Autism, family, Parenting, reading, writing

The Indistinct Howls and Grumbling Edition

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Seriously, this is what you people most want to read about? Well, I guess I asked for it when I included it as an option in the latest Twitter poll… But, sigh… And, well, I suppose this post is off to a good start.

Here’s what I’ve been grumbling about lately:

Muffin has been bingeing Dreamworks movies, particularly How to Train Your Dragon and the Ice Age series. He is presently obsessed with dragons. (I can hear some of you applauding his good taste.) I love dragons, too, and Ice Age. But every once in a while, it would be really nice for him to stop interchanging the discs at a nearly frantic pace, and watch something else for a little bit, maybe…

My writer’s playlist has run dry, feels hackneyed, and my ears are tired of it. Not that I’m never going to listen to any of these songs again. It’s just that, right now, I want something different, and I’m rather finnicky when it comes to selecting stuff like music…

I can’t seem to finish my tea while it’s still hot. It used to be mostly because of children, but nowadays it appears to have become its own thing. Groan…

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Work is progressing on Volume 2. Some of that results in lots of mumblings and complaints to self and the occasional howl…

I’m practically stalking my Goodreads page, hoping for amazing stats on Volume 1. It is being well-received, and there are some impending reviews which I know are going to be good. More than 170 people have entered my Goodreads giveaway (which ends Wednesday), and for a debut author, this is truly incredible. I guess I’m a little worried about this planing off, though, and that definitely results in howling…

I’ve hit a reading slump. I’ve knocked everything new off my TBR, except for Dawn of the Clans, which I don’t feel like starting right now. None of the new releases this spring are grabbing my attention, and this is generating a vaguely unsettling feeling…

The season finale of Riverdale was last week. This is now one of the only TV shows I regularly watch. Honestly, I don’t mind having to wait for the new season, I’m not 12. But the realization hit me that by October, by the time all the new episodes will be premiering, a whole lot will most likely be different in my life…

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Muffin will be starting preschool by the fall, if not before. While this is all good, because he’ll be able to receive all his services in one place, and I’ll certainly have more time to write, or even think about going back to teaching dance, it still means a big upheaval in our daily lives. That creates howling for a bunch of reasons…

As I think about the future, the fact that White Fang will be in high school in September is also not far from my mind. WHAT. HOW. DID. THIS. HAPPEN. I swear he was Muffin’s age just last month. Okay, it was more than 10 years ago. I am old. More than that, I just… How did he become so much his own person, who has this mind and personality and life that I’m learning about as we go — rather than being the expert on my small child? Because he grew up and discovered who he is and what he’s into, that’s why — and isn’t that what I tried so hard for over a decade to achieve? Insert wolf impression here…

My husband finally started reading Volume 1. Yes, it is among the great ironic moments of my life that some of the last people to read my first release are my immediate family. But the reason this is so momentuous for me is because my husband does not read fantasy or speculative fiction at all. (He once picked up a Frank Peretti novel circa 1995, and never finished it.) I’ve had to explain to him what a TARDIS is, that “faery” is a correct spelling, and the significance of Shroedinger’s Cat. He is so not a geek. Anyway, the fact that he got through the Prologue of Volume 1 and said, “This is really good!”, has intense personal meaning.

A-owwwwwwwwww…

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There are also some big personal things happening for a few people I know, and this gets to me, because I want to be able to help, and in some instances, I just can’t. Either I don’t live close enough, or it’s not my place to step in, and there’s really not much I can do other than stand back and watch developments unfold. I am a do-er, I like to participate in situations resolving, and know that it’s all going well. Especially when it concerns people I care about. So this is a tough bit.

A-owwwwwww…

Anyone have time to post a glowing review of Volume 1 to make me feel better?

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Autism, books, children's fiction, family, Parenting, reading

A Few Words on Children’s Books

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So, as part of my degree (Early Childhood Education), I had to take a course in Children’s Literature. Really, not that surprising when you think about it. But what did surprise me was that, on day one of the class, the professor said, “Just because it’s literature for children doesn’t mean it’s good literature.” And when you start to look at the criteria for determining the writing/reading quality of a book, this makes a lot of sense.

Throughout the 20th century, there was much debate among families and educators about what counted as “good” children’s books. As a parent (before I was a teacher), this is a subject that was constantly on my mind in bookstores and school book fairs and libraries. There really is a lot to consider. Is the style age appropriate? Does it fit with where your child is developmentally? Will the content have lasting meaning? Much more than just, “Oh, these pictures are cool.”

And even books are not one size fits all. Autistic children may be very picky readers. They may take issue with everything from the look of the illustrations (are they too bright? too unrealistic? too simple and boring?) to the content of the text (if it makes them sad, will they actually have a breakdown over it?).

When was younger, it didn’t take me long to figure out that I had a very sensitive constitution, and reading about certain topics were just plain off limits (for example, animal cruelty, war, people with terminal illnesses). This means I do not (and probably never will) read publications such as Stone Fox, The One and Only Ivan, Bridge to Terabithia, and Shiloh, and most likely shall continue to avoid them all at costs. (We were assigned The Giver one semester, and I literally threw it at the wall after 50 pages.)

But, (thankfully), there are still plenty of books that I can read to my own kids, that I think are great for all kinds of children, and that I’d definitely recommend as a parent and as a teacher.

Exhibit A: Dr. Seuss.

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Anyone who says Dr. Seuss is “outdated” because “nonsensical wording is harmful to the development of our children’s brains” has obviously never interacted with an actual human child. They do nonsense things on a regular basis. They use words that do not exist in mortal tongues. They take pride in this behavior. So, quite frankly, we should build more statues and grant more awards to the man who figured out just how to speak their language, and then was kind enough to write it down so that parents could get in on the gig.

Exhibit B: Diversity stories that focus much more on the story than “look, it has diversity”.

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In the mid 20th century, a whole lot of picture books were about Johnny and Jane, riding their bikes in the field while Daddy went to his office job and Mommy baked cupcakes all day. Simply not relatable to a ton of the American population after about 1900. So, when picture books including all the ethnic groups and city life and single parents who were janitors started becoming a real thing, many people were happy about it, as they should be. Books that simply represent different cultures or societies as a natural part of the story (like the works of Ezra Jack Keats, or the Knufflebunny tales) are very valuable to increasing literacy and growing tolerance.

Exhibit C: Animals behaving like people to teach kids everyday lessons.

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One of my personal favorites for White Fang was Franklin. This little turtle was just an average guy, trying to get through very normal mishaps like a misunderstanding with a friend, not wanting to follow a rule, or being nervous about starting something new. Now he’s considered a classic, along with the creations of Sandra Boynton and Suzanne Bloom, all still very relatable choices for internet-era munchkins. The fantastic thing about using animals instead of people is that kids from all sorts of backgrounds connect to the feelings and situations, without there being an obvious ethnic/cultural gap.

Exhibit D: Books that use metaphors or symbolism discreetly.

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Little kids don’t like allegory. They don’t understand it, it doesn’t have meaning, and it often leads to MG/YA students resenting whole genres (or even reading itself), for adults trying to force it on them. That’s why a story like Where the Wild Things Are — which targets Max’s bad behavior and his desire for control, the consequences of his breaking the rules and his plan to escape, his eventual acceptance of the situation, and his mother’s forgiveness of the mischief, all within the idea that he may or may not have visited a remote island of monsters — is brilliant.

(And if you weren’t aware of the deeper meanings to that story, find a copy and re-read it for yourself.)

Exhibit E: Characters that have ongoing appeal, and therefore, significance to many generations.

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Just because Winnie the Pooh and friends first appeared nigh on a hundred years ago doesn’t mean kids today don’t understand the silly ol’ bear. The same goes for so many other “dated” tales, especially where the focus was always much more on things like friendship, problem solving, and considering the feelings of others, than the time period the original author wrote in. After all, there are some things we hope to teach every generation, regardless of whether they’re living in the 1980s or the 2020s.

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Autism, blogging, Encouragement, family, Parenting, writing

Mothering and Writing

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So, this was the next most-voted-for on my Twitter account poll. For those of you who don’t follow my Twitter feed and may be wondering what the blazes I’m going on about, I’m referring to the fact that, while I was sick, I truly had no energy/time/inspiration, but knew that eventually — like, when I was no longer sick — I would desire to post something on the blog (if nothing else, so you all knew I was alive). Anyway, I decided that the honorable tradition of asking your readers really wasn’t such a bad notion; so I placed a poll on Twitter — “what do I post about next?”

And, here we are: *mothering and writing*.

As most of you know, I am beset on a daily basis by two underage beings, one small, one taller than me, who are both under my charge and my jurisdiction. In human speak: I am a parent. (To three if you count the cat.) So, I spend a fair amount of my time cooking for the small thing, cleaning up after his destruction, making sure he participates in his physical and speech therapy home sessions, and that he doesn’t conquer Mars without a signed permission slip. (Oh, who are we kidding, Muffin sets no score by what I grant him permission to do.)

And White Fang, when he’s not in school, needs constant reminders to finish his chores, finish his homework, eat something, and prepare his dirty laundry for the washer, because he is a teenager and Minecraft is more important than anything else. And so, between all of this, there are days when writing (which I have now turned into my livelihood) becomes the challenge.

How do you balance being a parent with being a writer? the unnamed pollsters were undoubtedly yelling at their screens (and praying for answers they could use in their own lives). Well, I truly hope I don’t cause more yelling, but the fact is, not one thing works for everybody, and I can only relay what has worked (generally) for me, and honestly wish you blessings on your schedule and accomplishment.

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First, it’s all about time management. If your kids are in school, then you have the chance to dedicate the morning or the afternoon (on that day with no errands or chores or appointments) to writing, or editing, or goofing off on the internet and calling it “research.” But, no, seriously, when you have the opportunity to work, don’t squander it on trying to find the best middle name for your protagonist or determine what breed of dog their great-uncle owned in 1989. Just write — the major stuff, like the plot — and even if you end up cutting out a lot later, know you’re at least you’re making progress.

If your kids are still small (like Muffin), and need more attention than the ones who walk and talk and can do a lot for themselves, take advantage of naps, or find a babysitter for Wednesday afternoons — just write when you can. If you need to type everything because of ease or quicker achievement, do so. (Personally, I prefer to start with paper and pen, because working around the random scribbles when a pen was stolen, or an occasional grubby fingerprint on the page, is a lot easier than trying to cope with the computer being turned off when you’re halfway to your word count goal for that day.)

If you can, take a short vacation by yourself, and create your own writer’s retreat — send the kids to grandma’s once a month, or go to a favorite cafe once a week. (The latter sort of thing never works for me, because I can’t concentrate when I’m around other people vocally debating whether they want mocha or vanilla shots in their espresso.)

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Something that really helps me organize and plan my schedule and my plot is participating in Camp NaNoWriMo (which isn’t the contest, but more like a workshop). You can find like-minded individuals to bounce ideas off, whine to, or cheer each other on. Thank heavens it’s only twice a year ( because I also need to do marketing, and blogging, and take showers and even leave the house once in a while). But every few months, it’s important to make sure I’m on the right track with my WIP, and not wandering off into Neverland following a totally unrelated minor character or origin story for their pet lizard.

And it’s a really big deal to remember why you write. Is it a hobby, something you can put off for weeks at a time, and honestly be all right with? Or is it a sort of calling, a venture that you feel is necessary to include in your life? Do you dream of seeing your work in print, for the world to share? If so, then you truly need to put in the effort.

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Autism, Children's Health, community, family, Parenting, The Invisible Moth

Mind the Gap

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Note: As usual with my more serious discussion posts, I have attempted to soften the blow with some very lovely pictures.

Do we all know what “mind the gap” means? When you step onto a train, and there’s a space between the edge of the platform and where the actual floor of the train car begins? And they have signs and warnings, “Mind the gap,” because they don’t want anyone to accidentally get hurt?

The reason I chose that title for this post came from thinking about things where there are major gaps between one issue and another, gaps that really need to be bridged if we’re going to get anywhere.

So, when I was a young mother, and had a primary-grades child diagnosed with autism, I heard a lot about how autism was “bad.” It would create major obstacles for him in school, in future life, in trying to get a job, get married, have a career, function on his own in society.

And, feeling an immense amount of society-induced guilt, I tried my hardest to get my child to change his natural behavior. Encouraged him not to stim (even though it cut back on anxiety), forced him to try to conform, insisted he not spend too much time alone.

After a couple of years, I saw that none of this was working. And more than that, it was beginning to dawn on me that I was reliving a dangerous pattern.

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When I was young, I behaved differently than my peers, and I was told not to. Teachers felt my desire to play alone, to engage in solitary pursuits, was harmful. I was instructed to read less and take up more interactive hobbies, try a sport, join a club.

So I tried. And I was miserable. I couldn’t understand some of the social cues, and that made me sad and mad, and that led to worse inner experiences, because I couldn’t understand or deal with all the emotions I felt.

So I gave up trying. By the time I was a young adult, I just wanted to be left alone to behave how I wanted to.

Then White Fang’s father — and a bunch of other stuff — happened. Not only did it change my life forever (because White Fang was born), but it also started me on a path of self-discovery.

Having a child that shares the same spectrum I inhabit, but doesn’t rest on the same space I do, and only occasionally visits, has made part of this path more complicated. One of my first questions was — if it was so easy to diagnose him, why not me? What’s the big difference?

It turns out there are many, many women who are now adults that either were suspected of being ASD as children and weren’t diagnosed, or were considered “in an introvert or geek phase,” and therefore passed over for diagnosis. 20 years ago, most psychologists in North America were looking for autism based only on a very specific set of criteria; so if a female child wasn’t showing significant language delays, or regularly made eye contact or was able to tolerate social interaction, they were deemed “probably not autistic.”

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This idea was totally wrong.

Mind the gap…

Though we’ve entered a new age of research regarding autism, I truly don’t think we’re yet at a new age of how we approach and understand ASD. Quite honestly, it concerns me. I want my kids to grow up in a world where differences from the norm are accepted, where ways they perceive and react to life is just viewed as part of the whole grand human experience.

I don’t want my son to be told he can’t go to this or that church because he’s an abomination that “needs to be cured”. I don’t want him and his future wife to be told that, since they “run the risk” of having a child on the spectrum, they should engage in pre-natal genetic testing that may “help” them decide whether or not to bring this life into the world.

Mind the gap…

I don’t want Muffin coming of age in a culture where he has to constantly shout into the void that his brother is not a freak. I don’t want to live out my remaining days surrounded by neighbors and acquaintances that keep giving me funny looks, or determine my value as a person by how many public events I attend. I want to know that the struggles and achievements of Temple Grandin, Cynthia Kim, myself, mean something good for the future.

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Most of all, I want to know that for whatever purpose God put me on this Earth, with autism, it has been served.

“Sometimes even shooting stars find wishes that missed their marks… But when the night gets too dark, and the road home seems too far… We’ll see the sun come up again… We will climb higher than we’ve been… We’ve got a fire that burns within” — Dragonhearted (by Try Hard Ninja and Captain Sparklez)

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Autism, blogging, Encouragement, family, Mental Health, Parenting

The Autistic Parent Part 2: Being Busy

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So, last week was BUSY. It was spring break (meaning White Fang didn’t have school). There were scheduled Early Intervention meetings, visitors, doctors’ appointments, and a book launch. (Massive yay to that last one, though!)

Being busy is not necessarily my favorite thing. Doing a lot at one time can be bad for autistics. A busy life translates to a major challenge for our nerves.

I’d like to think mine survived more or less intact, but the long-term outcome has yet to be determined.

So here are some tips on how to cope when you’re really, really busy, and have the tolerance for busy-ness of a cat waiting for the tin of Fancy Feast to be opened.

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Breathe. It seems so simple, and yet, how many of us forget to do it? When our sensory perception is beginning to get overloaded, just stopping and taking a few deep breaths can make a huge difference to how the rest of the day goes.

Try not to hit overload. Sometimes this is a bit tricky, I know. There are instances when we can’t just walk out of the meeting, or the store, or simply quit what we’re doing mid-way and abandon it. Finding coping mechanisms to get you through those really rough moments may become vital to not melting down later.

Have something to look forward to. Give yourself a reward for achieving a goal or making it through a tough obligation. Dig out that coupon for a free latte you’ve been saving. Or start that long-awaited new release (to hell with it being halfway down the TBR!).

When you can manage it, go hide. Seriously. Even having half an hour of sitting alone, taking a walk by yourself, or only interacting with the curtains, will help soothe those frazzled nerves. Make sure your family/friends understand that it’s not them, it is so you, and you need this.

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If you can, take something off your plate. Tasks with a time limit should be addressed, well, on time. Things that you can put off, do it. If the paperwork police have told you that form has to be filed by tomorrow, then fill it out and put it in the mail today. If the kitchen floor can wait another day to be mopped, make it wait. Designating things on the to-do list is important, too. If you have older kids who can put away their laundry/finish their homework/empty the dishwasher by themselves, then draft them to do so.

Remember that it will be over eventually. Soon the appointment will come to a conclusion, the meeting will end, the children will fall asleep, the TV shall at last be yours.

Start each day afresh. When you get up, whether you have a lot or a little on your calendar, don’t tie your brain in knots before you even commence the tackling. Accept that while having a plan is good, it may change, and you will survive. Don’t anticipate a million things going wrong; take each step as you reach it, then pray for the next step to go as smoothly.

And when you’ve made it to the other side of intense busy-ness, go play with the dog. Blow bubbles with the kids. Lock yourself in the basement with a bag of cheese puffs.

Or, my personal favorite — read that latest Warriors release in less than 24 hours.

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Autism, family, Mental Health, Parenting, reading

The Autistic Bookdragon Part 2: The TBR

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Good morning! First, happy Easter, happy Passover, happy spring!

Why am I posting today? Because later this week is not looking promising, that’s why. There are other posts scheduled, but there shall be a drought after those… And I hate to feel like I am neglecting this space too much…

Anyway, on to the topic at hand…

My current TBR is pretty reasonable. And yet, I can see it quickly spiraling out of control. Why? Simply because: life.

At the moment, I have a total of 22 books on my Goodreads account. That’s new reads. But this is not counting re-reads — of which there are 4 at present. Not horrible, though. You may be scratching your head, wondering what I’m all in a dither about (or how did a withered hazelnut get in your hair — let’s blame the children).

Here’s the root of my concern: I have very demanding kids, a constantly changing schedule, and rarely the opportunity to just sit and read for hours at a time. I have been limping through a re-read of Soul Music (part of the illustrious Discworld series). I’m enjoying it, and I have even (as already stated) read it before. But it took me a week and a half to make it to 75%. Because of specialist appointments for Muffin, end of the marking period for White Fang, spring arriving (i.e. yard work), and all of this translates to — once Muffin is in bed, I might be too tired to read.

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So, how does the autistic bookdragon go about preparing a TBR that she can easily keep on top of? There are a few key factors to put into play.

Cost. Resources are limited, and the price of things is crazy when you’re a stay at home parent. How much of my TBR can I obtain from the public library system? Don’t forget giveaways. Or if you have a birthday coming up, be sure to refer relatives and friends to your TBR.

Time. Realistically, I don’t expect to be able to read more than 20 new books in a year. At least until Muffin’s older (or maybe in college). I set my goals low, so that I’ll be happily surprised if I exceed them.

Chances to read. If the next few months include a lot of waiting in doctor’s offices or something similar, I’ll be sure to have plenty of books on hand for the occasion. If I anticipate more time at home, I’ll probably plan on going to the re-reads first (since I may not have a good environment to concentrate on brand new material).

My triggers. This is a definite issue. Everybody has certain things they don’t like to read about, but for some of us on the spectrum, triggers can be varied and far-reaching. Mine range from gory violence to lots of swearing to explicit sexual content to bullying to describing foul smells in too much detail. Yes, I am a tender baby unicorn and must be handled with extreme care when it comes to my reading selection. (If I accidentally hit a trigger, I could be near-catatonic for the next 12 hours. Not kidding.)

Life plans. There are some books that the rest of the world (okay, my rather small world) is raving about, but they just don’t fit into my ultimate frame of what my life needs to look like this month/year/ever. So they may be on my TBR, and I may never read them. I’m allowed to change my mind.

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What happens if I feel the TBR is becoming not manageable? Well, my Vulcan side takes over (for the good of the whole).

Cut items from the list. Every once in a while, I go through my Goodreads and Amazon wish lists, and re-evaluate. Did I change my mind about an author, or a series? Truly, we don’t need to finish it all. (We need oxygen, tea, and cats, and tiramisu.) Am I so uncertain about reading a particular novel that it’s just making me squirm to the point of wanting to take another shower? Then it’s gone.

Don’t be afraid to DNF. I know some readers have a major issue with not finishing something. Not me. No such qualms. I have gleefully sent bunches of selections back to the library drop-off bin before page 100, with no regrets. Except for the time I wasted. And it brews a resolution to choose more carefully in the future.

Listen to your inner self, and make that critical choice to begin with. Not impulsively adding 743 new releases that “everybody else” likes to your TBR makes you feel less stressed at the start. It’s truly all right to opt out.

It is okay to watch the movie instead. Even allowing for needing to pause a DVD for bathroom breaks, getting snacks, wrangling misbehaving toddlers, and tending to a needy cat, it will only take you about 3 hours to finish watching most movie adaptations of a popular book. (There are always exceptions, but in general, this is the case.) As opposed to possibly 3 months to finish reading the novel. Especially those titles that just aren’t clicking for you, but you want to know what happens to the characters.

Most of all — are you enjoying what you’re reading? Life is short. Even shorter if you live in a pocket of the globe where hours of the day magically get shaved off at random points (that’d be me), and you suddenly find yourself with 14 hours less in the month than everybody else got. Anyway, it is too short to waste on books that just don’t thrill your little Vulcan heart.

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Autism, books, children's fiction, family, Fantasy fiction, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

How to Successfully Raise a Second Generation Bookdragon

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(And, what the heck is up with my super long titles these days?…)

This is an important issue, something that we need to consider when we venture into parenthood and spawn — er, bring our lovely sons and daughters into the world. (Yes, I really mean “lovely” while I have a toddler literally pawing at me to obtain a restricted object.)

Anyway, when we (meaning people who value reading) have a family, the idea is that we want to pass this love on to our own children. And how should we do that? Well, of course there’s reading to them when they’re still too young to understand not to chew on books. And encouraging them to visit libraries (once they’re old enough to rein it before they destroy the whole building). And once they are old enough, to choose something to read. Not just the assigned stuff for school, but something for fun.

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Now, with my oldest, I have successfully created a monster. (Yes, I meant to say it like that.) When he was in 4th grade or so, White Fang was growing a bit tired of the juvenile fiction he was accustomed to (he’d already gone through Harry Potter, and didn’t care for Percy Jackson or A Series of Unfortunate Events). So, in an effort to make sure boredom stayed away, I went on the hunt for a long series with an age-appropriate target audience. After wearing holes in the carpet at my local library, I discovered Warriors.

Warriors is brilliant. It has action, mystery, friendship, love, family, and plenty of death. (Don’t worry, nothing too gory.) Cats die all the time — in battle, from sickness, from being on the wrong side of a human road, from something going wrong with having kittens, and sometimes, even just from old age. So while I wouldn’t recommend it for your 6-year-old, I can confidently state (just Google “Warriors fan art”) that middle-schoolers and up love this series.

And this epic is perfect for breeding good bookworm habits (that will one day turn against us). The series requires an attention span, remembering what happens from one book to the next, analyzing character motivations, and even “shipping” their favorite couples or potential relationships.

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White Fang has certainly lived up to all of this, and more. He has read over 50 books (including some of the novellas and manga) in the Warriors “canon,” knows some of the YouTube fan videos by heart, used to be involved in one of the roleplaying games, started his own fan community, and has decided just what needs to happen next in the newest series.

Last week, I pre-ordered the third instalment in A Vision of Shadows, so that it would arrive on release day (just like a good bookdragon parent), and when it showed up in his room, he proceeded to stay up late reading the first 100 pages. That’s a good boy.

However, this type of behavior can breed obsession. While there are much worse things than Warriors that he could be fixating on, he’s a bit predisposed to getting slightly obsessed, anyway, and he needs to have other stuff going on in his life. Like, friends, school, sleep, balanced meals…

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And — just to prove what a truly bookdragon parent I am — since he has almost completed his TBR (yes, I’m serious), and Shattered Sky was nearly the last item on it as of January 2017… Yes, I am freaking out a little here. Because I am not made of money, and I cannot order the rest of the TBR right now, and at the rate he’s going, Shattered Sky will reach its place on the shelf before this spring break is out…

See what I mean about the plan backfiring? Here I am, thinking it’d be just great to have someone else in the family who shares my passions, and then…

And in terms of sharing the fandom, I will not be able to read Shattered Sky until he finishes it. But I currently have my own TBR, and A Vision of Shadows #3 is a bit further down it. So I will be behind him, again. (I’ve been playing catch-up with Warriors forever.)

And he’s already told me something that happened, drat it.

I have officially created a monster.

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