THE BOOK OF KID: the origin story

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BookOfKidCoverI didn’t write THE BOOK OF KID. My daughter’s third-grade class did. I just published it. Their teacher, Ms Diamond, asked her students to give their parents some child-rearing advice. And it turns out they have a lot to tell you (spoiler alert: they want you to get off Facebook and play with them.)

It started as the classroom project for the school auction. I thought I’d get involved. After all, I like books. And I had a printer. Match made in Heaven.

The kids made a list of stuff they wanted their parents to know. For example, my daughter wanted me to know that “Just because we are little versions of you, doesn’t mean we act like you.” Which is interesting, because we look nothing alike.

From their list, each child picked one snippet of advice as the caption to a picture they drew. The picture was then traced onto foam, which became the cut for a color print. Then each 8.5″ x 11″ page was bound accordion-fashion into a book. The winning bid for the book was $800.

Since the class made two copies of their print, I had a complete set which was then scanned and put into a book-book with the rest of the students’ advice. I have to say, it’s really heartbreaking, and if I had a little more editorial control, I might have sat them down and said, “So let’s start with all the stuff your parents do that you really like.” Because it’s not so pleasant to realize how much your kids notice. Like, how often we’re on our phones or how often we complain about someone else.

Because the impetus for the book was a fundraiser, it only seemed right that the royalties from the sale of the book would be donated. We discussed it, and the students were given three options: 1) the money would go to their school; 2) the money would be donated to the middle school that many of them will attend in sixth grade; or 3) the children would donate the money to another elementary school in Oakland Unified School District.

To make the decision, Ms. Diamond didn’t just ask for a show of hands; she made them write opinion pieces. What were the pros and cons of donating money to the neighborhood middle school? The kids had to address tough questions that accompany any gift. What would the school spend it on? What if the kids wanted the money to be spent on computers but it went to something more boring, like school supplies?

After a month of discussion, each child wrote an essay and read it to the class. A blind vote was taken. The winner? Another elementary school in Oakland. Stay tuned to figure out which school will receive the royalties generated by the book sales.

The book is available on Amazon and Create Space as well as Diesel Books and Pegasus Books.

OH, and here’s what some superstar grownups had to say about THE BOOK OF KID:

“A great reminder for parents of kids of all ages: Kids are taking notes every time we swear, check our phones compulsively, or say something negative about someone else. This book is an inspiration to be the best role models that we can be. Moreover, this advice from children to parents mirrors what research shows is best for them; sometimes kids really do know best!”
Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents 

“The Book of Kid is evidence that kids hear and see and know more than we sometimes give them credit for. This book is chocked full of sound advice from kids to parents, advice that will help us be our best selves and also the parents our kids need. Read this book and then go play, listen, hug and challenge your kids. They’re begging for it!”
Kate Hopper, founder of Motherhood & Words & author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers

“This little book has the potential to transform lives – if parents follow the sage advice in these pages, relationships can improve, children will thrive, and the benefits will radiate out into the world with positive repercussions for generations to come. I highly recommend this book for parents of young children everywhere.”
–Nina Lesowitz, co-author of the bestselling titles Living Life as a Thank YouWhat Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail?; and The Grateful Life.

“If you don’t want to wait until your child grows up to find out how you could have been a better parent, read this book of heartfelt and surprising third grade wisdom. These children know better than many adults what is really important. Their beautifully illustrated jewel of a book has a prominent place in the waiting room of my child psychology practice.”
–Lucinda Cummings, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

“Listen to your children, Put down your phone, swear less, don’t bad mouth family–easily the best parenting advice I’ve ever read, and straight out of the mouths of funny, honest, wise kids.”
Ann Imig, founder of the national live storytelling series, video-sharing company, and acclaimed book LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

Vacation Responder: Technical Difficulties

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oldcomputerDon’t want to deal with email on your vacation? Blame it on your parents.

SUBJECT: OFF THE GRID AT MOM’S HOUSE

Thank you for your email. I am out of the office from October 8th to October 31st and unable to read, retrieve or otherwise attend to any correspondence until I return to the office on November 2nd. I have no wifi or 4G or anything because I am staying with my parents and they still live in the dark ages.

If this is an emergency, you could try to email me at my mom’s compuserve email, but honestly, but since they still have dial-up, which only seems to work between the hours of 2pm and 4:30pm (unless someone calls on the line), I think you’re better off just waiting until November.

Best,

[YOUR NAME]

My Eulogy (rough draft)

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I’m getting on a plane tomorrow. In the past, before I had children, and if that plane were flying over the ocean, I would send my brother a list of the bills I still needed to pay that month and their account numbers. In retrospect, I suppose I could have just paid the bills before I left but somehow that never occurred to me.

 

These days I figure that if someone needs to find out what I owe and to whom, they could just google it (I think adsense has a cookie for that). But I’m still worried about what my loved ones will do if I die tomorrow. Do the kids know where their Social Security cards are? (Probably not. I don’t even think they know what they are) Do they know we still have one outstanding library book?

 

And most importantly, do they know what they’d say at my funeral? I mean, if I go down tomorrow, they’ll have to come up with something by Sunday and who can write under that kind of pressure? I know I can’t.

 

So I thought I’d write a draft my eulogy here that my husband can use as a template.

this came up when I googled “Death Bouquet”

(Note to my husband: just think of it as a working draft and please feel free to add your own thoughts and comments)

(Oh, and note to my mom: I don’t think Matt knows I have a blog, so if you read this and the plane goes down, could you let him know this is here? Thanks.)

Janine Noelle Kovac, known to friends and family as “Zippy” (I wasn’t, but who’s gonna know? And besides, this is my last chance to embellish the truth) was a loving wife and doting mother nearly all of the time.

Oh, man. This is harder than I thought.

Janine would have celebrated her 30th birthday this month (technically true. Not technically true: that I would have celebrated my 30th birthday this year.)

I could give a list of things I liked: classical music, raw almonds, my kids. And a list of things I didn’t like: cockroaches. FOX News. Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Maybe I could list some of my favorite quotes. I can’t remember what they are, but I know they’re in my goodreads feed.

(Note to Matt: to make everything easier for you I have changed all our passwords to “pencil.” Except for my goodreads password, which is “snowbird1882”)

I’m sorry Matt. I just can’t think of anything interesting to say about myself. But I do have the latest bio I submitted my last Write On Mamas post:

Janine Kovac works for Litquake, San Francisco’s literary festival. She lives in Oakland with her husband and three small children. She spends her free time wondering if it’s really free time or if she’s just forgotten to do something.

Mom, will you tell Matt it’s the best I could come up with?

God–What’s There To Say?

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firstcommunionA week from today my daughter will make her first communion. It’s a big deal. I know it’s a big deal. But I’ve only been Catholic for a year. I feel a little awkward attending classes with my daughter, trying to guide her through something that I myself don’t quite understand.

There’s so much I still don’t know. For example, am I supposed to genuflect every time I go into the pew at Mass or just the first time? Can I still use my rosary even though the cat ate one of the Our Father beads? I don’t know.

And for her—do we need to get a veil or something for next week? Or white gloves? We haven’t covered that yet.

I have no nostalgic anecdotes to share with my daughter. I don’t have that story that begins, “When I was your age” or “At my first communion” because our experiences are so different.

In my RCIA prep classes no topic was off the table. We talked openly about our feelings toward the church’s stance on marriage. We talked about the implications of having a Pope Benedict versus a Pope Francis and how it made us feel as parents to join a church that we felt still had to answer for the scandals brought to light in recent years.

I came to the church from a place that needed to take the doubt and cynicism that I had harbored for many years and reconcile it with the good feeling I had when I came to Mass. My daughter comes to church because we bring her there every Sunday.

So what I am going to tell my eight-year-old about what it’s like to be Catholic?

Two weeks ago we sat a table in the cafeteria across the parking lot, where we have the Faith Formation classes, filling out worksheets, sounding out words such as “chalice” and “Eucharist.” She was doing the little dance she does when she’s excited about something, wiggling a little from side to side. This was different from when we did homework together, something had shifted. We weren’t working in tandem anymore. A part of her mind was someplace else, a place I don’t have access to.

We were sitting in the green-tiled room that is so familiar to her. She had her first Easter egg hunt there at St. Augustine’s in that room. At Halloween, she paraded around the tables with her brothers. Last year during one of my RCIA classes, the family decorated Christmas cookies there, baked in the ovens in the cafeteria’s kitchen. This is her home. A place that keeps the figurines for the Nativity scene in the basement and has an organ in the balcony, and she knows this because we come to decorate the church several times a year. In November there’s an altarcito where we put out a picture of Grandpa. In October there’s Bless the Pets day when we bring the cat (to be forgiven for chewing on the rosary).

For her the church is very simple. The Pope is a nice man in a white hat. The God she knows is Social-Justice Jesus, who hugs lepers and reminds us to be nice to people. This is the community that she knows—this is the community she is going to join.

I watch my daughter. She’s glowing from the inside out, chewing on her lip. Her eyes are shining. And as she hums to herself and spells “communion” with three m’s, I realize that I don’t always have to be the one who teaches. She doesn’t always have to learn from me. That maybe this time I am learning from her and her idea of the church.

B is for Bittersweet

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BIf we were to chart my writing in Set Theory, there would be the set of all things written at Bittersweet Cafe and the set of all things not written at Bittersweet Cafe.

I suppose you could also chart my writing in terms of the set of all things written in Mary’s living room and the set of all things not written at Mary’s living room. But I have known Bittersweet longer than I have known Mary. Maybe that will be my “M” post.

I’m not sure how any writing is accomplished without the aid of chocolate, which is far easier to come by than your own office at a chocolate cafe. (As a matter of fact, I am writing this in an airplane—in February, as it turns out, instead of April, which is not the point and yet I’m going to leave that in anyway—where I am happily typing away and eating chocolate.)

I’ve heard that writers (as well as eccentric actors) often didn’t have phones but instead could only be contacted through the telephone at their pub of choice. OK—I made up the part about “often didn’t have phones,” but doesn’t that sound about right? Back when all the writers were drunk white guys who didn’t want to go home. You know, the Jacks: Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Jack Handey.

I always order a spicy hot chocolate. If it’s morning, I’ll order granola and yogurt to go with it. In the afternoon, I’ll take a tea cake. If it’s a Friday, chances are Mary and Joanne are there, too, eating chocolate gluten-free zucchini bread. If it’s a Tuesday, I’m at the other location, where I can get steel-cut oatmeal with dried coconut and cranberries.

Wednesday afternoon I’m with Chiara and she gets the smallest drop of hot chocolate allowed by her hypocritical mother (poured into a demitasse cup usually saved for shots of espresso).

The day of the week also tells you what I’m working on. On Tuesdays I meet with Rachel and write about the twins. On Wednesdays Chiara I work on the next installment of Violet and Ruby. If it’s Friday I’m working on the anthology with Mary and Joanne and if it’s any other day, I’m obviously working on my addiction to chocolate.

Giselle in Three Acts of Life

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“And then the Willis make him dance

(thank you wikipedia)

until he’s really tired and then they throw him in the lake.”

This was Chiara explaining the story of Giselle to four young boys under the age of four.

I was sixteen the first time I saw Giselle. American Ballet Theatre had come to San Francisco and Eddie Ellison (whom I was so sure had stolen my Walkman but to whom I said nothing because Eddie Ellison was really hot) snuck us into the Opera House and we watched from the standing-room-only area. Baryshnikov and Alessandra Ferri were dancing the leads. I was so star-struck by Alessandra Ferri that I waited at the artists’ entrance and got my first-ever autograph. Duncan Cooper snuck into the dressing rooms and stole what he claimed was Baryshnikov’s shoe.

The second time I saw Giselle, I was in it. As Giselle’s double in the second Act. The night before I’d boarded an overnight train that left Verona at midnight and arrived in Graz, Austria at 8 in the morning. I made my way from the train station to the ballet studio, took company class and afterwards the director said, “What are you doing today?”

Uh, going to Vienna to see what their ballet company is like?

“Because we need a dancer with brown hair for tonight’s performance of Giselle.”

So I stayed for rehearsal, “danced” in the performance, (which really meant being strung up in a harness and being floated across the stage), stayed in a B&B paid for the ballet company. I stayed a week (included one return trip to Verona to get fresh clothes, also paid for by the company), and sat in on a boatload of boring Act I rehearsals. I actually still have a small Austrian pension since ballet dancers are government employees.

The third time I saw Giselle was today sitting next to Chiara in the balcony of the San Francisco Opera House.

And Now For Something Cheery

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I’m lying. This isn’t cheery at all. It’s a thought I had (I’ve been having a lot of them lately) about babies and mothers. Particularly this time of year when every day provokes me to reach back four years ago. What was happening four years ago this day? Four years ago this day (January 8th) we got a call from  Wagner’s doctor. He was eight days old. His weight hovered around the one-pound mark. He’d had a pulmonary hemorrhage. He had blood in his lungs.

There’s a tribe of Native Americans whose custom was for the mother to carry her stillborn baby until his soul was safely transferred to the other side. The vital organs were removed and replaced with sawdust and she’d carry the tiny corpse in a sling that she wore with her everywhere. I know why this is so.

We always talk about the soul as if it is something that resides on the inside of a person’s skin. But really one’s soul is the radiance that is emitted, like rays of sun. And so a mother carries a child for nine months and his rays roll together with his mother’s, like fog and sea air. When he is born, he takes some of her radiance with him. And if he dies before he grows into his spirit, his mother needs to hold the body until she can reabsorb his soul back into her skin.

There are parts of the corporal body that are not matter.

This is what pulls her shoulders to the ground, why she slouches. Why there is no color in her face, her jaw is weighted and drags the corners of her mouth down. They buried part of her soul when they put that little body in the coffin. They trapped it in that little pine box. On Sundays she goes to visit that bucolic place, the green hills and the large oak tree. Wisps of hemlock green waft into the air, like smoke escaping from a smoldering church. They find their way back into her body—through her ears, her nostrils, the pores on cheeks, the hair on her arms. She drinks in this lost life—not his, but hers.

This grieving process would have healed much more quickly had they just let her carry a corpse with a ribcage full of straw.

The funny thing about memory is that it gets folded. I didn’t hear about this anecdote until a few years ago. And yet, the story is fused with the memory of standing over Wagner that night on January 8th, 2010. Back when reaching for hope was like trying to find the light switch in a dark room. Because there’s a physical aching after your children are born. Like an amputee. If I could have just held Wagner. Close to my heart. Or better yet, inside my skin. It could have healed us both.

Life at Our House

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©DeluxePhotography2012This year I decided to do something different with our Christmas cards (in addition to actually mailing them).

You see, I just couldn’t send out a blank card with our family picture in good faith. It shows you what we look like, (sort of, it’s actually from Christmas 2012) but it doesn’t give you the faintest idea of what we’re like. See how quiet, still, and fully dressed we are? Yeah. That never happens. We cling to this one photo with the idea that we could be like the clean and quiet, fully-dressed people in the photo and you could put a card like this on your refrigerator and be fooled into thinking that we look like this, but really, this photo is a bold-faced lie. True, we do smile a lot, but we’re also a lot stickier, stinkier, and more naked than any Christmas card could (or should) convey.

So I thought I’d have our family answer the 10 questions that James Lipton asks his guests at the end of each episode of Inside the Actors Studio. If you’re a fan, you know that these questions were adapted from Bernard Pivot questionnaire. If you’re not a fan, you can either take my word for it or look it up on Wikipedia. Or you can decide you don’t care. Doesn’t matter. These 10 questions give you an idea what it’s like to be in the Kovac household in 2013 in a way that a family photo cannot.

Here goes.

1. What is your favorite word?
Michael: Yes!
Chiara: My favorite word is Oompa Loompa.
Wagner: (to Janine) Your favorite word is “Mama.”
Chiara: (to Wagner) Your favorite word is “L-o-o-o-v-e and kis-issssses.”
Michael: Can I have another bowl of cereal?
Janine: Let’s go on to the next question.

2. What is your least favorite word?
Chiara: My least favorite word is…that’s really hard. Hey, wait—what are you writing down? Why do you need our favorite words and our least favorite words?
Matt: Kumquat.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Chiara: What does that even mean?
Janine: It means, “what helps you be imaginative and what helps you think of God.”
Chiara: Um… my brain?
Wagner (pointing to the laptop): Are these letters of the alphabet? Is ‘W’ here? ‘W’ is a letter of the alphabet.

4. What turns you off? (Rephrased to: “What makes it hard to be creative?”)
Chiara: (in the doorway from under a blanket) People who are really loud and make it hard [for me] to think with my brain. (to brothers) Come here and be part of the dragon. Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year!
Boys: (chanting under blankets) Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year!
Chiara: Be careful! Don’t step on the kitty!

5. What is your favorite curse word? (Rephrased to “What do you say when you are mad?”)
Michael: Stinky Face!

6. What sound or noise do you love?
At this point Janine is following her children around with a laptop, yelling questions at them. She walks in on a game of “Let’s Pretend to Cook the Cat” in which Wagner is the cat and the guest bed is the oven. Janine decides that she loves the sound of laughing children.

7. What sound or noise do you hate?
The children are still playing their delightful game, but Janine is afraid it might quickly devolve into sounds she hates: children screaming. Mannheim Steamroller’s “Carol of the Bells” is a close second to screaming Kovac children.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”)
Michael: A fireman!
Chiara: A teacher who teaches ballet!
Wagner: I want to be a arch-ee-ol-oh-gist.
Michael: Yeah, I want to be that, too.

9. What profession would you not like to do?
Chiara: A sea diver! It seems dangerous.
Michael: A fireman!

10. What would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Chiara: Welcome, Chiara!
Michael: Welcome, Michael!
Wagner: You mean Jesus?
Janine: Yes, Jesus. What do you think Jesus will say when you go to Heaven?
Michael: Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel! I made it out of clay!
Wagner: I don’t know what Jesus will say but I think it will be something not what I think Jesus will say.

That pretty much sums it up. Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy New Year! See you in 2014.