Thursday, March 1, 2018


I have posted a few times over the past few months about my youngest daughter's book. It's a project we've worked on together since late summer, and it has been an amazing journey. We've had fun and - more importantly - we've grown closer. I planned to publish the book for her, but a wonderful publishing company, Fresh Ink Group, offered their assistance, so now we have a knowledgeable, savvy and supportive team to help us with the areas of publishing I'm not as familiar with.

The book is the first in a middle grade fantasy series. The release date is April 1st, 2018, and HERE is the cover!

Here's what will be written on the back of the book...

D.J. and her dad moved far from the small town and only home she ever knew. Now she's starting middle school in the city with kids she's never met. She tries to make friends, but they all appear to be slaves to screen time. D.J. just likes to garden, nurturing plants, watching them grow and thrive. It seems she'll never find a way to fit in, but then she awakens in a gorgeous garden where she meets Persephone, Goddess of Spring. She must be dreaming; her new friend can't possibly be real - and what could she know about getting along with gamers? D.J. really needs some ideas, or she might never find her own place in a complicated world.

And her is the author bio:

Ellie Collins wrote this debut novel when she was turning eleven and just beginning sixth grade. She wrote amid a very busy extra curricular schedule, including a spot on both a gymnastics team and a trampoline and tumbling team, as well as taking weekly piano lessons. She's an avid gamer who loves hanging out with friends. Her love of Greek mythology inspires her writing.

The book has been very well received. Ellie has been featured on two book blogs and had an author interview on a third. She has been offered two more book blog read/review/interviews, thus far, too! The beta readers have been pleased with what they have read, with consistent feedback like this:

Huge thanks to Stephen Geez and all the rest of the very supportive team at Fresh Ink Group!

More updates to come from this proud mama, so stay tuned!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Roles, Responsibilities and Resentments

I'm faced with a dilemma that I don't feel conflicted on, but I feel like I should be. Maybe you can help me decide.

Anyone who read With Angel's Wings knows that my relationship with my ex-husband (Emily and Hannah's father) was contentious. If you didn't read it, here's a quick synopsis to catch you up to speed: Boy and girl meet in high school. Boy and girl get married way too young and for all the wrong reasons. Boy and girl have a baby girl. Boy and girl hang on the edge of divorce. Boy and girl decide [poorly] to have a second child. Boy and girl have an extremely ill baby daughter. Boy has nothing to do with baby and offers little to no support.[Sample conversation from years past: Girl: We need to decide whether or not to do life-saving open-heart surgery for Hannah. Boy: I'll leave that decision to you. You're the one emotionally involved.] Girl has mental breakdown. Girl leaves boy. Girl attempts to facilitate relationship between boy and his daughters. Boy has very little to do with older child, nothing to do with younger child. Boy gets a girlfriend who is interested in children. Boy starts requesting visitation with older child. Older child routinely comes back from visitations extremely distraught, describing verbal and emotional abuse from boy. Girl reluctantly allows continued visitation, trusting boy's girlfriend to keep abuse at a minimum.

Since the end of the book: Kevin (boy) and Stacy (girlfriend) get married. Stacy and I continued to have a relatively close relationship. Stacy even flies from New Hampshire to Washington for a week-long visit.

Okay. That brings us to the end of the epilogue. Now here's the more recent stuff.

Then Emily reached name only. With her diagnosis of high functioning autism with mild to moderate developmental delay, she cannot live independently. Daniel and I are her legal guardians, so little has changed in our relationship. I told Emily if she ever wanted to fly back east to visit her father and Cindy, I'd do what I could to facilitate the travel. She generally kept the once-per-year, few-days-to-a-week visiting schedule she had kept in her teen years.

Then Kevin unceremoniously kicked Stacy out in favor of whatever girlfriend he was cheating on her with at the time. It was the dead of winter in northern New Hampshire and Stacy had no savings, no job and nowhere to go.

I provided as much emotional support to Stacy as I could. We became closer than ever; I love her like a sister. I couldn't help but notice that, as this was going on, Emily kept a very close relationship with Stacy, too, but she made no request to call, write or visit Kevin.

Since that time (about two years ago), Emily has had multiple visits (multiple per year, even)...with Stacy. She has not once stayed with Kevin since his [latest] divorce. She saw him one time during one of her visits with Stacy (she went to dinner with him), but wanted noting to do with visiting him after that.

Here's the part with the [potential?] dilemma. Kevin has occasionally texted me, telling me Emily isn't answering his texts (I'm unclear if he has tried actually calling her). Just the other day I got one of these texts. He requested I "have Emily" contact him, because she wasn't doing it on her own.

One of his past texts asked me why Emily wasn't responding to him. I didn't feel up to starting WW III, so I shrugged off the question, but here's my thought on the subject: You reap what you sow.

I was very careful over the years to never talk poorly of Kevin in Emily's presence. That was tricky when it was Emily crying, asking why he did the things he did and said the things he said (that were clearly and obviously BAD and HURTFUL). I wanted to give her every opportunity (within the confines of safety from his abuse) for her to develop her own relationship with her father. When she became an adult I didn't want her to ever resent ME for keeping her from her father. Well...she definitely doesn't resent me. And she wants nothing to do with him. That's. Her. Choice.

Here's the rub, though. She is an adult in name only. Emotionally and maturity-wise, she's much more like a 12 to 14-year-old. One could argue that she is NOT mature enough, then, to make the choice for herself. One could argue that it is still my responsibility to facilitate their relationship. I don't think so, but I want to be sure my decision is based on Emily's best interest (and not resentment that I have for my ex-husband who verbally and emotionally abused Emily...while absolutely ignoring Hannah [his other daughter that he has conveniently forgotten s he has for over 22 years now]).

There is also safety to consider. I was reluctantly okay with Emily visiting Kevin when Stacy was there. I shudder at the thought of damage he could do to Emily without Stacy's calming, sane influence. [Conversation from years past: Me: You have very little patience when it comes to Emily's challenges. Kevin nodded emphatically in agreement. Me: Right now that doesn't worry me too much, because I know Stacy has the patience to deal with it. Kevin: She has more patience than me, but she gets pretty f***ing frustrated, too. Me: That's the concern. What are you going to do if Stacy isn't there to help with those frustrations? Kevin: Well, as she grows older , we won't have to worry about it, because she'll grow out of it. Me: What do you mean? You don't 'grow out of' autism!]

Yeah. I can't see myself pushing Emily to reach out to her father. She's delayed, not stupid. If she wanted to return his texts, she could easily do so. If she wanted to call him she could easily do so. If she wanted to visit him, she knows she could ask me (or she could coordinate a visit with him when she's with Cindy). She doesn't want to, though. I can't fault her for that decision. Feel free to share your comments, but as I write this, I'm even more confident that I'm making the right decision by following my daughter's instincts and wishes.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


Introducing a bright and fresh new face in the publishing world - an author with a creative and unique voice and viewpoint!

Ellie Collins, 11, is preparing to publish her debut book, Daisy, Bold & Beautiful, the first in a series of middle grade books.

Who is Ellie?

First and foremost, she's a gymnast, on both a girls gymnastics team...

...and a trampoline and tumbling team.

She plays piano...

And she studies hard in the sixth grade.

And when she's not doing any of that, she's playing video games or hanging with her friends. She always finds time for reading, though, and she's a huge fan of Greek mythology. It was that genre that inspired her upcoming book. Until it hits the shelves (tentatively scheduled for April 1st, 2018), she'll be by to share a bit of Greek myth trivia with you each week. Just like this:

Join us next week for another exciting Greek Mythology Minute with Ellie. She'll have her book description ready to share for the first time, too! Have a wonderful week, everyone!


Hi everyone! Here's this week's edition of Greek Mythology Minute! As promised, I'm including the description for Daisy, Bold & Beautiful. Please tell me what you think and let me know if there's anything I can do to make it better. Thanks! Have a great week and I'll see you back here for next week's EXCITING episode of Greek Mythology Minute! Oh, and you can also see that update (and others) on my brand new Facebook author page. Check it out!  :)

Daisy, Bold & Beautiful ~

D.J. and her dad moved far from the small town and only home she ever knew. Now she's starting middle school in the city with kids she's never met. She tries to make friends, but they all appear to be slaves to screen time. D.J. just likes to garden, nurturing plants, watching them grow and thrive. It seems she'll never find a way to fit in, but then she awakens in a gorgeous garden where she meets Persephone, Goddess of Spring. She must be dreaming; her new friend can't possibly be real - and what could she know about getting along with gamers? D.J. really needs some ideas, or she might never find her own place in a complicated world.


Hi everyone! This week's edition of a Greek Mythology Minute is a message to Zeus. Check it out and I'll see you all again next week!  :)


Hi everybody! I had to record a "quickie" video today before my coach yelled at me!


Playing piano today inspired me to think of Apollo...and rodents...


For all who are suffering long, sleepless nights contemplating nymph paternity...


The Greek gods seem to have some things backwards. Like, you'd think the Goddess of Marriage (Hera) would be totally happy with her husband. Nope. She's stuck with Zeus - the one who cheats on her all the time. And you'd think the Messenger God (Hermes) would have a symbol like a cheetah or something, showing he'll get messages to you FAST. Nope...

Friday, January 5, 2018

Birth of a Book

Is it right to spend millions of dollars to save the life of someone who will never contribute back to society?
Is it ever okay to deny life-saving surgery? If so, when, exactly?
Where do you draw the line on the use of experimental medication?
When is it okay to consider euthanasia?

These are questions that are very uncomfortable to discuss and are often avoided. These are just a few of the ethical dilemmas, however, that are hurled - typically most unexpectedly - at special needs parents. The uncertainty, anxiety and pain they can cause are a few of the reasons I began writing therapeutically when I was faced with them.

Our family is far from alone in facing such situations and decisions. The fact that most families feel isolated when they find themselves grappling with them is the reason therapists, nurses, friends and family suggested I share what I wrote with the world.

I hesitated. Ethical predicaments are not just perplexing and unpleasant; they are deeply personal, as well. When ethical dilemmas can loosely be defined as questions there "are no right answer to", you can be left feeling like you're making nothing but wrong choices when you're forced to actually live with them. For instance:

Where [exactly] is the line between the importance of a relationship between a [non-custodial] parent and his/her child and safety from verbal and emotional abuse for that child?
Where [exactly] is the line that defines unacceptable incompetence of paid caregivers (specifically when properly trained caregivers are extremely difficult to find)?

There is no exact line that answers either of those questions. So you stumble your way to your own answers, second-guessing yourself the entire time (and long afterward, as well). I had been honest in my writings about our experiences. Brutally honest. I hesitated at the suggestion to publish, because I feared judgement over the scrambles, missteps and mistakes I had openly admitted to.

Over the years, however, the potential benefit of support to families finding themselves in similar circumstances outweighed the potential criticism I imagined, so I set our story free. With Angel's Wings was born.

For the "general population" reader it is there to offer a "peek in the window" of a family living a life likely very different from their own. When the reader sees a mentally fragile child on the street, maybe that child will be looked upon with more admiration for his/her strength, rather than pity. Maybe if the reader comes across an autistic child, he/she will be a little more patient and a little less judgmental toward both the child and the parent. It can also be just plain interesting to read about others facing challenges we aren't. It's the little details that make you say, "Oh yeah...I never even thought of that being an issue!"

For readers within the special needs community, With Angel's Wings is there to offer hope that if I could find the light at the end of my tunnel, you can, too. It is there to hopefully offer companionship by way of admission to my own doubts, frustrations, struggles and screw-ups. I hope that a fellow special needs parent will understand this book is me saying, "You are not alone. You are not wrong for the way you feel. This, too, shall pass. And you are stronger than you know. You can do this."

Should you be interested in getting a copy of With Angel's Wings, seeing the chapter pictures, reading the epilogue or finding some comic relief:

Monday, January 1, 2018

That Moment You Realize You're Sexist

A few weeks ago I visited with my cousin, Clair, and shared the following story. I entitled it "You know you're raising your tween in the Seattle Area When...":

Daniel was in the car with Maddie and her friend, Isabelle. He couldn't remember what Isabelle said to Maddie, but Maddie's response was, "Isabelle! Are you making assumptions about my gender identity?!" As a good little Pacific Northwester, Isabelle was quick to assure Maddie that she would never make such an assumption!

After a good chuckle, Clair mentioned that she often struggles when she's with fellow parents of infants (she has a toddler boy and infant twin boys - she's a busy girl!). She said that when she walks up to someone holding their baby girl, she doesn't want to feed into gender stereotypes with comments like, "Oh, such a beautiful girl!" or "What a adorable dress she has on!", but she's at a loss for what she could possibly say..."My, how intellectual she looks!" "Amazing; she's such an independent thinker!"

I returned home from that visit, immediately having to do damage control, and - in the process - had to think about how I address gender as a parent. Maddie (our ADHD/dyslexic 11-year-old) had gone to a sleepover at Isabelle's while I was away and it went completely off the rails. Here's the apology letter Maddie wrote to Isabelle and her family:

Dear Isabelle and her family,

Sorry I told you I didn't believe in Santa anymore, that wasn't a good thing to say. Sorry I swore. I know that was rude and not very lady like. Sorry I poked your butt that one time. It was weird and inappropriate. It's never ok to touch someone in that way. Sorry that we cut up [your] Ken [doll]. You must think I like to cut things up now! And yes at the party [you have invited me to this weekend] I will say "please" and "thank you". I'm sorry if I've ever forgotten to say that in the past. Sorry I did all these things and thank you for giving me another chance.


Yep. That was know, the witty, care-free, adorable little social butterfly who everyone loves. [sigh]

I can hardly count the number of apology letters I have sat James (our ADHD/dyslexic 14-year-old) down to write. I definitely can't count the number of discussions I've had with him about inappropriate behaviors. What struck me, when I talked with Maddie about her behavior and sat her down to write her apology letter, was how much more disappointed I was in her behavior. It's par for the course to have to work on appropriate social behaviors with ADHD children, but while James acting like a typical ADHD child [with a nanosecond of attention span, no filter and little to no impulse control] has embarrassed me and frustrated me in the past, I've expected it. I've accepted it. I haven't been disappointed by it like I have been when Maddie acts like a typical ADHD child. I realize now that I have higher standards for her, and that's not fair to her...and it's even less fair to James.

Shame on me. Gotta work on this. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Act Your Age...Doctor's Orders

Hannah had a doctor's appointment the other day. It was just an annual check-up; nothing special. About the only thing of note is that it was three or four years overdue. I think there's a maximum number of medical appointments a body can handle. After years of daily doctor, specialist, hospital, therapist and agency appointments (not to mention my years working in the hospital), I hit my limit more than a decade ago. Therefore, short of my kids missing a limb, I avoid making appointments like the plague.

I got a call from the doctor's office about a month ago. They were apologetic, but they said they had to see Hannah because they've been writing prescriptions for her monthly medical supplies, and technically (or by law, or whatever) they're supposed to see her once per year in order to do that...not every five years. "FINE," I sighed, "I'll bring her in."

I like the doctor well enough. It's just the hassle of hefting both Hannah and her wheelchair into the car...and hefting them back out again, then back in again, then back out again - that encourages me to look for excuses to delay making appointments. There's also dealing with her self-abusive behaviors while we wait for the good doctor (and there's always a wait), because she's uncomfortable (or stressed or bored or irritated or overwhelmed - who knows; probably all of the above). That gets old fast. As do the strange looks we get when she's doing it.

There's also a rather irrational irritation that gets me every time. I totally understand the push to treat people with disabilities with dignity and respect. That's a no-brainer. It's how dignity and respect are interpreted that get to me. And I recognize I'm the one being unreasonable here, so I certainly don't call people out or show my irritation, but I can't seem to help it. Here's the thing. Hannah is 22. She's the size of an seven or eight-year-old. Her hands and feet are tiny; she wears an infant size 8 shoe. She clearly doesn't look 22. She certainly doesn't act it, either. While I don't think there's any way to estimate her cognitive age with 100% accuracy, after a lifetime of observation, I estimate it to be at the level of a six to nine-month-old.

I realize, of course, that people passing her in the hallway of a doctor's office, lab techs and random nurses assigned to gathering her vital signs are not going to know this. It's safer to assume she understands small talk and social niceties and that she would appreciate being talked to like you would talk to a 22-year-old (or even a 7 or 8-year-old) than to guess that all of that is beyond her capability. I suppose asking first how much she can understand before interacting with her would be looked at like asking a woman if she's pregnant. You just don't do it.

I don't know why, but for some reason, this grates on me. Maybe it's the reminder of just how delayed (or nearly non-existent) her development is. I think, though, it's the socially awkward feeling I'm left with, thinking the whole time someone is talking to her, "You realize she can't answer you, right? You know she won't do do what you've just requested, right? You know she can't understand your warning that you're going to lift her shirt and listen to her heart and lungs, don't you? You get that if she's going to be startled, embarrassed or made otherwise uncomfortable by her shirt being lifted (which she won't) that saying those words means nothing to her, right?" I never say any of this out loud, of course. I just smile uncomfortably and "answer for her" when Hannah's lack of responses just gets too awkward.

I thought a lot about this subject when the state was trying to get Hannah a job. Don't even get me started on that ridiculousness; if you're up for a good laugh, you can read a bit about it in my post, Your Daughter Should Be A Marijuana Farmer. The thing is, if you want to treat a person with cognitive delay with respect, is it really respectful to treat him/her according to his/her chronological age? I don't think so. If an adult is mentally an infant, I think it's more respectful to treat him/her as an infant. To treat him/her as an adult is essentially saying, "I'm going to interact with you in a way that would be appropriate for the age you should be acting."

The persistent push to treat someone always by their chronological age isn't just limited to cognitive ability. During yesterday's appointment the doctor looked over the information on his computer screen and said, "Soooo...[sigh]...Hannah is due for a pap smear..."

I looked over at Hannah...sitting on the her diapers...playing with her rattle. You're kidding me, right? "Uh-huh..."

"As you know," he explained further, "the pap tests for cervical cancer, which is actually sexually transmitted."

Seriously. You're pulling my leg, right? "Uh-huh..."

"Which...she's not very likely to get..."

Gee, ya THINK?! "Right."

"Actually, I see here she got the immunization, too, which further reduces her chances..."

To LESS than zero; we're dealing in the NEGATIVE numbers now. "Right."

"And...I don't even know if they make a speculum that small..."

Oh. My. God. This is ridiculous. He's actually considering this lunacy! "Look, quite frankly, the only way Hannah is going to get cervical cancer is if she's raped, and if that's the case, concern over her dying from cervical cancer is going to be really, REALLY low on my list of things to worry about. Okay? We're not going to do a pap test."

I don't think I've ever seen a doctor shudder and pale before. I nearly got whiplash watching him spin uncomfortably back to his computer screen, presumably to type in a decisive "No" on the line that said "pap smear".

Do I HAVE to do this again next year? Maybe if I start thinking now I can come up with a good excuse to miss another appointment...

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Sneak Peak

In August we began to really crack down on screen time for the kids, which of course led to the panicked question/plea, "But...WHAT could you ever possibly expect me to do NOW?!"

Well, since Maddie has demonstrated extreme talent in the telling of tall tales, I suggested she write a book. Surprisingly, she actually took me seriously. She developed a story idea, decided on a moral of the story, picked a genre (Middle Grade, which tend to be 30-45,000 words in length), did character development and wrote up an outline. She wanted to write out the chapters long-hand for me to type up. That didn't work, because A) I have a hard time reading her writing and B) between school, piano lessons and being on two gymnastics teams, she's under some pretty strict time constraints. Instead, she records herself on my phone, telling the story, one chapter at a time, then I play the role of living/breathing voice recognition software/editor.

It's actually coming along pretty well. We're nearly at the half-way point in our writing, with a goal of being done by the end of the year and published in the spring. The most pleasant surprise - aside from the simple fact that the project has actually gone anywhere, is how much it has brought us together. Car trips to the gym, piano lessons and the bus stop that in the past may have consisted of her playing on her iPod and me listening to the radio are now spent discussing the pros and cons of adding a male character, how a certain conversation between characters might go, tweaks to the outline, or cover design.

Of course, the conversations leave plenty of work for me in the role as editor. I posted on Facebook the other day a recent exchange.

Me: So they're in the garden. How do you want to describe the garden?

Maddie: It's the most beautifulest place LIT-ER-AL-LY! Like...Mother Nature, HERSELF...for REALZ!

Me: Okay...suuurrre...let me just smooth that out a bit for you...

There's a great side effect of the project, though. The story is about a sixth grade girl (write what you know, right?), so there's a wonderful blending between discussion of the book and discussion of what she's experiencing in her own life. For any parent looking for a fun, productive project with their kid, I highly recommend considering it!

So...with no further delay, here's a sneak peak of Maddie's work in progress (followed by a quick blurb):


Chapter I


“Ugh! Ah! …Ow!” D.J. rubbed her throbbing head.

“Great. A perfect beginning to this perfect day.”

D.J. sighed with frustration. This was the second time she had fallen out of this bed. It was smaller than her old bed. Just like this room was smaller than her old room and this house was smaller than her old house.

Somehow, she had felt smaller since the move, but she couldn't figure out how that could be when the new house and everything in it seemed to be a miniature version of her old home. Dad said she’d get used to all the changes soon, but D.J. wasn’t so sure. There was no time to worry about it now, though. A quick look at her clock told D.J. it was time to get up and face the day she had been dreading since she first learned they were moving.

Brushing her long, sandy-blonde hair out of her eyes, she took a determined breath and picked herself up off the floor. Rubbing her aching hip, she walked over to her dresser and debated on what to wear. She had set out her favorite blue dress with sunny-yellow tulips, but that was when she was feeling optimistic and outgoing. Now she longed to just blend into the background until the wretched day was done. She grabbed her most comfortable pair of jeans and a mud-brown t-shirt and hopped into a comfy pair of socks as she made her way to the kitchen.

“Morning, sunshine!” Dad greeted her from the kitchen table, where he was eating an English muffin.

“Hey, Dad,” D.J. responded with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. She wasn’t particularly hungry, but she knew she’d get an earful if she tried to skip breakfast, so she grabbed herself a bagel. Not wanting to take the time to prepare it the way she normally liked her bagels (toasted with cream cheese), she plopped herself down in a chair and ripped a bite off. Not a good plan; it was hard to chew and it sucked all the moisture out of her mouth. Setting the remainder of the offending food strategically behind the napkin holder, she hoped Dad wouldn’t notice if she just left it. She casually walked over to the refrigerator and got herself a glass of orange juice. She remained standing next to the counter, too nerved up to sit back down.

“Excited for the day?” Dad quizzed.

“Ummm…sure?” D.J. tried to sound positive, but before she could stop them, some of her honest feelings broke through. “I don’t know,” she sighed, more truthfully, “I’m worried that I just won’t fit in. How could I? Everything is different here. Besides, middle school is new to all sixth graders, but all of these kids have had months to get to know each other now. I’ll be the new, weird kid that everyone will point and laugh at.”

“Nonsense,” Dad assured. “Remember when Hannah Stephenson started at your old school? I know that was in the middle of the year because I had just come in from shoveling snow when you told me about her. Did kids point at her and think she was weird?”

“Of course not; Hannah is awesome!” D.J. was frustrated, not wanting to see the comparison her father was making. This felt like a completely different situation.

“Well, sweetheart, you are awesome, too,” Dad praised D.J. as he walked over to her and pulled her into a hug, “and something tells me that the kids here are smart enough that they’ll see that right away.”

D.J. felt like she was acting like a spoiled, bratty toddler to be so disagreeable about going to her new school. She knew she had to go, but everything in her wanted to just stay right where she was, in the safety and comfort of her dad’s strong arms. She didn’t want to argue, but she couldn’t help but make one last attempt to avoid the inevitable. “But why do I have to go today? It’s April Fool’s Day, Dad! Everyone will look at me like I’m a big joke and whisper about what a fool I am when I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing. Can’t I wait and start tomorrow…or next week?”

D.J. felt the rumble of Dad’s quiet chuckle against her cheek that rested against his chest. “Nice try, kiddo,” he teased, “You will be going to school today. I know you’re worried and nervous, but I also know how brave and strong you are. I have all the faith that you’re going to do fine. Before I know it, I’m sure I’ll have to start turning kids away from play dates and sleepovers because the line will be too long.”

D.J. rolled her eyes. Her dad’s confidence felt good, but she seriously doubted he had any idea what he was talking about. Dad offered a final squeeze of support, and turned to put his breakfast plate in the sink on his way to finish getting ready for work. He stopped and turned at the doorway of the kitchen. “Go ahead and finish getting ready, but don’t think I missed your little disappearing bagel trick. If you don’t want to eat that, fine, but I want you to get something for breakfast.”

“Fine,” D.J. responded on a defeated sigh, “I’ll try a little yogurt or something.”

“That’s my girl!” Dad cheered over his shoulder on the way to his bedroom.

After choking down a small bowl of yogurt, D.J. made her way to the bathroom to brush her teeth and run a comb through her hair. Studying her reflection in the mirror, she realized that she would have no chance at all of making new friends if she didn’t find a way to wipe the surly, sourpuss look off her face. She knew just who could help her with that. This was a job for Fern.

She quickly made her way back to her room and threw herself heavily into the bean bag chair by her window. “Well, Fern, this is it. It is time for me to face my DOOM! I know, I know… Drama queen much? It’s just…I just don’t know how to do this! I’ve never been “the new girl” before. …But I get why we needed to move here. It’s easier for Dad; he doesn’t have to drive nearly as far to work here. He’s always been there for me, so I suppose the least I can do is try this for him. Okay…I’m gonna do it. Wish me luck. And have a good day…at least that way one of us will!”

D.J. flashed a quick smirk at her favorite houseplant as she got up and crossed the room to gather her backpack, grab a sweater, and throw her shoes on. Fern had been there for her for as long as she could remember, and had helped her through a lot of tough days – especially when her mom was sick. She always listened patiently and never judged, so D.J. felt completely comfortable being honest when she talked to her, which always seemed to lighten the weight that sat on her shoulders.

“Okay, Dad, I’m headed out,” D.J. yelled from the front door.

“Hold up! You’re not getting away without a last hug goodbye, young lady!” Dad scolded playfully, as he approached her down the hall. “Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you to the bus stop?”

“Thanks, Dad, but I think I’ve got this.” D.J. shuddered as she imagined how it would look to have her dad standing at the bus stop with her when the bus rolled up. She pictured him doing something utterly embarrassing, like kissing and hugging her goodbye and yelling, “Have a good day, honey!” as the bus pulled away. It was a horrifying scenario.

“Alright,” Dad conceded as he pulled her into a side hug and kissed the top of her head. 

“Smile when you can today and just be yourself. I know you don’t think I know what I’m talking about here, but trust me, sweetheart, everything will work out fine. Maybe we can even celebrate your success tonight with a nice dinner out.”

“What? We hardly ever eat out!”

“Ah; that’s a benefit of living in town now, kiddo,” Dad reminded her as he opened the door. 

“There are lots of restaurants close by. Some of them even deliver, so we could order out if you don’t feel like a night on the town.”

“Thanks, Dad; that sounds fun! Have a good day and I’ll see you this afternoon.” D.J. smiled, truly feeling excited for the first time all morning. She took a deep breath and took her first step out the door.

D.J. traversed the short path of stones that led to the sidewalk, then turned to her left as she surveyed her new neighborhood. She quickly passed the walkway to the house that made the other half of their duplex. Their old house had stood by itself and the closest neighbor had been about a half mile away, so it seemed strange to D.J. that they were now sharing a house with a whole other family. She didn’t mind, really; it was just another new and different thing to get used to.

She continued toward the corner where the bus was due to stop in a few minutes. She liked her street. There was a low hum of background noise that was new to her, like occasional jets passing overhead and cars working their way through busier areas of town. There was closer background noises, too. She heard a garbage truck that was probably a few streets down and a dog barking from a few doors down. But there were sounds she was familiar with, that helped to make her feel more at home – birds chirping their welcome to the spring weather and a light breeze whispering through the branches of the trees lining the street.

The trees were one of her favorite features of her new neighborhood. There were two long, magnificent rows of maple trees running the entire length of her street. They were big enough that she imagined their grand canopies might nearly touch in the middle of the road when they reached their full bloom of summer. For now, their leaves were just beginning to peek out after a long winter’s rest, showing off their fresh, bright and brilliantly green beauty. She spied what looked like small bird nests in two of the trees. She made a mental note to remember where they were so she might catch sight of the hatchlings later in the spring when the more mature leaves would better camouflage their locations.

Movement at the end of the street brought her attention back to her destination. There were four or five kids gathering at the bus stop. Adrenaline rushed through her veins at the sight of them, and for a split second she contemplated running back home. She pushed herself forward, though, focusing on putting one foot in front of another, until she was standing near the other kids. She avoided eye contact, feigning interest in anything that would keep her gaze elsewhere – the cracks in the sidewalk, the daffodils in the flower bed on the corner lot, the window boxes on the house closest to the stop and the scuff on the toe of her right shoe. The bus couldn’t get there fast enough; she didn’t know how much longer she could elude the eyes of the other students without seeming rude.

There were two boys in the group. They looked older; D.J. assumed they were seventh or eighth graders. They were laughing and roughhousing with one another, and didn’t appear to notice D.J. at all. Of the three girls waiting for the bus, two stood together, whispering back and forth. Out of the corner of her eye D.J. caught them skeptically assessing her up and down. Soon she heard them giggling and she suddenly regretted her wardrobe choice and wished she had tried harder to convince her dad that today wasn’t a good day to start school. She wanted to crawl under a rock and hide.

The third girl stood quietly to her side, and finally curiosity had D.J. sneaking a quick peek at her. She had long, shiny, black hair and a cute colorful outfit. She was slightly shorter than D.J., which was saying something, because D.J. was far from tall. The girl was lovely, but what made her beautiful was the warm smile she offered D.J. when she caught D.J.’s eye.

Just then the bus came to a stop in front of them and everyone began climbing on. D.J. started to make her way toward the back of the bus out of habit. She found it was generally warmer in the back than it was in the front, although she guessed that wouldn’t be as important here, where it didn’t tend to get so cold in the winter as it did back in her old town. Black-haired girl slid on her seat toward the window, subtly patted the seat next to her and flashed D.J. another winning smile. D.J. smiled back and sat down next to her.

“Hi. I’m May Chan,” black-haired girl introduced herself, “You must be new to our school?”

“Hi. Yeah. I’m D.J. Daniels. Nice to meet you, and thanks for sharing your seat with me,” D.J. returned with a shy half grin.

“Nice to meet you, too! What grade are you in? Where are you from? Where do you live now?” May began shooting out rapid-fire questions.

“Uh…I’m in sixth grade, I’m from North Bend, and we’re in the sixth house down on the left side of Grant Street…on the left side of the house? It’s a duplex.” D.J. wondered if that was how people usually described their address when they shared a house with another family.

“Oh, so you’re really close, then; I’m right around the corner on Fir Street! Well, howdy, neighbor!” May laughed. D.J. couldn’t help but smile along with her, and the tension she didn’t realize she held in her shoulders started to melt away.

“I’m a little nervous, because my old school was a lot smaller than yours,” D.J. confessed. I’m worried I’m going to be lost all day…probably all week.”

“Nah. My first day was a little confusing, but I got the hang of it pretty fast. You’re gonna love Kirkland Heights Middle School; I just know it,” May assured her with confidence.
May’s attention shot to the front of the bus and she excitedly grabbed D.J.’s arm. “Oh! Here’s Payton’s stop,” she announced with a little bounce in the seat, “I can’t wait for you to meet her!”

D.J. followed May’s line of sight as new kids began filing onto the bus. One tall, thin girl with auburn hair in a sporty bob cut made immediate eye contact with May. D.J. assumed it was Payton, and guessing from the way Payton knew right where to find May, D.J. figured this was their usual seat. She wondered, nervously, if she had taken the spot Payton usually did and if that would make Payton mad.

Payton calmly got in the seat in front of May and D.J., pulled her backpack off and turned toward them. “Hey,” she greeted, looking at D.J. with a blank expression, “Who are you?”
Once again D.J. found herself longing for a rock to hide under, interpreting Payton’s dry tone as irritated or displeased. May either didn’t notice it or didn’t care. She dove into introductions with enthusiasm and glee, “Payton Parker, this is D.J. Daniels, my new neighbor, D.J., this is Payton, one of my best friends! And don’t let her scare you away, D.J.; she’s a sweetheart who just doesn’t always think about how things will sound she shoots them out of her mouth.”

“Hey! What are you talking about? All I did was ask who she was!” Payton defended herself. 

“So, you’re new, huh?” she directed her attention back to D.J., “Sixth grade?”

D.J. nodded, signaling Payton had guessed correctly.

“Do you know your class schedule yet?” Payton quizzed further.

“No, not yet,” D.J. admitted. This was one of the things she was nervous about. It was bad enough not knowing where all the classes were; she didn’t even know what classes she’d be looking for!

“No worries,” Payton comforted her, “We’ll get you to the office and get you pointed in the right direction.”

D.J. breathed a sigh of relief. It soothed her to feel like she was going into this nightmare of a day with a few allies. That warm feeling was nearly washed away and replaced with a wave of panic, however, when she looked out the window to find they were pulling up to the school. It was a monstrosity of a structure that intimidated D.J. by itself, but when she imagined the number of people that building housed, she suddenly regretted eating yogurt for breakfast. She wasn’t so sure she wasn’t going to see it traveling in the opposite direction soon. But May flashed her excited and supportive smile and grabbed her hand as they got up to leave the bus, so D.J. was able to find her calm center again.


D.J. is concerned about starting at a new school in the middle of the school year. She's sure she won't have anything in common with her classmates. She makes three friends right away, but her concerns are validated. Her friends are all serious gamers and she's...a gardener. She fears if she asks them to spend time with her - technology free - that they'll refuse and she'll no longer be part of the group. D.J. gets some great advice from a very unlikely source. She decides to take a chance and stand up for herself. Will her new friendships blossom or will screen time lure away her best buds?