A #summer of #writing & #motherhood, part 2: Experience Does Not Always Inspire Learning.

A lovely summer day, the kind of day that inspires so much hope and happiness in little ones, especially when:

“We go to the carnival today!”

Biff said it the moment I opened the boys’ door that morning. He talked about it all through breakfast, all through the agony of waiting for Grandma to come at lunchtime. He plowed through his food in a few minutes and literally hung by the door. He peed on command in the potty, found his shoes and sat without kicking.

We met my kid brother and his family, up from Arizona to visit relations, for an afternoon of kiddie rides and giggles. Yes, this the same place I wrote about previously that grips a peculiar air during the off-season, when all is metal bones and concrete in the cold.

But in summer’s light, sweet air, the heebie-jeebies are forgotten. Smiles abound.


Biff and Grandma–yay, carousel!

Until, of course, this:


It was one of the last rides of the afternoon. Bash had been throwing tantrums, while Biff had been an excellent listener. I felt he deserved a reward, and could pick the next ride. Of course, he picked the ferris wheel. Why not? We had ridden it last year without  trouble. He jumped about in line, beyond stoked, and sat quite still in his seat, enamored with the heights. I, of course, was petrified that he’d make a sudden move at any given moment, and gripped his arm and shoulder the entire ride.

And then, we were back to the ramp, our turn done. I let go.

I let go.

I let go, and he ran from the bench and fell off the ramp and his feet in the air and head down and I heard the screams and saw the blood and thought my boy, I killed my boy, my boy is dying right in front of me because I let go.

I cry even now writing this.

I gripped him and the towels on his head as people swarmed to me, to us. Bo got Bash and Blondie to my relatives and ran over. Ambulance, a policeman, it all…and me crying and pleading for it to be okay and I was so sorry because I knew if I had held on….

Biff calmed down far, far sooner than I, I think because a policeman was talking to him for the first time. Biff asked him his name, what he was doing there, did he want to ride the ferris wheel, too? My little Biff spoke so smoothly without stopping that the EMTs and officer thought the chances of concussion too small to be a concern. After a stupidly long wait at urgent care where even Biff tells me to “Calm down, Mom,” we came home to see the others going on a short walk.

What did Biff do? He launched himself from the car to run down the street after them.

He tried to run alongside the cars as family departed.

He jumped from furniture because he was Superman.

He head-butted Bash because, brothers.

With me, holler-pleading all the while, “Didn’t you learn ANYTHING from those stitches?!?!”

Writing’s rather like that, on two fronts.

We get very set in our ways, we writers. Something works for us once, and superstition swells about it. If people liked the prologue we wrote that one time, let’s always use it. I wrote my best dialogue in that chair; therefore, I’m annexing it to my workspace. I only get good ideas at dinner. I can only write in complete silence. These ruts form, and form quickly.

But life doesn’t “do” ruts. The other prologues kinda suck. The chair breaks. The new work schedule has you on the job right through dinner. Kids dare to age and, like, need stuff.

As writers, we’ve got two choices: despair, or crack on. I’ve done the despairing, and let me tell you, it does you about as much good as a fall off the ferris wheel ramp. What does cracking on mean? It means taking what you’ve learned from your environment’s changes and adapting. It means learning to write with noise, to write in any position, to try new story structures and styles. It means trying, learning, growing, just as our characters do when conflict rises in their worlds.


It occurred to me while pulling Biff and Bash apart yet again that experience and learning do not always go hand in hand. It seems to, because in books that’s how writers so often have it work out. It makes the plot all nice and tidy, don’t you know. Well, you don’t know, because sometimes, human nature just doesn’t jive that way. Bash, who got stitches in June from running around the house and crashing into a wall’s corner, continues to run around the house. Biff…well I told you about him. Even Blondie, who got stitches last year from jumping on the bed, continues to jump on furniture (sans beds) and trampolines any chance she gets.

That night after urgent care, with me still in tears wondering how, how can we keep these kids from killing themselves, Bo said, “With these guys, the only way they’ll stop moving is if they can’t move. It’s going to take a broken limb. Or two. Or probably three, knowing them.”

And I think we need to remember that our characters’ lives can be like that, too. Job wasn’t tested with only the loss of wealth, or only the loss of a loved one. He lost his entire family and all he possessed, even his health, before God blessed him anew. When a character totally alters over something piddly, we as readers call it out because we know human nature doesn’t switch so suddenly between “nice” and “jerk.” It evolves in time, and time rarely paces problems for our convenience. So why should we make it convenient for our heroes? Rather a boring read, I’d think.

Though I admit, I wouldn’t mind some boring days on the mother-front, such as yesterday, when all three were content with little super-hero cars built from Legos. I watched Biff fly the little Superman around and make friends with Doomsday. I remembered his feet in the air, the blood. I grabbed him, kissed his head.

And found myself chasing him down the hall because he’d grabbed the helicopter Batman from Bash’s side of the table and was now laughing maniacally from the bathroom with Bash ready to inflict fists of vengeance. Biff’s is a spirit that simply cannot be broken.

And yes, despite everything, I love it.



51 thoughts on “A #summer of #writing & #motherhood, part 2: Experience Does Not Always Inspire Learning.

  1. My son is only 18 months old and I’m already getting a glimpse of this life! He sticks his hands in the dog’s mouth and cries when he gets bit but is right back at it 5 minutes later!!

    You sound like a great mom! I’m so glad your boys are okay and it wasn’t your fault he got hurt! I read a book once on parenting boys that was like, “you’re not so much parenting as trying to keep them alive.” 😂

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading as well as for your kind words. Keeping them alive is right! When they were around 18months one boy pushed the other down the stairs. I STILL have to keep the stairs blocked since the top is so often where the most vicious wrestling happens. Heaven help all mothers of sons!:)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m trying to remember this. I saw my godparents a few days after the fall; my godmother, once a nurse, explained her own panic when one daughter ran into a table corner, and my godfather described the bizarre slow-motion feeling of helplessness when their other daughter fell down the stairs right in front of him. I try to remember that this all happens, that it is so much just “kids,” and that I’m bound to be dealing with far more in the future. Oy. 😉
      And thanks for feeling the fab! xxxxxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

      • My darling, that is spot on. I also remember the slow motion of that second and she was gone. and you will deal with much more. There’s a bit for fiction — I always had a terror of train wheels, undercarriages and that gap between the train and the platform. Talk about facing your fears because I ran to the end of the train and I got on the tracks and I went under it. SO just think of all the things you can use that way. To me writing is not fecking sitting with plot charts and diagrams and story arcs. I know many do this –and I am not dissing them –but for me you are then fitting your characters on that plot arc. There is no blood and guts in the writing. It should all be about goals, conflict, flaws, fears, facing these things, doing things you would never do, That is why I never ever plot and I never know where the hell I am going next. Ever. What I do know is I will torture my characters till that last page largely because of their failure to watch and learn to stop going back and repeating their flawed behaviour until they’ve been knocked to their redemption. I have to say, I do get laughs at it. You know, where you see them swearing to do something different, like be nice, and then thinking…why should they? My last heroine was an ideas’ woman. That was her greatest strength, so forge on, letting nothing stand in her way, sorting this, manipulating that because she has these ideas. But ultimately this is her biggest flaw and I do admit to having a quite giggle when she’d be thinking, how this idea had just come into her head and it was far better than the last, the best she’d had since earlier when it all fell down about her etc etc. And I’d be sitting there peering through my fingers cos you just know this will not end well and that is what she needs to learn. I think readers can identify with people who repeat mistakes because we are none of us self aware. SO this biz of one wee thing happens and a character is changed leaves me flat.

        Liked by 1 person

      • AMEN! This, all this, you, awesome. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I think that’s why I don’t like planning too much, either. And yeah, some of my drafts turn out total shite because I changed the characters’ ages halfway through, or I realize my second stringers are more important than I thought. But that’s stuff we only see when we’re IN it. I think that when characters do what we CAN’T predict, then that’s a good sign about our characters being individuals and not just dolls we’re hopping about.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I liked writing to doing a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there but not fitted together. My greatest pleasure, even when they seem to be is throwing them in the air, seeing where they land. xxx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oooo, yes! I rather like that, too! It’s fun because I discover another new connection between characters or a goings-on I didn’t think of before. Of course this hits me in the midst of mothering. Thank goodness for sticky notes!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Great point re the dolls my darling. I just see so much sloppily written stuff, especially in a certain genre, where it’s plain this or that whatever, HAS to happen now cos we are at a certain point in our diagram. Jeeso, could characters behave like people not dolls… xxxxxxxx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Jean, what a roller coaster ride you’ve been on—even if you aren’t at the carnival. I shouldn’t laugh, but it reminded me of the time I let go of Libby on a small merry-go-round in northern Thailand. Within seconds she was ‘thrown’ by Daisy Duck’ and I was in tears too. She turned 36 yesterday, so you know she survived. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Daisy Duck, you evil witch! But laughing is okay. I’m trying to let it be okay, anyway. I mean, I’m flippant enough about how Bash lost a chunk of his eyebrow with that running into the wall business. I think it’s because I SAW everything that happened to Biff, and because I was right there. With Bash and Blondie, their injuries came from playing with other kids–that’s, um, the “acceptable” injury, I guess? I don’t know. Parent-brains have weird logic, sometimes. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Come on, Jean. Every injury is acceptable and unacceptable.It’s just part of your kids exploring and growing up. You don’t want them to suffer but you do want them to learn. I love that you drop by my posts.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I know from experience, and to my recent cost that kids tend to bounce whereas adults tend to crash. Most times they recover in no time. Best of luck with the nippers, they are, I admit, truly hard work!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Jean- sigh. Poor guy, and poor mommy! Hopefully your heart has stopped racing now, and hopefully they’ll give you some time before the next injury!
    On the writing front, interesting take on character growth! I’ve been thinking about that lately- how much focus is put on making characters grow, and how unlike real life that is. It’s not that we don’t learn from our mistakes…but how often DON’T we? And what ever happened to letting characters have their ‘fatal flaw’ …the one that they never get over and that derails them in the end?
    A pleasure to read as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, exactly, Friend! I think we’ve come to expect this “characters have to grow/change” that we don’t know how to handle when they DON’T. I never saw the film, but I read enough about La La Land to know that the romantic couple didn’t end up together because neither really got over their flaws. And this astounded people! Me? I think that was a perfectly fine storytelling move. Some people, fake and real alike, just don’t change.
      Though I’m praying Biff does, at least to the point where he doesn’t run into traffic…bad enough Bash does that already with a bag of rocks swinging about his head, UUUUUGH….


  5. Ah… the joys of parenthood. A great article, Jean. And you’re right of course – we also parent our characters and while we nurture and create them, we then need to stand back and let them fly – and crash… There are a number of otherwise really good books I’ve read, where the author clearly didn’t want his creations to suffer too much. And then there’s what happens to them AFTER they’ve suffered… You touch on a really interesting issue here. I’ll be teaching about writing believable characters in the autumn term at Northbrook, so this article is a very timely reminder about an aspect that is often overlooked. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay, I’m helpful! 🙂
      For all the love I have for the Harry Potter series, your words here nail why I can’t jive with that Harry Potter play. His arc was done, the story with that cast was done. DONE. But even Rowling can’t seem to let them go, and has to keep fidgeting with these characters on her social network feed, and then this play, which derails the simple, elegant close she had to her series. And now what? Ugh, I don’t know. Just let your characters go through their hell, and then let them be DONE.

      Liked by 1 person

      • THANK YOU! A friend and fellow Potter-fan read it and was sorely disappointed. I know some people have totally loved it, but one online reviewer really nailed the problem to me: the Potter series was a mystery series wrapped up with fantasy trimmings. Every book had its whodunnit arc that contributed to the satisfaction of every story, and then the series. But the play didn’t have that in any shape or form.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. So glad he’s ok. I felt like crying – for you! Because of the curse of the mother’s guilt; we can’t help feeling at fault for every little setback in our children’s lives. I can see the parallels with writing. Life is change when you least expect it, but this is not always reflected honestly in stories and we indeed learn very slowly; many of us go back and do the same dangerous thing again and again and again, yet in some stories, the characters have gained such insight or wisdom through… a one off experience? Pah!
    Lovely post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to start saying “Pah!” from now on. With a dismissive wave. Because that’s awesome. 🙂
      And yes, I’m trying to tell myself about mother’s guilt, and that this go right on happening. It’s just so strange for Bo and me because neither of us ever got injuries like this growing up. I saved all my insane acts of adventure for my stories, and Bo for his comic books. 🙂


      • Glad you like “Pah!” And absolutely said with a dismissive wave 🙂
        Let’s hope he’s doing a ‘job lot’ and getting all of his ‘bounces’ out of the way while he’s still young and can heal and repair quickly. Or maybe he’s preparing for a life as an extreme sports adventurer or a movie stunt double – eek! I’m probably not helping. I’ll shut up. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. My heart ached for you when I read this. I could see the *same* thing happening to one of the girls at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk’s Carousel. I went through a similar phase with Rilla when she was younger: broken elbow at the kids’ playground at the indoor mall (Yep. She fell off the damn octopus. Of course I never saw any other kid have an accident there….) and she had at least one or two other fractures. Can you believe I’ve spaced out the details? And it’s not the ECT!! Trust me. 😉

    Sigh. Oh well. What can we do, except write it all out!
    I love the photos, as always – especially the last one.
    Sending you love, sweet Java Queen of my Heart!
    Lady Dy of the Caffeine Bean

    p.s. Today the first preview for the film version of “A Wrinkle in Time” was released.
    I was, um, not thrilled with it! 😦 Plus, to add insult to injury, they played snippets of someone covering Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” in the background – I don’t know who the singer was, but it was all wrong! Sorry to go off-topic – can I blame it on the extra-strong coffee I’m having at 4:00 p.m.? Ahhhh – I’ll pay for it later, but I have to have it! XOXOXOXOX

    Liked by 1 person

    • YUM coffee!
      Yes, I admit I was ho-humming over that trailer, too. Disney’s got a bad habit of tweaking characters to appeal to the widest range of viewers possible; I HATED when they did that to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and then that total upheaval with Lois Lowry’s The Giver–UGH!
      But you know, you’re right about the fractures happening anywhere. I see these guys running around, jumping from impossible heights, and have realized that it’s a miracle we made it this far without anything worse. We count our blessings, right? (After the stitches, of course. 😉
      Lots of love right back atcha, Lady Dy of Caffeinia!
      Empress Java Jean of Beandom xxxxxx 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m not surprised you were crying.
    I would have been crying too.

    One forgets that toddlers can suddenly race off without a pause.
    I’m always on my feet with my nieces boys. Have learned to put my foot down
    when they want to do something that can only end one way.

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. Unfortunately bad things happen. We can’t micro manage everything. I know this so well. Parents can’t be everywhere. I’m sure mum and dad were kicking themselves when I broke my other arm and had it potted up by the same doctor who had taken the pot off my other arm 2 hours earlier. But it was just a kid being a kid. But thanks to my time machine I can tell you are still going strong in 2019, Bo is doing just fine and the kids are still being kids (maybe not Blondie).

    Liked by 1 person

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