowledge him for his willing sacrifices to his body to keep these little girls happy. The little girls, however, have no time for such sentimentality.

"Mommy, please leave!" they shout in unison, as I try to chat with my dad. One will grab my wrist, the other pushing me from behind, leading me toward the door.

Once upon a time, they were shy about these weekly babysitting sessions. I can even remember early on, I would sneak out when Peanut went down for a nap, so she wouldn't know I was gone, and it would take both grandparents to soothe my separation-anxiety-ridden String Bean as I made for the door. Those days are history, as I try to finish my brief conversation with my dad, try to ask my step-mother what book she's reading now, and try to bid farewell to the girls who shove me so indelicately toward my car.

I get into the car, both girls shouting "Go, Mommy, go!" through cupped hands at the garage door, and smile. I am so grateful for my Tuesday morning alone time. And so glad my girls get the undivided attention of their grandparents for a few hours as well. Catch up time with my dad and step-mom can wait.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Well, now I've gone and done it. I've gotten a taste of what I really want, the life I really want to have, and it's going to be hard to go back. I have written 3 3/4 novels over the last year and a half, and about 20 short stories in the last two years. I've polished my discipline, learning to cherish every quiet second I can devote to writing. I've sent the stories out again and again, and now have six of them published in various literary journals. I submitted one of the novels to a battery of agents, a few of whom liked it enough to ask to see the entire thing, before politely declining.

On a whim, I entered that novel in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I figured: why not? It's a free contest, I qualify, and I have this novel just sitting here staring at me. When I survived the first round of cuts, I was pretty happy. When I survived the second round, becoming a quarter-finalist, I was ecstatic. I mean, it put me in the top 5% of entrants. That's a big deal, right? The semifinalists were announced this morning, and I spent all night giving myself pep talks about getting cut: I made it to the top 250 out of 5000, got three good independent reviews, and a lot of encouragement from family and friends along the way. That's enough, right? I just about had myself convinced that it was when the list was posted, and I was shocked to see my name on it. So, just like that, I went from feeling happy with my quarter-finalist status, to seeing an actual possibility of winning the thing. I'm this close to having every career dream I've ever had come true. That's a lot to carry. So today I've been in a daze, checking the list repeatedly to make sure I wasn't dreaming (yep, I'm still there), and learning to believe in myself in a whole new way. I know winning would be a ridiculous long-shot, and I'm being realistic about it. I'm so glad to have made it this far. Being one of 50 left in the contest that started with 5000, that's a big accomplishment. But I'm also starting to see that this little dream of mine, of raising the best two little girls in the world while writing all day, it might just become a reality some day.

I'll have to remember to share that with them on a regular basis. Keep dreaming girls, and dream big. Because you just never know what's possible until you put yourself out there.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Big Time

It's been a big week around here. String Bean turned six years old, which is impossible, because she was a fussy, clingy baby that I had to sleep holding all night just yesterday. And I just registered Peanut for kindergarten, which is both awesome (I'm so looking forward to having both girls at one school again), and impossible, because she's my baby, and babies don't go to kindergarten.

I've noticed they've both had major growth spurts lately. String Bean's back to being the tallest girl in her class, and last time I eyeballed the line-up before class, there were only three boys taller than her in her class, too. Peanut's now so long that I can no longer carry her and walk, as her feet kick me in the knees the whole time. This proves they must indeed be four and six years old, but a big part of me still can't accept it. For one thing, I was only going to leave my editing job for a year after String Bean was born, and I still haven't gone back to work full-time, so that makes me a slacker. For another, hubby and I agreed that I could stay home longer in order to raise the kids while simultaneously launching my writing career, and that hasn't fully taken off yet, either. So, time needs to slow down a bit.

I have had six (six!) short stories accepted for publication in the last four months, so that's been a great ride. Not a paying ride, but encouraging, and I'll take that. I'm pretty proud of myself, and hubby is very supportive of this long-term venture, but the best part is how proud String Bean is of me. I'm not sure Peanut gets the concept of writing stories, since she can't really read or write yet, but String Bean is all over this. As I've showed her each acceptance, she's gone into adorable hysterics, cheering and dancing and telling me how proud she is of me. I mean, really, what more could a mom need? Aside from a literary agent and a book deal. And a little more time with my little girls.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gingerbread Girl

So, String Bean's aunt gave her this gingerbread man to decorate for Christmas, and she really did a great job decorating it. She became a cute little gingerbread girl, with a fluffy white skirt, puffy sleeves, candy buttons down the front of her blouse, and long, flowing icing hair. But then our cat kept trying to eat it (he's 16, and has some issues, and one of them is chronic food-eating without any accompanying weight gain). So I decided that, for gingerbread girl's protection, I'd store her in the oven.

The next day, after a rough stretch of trying to get the girls down for bed, with hubby out of town, I decided I'd earned some cookies for dessert. So I turned on the oven to preheat. Then Peanut called me up to help her find her missing doll that she wanted to sleep with, and String Bean got into the mix by demanding water, a bathroom trip, and extra cuddling time. By the time I left her room, the house was filled with smoke. I told her to stay put, ran downstairs to see what the problem was, and there was poor gingerbread girl, burnt to a crisp in the oven. Oops! I might've been able to hide it, but String Bean just had to come down to see what the trouble was. I apologized profusely, and she might've been okay, if I hadn't started laughing hysterically at the same time. So, so much for my quiet night. Instead I got a smoke-filled house, a crying 5-year-old devastated by the untimely death of her gingerbread girl, and one ruined wooden cutting board. Hurray for mom!