Getting All Stinky & Dirty

I thought the highlight of August was going to be the paperback release of The Gift of Failure on August 23, or maybe my trip to Arkansas to visit my sister and her family in their new home. The whipped cream on the top of the Arkansas trip is that my sister is an incredibly talented stylist and master colorist at Wella, and the chick does good hair. I just sit down and let her do whatever the heck she wants with me because, as I may have mentioned, she's an incredibly talented stylist and master colorist at Wella. 

But then, THEN, this announcement landed in my inbox:

I have been working on this show for a little over a year, and I love it. I was skeptical when Alice Wilder, Producer of Blue's Clues, approached me because, you know, what kid needs more screen time? However, Alice is super-smart and terribly charming, and then she double-teamed me with Tara Sorensen, the equally smart and grotesquely charming Head of Kids Programming at Amazon Studios. The Stinky & Dirty Show is about solving problems, collaborating with others, asking "What If?" and persevering through failures, they said. Aw, hell. They used the f-word. 

Funny story: the show is based on the I Stink! books by Jim and Kate McMullan, and the first book in that series was one of two books (Where the Wild Things Are was the other) that scared the bejeezus out of Finnegan. I think the idea that the dump truck had a mouth, and might just eat him, freaked him out. 

I'm happy to report that no one gets eaten in The Stinky & Dirty Show.

My favorite part of each episode comes at the end, when Stinky and Dirty offer a "view & do" (yep, I learned some official TV lingo!), an invitation for kids to take the skills and ideas they've learned during the episode (the use of levers or ramps, for example), and encourage them to go out into the world and create their own to real-world solutions.

I'm just happy I got to be a part of it. Thank you, Alice and Tara. 

Yeah, yeah. I know.

I can't believe how long it's taken me to get back to regular blogging. I used to love it; it was my creative outlet and my playtime, but for the past year or so, it's felt like just another deadline, if self-imposed. If you've read The Gift of Failure (and if you have not, you can buy it here), you know that even the most joyful, entertaining tasks can become drudgery when qualified by "should," "ought to," and "have to." Fortunately, I was reminded recently that my favorite writing, the stuff that makes me giggle, lives on my website.   

I have Victoria Elizabeth Barnes to thank for the reminder. I read her post about finding the mirror with the Kingdom on top and was struck by the joy, the sheer blissed-out enthusiasm in her writing. 

Fortunately, there's lots of bliss to be found on this glorious New Hampshire weekend.

Finn's outside taking down a dead tree that's irked him for a while,

and Abby has located plenty of sticks, water, and smelly things to roll in. 

Walter is sitting around the house, Lucie is pissed off about the household kibble shortage, Gunther is keeping an eye on the songbirds. 

Tim's on call this weekend at the hospital, eradicating germs and saving lives. 

Ben's...well, Ben's doing what he does best, hibernating in his teen cave. I'd show you, but photography is not allowed in the teen cave. 

I'm excited about the stuff that's going live on my site in the next few weeks. I have a Gift of Failure bonus chapter in final edits ("For the Kids," a version of the talk I give to students when I visit schools), a Frequently Asked Questions page that's almost ready for prime time, and some community read discussion questions for parents and teachers. Finally, K.J. Dell'Antonia (my friend, neighbor, and New York TImes Well Family colleague) and I are working on a super-secret project we are really excited about, and plan to announce soon. 

In the meantime, if you are reading The Gift of Failure for a school community read or for professional development, shoot me an email here and I can send out signed, personalized bookplates.

I hope you are having a blissful, warm, and wonderful weekend, and stay tuned. Lots more to come.  

Jess

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy-Jig

I'm home! I'm home! Book tour was wonderful and exciting and exhausting, and I fully plan to write about it after I retain my sanity and re-acquaint myself with my family. And for those of you who received an email about an old blog post rather than this post, well...sorry about that. I'm chalking it up to jet lag. Won't happen again.

In the meantime, here's my favorite Gift of Failure book tour tweet. Best speaking testimonial, EVER.

In stark contrast to Master Saibel's newfound introduction to the world of autonomy-supportive parenting and heretofore unknown levels of childhood competency, I must come clean and reveal what my own absence has wrought in the Lahey household:

The cats survived, but clearly, there's some remedial work to be done around here before I head out on the next leg of the tour. 

 

Something Wonderful This Way Comes

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It's finally July. I've been waiting for what feels like forever for it to be July, just so I can say, "My book comes out next month." It's a small thing, conversationally, but a giant thing in the context of the past couple of years.

It's been a very, very long road to July. I wrote "Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail" in January of 2013, sold The Gift of Failure in March, handed in the manuscript on October 31, concussed myself on November 1, took nearly four months off to recover, then revised the book over 2014. The manuscript was accepted in October, I received a box of galleys in the last hours of 2014, and recorded the audiobook in April. 

The last big milestone circled in red on my calendar is the book release on August 11 - or at least it was until today. Thanks to Lisa StoneElisa Camahort Page and She Knows Media, I get to look forward to one more milestone before August 11. 

I am thrilled to announce that The Gift of Failure will be available for sale and signing in an exclusive pre-release event on July 16-18 at BlogHer 2015: Experts Among Us in New York City. 

I owe so much to the women I've met and worked with as a result of BlogHer, and I can't think of a more appropriate place to launch The Gift of Failure.

If you would like to attend BlogHer and have not registered, there are still spots available here. It's going to be so much fun, and the lineup of speakers is fantastic this year: Gwenyth Paltrow, Christy Turlington Burns, and more inspiring, amazing speakers than I can list

In other news, my book tour schedule is still evolving, but what I know about as of today is listed here. I've been knocking down deadlines right and left for articles and interviews that will run around my publication date, and working on a couple of new projects I'm really excited about. 

Last month, I was asked to join the Amazon Studios Thought Leader Board and am consulting on a new series for kids called The Stinky and Dirty Show. It's based on picture books by Jim and Kate McMullan and follows the adventures of Stinky the dump truck and Dirty the digger as they try, and fail, and try again, to solve all sorts of problems through resilience, resourcefulness, and the creative use of trash. I'm thrilled to be a part of a production team that includes Dr. Alice Wilder, children's programming Grande Dame (and mastermind behind Blue's Clues), and Tara Sorensen, Head of Kids Programming at Amazon Studios.

These days, I tend to carry around a couple of scripts and a red pen, and I spend a lot of my time in the hammock or lawn chair reviewing the first season of the show with an eye to the research on resilience and resourcefulness. It's a pretty great way to spend the summer. 

The first episode of The Stinky and Dirty Show is available here if you'd like to watch. Amazon Studios invites anyone to submit scripts or videos, then creates fully produced pilots of selected shows. They then crowd-source those pilots to Amazon customers, who decide via reviews which shows get the green light for full seasons. The Stinky and Dirty Show got a couple of thousand five-star reviews, so we are off to the races, so to speak. I love the show, and hope others will, too. 

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If you are going to be at BlogHer, please come find me, either at my session on July 17th (Next Generation: Breaking Stereotypes and Building Self-Esteem) or at the book sale and signing (time TBA, but a bookseller will have Gift of Failure books available on-site during the entire conference). I will have a gift and a custom bookplate for everyone who purchases a book during BlogHer.

If you can't be at BlogHer to snag a pre-release copy of The Gift of Failure, I'd appreciate it so much if you would pre-order it at any one of the retailers linked here, or at your local independent bookseller. Help yourself to the free excerpt of the book, and if you like it, talk it up! Tell people! As some of you may know, pre-publication sales figures are a big part of what drives marketing, demand, and first printing numbers, so pretty, pretty, please, pre-order your copy today!

Thank you for being a part of this loooong journey, and for supporting me and my writing along the way, 

Jess

Now is the Season of Our Malcontents

Yes, it's hard to say goodbye to our babies, even when we know they are going to have a great time under the care of enthusiastic counselors in a forest idyll. I've been through a few drop-offs in my time, so I offer up the following reassurance: while a quick goodbye may not be enough for you, it may be just what your kid wants and needs

A Summer Camp Lesson: Good-bye, and Go Away, Thank You Very Much
Originally published in The Atlantic, June 2013

Three years ago, when he was eleven, my son Ben set down a very specific parental code of conduct we'd be expected to follow at summer camp drop-off. We could say our goodbyes at home, but once we arrived at camp, any displays of affection, attempts to make his bed, arrange his things, or force premature familiarity with his cabin mates would be strictly prohibited. We could hang around during registration, watch while they check him for lice, help him lug his bags to his cabin, and shake hands with his counselor, but after that, our parental duties were complete. We were expected to say goodbye, and go away, thank you very much.

My husband was taken aback by Ben's request, but I was not. I totally understood his yearning for independence. I went to camp as a child, and as much as I adored my parents, I, too, looked forward to the autonomy I found during those glorious summer months away from home. I missed my parents, of course, but in their absence, I passed my swim test, dove off the high dive, ran my first 5k, spent three nights alone in a dark forest, and shared my first kiss.

The fact that Ben is eager to watch me walk away from him is a sign of strength -- both of our bond, and of his sense of self. According to psychologist Michael Thompson, childhood requires an endpoint, and it's a parent's job to raise children who can leave, children secure enough to turn away from the safety of a parents' embrace and look toward the adventures and challenges to be found beyond.

In his book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, Thompson writes,

...in the final analysis, there are things we cannot do for our children, no matter how much we might want to. In order to successfully accomplish these tasks, to grow in the ways they need to grow, children have to do it on their own, and usually away from their parents, sometimes overnight, sometimes for days or weeks or even months.

He goes on to list the eight things parents cannot do for their children, no matter how desperate we are to do so:

1. We cannot make our children happy.

2. We cannot give our children high self-esteem.

3. We cannot make friendships for our children or micro-manage their friendships.

4. We cannot successfully double as our child's agent, manager, and coach.

5. We cannot create the "second family" for which our child yearns in order to facilitate his or her own growth.

6. It is increasingly apparent that we parents cannot compete with or limit our children's total immersion in the online, digital, and social media realms.

7. We cannot keep our children perfectly safe, but we can drive them crazy trying.

8. We cannot make our children independent.

Thompson's list of developmental milestones -- critical, essential milestones every child is going to have to navigate -- is terrain our children must traverse on their own, and parents who believe they can span those uncomfortable gaps with lovingly made bridges woven of organic hemp and allergen-free twine are kidding themselves. Despite all our parental worries, these gaps are not deep, dark, places of danger where there be dragons and creepy Stephen King clowns; they are places of wonder, filled with adventure, and excitement, and the promise of untold successes. If we allow our children to head out into these uncharted territories on their own, they will get there and back again, and when they return to us, ready to tell their tales of adventure, they will be much more competent and capable human beings.

So when I drove my son to camp today, we did not have to review his rules. He knew I would remember and honor them. We parked, he was checked for lice, I met his counselor, and while the other parents moved about the cabin, making their children's beds and suggesting where to store their flashlights and extra sunscreen, I quickly took my leave with a wave and a good-bye.

On the way back to the car, my younger son slipped his hand into mine, something he hardly ever does anymore.

"I think I'd like to come to camp next year," he said.

"Really?" I said, picturing him running around among these hulking adolescents.

"Yep," he nodded. "I think I'll be big enough next year."

And with that, he let go of my hand and ran ahead to gather up a pile of pine needles he'd spotted just off the path. As I watched him attempt to stuff two handfuls of the needles into his pockets, I realized that next year, he'd be almost as old as his brother was the first year he went to camp. So just maybe, if I do my job right, he will be big enough next year. Big enough to want me to say goodbye, and go away, thank you very much.

What Gives

Jenny Lawson, on the left, and Laura Mayes, on the right, at Mom.20. 

Jenny Lawson, on the left, and Laura Mayes, on the right, at Mom.20. 

Last month, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, at Mom 2.0, a conference for parenting writers. I find conferences overwhelming, but I stuck around for every minute of Mom 2.0 because I learned something cool in every session.

The afternoon of the last day, I was tempted to retire to my room for some much-needed quiet time, but Jenny Lawson, “The Bloggess” was on the schedule. I’m a fan of Jenny and her work, so I gulped down a cup of coffee and headed in to the session.

The room was nearly empty, so when the start time came and went, I figured Jenny's session had been cancelled. But a few minutes later, she appeared onstage, clutching a giant white binder adorned with pictures of taxidermied animals. She was accompanied by Laura Mayes, her friend and co-founder of Mom 2.0.

Frankly, Jenny didn’t look so good. She was pale, and shaky, and scowling. She certainly didn’t look as if she wanted to be there. As Laura wandered up to the microphone, Jenny settled in to her chair on center stage and made stress faces.

Jenny, Laura announced, was there to read from her new book, Furiously Happy. Alas, Jenny looked anything but.

As soon as she began reading, I understood why. Furiously Happy is a memoir about the dark and scary monsters under the bed. Furiously Happy is funny, because Jenny is funny, but it’s also unflinching, and terrifying.

We watched, captivated, as Jenny yanked her monsters out from under her bed, one by one, and named them for us. She was frightened, but vulnerable, and honest. Above all, she was brave.

As I watched Jenny name her monsters, I realized it was time to name mine.

That day, I was part of a panel on publishing with Gabrielle Blair, Katie Workman, Bill Braine, and Doug French. Doug, who was moderating, asked the audience to raise their hands if they had a book they wanted to write (everyone’s hands went up) and to raise their hands again if they felt they just did not have time in their busy lives to write that book (many hands went up).

When it was my turn to speak, I argued that they do have time. If you really want to write that book, and you look closely enough at your life, you will find that there’s something that can give, something less important than the book. Something that maybe needs to give anyway.

I paused, unsure of whether or not to go there, but I took a deep breath, seized my monster by its spiky, slimy, venomous tail, and yanked.

“When I sold my book in 2013, I knew something had to give. For me, that thing was alcohol. I knew I had a problem, and I sure wasn't going to be able to drink and write my book. In that equation,  my book was more important.”

This Sunday, June 7, I will celebrate my second year of sobriety at my favorite AA meeting, the first meeting I ever attended. I will greet newcomers as they arrive at the door, because I was greeted at the door when I first arrived. And at the end of the hour, I will collect my two-year medallion in front of the same people who supported me the night I took my 24-hour medallion. 

The same people who, over the past two years, have helped me name my monsters.

So thank you to those people, and to Jenny Lawson. Because, as she wrote recently, “I thank people who help save me.”

Now go. Go figure out what gives, and write your book.

 

Reading on the Hill

Image courtesy of Reading is Fundamental (RIF).

Image courtesy of Reading is Fundamental (RIF).

I'm headed to D.C. this weekend in order to be a part of the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) Read for Success discussion and I don't know when I've been more excited and honored. RIF has been putting books in the hands of kids who might not otherwise get a chance to own them since 1966, and I can't wait to be a part of the next phase of their evolution.

Watch for next week's "Parent-Teacher Conference," a look back at one of my most cherished memories of childhood, RIF's Bookmobile.