Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Riding with Confidence: Why a Balance Bike Works

Yesterday, it seemed my three year old son took a giant step in the growing up process when he straddled his two wheeler and raced away from me down the bike path.  I couldn’t believe his level of confidence when I let go with a slight push and off he went.  However, when he made a hairpin turn, his peddle scrapping the ground as he leaned in, my heart momentarily caught in my chest as my stomach turned over.  But the rush of fear lasted only a second, and before I could react he had already straightened up and was heading back towards me.  I could not believe how incredibly agile he was considering it was only his second day riding the bike.  I had had anticipated days of taking him out, holding onto the seat as he peddled, letting go, then picking him up and brushing him off after he fell.  I expected countless tears and days of trying to convince him to get back on the bike.  I feared numerous cuts and bruises, but alas my expectations had been foiled.  The balance bike we had gotten him last Christmas had worked its magic.

When my son was still a baby, I was out one afternoon pushing him in the stroller when I found myself engaged in a conversation with another mother whose child was a couple of years older than mine.  The child was a riding a balance bike and his mother told me how wonderful it was and she strongly advised me to buy one for my own son when he was old enough.  When my son turned two, I wanted to buy him a balance bike for Christmas.  However, once in the bike store, my son fell in love with an overpriced blue tricycle.  He rode it around the store and wouldn’t even look at the balance bike I so desperately wanted him to try out.  Not wanting to disappoint him, Santa brought the blue tricycle on Christmas morning instead of a balance bike.  That morning, eager to ride his new bike, we took him outside and he very enthusiastically rode his bike around the house once.  He then rapidly lost interest in the bike and in the past twenty months he may have ridden it two dozen times. 

A year goes by, and this time, with my son about to turn three, I was very intent on getting him a balance bike for Christmas.  My dad, a traditionalist in many ways, thought I should just get him a regular bike with training wheels.  He didn’t see the value in spending money on a bike that had no pedals and came close to talking me out it.  However, standing in the same bike shop I stood in the previous year, this time alone and without my son distracted by other things, I had a conversation with one of the sales guys.  He strongly recommended that I get a balance bike but he told me not to buy one it his store because they were overpriced.  When they were first designed in Europe they were made cheaply with wood.  The idea was that the kids would ride them for only a short time before transitioning onto a real bike.  America then imported the bike, and because it is America and America is about making money, American companies made them sturdier than they needed to be and charged more than they were worth.  Therefore, he advised that I go online and find a well made wooden bike which we did.  Thirty-five dollars later, my son’s bike was hiding in the closet waiting for Christmas morning.  He loved it and I loved taking him to the bike path and watching as his balance rather quickly developed.

Six months later, we were at a consignment sale and found a two wheeler that was about the same size as the balance bike.  For ten dollars we brought and figured we’d leave it in the garage until my son was ready to give it a try.  It sat there until two afternoons ago when he decided he wanted to ride it.  I took it out, he hopped on the seat and off he went.  I could not have asked for a smoother transition.  The balance bike worked as promised, building up not only my son’s balance but his confidence as well.  Though I must admit I almost feel cheated.  Teaching my son to ride a bike was something I had been looking forward to, but with the balance bike he was able to teach himself.  He just needed me there, getting him out to the bike path and running along side of him offering encouragement. 

Yesterday, at one point when he came to a stop, I asked, “What happed to my little baby?”  He responded, “I grow up.  I’m not a baby anymore.”  Tears came into my eyes as I smiled at him.  Where has the time gone? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Time With My Son

One of my favorite parts of the day is reading to my three year old son before bed.  It is a time when the magic of books comes alive for the both of us.  He used to pick any three books he wanted but learning rather quickly that I have a difficult time saying no when it comes to him and books, three books eventually became five and on some nights, like last night, he succeeds in convincing me that he needs “just one more book” or he won’t be able to fall asleep.  With a pile of books, a bowl of seasonal fruit – now apples – and a glass of water we cuddle in bed and with my son’s head on my shoulder and my hand rubbing his head I read.  My son is always full of questions, wanting at times to know more than the authors share, so together we speculate on the lives of the characters outside of the book.  I enjoy following the patterns of his thoughts, marveling at the connections he makes and the places his own imagination carries him.  There are some books that I have read more times than I can count because he loves them so much.  With those books, I can stop mid way through a sentence and my son will continue reading because he knows the words by heart.  Sometimes I joke around and change the words.  My son laughs at me – oh how I love his laugh – he calls me silly and then corrects me.

Book time is a special time for the both of us, a time when we can retreat from the rest of the world and enjoy an altered reality, the kind that can only be found in books.  Already, my son is entering new worlds, encountering people different from himself and having adventures beyond what he is accustomed to in his everyday life.   Together, with a book between us, time slows down, though I am painfully aware that it can never be completely stopped.  Though he will in time grow up and book time will become a thing of the past, I hope he will always carry with him the love of reading he now has.   

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thanks For Your Support

When I first published my novel in kindle format on Amazon it did mostly out of frustration.  I was tired of the continuous stream of rejection letters flowing into both my mailbox and inbox.  Publishers refused to look at my work because I didn’t have an agent and agents refused to look at my work because I had never been published.  I felt like a dog chasing my tail.  How could I force someone to look at me when it seemed apparent that no one cared to bother with an unknown.  

I didn’t tell anyone my plans to publish, afraid that if I did so, whoever I told would talk me out of it.  As fragile as my ego is, I knew it wouldn’t take much to convince me that self publishing would be a foolish mistake.  Living in this world of social media, I was able to announce the publication of my book in such a way that all my friends could have access to the information at once.  I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that I first declared myself an author on facebook.  I expected my friend to like my new page just because they were being polite, ignore me altogether or criticize my inability to find a traditional publisher.  Yes, I’m sure some people liked my page out of reflex because they got a notification telling them to do so.  Others have ignored me.  And I am sure that somewhere someone is talking about me where I can’t hear them and saying things that would make me feel about the size of an insect.  But those are the things I refuse to focus on.  What has truly touched me is how many of my friends have shared my link on their own timelines, inviting their friends to like my page and buy my book.  I am even more blown away by how many of my friends have not only purchased the novel but have taken the time to read it.  

 The great thing about having such low expectations is that it is nearly impossible to be disappointed by the end result.  I didn’t think anyone would buy my book but people have.  I’m not even close to being able to think of myself as a career author but I’ve made a step in the right direction.  I feared that my book would be hated, but instead I have received some very favorable reviews.  So I just want to take a moment to say thank you to the people out there who are supporting me.  I greatly appreciate it.  


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chapter 1 - Free

So you are thinking: "If your book was really good then it would have been published the traditional way, you would have found someone to publish it for you."  Perhaps you are correct, perhaps you are not, but there is really only one way for you to know for sure.  The only way to really know if my book is good or not is to read it.  But since I understand you may not want to pay for something you think is crummy, I'll open a window to help you better decide if you to read it.  Below you can read my first chapter.  If you hate it, well  you have lost nothing in taking a peek.  If you like it, then please stop by amazon and order the rest.

Also, stop by and see me on facebook.

The Sunset Swans
Copyright 2013 by Elizabeth Jaeger

Chapter 1

Dylan always told me, “The only things you can really count on in life are books and a good fishing pole.  Although sometimes even a good fishing pole can let you down.  “But you,” he would add, “you’re different because you have me.”  And it was true.  No matter what, I always had my brother.  He was the only person in my life I could completely count on, the only person who was constantly there for me - at least until he turned eighteen.  That’s when things changed and it was no longer enough for him to protect me.  He felt the need to protect the entire country instead.
            I was nine when the attack on the World Trade Center occurred.  Dylan was seventeen.  We were both supposed to be in school, but I was sick, and as always, Dylan was the one who stayed home to take care of me.  Dylan noticed the smoke first.  He was in the kitchen making pancakes, my favorite breakfast, while I was sitting in bed reading the book he had given me only a week earlier.  It wasn’t an easy book to read.  There were many words I had trouble with, but Dylan promised that when breakfast was over we would read it together.  Almost every night I read to him, and he would help me trudge through the vocabulary I had difficulty with.  Even though I was in fourth grade, he only let me read books that the middle school kids were reading.  When I would complain that they were too hard, he’d tell me that I’d never get any better if I didn’t push myself.  And when I’d object, declaring that it was too difficult, he’d prove me wrong by holding my hand and guiding me through each individual word.
            “Chloe!”  I heard his voice bellow through the bedroom wall as he ran into the living room.  The bowl he had been mixing the batter in fell to floor.  He kicked it accidentally, and it slid across the kitchen floor, crashing into one of the cabinets. It didn’t sound as if he bothered to pick it up.  By the time it crashed, his footsteps had already carried him to the window in our living room, the one which overlooked both the Hudson River and the World Trade Center. 
            “Chloe,” his voice broke, but before it did, it was louder than I was used to – much louder.  And there was something in it I didn’t recognize, something I had never before detected in it.  It almost sounded as if he was scared, but Dylan, my Dylan, wasn’t afraid of anything.
            “Chloe,” he was struggling to speak but he managed to spit out the words he needed to say.  “Turn on the television.”  And that’s when I knew something was dreadfully wrong.  Dylan didn’t watch T.V.  He hated it, and in nine years, I had never once seen him watch it.
            Though my entire body ached to move, I couldn’t disobey my brother.  Forcing my legs over the side of my bed, I climbed down the ladder to do as I had been told.  Turning the television on I went to stand beside Dylan and that’s when I saw it – the second plane exploding into Tower I.  I didn’t have to ask him what was wrong.  I didn’t even need to ask him why he sounded scared.  Looking down at me, he put his hands on my shoulders, squeezing them as if they were the oranges he had been squeezing only seconds before to make me orange juice.  He often stood behind me when we were together, but I had never known him to squeeze so tightly.  Usually, I just felt the slight pressure of his fingertips, but I suppose that morning even he needed something more than a book or a fishing pole to hold on to.
            I knew what Dylan was thinking at that very moment, because I was thinking the same thing.  “We should call.”
My throat was as dry as if someone had been trying to stuff me with cotton, and my words were garbled as if they couldn’t quite wiggle their way through the folds of cotton that completely enveloped my tongue.
            “I’ll do it.”  He spoke the words, but made no effort to follow through.  Again, without having to ask, I knew why.  What if he called and she didn’t answer?
            Leaving him where he was, I ducked under his hands and retrieved the phone.  When I handed it to him, it felt as if the room suddenly spun upside down and as if the floor abruptly dropped out from under us.  I was falling, spinning and silently screaming. I tried to grab hold of something solid but my fingers kept slipping off everything they touched.  Faintly, I could hear the television behind me but the words sounded far away, and despite my every effort, I couldn’t understand a single word.  I was trying desperately to hear what was happening but my mind could focus on only one thing.  Then Dylan reached down and pulled me up into his arms.  One of the towers had collapsed into a pile of rubble and human suffering, and all either of us could think about was Mom and whether or not she had been able to get out.
            Dylan called – again and again – but all the lines in the city seemed to be jammed.  Every time he pressed the redial button he got a busy signal.  He even tried to call our father, but neither his cell phone nor his work phone rang.  For what seemed like hours, I sat on Dylan’s lap with his arms wrapped tightly around me as we watched the television and waited for news of our mother.  He cried as he held me, tears streaming down his face, but despite everything - despite the attack, the uncertainly of our mother’s safety – he somehow made me feel safe.
            Neither of us spoke.  Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t.  Fear held us mercilessly in its grasp, and like a sandbag pinioned to our chests, it rendered us motionless. Every possible scenario of what might have happened to our mother played repeatedly through each of our minds.  I hardly paid attention to the T.V. but what little I heard rendered all the “happily ever after” scenarios unrealistic.  All we could do was pray that by some miracle we would see her again.
            And we did.
            Dylan and I were lucky.  As we sat there lost and feeling as if our world was made of egg shells we heard keys rattling outside the door.  Dylan heard them first, and it was only when I felt his body stiffen that I became aware of what it was that he had been reacting to.  Neither of us moved to open the door as we might have on any other given day.  Instead, we held our breath, our lips noiselessly uttering one final prayer.
            When the door opened, I thought I had fallen asleep and had somehow slipped into a dream.  But without shutting the door behind her, she ran over to us, scooping me up into her arms and pressing her head against Dylan’s chest.  She didn’t speak.  She simply held us as if she had been the one sitting at home in fear, wondering ceaselessly whether or not she would ever see us again.
            “Is it really you?”  Snuggled up in her arms, I was the first to speak, the first to rattle the silence.
            “Yes, it’s me.”  She framed my face with her hands, pushed my hair back with her fingers and pressed her lips to my forehead, the kiss lingering longer than any of her other kisses ever had.  “I’m home.  I’m really home,” she repeated as if to dispel her own doubts. 
            “But how?”  Dylan asked, staring at her as if he and I had been visited by a ghost, an apparition conjured up by our equally desperate imaginations.  “You worked up on one of the top floors, and with the way the plane hit…how did you get out?”  It was only then that I realized how much worse his fears had been than mine.  I only knew she worked in one of the Towers.  I didn’t have a clue as to what floor she was on, nor had I been paying close enough attention to the television to know that practically everyone who worked as high up as she did failed to get out.  The whole time he had been sitting there clutching me, he had been trying to picture what our lives would be like without her. 
            “When the first tower was hit, my boss was one of the few who refused to listen when we were all instructed not to evacuate.  Without a moment of hesitation, he ordered us all to stop what we were doing.  He wouldn’t even let us pause long enough to grab anything we might want.  His main objective was to get us out as quickly as he could, and in acting as quickly as he did, in a sense, he saved all of us.”
            And that’s exactly what Dylan had wanted to do.  Sitting there on the couch, watching all the people on television crying, screaming and pleading with God, he wished that there was something he could do, something he could have done to save those who had died.  Only I didn’t know it, not at the time anyway.  Not for several months were any of us completely aware of the impact the attack had on my brother, or of the consequences it would have on the rest of us.