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Ha! Try the Terrible Twos when (they think) they’re Superheroes!

I recently posted about my efforts to raise my children to be superheroes.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a few things into consideration:

Damage to the human body when a child attempts to fly. Off the roof of your house.

Ease with which a toddler can climb a ladder that is up and leaning against the eaves of your roof.

Unsympathetic expressions you must endure of paramedics, police, spouse, parents, in-laws, and later, child protective service employees, as you explain your philosophy of child-rearing to them.

And, most importantly, you are in big trouble if your kids decide you are a super villain.

I, unfortunately, fell victim to that last oversight.

This tragic misunderstanding came to light last night. Evidently, they decided I was El Diapero, a dastardly villain who wields super-absorbent diapers as his primary weapon, and pajamas with dinosaurs and/or rocket ships on them as his backup.

Given it was bedtime, this led to trouble.

He's so evil he's using the Jedi Choking Trick On Himself

The Brown Smear, bane of diapers far and wide

The Brown Smear, as we shall call him, was up first. His brother wisely hid behind the tent and egged his brother on as The Brown Smear kicked and punched me, delivering a blow-by-blow commentary to his cowering brother as he bravely wriggled free at ever opportunity, no matter his state of dress.

Or undress.

I mentioned a tent. This is a small dome tent, erected in their room as a sort of Fortress of Awesome Fun. I’ve found that you can take any object, no matter how pedestrian, and if you put it in an inappropriate setting, toddlers deem it suddenly “the best fun ever.”

I’ve gifted my children with many such installations:

  • Fist Through Wall.
  • Head In Hands.
  • Unacceptable Language In Front Of Brawling Brats.
  • Fist Through Another Wall.
  • Head Inadvertently, But Really I Should Have Seen This Coming, Through Wall.
  • Fist Through Wall II: Electric Boogaloo (followed immediately by Anguished Daddy In The ER, Getting His Burns Bandaged, and shortly thereafter by Electrician With Excessive Body Hair and Butt Crack Showing Repairing Wiring).
  • Weeping Uncontrollably In Front Of Car Parked In ER Parking Lot Because Of Their Antics.

All grand entertainment as far as The Toddler Twins are concerned. But I digress.

You’d think the pummeling of a toddler would be of no consequence to an adult male, even one as grossly out of shape as I am.

You’re forgetting one important factor:

Volume.

The high volume of blows delivered, and the high volume of the screams that accompanied those blows.

The Brown Smear has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, and his brother, who I’ll refer to as The Tantrum, only fed him more energy with his encouragement and instructions.

Despite these odds, I did prevail over The Brown Smear, consigning him to the obscurity of a nighttime diaper and pajamas with a shark on the front.

Total humiliation. Daddy 1, The Brown Smear, well, he got some good blows in, so I’ll give him 8 points.

Crap, I’m losing.

Able to break sound barriers with a single scream

The Tantrum, sworn enemy of peace and quiet

I spend the next forty-five minutes chasing down The Tantrum, get him out of his diaper, and then spend another twenty minutes chasing The Pantsless Tantrum.

I would have caught him sooner, but I slipped on a puddle of … liquid, and threw out my back.

Once I had The (Pantsless) Tantrum pinned, I started to undo his pantsless state with my trusty double-action super-absorbent diaper.

I always carry at least one on my person at all times. Don’t worry, it’s legal. I have a CCD, or Carry Concealed Diaper, permit.

This is when I discovered the Tantrum’s second super power, the first being screams that you wish only dogs could hear.

The “Hand Sandwich.” He smacks your head with both hands, making a ‘sandwich’ of your face. With unclipped fingernails, it can be quite a painful weapon.

But I persevered, working through the haze of stars and little cartoon birdies circling my head to get him out of the old and into the new.

Just when the striped “Where’s Waldo” pajama top was almost on and victory seemed at hand, The Brown Smear recovered from the humiliating PJs that had left him curled up in a run-around-the-tent-screaming-with-excess-energy ball.

He started jumping on me. I’m sitting on the floor, bent over The (Now Pantsed) Tantrum, an easy target.

Arms come around my neck just as the weight of my son’s body makes itself, rapidly and unexpectedly, apparent on my weary shoulders.

He slides off.

Jumps again.

This went on far longer than you’d think a toddler would find it interesting. Perhaps the different sounds of agony that erupted from my lips each time kept it intriguing to him.

It went on for a long time.

Then The Brown Smear did grow bored. And switched to kicking the small of my back.

The one I threw out when I slipped on that puddle of … liquid … while chasing The Pantsless Tantrum.

My superhero sons are not only dexterous and full of energy. They are diabolically clever.

I can only imagine the horror I would have endured if either of them had had what is known, in parenting parlance, as “poopy butts.” Sometimes, it is only this, the thought of the horror I escaped, that sustains me during my trying time of slow, painful recuperation.

That and the fact that in my diminished state, diaper-changing duties have fallen exclusively to the missus. Though I’ve noticed the boys whispering as they make furtive glances between her and the diaper stash.

I should probably warn her, but she’s been complaining all day about my “whining.”

On the bright side, my parenting skills are readily apparent. What else could have taught my children how to cooperate so effectively?

I’m so proud.

And now, a word from our sponsor: me!
 
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Posted by on 4 October 2012 in Conspiracies Out To Get Me, Life

 

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Are You Critiquing My Novel, Or Do You Just Hate Me?

Here’s a question for all you writers out there who are or have been members of critique groups. How do you critique the books you read?

I ask because I thought I knew how, but a recent experience has made me question that certainty.

When I first started writing, I was excruciatingly nervous about what other people would think of my work. To the point that I often revised the work to the third or fourth draft stage before I would show it to anyone. And, I’m ashamed to admit, in the very early days I did not react at all well to negative feedback.

As I grew into my craft, I learned a lot. A lot about writing and a lot about criticism.

I learned that yes, negative feedback is hard to hear, but it is also extremely valuable. It gives me glimpses into how people not close to the work and not intimately familiar with its creation react when they read it. It shows me the flaws I cannot see myself.

(This is much like parents’ inability to recognize that they have produced an exceedingly ugly child. They need friends (and strangers!) to walk up to them and say, over the vomiting, “Oh my God, that is a hideous child! Did you spray acid on its face right before you clubbed it with an oversize cheese grater?” You’re performing a public service: the parents learn never to take the child out without a paper bag over its head, and everyone else is spared having to look at a really ugly baby.)

My critiques evolved the same way. Very tentative, gentle, and for the most part, useless in the beginning. Over time, as I gained more experience and learned the value of honesty, I was more honest and less worried about offending.

So until this recent experience, I adhered to the philosophy, “Be honest. Be brutally honest. Do not lie, hold back, gloss over, or otherwise let any issue or flaw you see skate by. To do so is intellectually dishonest and a disservice to the author, the intended readership, and the craft.”

Given the level of impersonal rejection that an author faces when attempting to find someone to publish their book, you need to have a pretty thick skin to succeed in this racket. Thick enough to endure that rejection, and thick enough to not only face down this sort of critique, but to say ‘Thank you!’ afterwards, even if you’re choking on your own bile as you say it.

(And yes, I have experienced the delectable flavor of my own up-chuck while saying ‘Thank you!’ to a reader who found a lot to dislike in something I’d written.)

However, there is a risk to this approach. You risk so upsetting the author over a few serious issues that they completely reject the entirety of your critique, and they take away nothing from the time and effort you spent on their book.

Now the seasoned authors I’ve worked with, including one who will be having his third book published by a major house in the near future, have received and handled critiques that, at times, were devastating in their frankness.  And said ‘Thank you!’ after it was over.

But I’ve also dealt with writers who took the critiques very personally. Their response was to be defensive, histrionic, and so busy trying to refute my feedback that they didn’t listen to it.

(I know, I know, how can you refute something if you aren’t listening? I don’t understand it either, but I’ve seen it happen more than once – usually in Congress.)

Honestly, my view is these writers aren’t ready for prime time. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen, right?

Wrong.

We now live in the age of easy access to print-on-demand self-publishing where the cost of entry to the author, aside from the time spent writing, is zero.

Think about that. You can write a 1000 page book that consists of nothing but the phrase ‘Mmm, pie!” typed over and over again, upload it to Amazon, pick a generic freebie cover with the words, ‘Mmm, pie!’ on it in a large, friendly font, and put it up for sale. I bet I could do it in less than ten minutes. (Well, get it to the proof approval stage in less than ten minutes, anyway. And I’m guessing Amazon wouldn’t refuse to offer that book for sale as long as the formatting met their standards.)

I know agents and editors at publishing houses like to tout themselves as ‘gatekeepers’ of quality. While I think the traditional publishing system makes it a little too hard to break in due to economies of scale (X agents, X times 1 billion writers), there is some truth to that argument.

But now anyone can go on CreateSpace, Lulu, and a host of other sites to arrange for their books to be printed on-demand, or use free software like Calibre to create their own e-books, all of which can be sold on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Which means authors going the self-publishing route can entirely bypass the editing process.

Now I’m not knocking self-publishing. At the end of this year, that’s exactly the route I’m going to be pursuing for one of my books. So I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.

What I am saying is, if self-publishing is ever going to completely lose the stigma associated with it, we need a very high ratio of polished manuscripts to poorly rendered rough drafts.

Which takes us back to critiquing. If I’m working with people who are self-publishing, and I give honest but brutal critiques that trigger tantrums rather than thoughtful contemplation, I’m not just not doing any good, I’m actually making things worse for the self-publishing scene. Because now that author has decided I hate their book, I don’t get their book, I’m a complete idiot, or some combination of all three. And that means they will disregard everything I say, even the points that would normally be considered non-controversial.

So what should I do? Should I scale back the intensity of my critiques? Should I try to get to know each individual I’ll be critiquing before I read their book, so I can gauge just how much honesty I can get away with? Should I try to cushion the blows with excessive praise and compliments elsewhere, even if it isn’t fully deserved? Because I’d rather do some small amount of good than no good at all.

(It would also be nice not to be considered ‘the villain’ of a cohort because I give the ‘meanest’ reviews.)

So writers out there, what do you think? How can I save the legacy of English-language publishing in the 21st century, one critique of the time?

(No pressure.)

 

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