Waffles With Writers

Waffles With Writers: Betsy Kerekes

Dee-licious!

Hello and welcome to the latest installment of my sort-of-monthy bloggy interview show, Waffles with Writers, where I chat with a working writer over a carbo-loaded breakfast. Today’s guest is the lovely and talented author Betsy Kerekes. She the author of Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying and coauthor of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person and 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage. She writes newsletters and edits for a non-profit, supervises her three homeschooled children while keeping an eye on the toddler, and blogs at parentingisfunny.wordpress.com. She can also be found on twitter @BetsyK1.

She’s nice, too!

***

“Did I smell waffles?”

Hi, Betsy! Come on in. Pull up a chair. How do you like your waffles?

Thanks, Mike! I’m so honored to be here. As to my waffles, normally I just have syrup, but since this is a special occasion, I say go all out: gimme some whipped cream, blueberries and strawberries. I feel like living large today.

Then live large you shall. How did you get started in the advice book business? Was there an epiphany, an aha moment when you thought, “Hey, this stuff I’m doing might help others?”

There kind of was. I remember lying in bed one night running through a potential scenario with my kids, advising them how to handle whatever situation had befallen them, as I tended to do whilst trying to fall asleep, and I thought, these situations may never happen, but I should still write this stuff down.

And then I never did.

Months later, a publishing connection fell into my lap, so I decided to pitch the idea of a humorous parenting book. It was accepted, and I finally made good on the promise to myself to let the thoughts in my head come out and play.

Congratulations on your new book, Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying! How would you describe your own parenting style? Has your style changed as you’ve had more children?

I like to think my style is a decent mix of permissive and authoritative, in that I know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and know when to walk away. (But only when the dealing’s done, of course.)

My style has definitely changed. I’ve learned to let go of trying to be a perfect parent with a perfect home. I’ve become happier, accepting that I can’t achieve perfection. And that’s okay. I think my kids are probably happier as a result, too, since I’m less stressed and more able to focus on having fun with them. Fortunately, my older kids have been trained to clean up after themselves thanks to my earlier frantic years, so I guess it all worked out in the end.

What is the most awesome parenting moment that you have ever witnessed in public?

The first thing that comes to mind is something I witnessed while in the process of writing this book. Hence, it made its way into the book. I was at a playground and a mom of a boy and a younger girl were at the monkey bars. The boy made it across with ease, but the girl was crying because she couldn’t do it. The mom assured her daughter that her brother had had more practice. She told the girl, “Practice makes progress.” I respected that she didn’t use the usual trope of practice makes perfect, because in reality, no one can be perfect at everything. We can however, get much better with repeated effort. I found that to be a great lesson worth imparting to all children.

And what’s the worst? Because I gotta know.

Likewise at a playground, many years ago when my girls were young, the only other family there was a mom and her two sons. She wanted to leave. She told her boys it was time to leave. They kept playing. A few minutes later, she said, “Let’s go,” and they completely ignored her. I saw her throw nervous glances in my direction, and I knew she was afraid to discipline her boys in front of me. Though we’d barely gotten there, I was tempted to leave just to give her a chance to do what she needed to do, but I knew that would be unfair to my kids. We did eventually leave before her. She had long since given up trying to get her sons to come with her. I felt sorry for her. It’s too bad parents are afraid to lay down the law in front of strangers. No doubt her kids intrinsically knew that and were taking advantage. Ideally, she would’ve had them trained by then to know that when she says it’s time to go, it’s time to go—I say from my high horse. I’ve probably been in that same position at some point and have repressed the memory.

Most couples have a good cop and a bad cop. Who would your kids say is the more lenient disciplinarian?

My husband is Good Cop. I’m the one who lays down the law. I think that’s because I’m the more anal one who cares about a clean house and bedtime schedules. He’s far more laid back, but I love that about him. He balances me out when I get a little nutty.

I remember times, years ago, when he would look me in the eye to hold my gaze so I wouldn’t look past him into the messy playroom and say to me as he shut the door, “Just don’t look in there.” 

Well, thanks for stopping by, Betsy! Before you go, let me just ask you a quick question. I see that you have written a book in Polish! What’s it about?

Oh, how cool it would be if I’d really written a book in Polish. What you’re seeing is actually the Polish translation of my first book, 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage.

Oh, so you don’t speak…?

There’s also a Korean and Indian version. The Indian version is in English but reprinted by a in a way that makes it more affordable for locals, which I respect. It’s an honor that the book was found worthy of sharing in other countries.

That’s great, but I was hoping to get a Polish lesson.

By the way, these waffles are so good. I’m getting full. Could I have just one more?

Only if you ask me in Polish. So, no.

On Blogging, On Writing

A Purposeful Post: Part Two

They grow up so fast!
Sniff! They grow up so fast!

A couple weeks back, my blog pal, Harula, posted a writing exercise. The theme was “Purpose” and the idea was to complete the following four prompts with whatever spontaneous musings sprung to mind.

* When I was a child, I believed I was here to…

* As a teenager, I believed I was here to…

* As an adult, I believe I am here to…

* The most important thing life has taught me is…

The answers to the first two prompts can be found here. In this post, I get the last two:

***

As an adult, I believe I am here to…

…write. It’s trite for a writer to say this, but I do believe it. I hope that one of my books outlives me. I hope that it might be handed down to the next generation, the same way I gave my old children’s books to my son.

But my son is the big reason why I’m here – to raise him the best way I know how, which is almost certainly not as good as it should be.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to me, for I’m too solitary and regimented. Now that I’m a dad, I am in a sort of war with myself to resist these natural inclinations.

Fortunately, Ellen is better at this sort of thing. Not a moment goes by when I am not grateful for her presence, for it is she who shoves me back on the right parenting path on the occasions I become too hermit-ish.

I have one child. When people ask me why Ellen and I don’t have more, I have a stock answer: “My boy got all of our best traits,” I say. “A second child would get all the the genetic diarrhea.”

I’ve been told that this is not how science works, but I still choose to believe it.

Another reason I have only one child is because one child works for me. I don’t like messing with what works.

“Once you have two kids, three is easy,” a dad leading a parade of screeching moppets once told me.

“But you have four,” I pointed out.

“And once you have three, four is even easier,” he replied, his smile wide and condescending. It was the smile that got me. The smile said, “You don’t have what it takes, Buddy Boy,” and it stung because I knew he was right.

But I was also thinking, “Well, at least I’ll be able to pay for college, Mr. Smug Guy.”

That’s another reason why I’m here. I believe that, if possible, kids should graduate college no worse than flat broke. It troubles me that college debt is The New Normal. I will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening to my son. It’s hard enough to build up from nothing without having to begin one’s adulthood deep in the red.

The most important thing life has taught me is…

…that failure is not a big deal. I’ve spent much of my adult life screaming this fact from the rooftops. I’ve seen way too many people more talented than I give up on their dreams way too soon because the idea of failing is just way too terrifying.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Jealous?
And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Jealous?

I believe that almost every success I had is based on the fact that I’ve simply refused to stop trying. I love to repeat my old chestnut, “I got 114 rejections before my first book contract,” because I’m proud of it. I think that my many rejections say more about me than my one book does. It says that I will never give up.

Granted, it also says that I’m a little tweaked. But, hey, for a writer, that’s just par for the course.

So! What’s the most important thing that’s life has taught you? Tell me in the comments!

On Writing

Dragon Tales

This is Boris.
This is Boris. He bakes cookies.

One afternoon, I picked up Alex from school to find him holding a small, stuffed dragon. “Oh, how cute,” I thought, as he approached. Then I got a look at Alex’s face. At once I recognized that the existence of this plushy pal was, at best, a mixed blessing.

So to lighten to mood, I put on my Happy Dad face.

“Well!” I exclaimed with a wide smile. “Who’s this cute little guy?” I pet the dragon’s head.

“Boris,” Alex replied with a level stare. The stare spoke volumes. The stare said, “Wipe that grin off your face, buddy! You think this is funny? You think you’re being funny, Funny Guy? Well, trust me; you, sir, are NOT being funny.”

It turns out that neither Alex nor I like Happy Dad all that much. Happy Dad is a phony. So I put Happy Dad away, hopefully forever.

“Boris is homework, right?” I asked.

It was as if I had lit a fuse.

“Yes!” he exploded. “I gotta take him on an adventure! And then I gotta draw a picture! And then I gotta write a story about it! AND I have to do it by tomorrow! AND I have a math sheet! AND I have to do classwork I didn’t finish!”

I’ll say it right now. My boy gets too much homework. The little guy is only in first grade. When I was in first grade I whiled away entire afternoons drawing faces on my toes and using them to act out elaborate kitchen sink dramas. Alex never has time for such foolishness. All he does is work, work, work.

“Alright,” I said. “Let’s make this stupid thing as quick and painless as possible.”

On the car ride home, we kicked around possible Boris adventures.

“How about Boris hunts for buried treasure?” I said. “That could be fun.”

“How about he makes cookies,” said Alex.

“Or maybe Boris can get kidnapped,” I said. “Your essay could be a ransom note!”

“How about he makes cookies,” said Alex.

“Or, or, or, he could be accused of a crime he didn’t commit! Maybe your Bed Entourage thinks he killed Froggy and they put Boris on trial. But Froggy isn’t really dead, she’s just asleep.”

“How about he makes cookies,” said Alex.

Alex made other suggestions, too. Alex suggested that after Boris baked cookies, Alex could eat the cookies. Alex also suggested that there was NO WAY he was going to write more than three sentences.

“Well, if it’s an involved adventure, you might need to make it longer,” I said.

“I only have to do three,” Alex said.

“Yes, sure, but you might want to do more,” I said. “Oh! I have another idea for an adventure! How about Boris…”

And here I had my epiphany. At that moment I realized that I was the one who was preventing this assignment from being “as quick and painless as possible.”

Unlike me, my son is not a fan of writing. Not at all. For Alex, writing is something akin to torture. In my zeal, I forgot that Alex is not me.

Of course he doesn’t wanna do more than three sentences, why would he? And why, with his workload, would I suggest otherwise?

I had apparently replaced Happy Dad with Oblivious Dad. So I put Oblivious Dad away, hopefully forever.

“I like your cookie idea,” I said.

Ellen and Alex (and Boris) baked cookies. Then Alex and I worked on the Boris drawing and crafted three brief-and-to-the-point sentences. It wasn’t easy for Alex, but it was, as I  promised, quick and painless.

Unlike me, Alex is passionate about math and science. Making up math problems and messing around with snap circuits is the Alex equivalent of my childhood’s Big Toe Theatre. So, once his homework was finally done, he went off to play with Ellen’s calculator.

Maybe Alex will learn to love writing someday. That would be nice. I sure would love to share that interest with him. But I’ll be fine if Alex takes his math and science interests to the next level, too. All I want to do is support him — and make sure I don’t force my own passions on him.

And who knows? Maybe someday Alex will find a happy medium between math and writing. After he went off to play, I heard him refer to the calculator as “Mr. Calculator.” And Mr. Calculator later began a spirited dialogue with Lamby, one of the leaders of Alex’s Bed Entourage.

Oh, yes, there’s a storyteller in that boy. I can see it. But I won’t force it. It’ll come when it comes.

Boris’s visit caused more than his fair share of trouble that day. Not only did he cause angst for Alex, he also kept me up that night. That rotten, little dragon switched on my storytelling brain.

“What if Boris…” I thought as I settled into bed.

“Or what if…”

“Or what if…”

On it went until I finally fell into a fitful sleep.

And, the very next morning, the world was forced to deal with Crabby Dad.