Lessons learned in school & December reads

Pretty reasonable month as far as ‘researching’ (i.e. reading books) goes – if I don’t say so myself – which is surprising considering all the other stuff I’ve been involved in this December. Major gardening project, frantically trying to finish the last few chapters of my WIP… gave up trying to get it done before Christmas with one chapter to go. One chapter…. aaargh! But I was finally forced to bow to the inevitable: it is just not possible to ignore everything else that needs to be done and write like a demon once the kids break up for Christmas holidays – much as that might well have been my Christmas wish from Santa!

It’s not called the ‘silly season’ for nothing, folks, and this year the pre-Christmas frenzy sure lived up to its name! Once all the last minute Christmas shopping for family was done, I had to shop for the kids’ teachers, their relieving teachers, the piano teacher, the swimming teacher, my wonderful housekeeper, the lawnmower man and lastly but not leastly, my fabulous hairdresser who didn’t balk when I wandered in for my usual appointment and said: “Now I’ve finally grown the layers out and my hair is a decent length, will you please cut it all off coz in this heat it’s driving me insane!” In fact, she actually smiled and rubbed her hands with glee. And, by all reports, did such a stellar job that I’ve actually had people (men and women!?!) commenting that I look younger! Now that’s definitely a feat worthy of praise and a nice gift, especially considering I can’t wear makeup or use skincare so I can’t employ the usual methods of feminine artifice to disguise my age. Melissa, I kiss the floor you walk on!

Anway, this year I found school (and we’re talking Primary School Year 1 to Year 6, here) certainly didn’t help the increasing stress levels in our household leading up to Christmas Day. Aside from the monetary demands of new uniforms, stationery and last minute school trips, there were the demands on my time: like helping the Enviro Team kids finish painting the stormwater drains before school got out, the morning tea thanking all the parent helpers like me (among other things I’ve done morning road patrol supervision once a week for 5 years), the Christmas concert, the Year 6 graduation ceremony, the service assembly to thank all the Y6 kids for their extra-curricular activities over the past year… Gosh, given all the other stuff these 10 and 11 year-olds do, e.g. road patrol, staff-room duty (i.e. dishes and cleaning up after the teachers), library duty, wet-day monitors (i.e. looking after the juniors on wet days so the teachers can have a break at lunchtime), PhysEd shed monitors, Audio/Visual equipment monitors, Enviro group (and the list goes on), it’s a wonder they actually got any time to do any actual schoolwork at all! Mind-boggling. My kids get a morning tea break and a lunch break at their school – no afternoon tea break. My daughter was a road patrol monitor, an Enviro Group member, a staff-room monitor, a school councilor and deputy house captain. She was also a wet-day monitor but we encouraged her to give that up as she barely had time to eat her lunch as it was.

I sure don’t remember doing all that stuff when I was in Primary School. We played, we did our lessons, we played some more and we ran the occasional errand for our teacher. I remember scoffing sandwiches and immediately running outside to play. And we got a short 10-min afternoon break, though now I have kids of my own, I suspect that was more for the teachers than us kids! Neither did we ‘graduate’ from Primary School to Intermediate. In fact, rather than celebrating the fact, I’m sure our teachers were just happy to see the backs of at least some of us little horrors and have a much needed break before the next onslaught. And talk about pressure… the hype leading up to the Graduation ceremony was astounding! The kids were actually stressed out about who would get what award and whether they could cope if they came away with nothing. Not to mention, who was dancing with who and who’d be given the coveted ‘starring roles’ at the Christmas carol evening dance display or sing solo during one of the carols. Remember, these are 10 and 11-year-olds!

I have to say: what a crock! Why can’t we just let them be kids? Why contribute to the stress, the pressure, the hype, the build-up to possible disappointment? There’ll be plenty of time for that when they grow up! I’ve seen my daughter choking back tears far too many times when she’s missed out on something she’s worked really hard at, whether it be getting into a sports team or some academic team competing at an interschool level. And she’s one of the bright ones, too. She got an academic award this year and because she was active in all the extra-curricular stuff, she came away with lots of certificates. And she still felt she wasn’t quite good enough – not anything to do with her parents, I assure you. We think she’s wonderful and frequently tell her so! So if she’s feeling that way, what about the other kids? The ones who tried really hard but didn’t make it to the top of their class or weren’t good enough to be chosen for that sports team?

Unfortunately these days, even at primary level, the emphasis seems to be on winning rather than giving all the kids a go. It’s especially prevalent at sports days. I’ve seen kids only being given one turn at long jump and because they weren’t near the top, they’re told to sit down and wait the rest of the allotted time out, while the ‘top’ kids make their second and third jumps. Only the best are given a chance to even try out for these events because the teachers want the school team to win when they compete against other schools. One shot and if you muck it up, you’re out. Might be okay for us adults sending out query letters and submissions to busy editors and agents but hey, these are little kids! What are they learning from this? I hope it’s not “If you don’t think you’re good enough to be one of the best at this, don’t waste your time trying.” Or “May as well sit and yak with your friends rather than suffer the embarassment of trying something for the first time ever and discovering you’re not a ‘natural’ because you won’t even get another chance to try it if you muck it up.”  If I subscribed to that philosophy I’d have given up writing the second I received my first rejection letter. Instead, I got a real kick out of the salutation: “Dear Author” because dammit, I was -am! – going to be an author and it was so cool to actually have that acknowledged, even via a sterile, unencouraging form letter!

So I’ll keep encouraging my kids to try anything and everything they want to – just give it a go! Who knows? They might just might be a natural. Or they might suck. Just any aspiring writer. Either way you’ve learned something about yourself Important thing is that you try and that you have fun in the trying. And those of us who’ve entered writing competitions and not got anywhere understand this well. Especially frustrating if you’re like me and frequently get one judge who marks really high (last comp I got full marks from one judge and my second entry in the same got only 5 marks deducted!), one who marks fairly high and one who seems to loathe your writing with a passion thereby scoring you so low you don’t have a show of finalling. Funny how the nasty comments and the low score takes the shine off all the really great comments and the high score. Then there’s the next stage: those of us who’ve finalled but don’t place. Funny how the thrill of finalling can be lost and you feel like you’ve failed for coming 4th or 5th or 6th. Boy, do I ever draw on that lesson when I have to bolster up my kids – like when my son came in the top 10 for cross country every single practice but because he was away a couple of times it dragged down his average and he wasn’t chosen for the interschool team. Even if he didn’t make it to the team, in my eyes he was a success because he tried his best. He couldn’t help being away on a school trip for one practice and being too sick to go to school for another. No it’s not fair, but life’s not always fair. And he shouldn’t give up trying… and neither should I.

So keep trying, all you writers out there. My New Year’s resolution is to file my scoresheets away and not to look at the nasty ones again… yeah… riiiiiight! :-). I’ll only think of the positive comments from the judges who scored me highly and can’t wait to see my writing in print. And I’ll gird my loins (um… maybe my current wip is crying out for another love scene? God, I hope not!) and get another ms ready for another competition and get some more queries out there. You gotta be in to win!

December’s reading list:

-Love & Other Excuses by Jane Westaway
-Circle of Three by Patricia Gaffney
-Flirting With Danger by Suzanne Enoch
-The Playboy Doctor’s Proposal by Allison Roberts
-Mistral’s Kiss by Laurell K. Hamilton
-Upon The Midnight Clear by Sherrilyn Kenyon
-Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow
-Thin Air by Rachel Caine
-Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn
-Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow
-Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow
-The Devil’s Right Hand by Lilith Saintcrow
-Saint City Sinners by Lilith Saintcrow
-Tinker by Wen Spencer
-Wolf Who Rules by Wen Spencer
-Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
-Undead and Unemployed by MaryJanice Davidson
-Undead and Unappreciated by MaryJanice Davidson
-Undead and Unreturnable by MaryJanice Davidson
-Undead and Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson
-Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson
-Cold As Ice by Anne Stuart
-Flight Lessons by Patricia Gaffney
-He Loves Lucy by Susan Donovan
-Trouble in High Heels by Christina Dodd

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2008!



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